Mahathir prepares to step down
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (CNN) -- Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad will step down as leader Friday minus much of the pomp and ceremony usually befitting a 22-year stint in power.
Instead, a low-key handover to Mahathir's successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi will bring to an end one of the most dramatic, and at times controversial, political careers in modern Asia.
A week filled with high-level tributes from politicians and his own ruling party as well as an audience with the king concludes with the swearing in of the hand-picked Badawi at the National Palace in front of family, friends, political leaders, diplomats and the chief justice.
The 77-year old Mahathir departs the political scene on a high note -- adored in Malaysia, reasonably respected abroad, his economic policies entrenched, and a legacy well intact. (Mahathir's legacy)
For many of Malaysia's 23 million people, it is a period of sadness as they farewell a prime minister viewed as a strong defender of national pride. A generation has known no other leader, and others old enough to remember his predecessor have had their lives dramatically changed by Mahathir's rule.
They see Mahathir as a national hero for pulling a third-world, rubber and tin-producing Malaysia out of the mist of British colonial rule and charting a course to become one of Southeast Asia's most modern and wealthiest countries. (Mahathir timeline)
Malaysia's rapid economic and social development compares dramatically with regional neighbors Indonesia and Philippines. Only Singapore has fared better.
Among the changes during Mahathir's reign: a stable multicultural society, a large shift to urbanization, and a healthy economy where incomes have tripled and poverty levels have slumped to 5 percent of all households from above 30 percent two decades ago.
But for some, Malaysia's infrastructural change and new prominence on the international map has come at a heavy price to democracy and human rights.
Mahathir has taken a tough stance against those who opposed or were against him, jailing opposition figures, shutting down media organizations and altering legislature to suit his visions.
His autocratic style is perhaps best encapsulated by the sacking and later judicial sentencing of his then-likely successor and deputy, Anwar Ibrahim, in 1998 on sexual immorality and corruption charges. That prompted street protests and calls for "reformasi" (reformation) of Malaysia's political landscape.
Outside of Malaysia, the reaction to his departure is more mixed. While there is respect for Mahathir, for some Western nations he will be remembered as an often defiant and controversial figure. (View from the West)
On international platforms, Mahathir -- at times a contentious and lone Muslim voice -- frequently hit out at the West.
In his no holds barred style, Mahathir has attacked what he says is one-sided globalization, U.S. and Israeli policies in the Middle East, and blamed Western nations and figures for instigating the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.
In recent years, he has opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and attacked anti-Muslim sentiment. But he has also been a key anti-terror ally for the U.S. in Asia.
Mahathir -- who abandoned his own medical practice in pursuit of a political career -- has also been an outspoken critic of his own religion, Islam.
Muslims make up 60 percent of Malaysia's population and Mahathir has constantly hit out at religious extremism and pushed for the development and modernization of Islam.
Mahathir's inflammatory rhetoric is perhaps best highlighted in his October 16 speech as host of a summit of Islamic leaders.
He created an international storm when he blamed the world's 1.3 billion Muslims for falling behind other cultures and losing global influence.
In comparison, Mahathir said, "Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million, but today the Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them."
This sparked condemnation from the EU, the U.S., Israel and other nations but Mahathir, who says his comments were taken out of context from the broader notion of his speech, has rigorously defended his choice of words. ('No rebuke from Bush')
Badawi, 63, is a quieter figure who has large shoes to fill in following the dynamic and controversial Mahathir. (Badawi profile)