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Mahathir gets down to work

New Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

New Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia (AFP) – Malaysia’s new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad officially got down to work yesterday after his shock election win last week broke the six-decade stranglehold of a corruption-riddled regime.

The elderly leader, who is starting his second stint as premier after having previously been in office for two decades, arrived at the office of a foundation he runs in the administrative capital Putrajaya.

Escorted by police vehicles, he briefly rolled down the window of his black car to wave at waiting reporters. He was due to hold meetings with senior civil servants.

Mahathir stormed to an unlikely election victory at the head of an opposition alliance against the Barisan Nasional coalition and its corruption-mired leader Najib Razak, toppling the regime that had led Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957.

Voters turned out en masse to oust Najib after he was accused of involvement in plundering billions of dollars from sovereign wealth fund 1MDB in a sophisticated fraud that is now being investigated in several countries.

Both he and 1MDB deny any wrongdoing.

The 92-year-old Mahathir – who was himself accused of ruling with an iron fist in his first stint as premier that ended in 2003 – is now the world’s oldest elected leader.

The stock market opened for the first time since Wednesday’s polls but did not slide as heavily as had been anticipated after Mahathir sought in a weekend speech to calm investors. It initially lost 2.7 percent but quickly won back ground and was down just 0.2 percent about an hour after opening.

Local currency the ringgit slipped as much as 0.9 percent against the US dollar. Stocks linked to the previous regime suffered, with low-cost carrier AirAsia dropping as much as 13 percent.

The airline’s boss, Tony Fernandes, apologized Sunday after offering a glowing endorsement of Najib days before the election, flying with him on an AirAsia plane painted in the blue colors of the leader’s coalition.

Ooi Chin Hock, a dealer with SJ Securities, told AFP he believed the ”government is supporting the stock market to make sure there is not too much volatility.”