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Malaysian Elections Unlikely

September 29, 1999

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) _ Malaysia’s key stock index fell Wednesday on news that Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is unlikely to call for general elections until the end of the sodomy trial of his ousted deputy, Anwar Ibrahim.

In an interview with The Asian Wall Street Journal, Mahathir said restrictions imposed by Malaysian courts on what he is allowed to say about Anwar could cost him vital votes, making elections unlikely until the case concludes.

``We can win now, but we want a two-thirds majority,″ in Parliament, Mahathir was quoted as saying in New York, where he is scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday.

General elections must be held by July 2000, but political pundits have predicted Mahathir will call for an early vote to capitalize on opposition disarray and the rebounding economy.

Mahathir was quoted as saying in the interview that he was in no rush to call elections.

The 73-year-old prime minister sacked his former deputy and had him arrested last September.

Anwar was subsequently sentenced to six years in prison for corruption and is also on trial on sodomy charges. He says the charges were concocted so that his challenge to Mahathir’s 18-year rule would crumble.

Earlier this month, thousands of anti-government protesters launched demonstrations in the Malaysian capital after Anwar’s lawyers accused his political enemies of poisoning him with arsenic.

Authorities retaliated by arresting many key opposition leaders, who intend to run for Parliament seats, and charged them with inciting the crowds.

Anwar’s trial has been postponed indefinitely as doctors say he is suffering from ``severe headaches″ and is unfit to attend court proceedings.

Mahathir also said that Malaysia’s economy could grow by at least 5 percent next year and speed up to 7 percent or 8 percent in subsequent years.

He said the upswing vindicated his controversial decision last September to impose sweeping capital controls during the financial maelstrom that swept much of Asia.

``We’ve proven that we can turn around the economy and make it grow,″ Mahathir was quoted as saying.

Malaysia’s economy contracted by 7.5 percent last year at the height of its worst recession in a decade and is tipped to grow 1 percent this year.

Update hourly