Agence France-Presse - 10/8/2008 10:56 AM GMT
Malaysian PM to quit next March
Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said Wednesday he will step down next March and hand power to his deputy, ending months of uncertainty since disastrous general elections.
Abdullah has been under intense pressure to quit since leading the Barisan Nasional coalition to its worst polls performance in half a century, losing a third of parliamentary seats and five states to the opposition.
The premier said he expected his United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which leads the multi-racial coalition, to select Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak for the top job in a leadership vote next March.
"I will hand over power to... Najib after he wins the election at the general assembly. I am sure he will win," Abdullah told a press conference, calling on the party to halt months of destructive bickering.
"It is not the time for us to indulge in infighting or engage in narrow politics, it is now time for us to strengthen our unity and co-operate among ourselves and place the interests of the country above all."
The president of UMNO -- which has dominated Malaysian politics since independence from Britain in 1957 -- by tradition automatically becomes prime minister of the country.
Abdullah, 68, originally wanted to hand over to Najib in mid-2010 but was forced to review his departure date as he lost support from the ruling party's grassroots, which was stunned by the March election results.
He also faced a challenge from opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who says he has enough support from defecting lawmakers to topple the government, but is being blocked from forming a new administration.
Abdullah came to power in 2003 and was initially buoyed by a groundswell of support for his promises of reform after two decades of hardline rule under veteran premier Mahathir Mohamad.
However, he was quickly seen as weak and ineffective after failing to tackle corruption, high crime rates and inefficient bureaucracy which he had vowed to address.
Abdullah insisted Wednesday he still intended to fulfil his promises, and pledged to give more power to the anti-corruption body and create a new commission to appoint judges who are currently picked by the premier.
The political vacuum since the elections has paralysed foreign investment and suppressed trade on the stock exchange, in a malaise which is now being worsened by the global economic crisis.
UMNO vice-president Mohamad Ali Rustam, a possible contender for the newly vacated deputy premier's post, said the announcement would revitalise the party which has been in disarray since the elections.
"This will unite UMNO and Barisan Nasional so that we can win the next election. I hope all UMNO members will support Najib," he said. "Najib has to regain public confidence for the Barisan Nasional."
UMNO represents the interests of the country's Muslim Malay majority, and its coalition partners representing ethnic Chinese and Indians were wiped out in the elections which saw minorities flock to Anwar's opposition.
"Barisan Nasional's challenge is to see how it can concretely carry out reforms. BN needs rebranding. It has to change its attitude and approach," said Koh Tsu Koon, chief of the Chinese-based Gerakan party.
"The next general elections is not going to be easy unless we really, really reform," he added.
Political observers said Najib faced a massive task to revitalise the government which is seen as out of touch and riddled with corruption and cronyism.
"He certainly will want to portray himself as a reformer, he will need to do that in order to survive, but voter patience is a lot thinner now than a few years ago," said Ibrahim Suffian from the Merdeka Centre research firm.
"With the advent of a new leader they might salvage some sort of hope and credibility," he said.
Fade to Black (Metallica)
..Life it seems will fade away
..Drifting further every day
..Getting lost within myself
..Nothing matters no one else
..I have lost the will to live
..Simply nothing more to give
..There is nothing more for me
..Need the end to set me free