Sunday, March 29, 2009

Malaysia: Malaysian prime minister set to resign

The Malaysian prime minister is set to resign and hand over power to his deputy.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said Saturday he would meet with the Malaysian king on April 2 to submit his resignation.

The move sets up Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak to assume office. It comes a year after the ruling coalition took a beating in the general elections. Najib acknowledges both he and his United Malays National Organization, or UNMO party, are not without controversy.

UMNO leads Malaysia's ruling coalition, the National Front coalition. The ruling coalition has governed Malaysia since 1957.

But opponents and critics accuse the ruling coalition of subverting the judiciary, the police force and the bureaucracy. They say it favors Malays and discriminates against the Chinese and Indian minorities.

When Mr. Abdullah replaced longtime Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in 2003, he was seen as a reformer. He allowed people to criticize the government and loosened media control.

But the coalition performed poorly in March 2008 elections. It lost its two-thirds majority in parliament for the first time in 40 years. It also lost control of five of Malaysia's 13 states to the opposition.

Mr. Abdullah was blamed. He agreed late last year to step aside before his term expires in 2010.

Bridget Welsh is associate professor of Southeast Asia studies at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. She says Najib comes to office under his own dark cloud.

The opposition accuses Najib of corruption and links to the murder of a young woman who was his friend's mistress - allegations which Najib vehemently denies.

Welsh says there is no clear evidence linking Najib to the murder. She calls Najib the "most known of the unknown"."He has what you see in this transition, I call a mandate from within, but not a mandate from without. What do I mean by that? Well, he has support of his party," she said.

Welsh says what Najib lacks is the majority of public support.

A recent survey by the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research, Malaysia's leading polling institution, found that more than 80% of Malaysians felt they should have a say in selecting government leaders.

UMNO elected Najib as its new president Thursday. According to tradition, as party chief he will become prime minister. Local media report he will take office April 3.

Welsh says Najib's honeymoon will be short, with parliamentary and state seat by-elections falling within a week of his appointment.

She says Najib will inherit a difficult position. He has to win over the people, address the global economic crisis, and be open to public criticism.

Published with the permission of Voice of America
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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