M'sia PM hopes protracted power transfer will quell political jitters

Posted by Penarik Beca Monday, July 14, 2008

'I won't go to Najib and tell him 'They like me now, can you allow me to stay on for another one year?'' said Mr Abdullah.

SST (13/7/08): Malaysia's prime minister has insisted that his plan for a protracted power transfer will restore political calm and enable him to fulfill promises to curb corruption and strengthen the judiciary.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's comments on Saturday, reported by the national news agency Bernama, came as his government mounted one of its biggest crackdowns on corruption, detaining top immigration officials suspected of accepting bribes.

Mr Abdullah's critics have accused him of failing to deliver on reform pledges, but he said he hopes to achieve results before handing power to his deputy in mid-2010.

Mr Abdullah told Bernama that his leadership transfer plan - an effort to resolve the political crisis facing his Cabinet since a major electoral setback in March - should put most politicians at ease ahead of the ruling party's internal elections in coming months. Mr Abdullah intends to defend his top party post against potential rivals.

'When I made the decision (to hand over power in 2010), it means there will be less infighting, there will be less campaigning against one another,' Bernama quoted Mr Abdullah as saying.

Mr Abdullah denied trying to cling to office, saying the two-year transition would give his deputy, Mr Najib Razak, time to prepare to take over and to spearhead the government's efforts to regain lost ground ahead of general elections due by mid-2013.

Mr Abdullah said he will utilise his remaining time in office and 'not slow down'. Mr Abdullah was among Malaysia's most popular figures when he succeeded longtime leader Mahathir Mohamad in 2003, but his reputation had eroded badly by the time he led the ruling coalition to its worst-ever performance in March general elections.

Promise to retire

Mr Abdullah said he will keep his promise to retire in 2010, and not extend his term beyond that, official Bernama news agency reported.

Mr Abdullah had said he would hand over the reins to his deputy Najib Razak in June 2010, hoping to silence calls for him to quit after his government's disastrous showing in March polls.

'I won't go to Najib and tell him 'They like me now, can you allow me to stay on for another one year?'' the premier was quoted as saying in a Bernama interview late on Saturday.

'If anything were to happen (such as an economic crisis), he (Najib) will have to settle that.'

Some analysts say Mr Abdullah may find it hard to hold on for another two years, due to public discontent over the rising cost of living, a series of political scandals dogging his party and a revitalised opposition snapping at his government's heels.

The ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, which has led Malaysia since independence from British rule in 1957, is facing its worst crisis in 50 years.

On Saturday, Malaysian police said they were preparing for a mass gathering outside Parliament on Monday called by the opposition, which wants a parliamentary debate on a motion of no-confidence in the government.

Analysts say should the premier survive the challenges he faces, he could stay on until after mid-2010 as Mr Najib's rise to power is not seen as a done deal.

Political observers say the deputy premier could stumble in his quest to take over from Mr Abdullah, with several members of the dominant United Malays National Organisation (Umno) party also eyeing the party presidency, which by convention, also carries the country's premiership post.

Mr Najib has had to fight allegations that he was linked to a sex and murder scandal involving a Mongolian model. -- REUTERS, AP

Cracking the whip at Umno

Malaysian Insider (10/7/08): Most Malaysians have been appalled by the succession of press conferences, statutory declarations, accusations and counter-accusations that have hogged headlines for the past two weeks.

The mud-slinging has made Malaysia the laughing stock of Asia. But Malaysians can't just turn their backs on what's happened because there are important lessons to be learnt from the experience.

First and foremost is the need to proceed with the stalled reform agenda. In 2004, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi promised change. He failed to deliver and suffered the consequences on March 8, after which he reiterated the same promises.

Now, more than ever, amid the debris of numerous scandals, the entire nation can see the extent to which crucial institutions — the police, the judiciary and the prosecution in particular — have been weakened and politicised.

Malaysians cannot wait for the Umno leadership battle to be resolved and the Prime Minister cannot disappoint them again. Malaysians will forgive neither him nor his party. He must act and push the conservatives within the Cabinet to move forward.

Second, the government's credibility must be safeguarded. As Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek, one of the more open-minded Cabinet ministers, says: “Credibility is something you build up. But once it's lost, it's very difficult to regain.”

Given the current pathetic levels of trust, the government has a lot of work to do.

Third, Umno needs to be brought to heel and disciplined. Many of the current problems faced by the nation are due to Umno's overwhelming influence within the administration and the inability of its leadership to control prominent party members, especially the all-powerful division chiefs.

There is a web of relationships linking the party, the civil service, business and the security apparatus. This network needs to be opened up and subjected to scrutiny. Backroom deals have to be exposed to the light of day.

For decades, Umno has presented itself as the saviour of the Malays and arbiter of the national consensus. Past party leaders such as Tun Dr Ismail and Tun Abdul Razak were wise and pragmatic.

But Umno has since become middle-aged and lazy. Its cikgu or teacher ethos of the past has been usurped by the wheeler-dealer businessman in his black SUV. Now, as the Malay proverb says, pagar makan padi — the fence devours the rice — the guardian has turned on its charges.

Umno chiefs, warlords and their financial backers — rumours suggest the party's upcoming leadership contest will involve hundreds of millions of ringgit — must be accountable to the Constitution and the institutions of state. If they break the law, they should suffer the consequences.

This is where the reform agenda — the calls for a more open, fair and law-abiding Malaysia — is important. Malaysians need Abdullah to remain focused on this agenda. Get it right and the reform agenda will be his legacy. Get it wrong and nothing else will save him.

But many in Umno don't consider this to be a priority. For them, it's secondary — the kind of issue only liberals, spoilt middle-class journalists and noisy lawyers are interested in.

Whenever I discuss such matters with Umno types, they'll reply: “Karim, the voters in my kawasan don't care about these things.” I have to disagree: Umno's poor showing in the March 8 election was due to its refusal to acknowledge and address core issues of justice, fairness and equality — issues that Malaysians directly experience when “enterprising” Umno leaders suddenly acquire large houses and countless expensive cars and go on lavish foreign holidays.

Still, there are those in the Cabinet like Datuk Zaid Ibrahim and Datuk Shahrir Samad who do recognise these weaknesses and have tried to convince their colleagues that restoring trust in institutions is a top priority.

Shabery, for one, says refreshingly: “We need to realise that we do have a track record and culture of service. We needn't be afraid of openness.”

The ugly face-off between opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak can be directly attributed to the current imbalance of authority — on the one hand, a severely compromised security and legal apparatus and, on the other, a pumped-up executive beholden to no one but the party and its warlords.

This has created an environment riddled with corruption, slovenliness, self-importance and racism.

The credibility crisis is eating away at the Malaysian consensus. It is undermining its capacity to move forward at a critical juncture economically when leadership and focus are required to guide the nation through a period of inflationary turbulence.

Malaysians do not trust the security apparatus to act fairly and impartially. And this lack of trust has emboldened opposition leader Anwar to play to the gallery. He knows that in the absence of a credible legal forum, the court of the public becomes the ultimate arbiter of his innocence or guilt.

Umno, the party of Merdeka, must come to terms with modernity. The party has lost all sense of propriety and service. It is focused on serving its own needs. The mass of Malays and Malaysians has been forgotten. (Karim Raslan for The Straits Times, Singapore)

Najib faces perception gap over Altantuya murder

Malaysian Insider (13/7/08): Minutes after the succession plan was announced on Thursday, Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak swore on the name of Allah that he was not connected to the Altantuya Shaariibuu murder case.

This was the clearest sign yet of how the allegations have draped themselves around Najib's shoulder like a heavy quilt since it was first raised during the Ijok by-election a year ago.

Before a crowd of loyalists and staunch supporters, he was forced to say: "Wallahi Wabillahi Watalahhi, I do not know this woman Altantuya.''

The line went down well with the delegates in the Putra World Centre, who responded with robust applause. The fact that the DPM had to address this issue on arguably the biggest day of his political life so far shows the impact these allegations have had - even among party faithful.

Before P Balasubramaniam stunned the country with his statutory declaration, alleging that Najib knew Altantuya and had been intimate with her, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and the Opposition identified this case as Najib's weak spot.

They zoomed in on the involvement of Abdul Razak Baginda – Najib's advisor - in the murder of the Mongolian model - and the emergence of the DPM's aide-de-camp as the person who introduced Abdul Razak to the two police personnel who allegedly killed her.

In an interview published in Mingguan Malaysia today, Najib said that the tactic used by the Opposition was aimed at hurting his chances of becoming the PM.

"They continuously say something or repeat an untruth and slander, and the idea is to create some doubt. This is what is called perception. In politics, perception is more important than reality.

"I know this game and I will face it…If we are on the right side, there is nothing to fear? Only if we have done wrong, should we be frightened, '' he said.

He is right about the power of perception. He has been anointed prime-minister-in-waiting by Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and endorsed by many in Umno as the most qualified to lead the country.

But until all the questions surrounding the Altantuya case are answered satisfactorily, the Opposition will press home their advantage and make sure that he carries the burden of perception every day.

Malaysia's PM-in-waiting faces rocky road to power

Reuters (11/7/08): Malaysia's embattled prime minister is buying time by handing over to his loyal deputy only in mid-2010 but the successor's rise is still not cast in stone, experts said on Friday.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi moved on Thursday to calm a political storm by agreeing to hand over power to Najib Razak, giving some relief to investors jittery about Malaysia.

But Najib's road to the top may not be easy. A rift within his own United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party, the lingering threat of the opposition seizing power and his own scandals could derail the plan and add to uncertainties.

"There's no certainty that Najib will take over," said Yahaya Ismail, an author of several books on Malaysian politics. "The plan will worsen internal squabbles in the party."

Malaysia's political outlook has been clouded since elections in March when surprisingly big gains by the opposition sparked fears of a sudden change in the government and policy.

"It's very important that the political situation settles down," said top banker Nazir Razak, who is Najib's younger brother. "I am sorry but I disagree with the DPM (Najib) when he said that international investor confidence is not affected."

Malaysia's main stock index rose 0.8 percent by midsession on Friday. It has lost 12 percent since March.

Analysts expect no major changes to policies under Najib.

"I doubt he will re-invent the wheels," said one economic strategist at a Malaysian listed company. "His priority is to consolidate his party and regain the faith of the Malays."

"I don't think there will be much change in terms of policies though I am not sure how committed he will be to reforming institutions," said another analyst, who declined to be named.

Abdullah, who faced calls to resign after the polls, said he wanted to ensure an orderly power transition.

"This potential end-game though still looks fuzzy for now," markets research firm IDEAglobal.com wrote in a note.

Muhyiddin Yassin, an UMNO vice-president strongly tipped to run for the No. 2 post, criticised the long transition period.

"Some have expressed concern that if the duration is that long the situation will not become more convincing," he was quoted by the national Bernama news agency as saying.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has also poured cold water on Abdullah's handover timeline, while ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad went one step further by saying that Najib would never become prime minister.

"Before the handover date arrives, allegations will be hurled against him so that he will be seen to be unfit to be the deputy prime minister," Mahathir wrote in his blog. "Someone seen to be more loyal to Abdullah will replace him," he said.

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