PM Abdullah says he will not step down until December

Posted by SM Maulana
Tuesday, 17 June 2008

If you look at the patterns at UMNO, you have to also remember that during the time of Mahathir, he had three deputies and as it turned out, none of these three deputies became prime minister for reasons that we know by now. So simply having a deputy does not mean that the person who is the deputy will become the prime minister.

Radio Singapore International

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi said last week that he had agreed on a plan to hand over power to his deputy Najib Razak, but fell short of saying exactly when it will happen.

He said he will not step down until December when he will contest the internal leadership polls in UMNO.

Mr Abdullah has faced numerous calls from within his UMNO party to take responsibility for the party’s poor showing the March general election by resigning but has so far resisted challenges to his leadership.

For more on Mr Abdullah’s purpose in announcing his leadership transition plans, Yvonne Gomez spoke with Dr Farish Noor, a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

Dr Farish feels that the announcement was made in response to the state of crisis UMNO has found itself in following the March 8 polls.

FN: And also I think there is a widespread perception that the Badawi administration has failed to deliver on many counts. It’s very clear that within UMNO itself, there are many UMNO leaders who are uncomfortable with many of the reforms promised by Badawi, in particular the calls for transparency and accountability and the shake-up that this is causing in UMNO circles. This move to name Najib as his successor to show that there is an attempt to show that there will be some kind of continuity should the government fall, because there’s a lot of speculation in Malaysia at the moment that Anwar Ibrahim will attempt to bring about or engineer a cross-over of parliamentarians to the opposition, thereby bringing about the fall of the government. So I suppose this is in anticipation of many of the contingencies that might pop up in the next few months.

This plan to hand over power is not something new. That is the natural succession plan anyway, since Najib is his deputy. So what effect do you expect Mr Abdullah’s announcement to have on calls for his resignation following UMNO’s poor showing at the March election?

FN: Well, again, if you look at the patterns at UMNO, you have to also remember that during the time of Mahathir, he had three deputies and as it turned out, none of these three deputies became prime minister for reasons that we know by now. So simply having a deputy does not mean that the person who is the deputy will become the prime minister. I think there was a need for some people in UMNO to feel that there would be some sort of guarantee that there would at least be a smooth transition of power in the event that Badawi is forced to step down. However, having said that, if you look at Badawi’s record – and it’s a short one of 4 years – the credibility of the man is at stake. After all, this is the same man who said that there would be no elections on March 8th and then contradicted himself within 24 hours so his standing and credibility in the eyes of the Malaysian public is weak at the moment. There’s no reason to believe that this announcement amounts to anything because there is no guarantee that this transition will actually take place. So many contingencies may still pop into the picture and Najib himself is living under a cloud of controversy due to all sorts of speculation about his physical conduct, his career and I think both of them cannot consider their positions safe.

Do you expect Najib to face the same kind of criticism though, if he does take over from Abdullah…I mean, he has been pretty low-key since the election and has stood behind Mr Abdullah throughout this crisis…

FN: Yes, because the primary concerns of the Malaysian electorate – we’re talking about the Malaysian electorate now, not UMNO – remain the same. After 2004, a momentum has developed in Malaysia, where the Malaysian public is expecting to see some very serious cases of corruption being taken to court and this may or may not involve senior members of the ruling political parties. So these sorts of demands are still going to be there – the calls for opening up the press, the calls for accountability in terms of the appointment of senior judges – there are many pressing issues that I think will be the hot buttons of Malaysian politics over the next 2 years…the issues of political, religious and press freedom…none of these issues are about to disappear overnight. So frankly, I cannot possibly imagine why anyone would want to take over Badawi’s position that this stage, and this includes Anwar, by the way, simply because whoever runs the country will still be faced with all these issues. At the moment, of course the most pressing issue is of inflation and prices as a result of the fuel price hikes.

Earlier you spoke about reforms… and Mr Abdullah said he would stay in power in order to push through reforms, including an anti-corruption drive and a shake-up of the judiciary and the police force. Is his being in office really essential to the success of these reforms?

FN: Well I think despite the poor performance of the Badawi administration, on a very personal basis, a considerable number of Malaysians still believe he was quite sincere when he initiated these reforms. Unfortunately, I think he overextended himself and perhaps underestimated the degree of institutional inertia and the resistance from key institutions, in particular the police, which has been very hesitant to embrace any sort of reform. My concern is that Najib has not officially and openly endorsed this reform move and there are many who believe that if Najib were to come to power, then he would really be going back to the pattern of old UMNO politics, which is primarily feudal politics and one would suspect that the whole reform momentum would simply die out as a result.

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