Apparent Abdullah bias for party over public

With branch and division meetings around the corner, he appears to have taken his foot off the reform agenda in favour of finding support with the party rank and file.

ANALYSIS By The Malaysian Insider

Between now and December, expect glacial progress on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s reform agenda.

Expect him to speak occasionally about judicial reforms and other changes to institutions and policies demanded by many Malaysians.

Expect him to restate his commitment to clean up the country. But more than anything else, expect Abdullah to defer to the wishes of his colleagues in Umno, who have recovered from the shock of Election 2008 and are showing their disdain for reform.

With branch and division meetings around the corner, he appears to have taken his foot off the reform agenda in favour of finding support with the party rank and file.

This could explain why he chose to be silent when cabinet ministers from Umno shot down legislation on the proposed Judicial Appointments Commission during their weekly meeting last Wednesday.

He knows that the plan to have a commission shortlist candidates for appointments to the Bench is not popular with Umno politicians. They believe that the commission comprising lawyers, former judges and Bar Council representatives will lead to more non-Malays being made judges.The critics envision a day when the commission will limit the PM’s choices, leading to a non-Malay being appointed as chief justice.

So for now the main plank of the much trumpeted judicial reform is drifting. And it may not be salvaged anytime soon. Tellingly some of the harshest critics of the judicial reforms have been Abdullah’s close allies, including Internal Security Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar and Pahang Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob.

Adnan said recently that there was too much focus on the shortcomings of the judiciary. He also dismissed moves to amend the Constitution and make clear the separation of powers.

Quite clearly, all these negatives comments from Umno politicians and his own shaky position in the party is causing him to go easy on the reform agenda.

His immediate focus is on consolidating his position in the party and winning overwhelming support from the divisions to defend the party president’s position in the December elections. His supporters defend his strategy, saying that he needs to secure his position in Umno before pushing ahead with reforms.

A government official told The Malaysian Insider: “I am convinced that Pak Lah will push through all the reforms which he promised. But he also needs to be mindful of what the party is comfortable with and navigate those concerns first.” Still, Abdullah’s critics will point to recent history and argue that once the PM follows the path of his party men, he is lost forever.

It happened in his first term just after he won the general elections in 2004. With a strong mandate, he announced a slew of reforms, talked about tackling corruption and promised seismic changes to the police force and judiciary.

And then sometime in 2005, he realised that many in the party were not on the same page with him on reforms. The result: he retreated and opted for the status quo, favoured by Umno.

Malaysians can only hope and pray that Abdullah is not falling into the same pattern of behaviour.

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