Malaysia: Outgoing PM warns UMNO - Reform, or else

Updated On: Mar 30, 2009

Outgoing Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi gave a blunt assessment of the future in his final speech at the general assembly of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO).

"We must come to our senses," he warned, blaming corruption and complacency for the party's flagging fortunes.

"Umno faces a life and death situation - one that concerns our future and survival," he said.

His criticisms come at a time when the party’s popular image and electoral sway has been on the wane. UMNO, whose membership is open only to the majority Malays, leads the National Front coalition that has governed Malaysia since 1957. Last year, the Front failed to get a two-thirds majority in Parliament and lost 5 of Malaysia's 13 states to the opposition, marking the first time the Front has failed to do so in more than 40 years.

Abdullah has faced criticisms from within the party over his attempts to provide more political and press freedoms in the country, citing these attempts as responsible for the party's disastrous showing in last year's general elections.  

In response to these critics, Abdullah has persisted in warning against Malay-centric, corrupt and autocratic political leadership.

"Sadly, there are still those who feel that we do not need to pursue reforms," Abdullah said in a speech to the party's annual congress before the party’s elections.

"They believe that UMNO will regain its glory if we revert to the old ways ... by restricting the freedom of our citizens and by silencing their criticism," Abdullah said. "It is a path that I fear will hasten our demise."

His former deputy, Najib Razak, succeeded Mr Abdullah as UMNO’s president on Thursday, and is expected to take over as PM.

No date has been set for the formal transition of power, but the king is expected to swear him in as the nation's next leader on April 3.

Najib's ascent to power has been accompanied by an increased government crackdown on opponents. In recent days, it banned two opposition newspapers and police broke up a rally by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim with tear gas.

Whatever direction he sets for the country, he will be doing so with the help of allies in influential positions. UMNO members holding their annual meeting this week chose Abdullah’s allies for influential positions, including the position of Youth Wing Chief, which was handed to his son-in-law. Trade Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who seized the post of UMNO deputy president which traditionally carries with it the position of deputy prime minister, and the three vice-presidents -- Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Hishammuddin Hussein and Mohamad Shafie Apdal -- are all cabinet ministers and Najib loyalists.


AFP, Malaysia's outgoing PM pans ruling party, 27 March 2009, http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hTUoj1lnFwXbgTkAGRGq0...

Bloomberg, Abdullah Urges Party to Back Najib as Malaysia Leader 26 March 2009, http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601080&sid=aruV35Cb42SM&refer=a...

AFP, Malaysia's Najib 1 step away from premier's post, 27 March 2009, http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gee0HQDakZhTyH0OADiv9B...

BBC, Malaysian leader in stark warning, 26 March 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7964996.stm

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