Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Malaysia ruling party lets Mahathir's son off the hook for asking prime minister to resign

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Malaysia's ruling party said Tuesday it will not punish former leader Mahathir Mohamad's son for calling on the prime minister to resign in the wake of disastrous election results.

The United Malays National Organization said it accepted Mukhriz Mahathir's explanation that he was speaking in his private capacity — not as a party member — when he urged Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to step down.

By letting Mukhriz off the hook, UMNO may embolden his supporters and others to intensify their criticism of Abdullah ahead of internal party elections in August. Abdullah claims the UMNO-dominated National Front ruling coalition fully supports his leadership.

Mukhriz sent a letter to Abdullah and a few other UMNO leaders last week, saying he should quit to take responsibility for the National Front's losses in March 8 elections — when its two-thirds parliamentary majority was reduced to a simple majority and it lost elections in five states.

The letter was later posted on a Web site.

Education Minister Hishamuddin Hussein told reporters the letter "was damaging because it was made public." But he said Mukhriz, who won a parliamentary seat in the elections, did not leak it.

"We are not taking any action toward him" even though he is not retracting his view, Hishamuddin said.

"He's reflecting what is voiced on the ground. There is nothing wrong with that," he said — indicating that there was grumbling in the party about Abdullah's leadership.

The decision about Mukhriz was made at three-hour meeting of UMNO's Youth Wing, which Hishamuddin heads. Mukhriz is a senior official of the wing and was at the meeting, and as he emerged from the room his supporters shouted, "Long live Mukhriz."

Mukhriz said he was "very relieved" by the decision even though some UMNO youth members were "quite critical" of what he said about Abdullah.

But in the end "we agreed to disagree on some issues," Mukhriz said. "I have made my stand quite clear. I have not changed my mind."

He said he has received many calls and cell phone text messages, some from UMNO members who support his stance. He said the focus now is on rebuilding public confidence in the party.

Mukhriz's father, Mahathir, called for Abdullah to resign just after the elections. Although Mahathir hand-picked Abdullah to replace him when he retired in 2003, he has been extremely critical of the prime minister in the last two years, accusing him of nepotism, corruption and inefficiency.