Sunday, April 06, 2008

Malaysia's top politician admits ruling party has slipped into deep crisis after polls

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Malaysia's ruling party has slipped into a deep crisis after its recent election debacle and needs strong leadership to carry out reforms, a top party official said Thursday.

"There are concerns that it might lead to a full blown crisis if it is not managed well," International Trade and Industry Minister Muhyiddin Yassin told reporters.

Muhyiddin is one of the three vice presidents of the ruling United Malays National Organization, and his candid warning indicates growing dissatisfaction with the leadership of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the party's president.

"In any political party, you need a strong leadership to be able to move things through, to improve things and regain lost confidence," he said.

Muhyiddin, however, dodged a question on whether Abdullah could provide the leadership needed or whether he should step down, a demand that has become increasingly vocal in recent weeks. Leading the call is former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Muhyiddin would only say that party members have the right to call for a leadership change, adding that the party has slipped into a "very dangerous zone."

"It's a call which we will leave entirely to members. I can't forecast how it will be but we need to deal with the situation at hand. Members are in a daze ... they feel that they are lost," he added.

But Muhyiddin also said speculation over Abdullah's leadership could be detrimental to the economy.

"Such political uncertainties may affect our image and raise concerns among foreign businesses and investors," he warned.

Since the March 8 general elections, the United Malays National Organization, the main party in the ruling National Front coalition, has been in the grip of its most severe crisis in its 51-year rule. The coalition retained power with a simple majority in Parliament but lost its traditional two-thirds majority. More significantly, it conceded five states to the opposition.

Abdullah has repeatedly refused to step down, insisting he has the full support of the party — a claim that increasingly appears to be hollow.

"I am here ... Why should I resign?" he told national news agency Bernama on Wednesday.

Abdullah has postponed party elections by four months to December, and strict election rules could yet make it tough for a challenger to dislodge him before then.

The party will form an independent panel to carry out a post-mortem on the election debacle and to assess reforms needed, Muhyiddin said.

"All the cancer, all the diseases must be removed. It's painful but we just have to do it," he said.

- AP