Friday, July 11, 2008

Malaysian prime minister pressured to quit sooner

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia's prime minister has pledged to retire in 2010, but the two-year wait may not satisfy some dissidents clamoring for a quick cleanup at the top after an election debacle, analysts and party members said Friday.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi announced Thursday an agreement to hand over power to his deputy, Najib Razak, by mid-2010. He had hoped to placate dissidents unhappy with his leadership, under which the ruling National Front coalition suffered its worst election outcome in March 8 polls.

"I am a bit disappointed. We wanted him to expedite the power transition. Two years is too long," said Puad Zarkashi, a prominent member of Abdullah's United Malays National Organization. June 2009 would have been a more appropriate date for his resignation, he said.

Puad told The Associated Press he has received calls from constituents in the southern state of Johor and party leaders in other states expressing unhappiness with Abdullah's decision.

The decision "is but a sole voice amid many other voices," said Tricia Yeoh, a political analyst. "It is possible that instead of uniting the party he may be alienating segments of the party who do not necessarily want to wait two years."

This means more political uncertainty, which has already roiled Malaysia's stock market, contributing to a 25 percent fall in the Kuala Lumpur Composite Index since January.

Abdullah's ruling coalition has been reeling from a crisis of confidence since the elections, when it won a slim 30-seat majority in the 222-member Parliament. It was the first time in 40 years that the coalition failed to get a two-thirds majority.

The resurgent opposition led by Anwar Ibrahim is threatening to bring down the government through parliamentary defections. However, that appears increasingly unlikely after Anwar was hit by a sodomy accusation, which he has dismissed as a political conspiracy by Najib.

Still, analysts say recent allegations against Najib may make it impossible for him to remain in office until 2010.

Najib was recently linked to a slain Mongolian woman whose body was blown up with military-grade explosives. Two policemen are on trial in her murder and a close friend of Najib's is being tried on charges of abetting the murder.

Abdullah says he needs two years to complete a series of reforms to clean up government corruption, make the judiciary independent and revitalize the economy, which is suffering from soaring oil prices and rising inflation.

The next big test of Abdullah's plummeting popularity will come during elections for party officer bearers in December, when he will seek re-election as party president. Traditionally, the party president becomes prime minister, and the post has almost always been uncontested.

"Politics is still not stable yet. There will be a lot more shows coming up," said James Wong, chief analyst of the Strategic Analysis Malaysia think tank.

Associated Press writers Julia Zappei and Eileen Ng contributed to this report.

Source: Malaysian prime minister pressured to quit sooner

The Associated Press