Thursday, January 31, 2008

Malaysian PM denies 'gentleman's agreement' to step down

Malaysian PM denies 'gentleman's agreement' to step down
9 hours ago 1 Feb. 2008

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) — Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi Thursday denied he had made a "gentleman's agreement" with former premier Mahathir Mohamad to stay as premier for only one term.

Mahathir, who has had a public falling out with his successor, has said he did not expect the current prime minister to lead for more than one term, and suggested he step down.

"No gentleman's agreement," Abdullah said when asked if the two statesmen struck a deal when he took over in 2003. The premier will attempt to win a second term in general elections expected to be held in March.

Abdullah said he supported Mahathir's campaign to have clean and corruption-free candidates for the election but said the people would ultimately decide who they want as their representatives.

"The rakyat (people) always decide what they want to see," he said.

"People have been saying many things to get the rakyat to do (what these individuals want) for the last 50 years but the people in the end decide what they want to do," he said.

Abdullah won a landslide victory in the 2004 polls when voters were enthused by his plans to fight corruption, but since then he has been widely criticised for inaction and suffered a steep tumble in popularity.

In recent months he has faced an unprecedented wave of public protests over the rights of minority ethnic Indians, as well as electoral reform and rising food and fuel prices.

Abdullah is head of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) which leads a coalition of race-based political parties that have ruled multicultural Malaysia for the past 50 years.

He downplayed the negative effect on votes for the coalition after the December arrests of five Indian activists under internal security laws and allegations of marginalisation of the community.

"It might be a little bit, to be realistic, but nothing more than that," he said.

Mahatir handpicked Abdullah as his successor when he stepped down but when the new leader dumped several of his pet projects the former prime minister began launching accusations of economic mismanagement, nepotism and corruption.

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