Saturday, March 28, 2009

Badawi to quit in April 2009. Good riddance.

Malaysian prime minister to resign April 2
The Associated Press
Saturday, March 28, 2009; 6:22 AM
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Malaysia's prime minister announced Saturday he will resign April 2 and hand over power to his deputy, completing a transition one year in the making after the ruling coalition's shock drubbing in general elections.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi relinquished the presidency of the United Malays National Organization party, which leads the ruling National Front coalition, earlier this week to Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak.
In keeping with tradition, the party chief also becomes prime minister.
"I wish to retire with a feeling of peace. I want to carry no negative emotions with me," Abdullah said, choking with emotion in a speech wrapping up the party's annual congress.
Abdullah, 69, said he will meet Malaysia's king, the constitutional monarch, on April 2 to convey "my intention to relinquish my responsibility as the prime minister." He said a ceremony to hand the reins over to Najib will be held later but gave no date. Local media speculate it will happen April 3.
Najib, 55, comes to office under a cloud of his own. The opposition accuses him of corruption and links to the murder of a young woman who was his friend's mistress. He vehemently denies the allegations.
"Please don't prejudge me ... judge me by my actions. Don't judge me on rumors of baseless allegations," Najib told reporters after Abdullah's speech.
The five-day UMNO congress elected top office bearers, most of them Najib allies, who will find places in his Cabinet.
"I believe the new leadership lineup will bring the desired change and strengthen our party to return it to the people's hearts," Abdullah said, quoting liberally from the Quran in a 30-minute speech.
The party congress' debates and speeches also became a virtual soul-searching to pinpoint the reasons for UNMO's plunging popularity.
They acknowledged what many Malaysians have been saying: UMNO is a party of corrupt and power-hungry politicians. The party is also accused of subverting the judiciary, the police force and the bureaucracy while discriminating against the Chinese and Indian minorities.
In 2003, Abdullah replaced longtime Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad amid great hopes that he would be a reformer. He was credited with allowing people to criticize the government and loosening controls over the media. But his much-vaunted promises to end corruption and bring about racial equality brought few results.
Critics within the party also said the freedoms he allowed led to a groundswell of support for the opposition, which dealt a heavy blow to the National Front in March 2008 elections. The front failed to win its traditional two-thirds majority in Parliament for the first time in 40 years and lost control of five states, its worst result since taking power after independence in 1957.
On Saturday, Abdullah apologized for his shortcomings. In earlier speeches, many party leaders paid handsome tributes to Abdullah for stepping down in the party's interest.
Abdullah also was weakened by regular public attacks from Mahathir, who accused him of corruption and nepotism by promoting his son-in-law, Khairy Jamaulddin. To the surprise of many, Khairy defeated Mahathir's son in an election at the UNMO congress for chief of the party's youth wing.
After his speech, Abdullah walked over and embraced Mahathir, who attended the congress for first time in four years, apparently to mark Abdullah's departure.
Abdullah said he will take a short break from politics to help his wife with her garden but will continue to contribute to the party.
"It is not that I will disappear and go to another world or to outer space," he said. He is expected to remain a lawmaker in Parliament but will have no role in Najib's government.