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    Malaysia to replace PM in March amid challenges

    Reuters
    10.10.2008 - 15:03 | Son Güncelleme:

    Malaysia is to get a new prime minister in March as the government seeks to hold onto its 51-year grip on power at a time when economic growth is slowing sharply and the opposition is pressing hard.

    Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who led the government to its worst ever election result and will become the shortest lived Malaysian leader, said he would not stand in a party election next year, effectively ceding power to his deputy.

     

    Najib Razak, the son of one prime minister and the nephew of another, will have to wait six months to take charge, although he is seen as a shoo-in in the leadership election for the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the biggest government party.

     

    "I know that I was not doing well enough during the (March) election so it's time for someone else to take over," Abdullah said on Wednesday when asked whether he was forced out of office.

     

    When he took office in late 2003, Abdullah was seen as a clean broom that would end the nepotism and cronyism of Mahathir Mohamad, the man who led Malaysia for 22 years.

     

    His promises of reform saw him win a landslide election victory in 2004, only for the government to fall to its worst ever result in a poll in March this year.

     

    Since then Malaysia's economy, which had recovered strongly from the Asian crisis of a decade ago, has faltered and economic growth in 2009 is forecast at just 3.0 percent, according to leading investment bank CIMB.

     

    SEXY PARTY
    As well as dealing with the slowing economy, the 55-year-old Najib also faced the tasks of tackling the opposition and reforming his UMNO party and the Barisan Nasional coalition ahead of the next national elections due by 2013.

     

    "The next general elections are not going to be easy unless we really reform," said Koh Tsu Kon, leader of Parti Gerakan which is a member of Barisan. The 13-party Barisan is in a disarray after its election debacle in March.

     

    One UMNO official has already said he will stand against the British-educated Najib, although the deputy premier and finance minister is expected to win.

     

    "Najib lacks the imagination and the drive to make UMNO a 'sexy' party, as it were. The same goes for most UMNO leaders today. None is convincing as a force for the future," said Ooi Kee Beng, a Malaysia expert at the Institute of South East Asian Studies in Singapore.

     

    Abdullah, who has been under pressure since the elections, has failed to implement key pledges like ending corruption and boosting the independence of the judiciary and his government has been criticized for losing its connection with voters hurt by 27-year high inflation and slowing economic growth.

     

    Malaysia, ruled by an UMNO-led government since independence from Britain, is facing a challenge from opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who was forced out of government in the late 1990s and then imprisoned on sodomy and corruption charges.

     

    Anwar, who is facing new charges of sodomy which he denies, has said that he has won over enough government MPs to oust the government and assume power.

     

    But analysts said after several false starts, Anwar's chances of toppling the government now looked slim as MPs would stick by Najib. "Anwar is unlikely to topple the Barisan Nasional government by crossovers but the opposition threat remains," said Lim Hong Hai, political science lecturer at Malaysia's Science University.

     

    Photo: AP

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