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Najib : Ruling Party Must Reform

Malaysia’s incoming prime minister signaled radical reforms in the ruling party, warning Tuesday that failure to end deep-rooted corruption and politics of patronage would sound its death knell.

Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, who will take over the country’s leadership next week, said the United Malays National Organization party should learn from its humbling losses in last year’s general elections.

“What is at stake is nothing less than the very fate of” the party, Najib said in a hard-hitting and candid speech to open the party’s annual congress, which over the next five days will conduct the biggest revamp of leadership in decades.

The party “must learn from the message” given by voters last year, Najib, 55, said. “If we do not heed this message, their seething anger will become hatred and in the end this may cause them to abandon us altogether.”

UMNO, as the dominant party in the ruling National Front coalition, has been in power since independence in 1957. But its popularity plummeted in the March 2008 elections when the Front failed to get a two-thirds majority in Parliament for the first time in 40 years. It also ceded control of five of Malaysia’s 13 states to the opposition.

Much of voter anger was directed at UMNO, whose leaders are widely perceived as corrupt, power-hungry and inefficient. The party is accused of subverting the judiciary, the police force and the bureaucracy.

Chinese and Indian minorities also say the party’s leaders have fueled a religious and ethnic divide in the country.

Even UMNO’s process of electing its leaders is controversial. Although the party has more than 3 million members, the vast majority have no say in party elections.

Instead, only some 2,600 delegates vote in party elections, and candidates for the posts must only secure a certain number of nominations from the heads of the party’s 191 districts.

This has led to a culture of patronage with district heads and delegates often taking bribes and other favors in return for their nominations or votes.

In an extraordinarily bold proposal, Najib suggested direct elections for party officials.

“The time has come for us to review” this system so that the selection of leaders “will be more inclusive,” he said.

Najib’s proposal risks alienating division leaders, who will be deprived of their leverage. It could also anger Najib’s own allies, many of whom have little grass roots support to get elected directly.

The party’s elections this year will be under the old system.

On Wednesday, the party will elect the chiefs of its youth and women’s wings. Delegates will elect the deputy president, three vice presidents and 25 supreme council members on Thursday.

Najib will be elected unopposed as party president, a post that traditionally carries with it the office of prime minister. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, in office since October 2003, is expected to hand over power to Najib on April 2 or 3.

But as Najib prepared to take over, the opposition accused him of trying to silence critics. On Monday, the government banned the opposition’s flagship newspapers for three months and used tear gas to break up a rally by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

“These heavy handed tactics are probably attempts to show off that Najib is going to be a strong leader,” said Aasil Ahmad, an opposition lawyer.

The opposition says the crackdown is an attempt to stop it from making fresh allegations of corruption against Najib. He has been dogged for years with accusations of involvement in shady defense deals and of links in the slaying of a Mongolian woman in 2006. Najib has denied all allegations.

Source : Associated Press

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1 Comment so far

  1. xan man on March 25th, 2009

    All these are just “talk only”. The malays call it “wayang kulit”. They have been talking for decades but did the opposite. How can a mother crab tell his baby crabs to walk straight? When she herself walk sideways..

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