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Asia Sentinel – Malaysia’s Prime Minister Under Fire

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Malaysia’s Prime Minister Under Fire

Jed Yoong

07 April 2008

Abdullah Ahmad Badawi lashes back at his critics, who grow in number

malay-abdullahAlmost a month after Malaysia’s national election, the political battleground is getting bloodier inside the Barisan Nasional, the national governing coalition, particularly inside the United Malays National Organisation, the leading ethnic party in the coalition.

After the unexpected loss of its two-thirds parliamentary majority and of five state governments, UMNO is actually scrambling to survive, a stunning development after 50 years of nearly unchallenged dominance of Malaysian politics. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has been faced with a series of brushfire problems all over the place, including the refusal by two state sultans to seat his choice for menteri besar, or chief minister.

Probably the most important thing keeping Badawi in place is the relative weakness of his challengers, which may well keep him where he is until at least party elections in August or September. The contender getting most of the ink is Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, 70, the onetime finance minister and perennial challenger to former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. The party’s other most prominent possible challenger, Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Najib Tun Abdul Razak, has agreed to back Badawi, at least for now.

Nonetheless, sensing Badawi’s vulnerability, his enemies within the party are going after him. Usually subservient party lieutenants are speaking up. Some have begun blogging after a survey showed that the Internet influenced about 80 percent of voters aged 20 to 40. More and more often the phrase “listen to the people/grassroots/voters” is being bandied.

At a meeting with what were described as the “grassroots” of UMNO in Kuala Lumpur Sunday, Badawi lashed out at members of his own party, particularly former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, the septuagenarian former prime minister, who has publicly called for his resignation and whose criticism and refusal to take part in the electoral process in February and March are considered to have been factors in the magnitude of the electoral loss.

Badawi pointed out Mahathir’s role in the draconian arrests of political dissidents in 1987 using the Internal Security Act, which allows for detention without trial, and Malaysia’s scandal-ridden judiciary. In 1988, after the Supreme Court outlawed UMNO following a power struggle in the party over the presidency, Salleh Abbas, the then Lord President, was sacked by a tribunal consisting of judges loyal to Mahathir. That act wiped out the independence of Malaysia’s courts and has led to a long deterioration in the quality of the judicial institution.

Badawi also went after Razaleigh, who has called for an emergency general meeting of the party and who is expected to challenge Badawi for the premiership, for his previous alliance with the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS), charging that that Razaleigh was “the reason Barisan lost Kelantan to PAS in the first place. The Kelantan leader, who rejoined UMNO, has done nothing to win back the state for Barisan.”

Razaleigh in a speech last Saturday called for a “revival of Malay power,” criticizing the influence of foreigners – read ethnic Chinese and Indians – in the country.

Despite the fact that Razaleigh had been a perennial challenger to Mahathir, the two now appear to be getting ready to make common cause against Badawi. Although he has not openly backed Razaleigh’s challenge, Mahathir seems to be saying that he doesn’t mind that it goes forward. Mahathir’s youngest son, Mukhriz, who was elected to parliament as an UMNO member by a wide margin on March 9, has written a letter demanding that Badawi step down. He wasn’t punished for his disobedience, another indication of Badawi’s loss of power in his own party

In the grassroots meeting, Badawi went on to blame sabotage by UMNO members for the loss of two states. “The act of sabotage has already taken place. If not for it, we would not have lost the two-thirds majority and two state governments. We would not have lost Perak and Kedah if not for the act by our own party members,” he said.

As yet another an indication of Badawi’s relative lack of power, his first major attempt at judicial reform was rejected outright when Zaid Ibrahim, whom Badawi appointed a minister in his cabinet, vainly proposed to apologize to Salleh and other judges sacked along with him. However, the second and third-highest UMNO figures, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and International Trade and Industry Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, both refused to go along with the proposal and it was shelved.

Allegiances have become more fluid within the party, with concern rising that as many as 30 newly elected members of the Dewan Rakyat, or Parliament, might jump ship and go to the opposition. Although party members have remained relatively static in peninsular Malaysia, they have often changed affiliation in Sabah and Sarawak in East Malaysia for the promise of cabinet positions or other perks.

Previously seen as a Mahathir man, Najib Tun Abdul Razak, the deputy prime minister and defense minister, has pledged his loyalty to Badawi. Senior political observers say that Najib’s decision not to seek to oust Badawi may be due to his own overflowing closet of skeletons. His closest friend, Abdul Razak Baginda, and two of his bodyguards are being tried for the gruesome murder of a Mongolian translator who shot in the end and then blown up with military-grade explosives. He has also been criticized widely for a series of questionable purchases by the Malaysian military as he is also defense minister.

Perhaps in desperate times, desperate measures are needed. But in Malaysia, desperate politicians resurface. This is at least the third time that Razaleigh has sought to contest the party presidency. In 1987, thwarted by Mahathir, Razaleigh led a faction out of UMNO but eventually he returned. In 2004, he wanted go after Badawi but only received one nomination – from his own division. In line with the “quota system” introduced by Mahathir, Razaleigh needs 30 percent of the total nominations from 193 divisions or roughly 60 nominations. Mahathir now is asking for the system to be abolished in the name of democracy.

Razaleigh was Finance Minister in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He was also a former chairman of the scandal-scarred Bank Bumiputra. Among Malaysians, he is remembered for setting up Petronas, the national oil and gas company, and other Malay nationalistic achievements like seizing ownership and control of British companies. Till today, the “dawn raid” of Guthrie, a British plantation giant, in 1971 is still recalled warmly by ethnic Malays. Yet, little mentioned is the heartless implementation of Malay cultural supremacy and hegemony over this period that marginalized many non-Malays.

These are still early days as the party election is in December. At the moment, the anti-Badawi camp is banking on Razaleigh as the viable alternative but they are still looking for a running mate to contest the deputy presidency. Meanwhile, other contenders may pop up when things calm down a bit.

That’s not likely to happen anytime soon as Anwar, who was barred from politics after being convicted on what were widely regarded as trumped-up charges of sexual deviation and corruption, will be eligible to stand in a by-election on April 14. At that point, one of the winning candidates from Parti Keadilan Rakyat, the People’s Justice Party –possibly Anwar’s wife – will stand down from politics to allow Anwar to run. As head of the unlikely three-party coalition of Keadilan, which is dominated by urban Malays, the largely socialist and Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party and PAS, the fundamentalist Islamic Party, Anwar will be in parliament with the renewed power to make trouble for the ruling coalition.

Comments (5)add

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An brief analysis of your analysis : Alex Gan

This doesn’t seem like an analysis at all. A weak rehash of the week’s event. I really don’t need to read Asia Sentinel for this. God!!!!! Where have all the good writers gone???

April 8, 2008

Sack PM Badawi! : Pro Mahathir

After 5 years in power, as president of UMNO and Prime Minister of Malaysia – why should he still chooses to live under the rotten legacy of Tun Mahathir? PM Badawi must be very happy with it until the recent GE-12. It makes one wonder, why should he blames Tengku Razaleigh alone for failure to wrestle Kelantan during the just concluded GE? As a chairman of Penang UMNO liasson committee, he failed to retain Penang! That is even worst because he is also the Prime Minister and the Chairman of BN! There is nothing much Tengku Razaleigh as an ordinary UMNO Member can do then! PM Badawi should be sacked by UMNO members themselves come December.

April 8, 2008

… : umnokaput

Just as the Malayan Communist Party had been banned in Malaysia, UMNO ought to be also banned because it practises racial politics and unequal human development based on the color of the skin

April 8, 2008

Sack Dr M : bunga raya

Dr Mahathir had openly called for Malaysians to vote for the opposition to deny BN the 2/3 majority in parliament. This is to facilitate the overthrow of Abdullah. For this alone Dr M should be sacked. His actions are unprecedented in UMNO history. If Malays can believe him then there must be something terribly wrong with the Malay psyche/intellect. Are Malays so incapable of thinking for themselves? Haven’t they been reading their own controlled newspapers? It is obvious that Dr Mahathir is the snake in the grass. All these years of NEP, ketuanan melayu/ketuanan islam have had serious systemic repercussions in the Malay psyche/intellect. Even now, UMNO Johor still talk of taking care of the Malays first. For 50 years, they have been saying that, and their cronies continue to make money while the ordinary Malays have become hooked on the idea of instant success and wealth which will never come their way for 99.9% of them. Perhaps the greatest development of the Malays will come when they will begin to think for themselves and be able to interpret Islam with reason and wisdom.

April 8, 2008


Prime Minister Badawi is carrying the can for the sins of his predecessor Mahathir. The Barisan National has been in power for 50 years but the ubiquitous rot set in during Mahathir administration. Badawi is now being forced to be the fall guy for the misdeeds that Mahathir committed. The UMNO party has no relevance in an era of Internet and globalisation. Whilst the world is moving away from racist political ideology, UMNO’s racist mentality remains so entrenced that it is being sucked in by its own inability to improvise, so it could meet the expectations of Malaysians. The signs of UMNO’s slow demise were evident in the recent elections. The rot has set in so deeply that no one could change it. The irony is the leader who inflicted the party with the deadly virus of corruption and non accountability is now calling for Badawi’s resignation. People who live in glass towers should not throw stones. If there is a necessacity to find the culprit for the state of affairs in Malaysia then the culprit is Mahathir, he deserves to be tried as a war criminal for the damaged he has caused the Malaysia judiciary and other state structures

April 8, 2008

Asia Sentinel – Malaysia’s Prime Minister Under Fire


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