Friday, March 20, 2009

Malaysia ruling party faces rift on graft crackdown

Malaysia ruling party faces rift on graft crackdown
Mar 20, 2009

KUALA LUMPUR, March 20 (Reuters) - An anti-graft crackdown in Malaysia's ruling party has opened up a political rift that could potentially weaken the leadership of incoming premier Najib Razak.

Najib will become Malaysia's sixth Prime Minister after hi United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party elections next week.

He will lead a government struggling to come back from historic losses in elections last year and amid Malaysia's
first recession since the Asian financial crisis a decade ago.

Just a week before the party polls, a popular leader, Ali Rustam, was barred from standing for the post of deputy leader of UMNO and hence deputy prime minister on grounds that he had been buying votes.

That could open the way for supporters of Ali to vote against the person seen as Najib's pick as his deputy,
International Trade Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

"If this happens, it will affect the credibility of Najib and the whole UMNO leadership," said Ramli Yunus, an UMNO
divisional official from the northern state of Kedah.

Running against Muhyiddin is Muhammad Muhammad Taib, the former chief minister of Malaysia's richest state Selangor.

Muhammad is known locally as "Mike Tyson" for his strong support in UMNO and was once arrested at an Australian airport with A$1.6 million (S$1.6 million) in a suitcase. His defence was that he couldn't understand English.

A victory by Muhammad, or even a narrow win by Muhyiddin, will be a source of embarrassment for Najib, as it would show his failure to ensure a strong mandate to the man seen as his preferred running mate.

Defending Malay rights

The one arena Najib cannot control directly are the roughly 2,500 delegates to the UMNO conference next week.

They are more conservative and more aggressive about defending Malay rights than the general population and some are angry they didn't get a contest for the top party post for which Najib is standing unopposed.

Straight after the problematic party elections, Najib has to fight a parliamentary by-election and two state seat

"It (the UMNO poll) will signal that Najib doesn't have strong support from UMNO and will be partially damaging for Najib if this is followed up by losses in the three by-elections that will immediately follow," said political
analyst Ong Kian Ming.

Political analysts see Najib as a careful man who plans his every move after a more than 30-year career in parliament in which he has led the education and defence ministries as well as his current finance and deputy premier posts.

Yet, he already appears to have made one uncharacteristic mistake in a botched attempt to take over the opposition
controlled state of Perak last month.

A slew of legal suits filed by the Anwar Ibrahim-led People's Alliance to challenge the legality of the putsch
engineered by Najib has now left the state's administration in limbo.

Ong noted that the aristocratic Najib, son of Malaysia's second Prime Minister Abdul Razak Hussein, had been groomed for leadership since becoming an MP at the age of 22 after his father's death.

The bruising battles that lie ahead are things which he has never had to endure.

"Throughout his political career, Najib has never had to fight like this before," Ong said.

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