Sunday, March 29, 2009

Malaysia ruling party in disarray over vote-buying

Malaysia ruling party in disarray over vote-buying
Wednesday, March 18, 2009

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Malaysia's ruling party was in disarray Wednesday after an internal probe found a top leader and 10 officials guilty of vote-buying ahead of elections for office bearers.

The revelations Tuesday exposed the depth of corruption and venality in the United Malays National Organization party, which have long been whispered but rarely admitted or confronted openly.

"This will send a shock wave through UMNO," said Mohamad Mustafa Ishak, a political analyst at North Malaysia University. "They just cannot simply ignore (problems in the party) by not taking any action at all."

The trigger for the self-examination was the drubbing the party received in last year's general elections at the hands of a disgruntled public, which made leaders realize their position was no longer secure after 51 years of uninterrupted power.

"The public perception is that UMNO is arrogant and has unhealthy practices. We have to clean up UMNO," Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said. "We have to change or be changed."

The UMNO disciplinary committee, which investigated 29 politicians, found a prominent politician, Mohamad Ali Rustam, guilty of violating party ethics and barred him from contesting the deputy president post.

Mohamad Ali said Wednesday he will appeal the ruling and urged his backers to remain calm. He has strong grass roots support, and his followers are not likely to accept his ouster quietly, deepening party divisions.

The party will hold a vote March 24-28 to elect top office bearers to occupy senior government positions. The party's deputy president usually becomes the deputy prime minister.

Najib is standing unopposed for the post of party president, which will make him the prime minister. He will replace Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

"We have to defend our party which is facing many challenges," Mohamad Ali said. "We also want to see a smooth transition of power to (Najib)."

The committee also suspended 10 senior party officials, including three of Mohamad Ali's aides, for up to three years.

Former Law Minister Zaid Ibrahim, who was expelled from UMNO last year for attending opposition gatherings, urged the country's king Wednesday not to appoint Najib as premier. He claimed Najib was tainted by public perceptions of corruption.

Najib "will most certainly divide us and in doing so, will nudge us closer to the edge," Zaid said in a public speech.

Other cracks were already becoming evident. Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar said the timing of the disciplinary committee's decision was wrong, and could further destabilize the party.

Party members are also grumbling that Prime Minister Abdullah's son-in-law, Khairy Jamaluddin, was let off with a warning even though he was found guilty of the same crime as Mohamad Ali.


Associated Press writers Julia Zappei and Sean Yoong contributed to this report.

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