Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Malaysia's leadership battle hit with corruption probe

Malaysia's leadership battle hit with corruption probe
Posted: 17 March 2009

KUALA LUMPUR - A battle for senior leadership posts in Malaysia's ruling party was hit with a bombshell Tuesday as 15 members including several top figures were found guilty in an anti-corruption probe.

Mohamad Ali Rustam, a leading contender for the party's deputy presidency, which comes up for grabs in internal elections later this month, was the most prominent of those implicated.

If successful he would have become deputy prime minister and by the party's convention next in line for the prime ministership after Najib Razak, the current deputy, becomes premier later this month.

The party's disciplinary chief, Ahmad Rithauddeen Ismail, said Mohamad Ali was disqualified from running for the post after three of his aides were found guilty of vote-buying.

"It is presumption of guilt, as the principle is that he is liable for the wrongdoing of his agents," the disciplinary head told a press conference.

The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which heads the coalition that has governed Malaysia for half a century, is in turmoil as it faces sweeping leadership changes at its March 24-28 conference.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is to stand aside for his deputy Najib, creating the key vacancy, but there has also been frenzied campaigning for other senior positions that have become available.

Khairy Jamaluddin, Abdullah's son-in-law and an ambitious but controversial political figure in his own right, was also found guilty of having agents who were involved in vote-buying and given a warning.

He will however be allowed to run for the influential post of UMNO youth chief.

The other 13 figures named, who were all found guilty of involvement in "money politics" during intense campaigning for the leadership spots, were given suspensions and warnings.

The opposition has said that the UMNO's anti-graft purge is mainly aimed at settling old scores, and that it only scratches the surface of the corruption that has dogged the party for decades.

Najib rejected suggestions that the move against Mohamad Ali -- seen as close to Abdullah's outgoing administration -- could trigger a split within the party.

Two other candidates, including Trade Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who is considered an ally of Najib, remain in the running for the deputy post.

"We want UMNO to be seen as a clean party so we realise that there is some risk attached to it (internal factions). But the biggest risk is... if UMNO is rejected by the people," Najib told reporters.

Najib admitted there was a widespread view that the UMNO was "arrogant and has unhealthy practices."

"We have to clean up UMNO... if we don't change, we will be changed," he said.

Corruption was one of the issues that saw the UMNO-led coalition punished in general elections a year ago that handed unprecedented gains to the opposition, including control of five states and a third of parliament.

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