Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Malaysia's ruling party under corruption spotlight

Malaysia's ruling party under corruption spotlight
Posted: 15 March 2009

KUALA LUMPUR: A top member of Malaysia's ruling party has been charged with corruption while another has been investigated in the past week as the party heads for a critical annual meeting.

The new allegations put the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) under the spotlight but analysts said the moves only touched the surface and suggested corruption ran deeper in the party that has ruled for half a century.

On Friday, Norza Zakaria, a member of UMNO's supreme council -- its highest decision-making body -- was charged in central Pahang state with two charges of giving bribes worth 3,400 ringgit (918 dollars) to party members in January.

Norza pleaded not guilty and was released on bail pending trial.

Earlier last week, Tourism Minister Azalina Othman Said's office was also investigated by the ACC after her political aide was found with 70,000 ringgit in a haul believed to be linked to vote-buying.

Azalina, who is also contesting a seat on the UMNO supreme council during the party elections scheduled between March 24 and 28, said she would cooperate with the authorities.

UMNO, which has ruled Malaysia since independence, asked the Anti-Corruption Agency last July to help it battle vote-buying ahead of the heated battle for top leadership positions.

James Chin, a political analyst at Monash University's campus in Kuala Lumpur suggested the latest investigations were only the tip of the iceberg.

"All these are small fishes," Chin told AFP. "This is just one way of showing UMNO is serious about its anti-corruption drive and also a way to bring back some credibility to the Anti-Corruption Agency," he told AFP.

While the probes have put UMNO under scrutiny, Chin said it would not affect the party meeting, which will see a leadership transition to deputy premier Najib Razak.

"The UMNO deal is done and Najib Razak is going to be the number one. It makes no difference to the party poll," he said, as Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi prepares to depart after an unpopular term in power.

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