Mar 27, 2008

UMNO to hold elections in December, Ahmad backed as CM

Two important decisions were made at the UMNO Supreme Council decision - the decision not to defer party polls and Umno President Abdullah Ahmad Badawi today said the party had asked former Terengganu Chief Minister (Menteri Besar) Idris Jusoh to accept the Terengganu palace's decision to appoint Ahmad Said as the Menteri Besar.

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's ruling party on Thursday decided to hold a leadership election in December, with Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi vowing to fight to stay on as party chief.

Abdullah has been battling for his political life since disastrous results in March 8 general elections by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which leads the Barisan Nasional coalition.

"We will have elections to select the party leadership," Abdullah, who is UMNO president, said after chairing a meeting of the party's top decision-making body.

"The date that has been set is from the 16th to 20th December," he said, adding that "if they (possible candidates vying for his post) have the support and are ready to challenge me... why not? Go ahead, I am not going to run away."

The elections will also cover other posts within the party.

UMNO information chief Muhammad Muhammad Taib said earlier this week that party leaders had urged Abdullah to postpone the meeting until as late as June 2009.

But chief minister in Negri Sembilan state, Mohamad Hassan, said the party must act fast to reform after the polls, which saw the coalition lose its two-thirds parliamentary majority for the first time since 1969.

"I think we should face the problem head-on instead of running away from it," he said, according to the New Straits Times on Thursday.

"There is no use postponing because, even if we postpone it for five or six years, the problem will still be there and it might even escalate further," said Mohamad, who is also a UMNO supreme council member.

UMNO maverick Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, a former finance minister and a member of Malaysia's royalty, has said he would challenge Abdullah if he received enough support.

After the March 8 polls he called on the entire leadership to step down, saying the coalition had been "defeated and shamed on a scale without precedent in our history".

Former premier Mahathir Mohamad has also called on Abdullah to resign.

Meanwhile, Abdullah said that his government would accept Ahmad Said as the new chief minister of the oil-rich Terengganu state after weeks of wrangling.

"The government has agreed with the palace choice (Ahmad Said) for the post of chief minister for Terengganu," he said.

Abdullah has claimed a mandate to rule despite the election losses, but observers say he is on borrowed time as calls for his resignation persist.

He won a landslide victory in 2004 elections, but was punished in the latest polls over high inflation, rising crime rates and ethnic tensions in the multicultural nation.

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