Apr 14, 2008

PM Abdullah rejects pressure to unveil exit plan

PM Abdullah Badawi has faced persistent demands to quit after the coalition led by his United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) was dealt an unprecedented setback in March general elections. However, it is still not the right time for him to resign.

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said Monday he would be re-appointed to the top job by his party in December polls and rejected calls to formalise his plans to relinquish power.

Abdullah has faced persistent demands to quit after the coalition led by his United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) was dealt an unprecedented setback in March general elections.

But despite mounting demands to quickly unveil his plans to hand over to his deputy Najib Razak, he said succession talks would only take place after UMNO's internal leadership polls in December.

"Delegates will continue to give me support during the party election and they will put me as president and Najib as deputy," he told reporters after a meeting of coalition lawmakers.

"After that Pak Lah and Najib will discuss issues related to transfer," he said, referring to himself by his nickname. "Why should I not contest the December party polls?"

"Of course I want the transfer of power to be smooth so that the party will be in good hands and there will be no chaos," he added.

Foreign Minister Rais Yatin indicated earlier that Abdullah's time frame was not adequate, telling the official Bernama news agency that UMNO members had the right to ask Abdullah to step down or announce a succession plan.

"I feel if the succession plan is announced, then the grassroots leaders would know the time frame, and that is good to stabilise the party. The grassroots should be allowed to say what they feel," he said.

Pressure also came from Trade Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, an influential UMNO vice president, who said the party would "fade away" if there were no immediate changes to the leadership.

"I think the sentiments are boiling at the grassroots. Therefore, if change does not happen in UMNO, many adverse things will surface," he said according to a newspaper interview.

After Abdullah's announcement, Domestic Trade Minister Shahril Samad said the premier should give his successor enough time to prepare the party for the next general elections which must be held by 2010.

"Obviously it is going to happen after December. Pak Lah is going to resign any time between 2009 (and) 2010," he told AFP.

"I think we should be fair to him, he has said he is going to go. Why the rush?" he said, adding that within the party there were "pockets of opposition" to Abdullah.

The UMNO-led coalition lost its two-thirds majority in parliament and control of five states in March 8 general elections, in the worst performance of its half-century rule over Malaysia.

Former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad, who handed over to Abdullah in 2003 but has since said he regretted his choice, on Sunday called on him to resign immediately to ensure a smooth handover.

Abdullah reportedly accepted partial responsibility for the party's electoral losses over the weekend, and said he would not "retain the leadership forever".


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