Sep 17, 2008

PM Abdullah says may step down earlier than planned

PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said Wednesday he might step down before a planned handover to his deputy in mid-2010.

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who is facing an opposition bid to seize power, said Wednesday he might step down before a planned handover to his deputy in mid-2010.

Abdullah also said he was giving up his finance portfolio, which will go to deputy premier Najib Razak with immediate effect.

"I will decide when I want to go... I will not be staying more than 2010," Abdullah told a press conference.

"If I should want to go earlier, that is flexible. That is the flexibility we have arranged," he said of the transition plan forged with Najib after disastrous March elections that triggered calls for him to quit.

"It depends on the progress of the role I am giving to Najib. Let's see what he can do. At the same time I'm looking at things I need to do -- reform measures, social measures to deal with the poor."

Abdullah, who will take over Najib's responsibilities as defence minister, said that both he and his deputy were committed to the transition plan, which has been criticised within the ruling party as undemocratic.

There had been speculation that Najib and other figures in the ruling party were preparing to challenge Abdullah, whose popularity has tumbled due to a weakening economy and broken promises for reform.

Adding to the pressure on the premier, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said this week that he has the support of enough lawmakers to topple the Barisan Nasional coalition, which has ruled for half a century.

Abdullah on Wednesday delivered a warning to the opposition leader, accusing him of "lying to the public and confusing the people".

"He has become a threat to the economy and national security," he said -- a serious allegation in Malaysia, where the government can use draconian internal security laws to detain its opponents without trial.

"I will not indicate what plan I will take, what I do will be in the best interests of the people and the country," Abdullah said when asked what action he was going to take.

He also confirmed he would not agree to the opposition leader's request for a meeting to discuss a peaceful transition of power. "There is nothing to discuss," he said.

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