KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said Wednesday he will step down next March and hand power to his deputy, ending months of uncertainty since disastrous general elections.
Abdullah has been under intense pressure to quit since leading the Barisan Nasional coalition to its worst polls performance in half a century, losing a third of parliamentary seats and five states to the opposition.
The premier said he expected his United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which leads the multi-racial coalition, to hand Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak the top job in a leadership vote next March.
"I am now announcing I will not seek the presidency of UMNO in the upcoming elections. I want a party that is united," he told a press conference.
"I will hand over power to... Najib after he wins the election at the general assembly. I am sure he will win," he said.
"There will be a transition of power after the new president of UMNO is decided upon."
The president of UMNO -- which has dominated Malaysian politics since independence from Britain in 1957 -- by tradition automatically becomes prime minister of the country.
Abdullah originally wanted to hand over to Najib in mid-2010 but was forced to review his departure date as he lost support from the grassroots of UMNO, which was shattered by the March election results.
He also faced a campaign by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who is seeking to seize power with the help of defecting lawmakers.
Anwar says he has the numbers to form a new administration but is being blocked from triggering a change in government -- which would be the first in Malaysia's history.
Abdullah came to power in 2003 and was initially buoyed by a groundswell of support for his promises of reform after two decades of rule under veteran premier Mahathir Mohamad.
However, he was quickly seen as weak and ineffective after failing to come to grips with corruption, high crime rates and inefficient bureaucracy which he had vowed to address.
Abdullah insisted Wednesday that he still intended to fulfil his promises.
"I intend to carry out several initiatives before I leave office," he said, pointing to the anti-corruption programs, reform of the judiciary and poverty alleviation.
The political vacuum since the March elections has paralysed foreign investment and suppressed trade on the stock exchange, in a malaise which is now being worsened by the global economic crisis.
(Malaysiakini) Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has decided not to defend his Umno president post and will quit in March next year when the ruling party meets at its annual general assembly.
Abdullah told leaders of the 13 Barisan Nasional component parties that he would be stepping down as prime minister in five months at the BN supreme council meeting in Putra World Trade Centre this afternoon.
“PM to step down in March, DPM to take over. He won’t stand for Umno election,” a component party leader told Malaysiakini via an SMS message. The meeting is still underway.
It is also learnt that the BN leaders are presently thanking Abdullah for his leadership.
As the prime minister was briefing BN leaders on the power transfer plan, scores of Abdullah’s supporters gathered outside the PWTC building to urge him to stay on.
Armed with banners, the supporters are calling on the embattled premier to continue until 2010 amid speculations that he might be forced to step down earlier.
The banners read: 'Hormati peralihan kuasa, elakan perpecahan lagi' (Respect the transition of power, avoid further rifts) and 'Pak Lah, teruskan perjuangan' (Pak Lah, continue the struggle).
The supporters also chanted 'Hidup Pak Lah' (Long live Pak Lah) and 'Pak Lah presiden, Najib timbalan'. (Pak Lah as president, Najib as deputy).
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