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Malaysian PM cautions UMNO against returning to authoritarian rule

By Channel NewsAsia’s Malaysia Bureau Chief Melissa Goh | Posted: 26 March 2009 2313 hrs

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s outgoing Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has warned the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) to reform or die.

Addressing the party’s general assembly for the last time as its leader, he said UMNO will be doomed if it reverts to its old ways of clipping the people’s freedom and silencing critics to stay in power.

Mr Abdullah has handed over the reins to his deputy Najib Razak, who by tradition, will become the country’s prime minister. However, no date has been set for Mr Najib to be sworn into office.

The Malaysian prime minister, who has been at the helm for five and a half years, cautioned the party against returning to the authoritarian rule under his predecessor, Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

“If we revert to the old path, I believe we are choosing the wrong way, one that will take us to regression and decay. It’s a path that I fear will hasten the demise of UMNO,” he said.

Mr Abdullah also dished out a list of suggestions, including amending the party’s constitution, limiting the number of terms for those holding office and allowing all members to vote to tackle money politics.

But critics said it has all come a little too late.

Abdullah Ahmad, former editor-in-chief, NSTP, said: “He deluded himself, he over-promised… Only in his dying days, (when) he is a lame duck, he wants to do something.”

Known as Mr Nice Guy, Mr Abdullah has often been criticised for being indecisive and weak, and he apologised for this on Thursday.

“In my years of service, there have been times that I have erred. I, too, have not been able to fulfil all my promises.”

He thanked the party leaders including his biggest critic, Dr Mahathir, who did not attend the assembly. On Wednesday night, his son Mukhriz shockingly lost his bid for the Youth Chief post to Khairy Jamaluddin, the 33-year-old son-in-law of Mr Abdullah.

A scuffle had broken out between supporters of both sides after the results were announced.

Mr Mukhriz, who is the MP of Jerlun, said: “There’s a certain feeling that the voice of the grassroots was not translated into votes last night, perhaps that’s the reason why you have such a response.”

While all eyes are on the outcome of the deputy presidency race as well as three vice president posts that are up for grabs, Mr Abdullah has continued to keep everyone guessing on the actual date of the premiership handover.

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