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Malaysian Premier Announces Resignation

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29 Mar 09 | NY Times

Malaysia’s prime minister announced Saturday that he will resign Thursday and hand over power to his deputy, completing a transition one year in the making after the ruling coalition’s surprising victory in general elections.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi relinquished the presidency of the United Malays National Organization party, which leads the governing National Front coalition, last week to Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak.

In keeping with tradition, the party chief also becomes prime minister.

“I wish to retire with a feeling of peace. I want to carry no negative emotions with me,” Mr. Abdullah said, choking with emotion in a speech wrapping up the party’s annual congress.

Mr. Abdullah, 69, said he will meet Malaysia’s king, the constitutional monarch, on Thursday to convey “my intention to relinquish my responsibility as the prime minister.” He said a ceremony to hand the reins over to Mr. Najib will be held later but gave no date. Some local media outlets speculated that it would happen Friday.

Mr. Najib, 55, comes to office under a cloud of his own. The opposition accuses him of corruption and links to the murder of a young woman who was his friend’s mistress. He vehemently denies the allegations.

The five-day congress elected top officials, most of them Najib allies, who will find places in his cabinet.

“I believe the new leadership lineup will bring the desired change and strengthen our party to return it to the people’s hearts,” Mr. Abdullah said, quoting liberally from the Koran in a 30-minute speech.

In 2003, Abdullah replaced longtime Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad amid great hopes that he would be a reformer. He was credited with allowing people to criticize the government and loosening controls over the media. But his promises to end corruption and bring about racial equality brought few results.

Critics within the party also said the freedoms he allowed led to a groundswell of support for the opposition, which dealt a heavy blow to the National Front in March 2008 elections. The front failed to win its traditional two-thirds majority in Parliament for the first time in 40 years and lost control of five states, its worst result since taking power after independence in 1957.

On Saturday, Mr. Abdullah apologized for his shortcomings. In earlier speeches, many party leaders paid handsome tributes to Mr. Abdullah for stepping down in the party’s interest.

Mr. Abdullah also was weakened by regular public attacks from Mr. Mahathir, who accused him of corruption and nepotism by promoting his son-in-law, Khairy Jamaulddin. To the surprise of many, Mr. Khairy defeated Mr. Mahathir’s son in an election at the congress for chief of the party’s youth wing.

After his speech, Mr. Abdullah walked over and embraced Mr. Mahathir, who attended the congress for the first time in four years, apparently to mark Mr. Abdullah’s departure.

Mr. Abdullah said he will take a short break from politics to help his wife with her garden but will continue to contribute to the party.

“It is not that I will disappear and go to another world or to outer space,” he said. He is expected to remain a lawmaker in Parliament but will have no role in Mr. Najib’s government.

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Written by Editors

29 March 2009 at 8:00 am

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