31 March, 2008

Malaysia PM in deeper crisis as 4 Cabinet ministers seek leadership reforms

Four Cabinet ministers have endorsed demands by ruling party dissidents to hold an open contest for the party leadership, highlighting the prime minister's weakening control over power in Malaysia after disastrous election results.

The four — from the International Trade and Industry, Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs, Higher Education and National Unity ministries — have come forward to say everybody should be eligible to run for the post of the United Malays National Organization party's president, news reports said Monday.

The nomination quota encourages an "unhealthy political culture," International Trade Minister Muhyiddin Yassin was quoted as saying.

"I hope that with the abolition, the party at all levels will have a healthy democratic election system," said Muhyiddin, who is also the party vice president.

Higher Education Minister Khaled Nordin also called for abolishing the nomination system. Aides of the two ministers confirmed they made the comments.

Muhyiddin stressed that his call did not mean he was against the current leadership or was encouraging members to challenge Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Mahathir, now an ordinary party member, is one of those calling for abolishing the nomination system. Among the others is Razaleigh, who has openly declared he will try to challenge Abdullah.

"I have never been for the ruling. But what to do? It was introduced by Dr. Mahathir himself. When I criticize the decision, everyone says I am critical of (Mahathir). But now it seems he has realized that what he did was not right in the first place," Shahrir Abdul Samad, the domestic trade minister, was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times daily's online edition.

National Unity Minister Shafie Apdal said the system should be abolished because "delegates are now mature enough to decide who they want to lead the party,"

Critics say the quota system ensures that members dissatisfied with the prime minister's leadership cannot challenge him democratically. Supporters say it is necessary to ensure only serious candidates contest.

Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is also the party deputy president, denied it was an impediment to democracy in the party.

"It is not aimed at deterring democracy. Even though there is a quota system, democracy still flourishes in our party," he told reporters.

Abandoning the system would also mean changing the party constitution, which can only be done at an extraordinary general meeting. Party leaders have so far rejected calls for such a meeting.




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