25 September, 2008

Special Umno Supreme Council meeting trigger speculation over PM's fate

Umno's Supreme Council will hold a special meeting tomorrow amidst speculations that the 2010 power transition plan could be reviewed and that party elections, scheduled December, could be postponed.

The hastily arranged meeting has triggered fresh speculation on the future of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Abdullah was reportedly hit with calls to stand down by four of his Cabinet ministers at a meeting last week of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) Supreme Council.

"I believe there will be a special Supreme Council meeting tomorrow," Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters Thursday, but declined to give details of what would be discussed.

"Any political questions will only be answered tomorrow," he said.

In a bid to end the damaging speculation over his future, which has suppressed foreign investment and trade on the stock market, Abdullah forged a deal to hand over to Najib in mid-2010.

But the pact has been criticised within UMNO, and Trade Minister Muhyiddin Yassin -- a potential challenger -- said this week that the party faced oblivion if it did not quickly address internal conflicts and the opposition threat.

"I am in the dark just as you. All I know is I received the phone call and was told to attend the meeting tomorrow morning," quoted UMNO information chief Muhammad Muhammad Taib

Malaysiakini cited UMNO sources as saying that Friday's emergency meeting would likely address the power transition plan.

Another party source said the emergency meeting will focus on the transition plan, given that the open discussions and statements on it are causing instability in the party, and by extension, the country.

Embattled Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has already said he will give up power to take responsibility for the ruling coalition's humiliating performance in polls earlier this year.

But Abdullah hasn't specified exactly when he might hand over the reins to his deputy, Najib Razak, even though the government's popularity figures are languishing at a record low.

Despite the transition plan, there appears to be a groundswell of sentiment within UMNO that would prefer Abdullah to leave much sooner than he would prefer.

This sentiment is also coming from some of the reactionary forces within UMNO, which are believed to be inspired by former premier and party leader Mahathir Mohamad.

Mahathir formally quit the party in May, but he is now said to be contemplating a return.

He was reported to be backing former finance minister Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah's bid for the UMNO presidency, which will be decided in December.

Mahathir's son, Mukhriz Mahathir, is also reported to be eyeing the leadership of UMNO's powerful youth wing. He will likely run up against Abdullah's ambitious son-in-law, Khairy Jamaluddin, and former Selangor state chief minister Mohamad Khir Toyo for that post.

The political transition could speed up if Abdullah fails to secure enough nominations for the UMNO presidency from the party's various divisions, whose elections are due to run from October to November.

To receive the nomination, he needs to secure the nod from at least 30%, or 58 divisions, of UMNO's 191 party divisions across the country. With his mounting political troubles, not everyone is convinced he can pull it off.

No one doubts that Malaysian politics are about to undergo a sea change.

The only questions are when and how — and those are big questions in a country that is trying to secure its status as a model Muslim-majority democracy.

Will Anwar — a man who once served as deputy prime minister until he had a political falling-out with his mentor and spent six years in jail — be able to bring down a ruling coalition that has governed Malaysia since independence?

Or will Najib — the current deputy premier whose reputation has been tainted by the murder trial of his former advisor — take the helm and sustain the National Front's hold on power?

Already, Anwar's power play has been dismissed as a mere rhetorical flourish by the ruling coalition.

Still, Anwar insists its plan to topple Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi's government is still on track, as doubts emerge about the credibility of those claims after it missed two self-set deadlines for ushering in political change.

The political uncertainty is starting to take a toll on the economy and investor confidence. Foreign direct investment flows had already turned negative for 2007 for the first time in the country's 50-year history, according to the 2008 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) World Investment Report, released this week. Inflation hit a 27-year high of 8.5% in August, adding fuel to the population's discontent with the United Malays Nasional Organization (UMNO)-led government.

Abdullah has repeatedly accused Anwar of causing instability and undermining the economy. Anwar has countered that the economic problems stem from Abdullah's failure to introduce meaningful economic reforms.

Sources :

Anwar plays a waiting game in Malaysia

Umno to hold emergency meeting

Malaysia's Political Waiting Room

Malaysia's ruling party talks trigger speculation over PM's fate

Special Umno Supreme Council meeting on transition plan

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