Malaysian ruling party dissidents launch attack on weakened prime minister

April 1, 2008

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad urged his supporters Tuesday to openly rebel against the prime minister after massive losses in general elections plunged the ruling party into its worst crisis.

About 2,000 members of the United Malays National Organization party gathered to hear Mahathir speak at a hotel conference hall in the biggest display of defiance so far against the party’s leader, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

The meeting’s agenda was to analyze the unprecedented losses suffered by Abdullah’s National Front ruling coalition in March 8 general elections. But it turned into a free-for-all session to bitterly criticize the 68-year-old prime minister, who is watching his grip on power weaken despite insisting he has the full support of his party.

“I call on him to resign. Anyone else would have done so already, but he is shameless,” Mahathir said. “If he waits until the party is totally destroyed, it would be useless.”

Mahathir accused Abdullah of failing to curb unbridled corruption, nepotism and cronyism. He referred repeatedly to Abdullah’s son-in-law, Khairy Jamaluddin, who is believed to wield huge influence in the Malay party, which is the dominant group in the National Front.

Mahathir ruled Malaysia for 22 years before handing power to Abdullah in 2003. Although he personally picked Abdullah, Mahathir is now the prime minister’s most vocal critic. His son Mukhriz, a senior party official, also urged Abdullah to resign.

“We have reached a crossroads. There is something very wrong with our leadership, which is Abdullah Ahmad Badawi,” Mukhriz said to loud applause.

The show of anger is a clear sign of the deep crisis in the National Front, which is reeling from its worst electoral performance ever. The coalition lost five of Malaysia’s 13 states and its traditional two-thirds majority in parliament for the first time since 1969.

Mahathir urged disgruntled party members to organize themselves against Abdullah.

“We must arrange our moves,” Mahathir said. “It is pointless if I am alone. All of us must be brave. If you love your country, be brave and speak out.”

An Abdullah loyalist, Mohamad Khir Toyo, acknowledged the party needs reforms but said a leadership change was not necessarily the solution. He was bombarded with questions from the audience about whether Khairy had influence in choosing election candidates.

Abdullah has postponed party elections that had been set for August to December. Critics say he is trying to avoid losing re-election as party president.

Also on Tuesday, Malaysia’s three ideologically diverse opposition parties forged a formal coalition, the People’s Alliance, to boost their challenge to the National Front.

The coalition — comprising the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, the secular Chinese-based Democratic Action Party and the multiethnic People’s Justice Party — agreed to “uphold the rights and interests of all Malaysians,” said opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.


Associated Press writer Julia Zappei contributed to this report.



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