Thursday, March 26, 2009

'Umno's glory has dimmed'

KUALA LUMPUR - MALAYSIA'S outgoing premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on Thursday issued a damning indictment of the ruling party, saying it was contaminated by greed, complacency and internal rivalries.

In his last speech to the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) before handing over as party leader to his deputy Najib Razak, Abdullah lamented the decay that has set in after a half-century in power.

'We were intoxicated by our own achievements and we became complacent. We believed that we had become all-powerful. We have put our own positions within the party first,' he told delegates at its annual meeting.

Mr Abdullah said that elections a year ago, which handed the opposition control of a third of parliamentary seats in an unprecedented result that effectively ended his career, were a sign that 'Umno's glory has dimmed'.

'Materialism has seeped into the party, making a number of party members greedy and avaricious,' he said.

'The path that we choose will determine whether we continue to remain relevant or whether we are reduced to a forgotten footnote in the pages of history.' The 66-year-old drifted through a lacklustre term in power after taking over from veteran premier Mahathir Mohamad, who led Malaysia for more than two decades and publicly undermined his successor after the 2003 handover.

Mr Abdullah was punished at the ballot box for failing to implement reforms he had promised, including overhauling the police force and tackling corruption which is endemic in Umno and Malaysian society.

However, he won some measure of praise for giving more space to free expression after the repressive Dr Mahathir years, and on Thursday he warned the party not to resort to a hardline approach.

'If we revert to the old path I believe we are choosing the wrong path, one that will take us to regression and decay. It is a path that I fear will hasten our demise,' he said.

Mr Najib has promised a radical overhaul of Umno, but commentators say his political baggage - including low popularity ratings and unsubstantiated allegations of corruption and links to a sensational murder - will weaken his position.

Mr Najib has appealed to party members, who are voting this week to fill a range of key posts, to install a strong new leadership team to help him effect the turnaround.

No date has been set for the formal transition of power, but the king is expected to swear Mr Najib in as the nation's next leader on April 3. -- AFP

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