Tuesday Nov 4 2003

Malaysia's new PM vows to carry on policies

By John Burton

Abdullah Badawi, Malaysia's new prime minister, said on Monday he would continue the economic policies of his predecessor, Mahathir Mohamad, who he succeeded on Friday in the first transfer of power in Malaysia in 22 years.
Mr Abdullah is expected to take over the finance portfolio and remain home minister until the next general election, expected in March or April.
Although a new cabinet is not likely to be appointed until after the election, Mr Abdullah is expected to name the deputy prime minister next month.
Najib Razak, the defence minister and son of a former prime minister, is seen as the favourite candidate for the post, which is usually a stepping stone to the premiership.
In his first speech to parliament, Mr Abdullah said he would make the country more attractive to foreign investors by cracking down on corruption, reducing bureaucratic regulations and improving the efficiency of the civil service.
He is expected to retain Dr Mahathir's economic adviser Nor Mohamed Yakcop, who led the campaign for banking reform and corporate debt restructuring during the past two years in a move that won the support of foreign investors.
In spite of Mr Abdullah's promises of continuity with Dr Mahathir's policies, analysts believe he will cut spending on big infrastructure projects, which were the hallmark of his predecessor's administration, and instead focus more resources on developing agriculture and small businesses.
The move to improve the lives of poor rural ethnic Malays is an attempt to win their support ahead of the general elections. Agriculture, which accounts for 9 per cent of gross domestic product, had low priority under Dr Mahathir.
Many rural voters supported the opposition conservative Islamic party, Pas, in the last elections in 1999 because they felt ignored by Dr Mahathir's policy of favouring a select group of Malay businessmen who benefited from the government's privatisation programme.
Pas criticised the privatisation programme and infrastructure projects for creating widespread corruption. Mr Abdullah hopes his reputation as the "Mr Clean" will help gain votes for the ruling National Front coalition.
He also vowed to continue the fight against terrorism. As home minister, Mr Abdullah has placed nearly 100 Islamic terrorist suspects under detention without trial since 2001. "Attempts to undermine national security and public order must be dealt with firmly," he said.