Tuesday March 2, 2004

Malaysia's Abdullah says 'it's lonely at the top'

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who is expected to call national elections this week, said Monday that making decisions on matters of state was a heavy and solitary burden.
"It's certainly lonely at the top," Abdullah told a gathering of government workers during a pre-campaign visit to northern Kedah state.
Quoted by the national news agency, Bernama, Abdullah said many people had wondered how he would measure up against his predecessor, Mahathir Mohamad, who ruled this Southeast Asian country for 22 years before retiring in October.
"When I took over, some people had expressed doubts and some had commented 'Dr. Mahathir's shoes are very big, can you wear them?"' Abdullah was quoted as saying. "I merely replied: 'I don't know how big his shoes are, but I have my (own) shoes'."
Critics say Mahathir centralized power in his office during his rule, contributing to cronyism and weakening the independence of government institutions such as the judiciary.
Abdullah has made fighting corruption the centerpiece of his election strategy and has promised more open and accountable government. Like Mahathir, however, Abdullah has kept several of the government's top jobs, including the finance minister's portfolio.
Preparations for national elections have reached fever pitch, with government-linked newspapers openly predicting Abdullah, who has been touring the country warning government party members to be ready, will call them this week.
Abdullah will be seeking his own mandate after taking over from Mahathir, and has launched campaigns against police abuse and corruption and canceled some high-profile contracts with Mahathir-era tycoons, moves that have proved popular.
Abdullah, whose reputation as Malaysia's "Mr. Nice Guy" contrasts with Mahathir's combative one, said he had been handed "a tremendous task, it's not easy to carry out" because any mistakes could cause Malaysians to suffer.
"Before becoming Prime Minister, I did not really feel it although I was working closely with Dr. Mahathir," Abdullah was quoted as saying. "Now, even for the most difficult matter, I have to decide myself, there's no one else, only me."
Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"