Malaysia’s prime minister took a veiled swipe at dissident politician Anwar Ibrahim on Thursday, telling a ruling-party conference he would not tolerate treachery and would come down hard on street violence.
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, addressing his first party assembly as leader of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), did not refer to Anwar by name but it was clear he had in mind the former deputy premier, who was released from jail this month.
“UMNO must be firm. It cannot compromise with members who blight and tarnish UMNO’s good name,” Abdullah told about 2,000 party delegates, most wearing traditional Malay dress.
“It cannot compromise with those who have disparaged, smeared, attacked the dignity of UMNO and been treacherous to the party. UMNO cannot allow anyone to use itself as a stepping stone for personal gain.”
UMNO, the country’s largest party with 3.2 million members and the backbone of government since Malaysia’s independence in 1957, has been at pains to show its doors are slammed shut to Anwar, who still enjoys some support within the party.
Anwar, once deputy leader of UMNO and viewed as a prime minister-in-waiting, split the party in 1998 after he was sacked by then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, who received a standing ovation at the assembly on Thursday.
Anwar led street protests after his sacking, calling for an end to official corruption and cronyism. He was later jailed on what he called trumped-up charges of sodomy and corruption. He was freed on September 2 after a court quashed the sodomy count.
Abdullah, who took power a year ago when Mahathir retired, said he would use the full force of the law against anyone who tried to upset Malaysia’s unity by fomenting unrest.
“We will bring the full force of the law against anyone or any group which tries to obstruct us from fulfilling this development agenda through violence and rioting,” he said.
Anwar, in Germany recovering from back surgery, says he has no plans to rejoin UMNO. But he claims to have strong grass roots support in the party, widely viewed as the only real vehicle for him to realise his long-held ambition to lead the country.
Abdullah’s veiled attack on Anwar risked putting the international spotlight on the party’s former star, who also came under attack by other speakers during this week’s assembly, though Abdullah also used his speech to highlight his own reform agenda.
Abdullah led UMNO to a overwhelming election victory last March on a pledge to fight official corruption and promote a more moderate brand of Islam. Malaysia has secular government but Islam is the state religion, despite almost half the population subscribing to other faiths.
Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"