Monday Jul 12 2004

Malaysia premier may face party challenge

By John Burton

Abdullah Badawi, Malaysia's prime minister, could face unexpected opposition to keeping his post when the country's ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation, holds its convention in September.
Mr Abdullah was appointed prime minister last October by Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the former prime minister, but has yet to be formally approved as party leader. He has since angered some Umno leaders because of a recent crackdown on corruption and efforts to reduce the undue influence of business in politics.
The Umno party elections, which are held every three years, are seen by many Malaysians as being more important than the general elections since they determine the country's leadership.
The Umno-led National Front coalition has won every general election since independence in 1957, and Mr Abdullah received a sweeping mandate from the electorate in March with a landslide victory.
Most analysts believed Mr Abdullah had solidified his control over Umno with the March election in spite of having a weak power base in the party.
But the first signs of opposition appeared on Friday, when Tengku Razaleigh, a party stalwart from the 1980s, said he would challenge Mr Abdullah for the position of party leader, which also determines who will become prime minister.
Mr Razaleigh, a Malay prince who is seen as a reformer, narrowly lost to Dr Mahathir in a bitter contest for party leadership in 1987 that split Umno.
The former finance minister formed a breakaway group that joined the opposition but later returned to Umno.
Mr Razaleigh said the post of party president should be "filled by a leader who is really chosen by the people in the democratic practice of Umno".
Although Mr Razaleigh is given little chance of unseating Mr Abdullah or even attracting enough delegates to support a formal nomination, the move could embolden others to mount a possible challenge against the prime minister.
Another sign of possible discontent is an expected challenge by Mukhriz Mahathir, Dr Mahathir's son, to oppose the nomination of Khairy Jamaluddin, Mr Abdullah's son-in-law, as deputy head of Umno's youth wing.
The post is considered an important step towards future leadership.

Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"