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Outgoing PM gives warning to party -

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Outgoing PM gives warning to party

The World Today - Friday, 27 March , 2009 12:45:00

Reporter: Karen Percy

TANYA NOLAN: As he nears the end of his time in office, Malaysia's Prime Minister, Abdullah Badawi,
has issued a frank and cutting critique of his party and himself.

He warns fellow members of his long-ruling United Malays National Organisation against complacency.

Yesterday, Mr Abdullah's term ended as President of the party, and after this weekend he will hand
over the PM's job too to his deputy, Najib Razak.

The power transfer was part of a deal struck last year in the wake of Mr Abdullah's poor handling
of national elections.

But the new man in the job, Mr Najib, has challenges of his own.

South East Asia correspondent Karen Percy reports.

KAREN PERCY: For the 50-plus years since independence in Malaysia, the United Malays National
Organisation, UMNO, has been the dominant political player.

In his last days as party leader, and the country's prime minister, Abdullah Badawi has been
critical of what UMNO has become.

(Abdullah Badawi speaking)

"We shouldn't be too political," he told the 2,500 delegates of the party's annual general
assembly.

"We need to end the infighting," he said.

In his final address, Mr Abdullah talked of a party that had become complacent and intoxicated by
its own achievements.

He also offered an apology to members for personally failing to fulfil promises, and in making
mistakes during his five-and-a-half years in office.

Mr Abdullah avoided specifics, but he's been criticised for his failure to get a handle on
corruption in government and within his party.

Two weeks ago, a member of UMNO's Supreme Council was arrested for allegedly bribing fellow party
members. Another is being investigated for vote buying.

But for some these cases are too little, too late for Mr Abdullah to claim any kind of success in
dealing with corruption.

OOI KEE BENG: He hasn't done very much. He hasn't gone to the root of the problem.

KAREN PERCY: Ooi Kee Beng is with the Institute of South East Asian Studies in Singapore.

OOI KEE BENG: He will not be a hated man. People will look back at his time and shake their heads a
bit for missed opportunities, I think.

But he's too nice a man to be hated for long, or disliked for long, I think.

KAREN PERCY: Mr Abdullah is leaving the top job somewhat reluctantly.

It took months of negotiations last year, after disastrous national elections, before Mr Abdullah
agreed to hand over to his deputy, Najib Razak.

Mr Najib is from an important political family in Malaysia.

Ooi Kee Beng again:

OOI KEE BENG: He's quite an educated man; cosmopolitan and all that. But, over the last weeks or so
we've been seeing mixed signals.

Now, in Malaysian politics it's very hard to read where the signals are actually coming from.

KAREN PERCY: Critics are also concerned about how Mr Najib will rule.

In the past few weeks, protests have been quashed, and opposition newspapers have been shutdown.

Dr Ooi again.

OOI KEE BENG: The pessimists would say we that we are in for more authoritarianism, the kind we had
before Abdullah.

And the optimists will be saying that, you know, Najib does not really have a choice, other than to
start dialoguing with NGOs, and even the Opposition; if he dared.

KAREN PERCY: Mr Najib has to overcome other concerns. He's been linked to the 2006 murder of a
Mongolian translator, who had been working on a controversial government defence deal at the time
she was killed.

Mr Najib has consistently denied any ties to the case. And it clearly has not hurt his political
future.

He's just days away from following in his father's footsteps.

Abdul Razak was Malaysia's second prime minister.

(Sound of Abdullah Badawi speaking)

In his final speech, Abdullah Badawi urged reform of the party he's leaving behind.

He told members to cooperate together to overcome the party's struggles.

"We need to fight the real enemies - the opposition parties," he said.

A former UMNO insider, and one-time deputy prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim, heads up the Opposition
these days.

There is little love lost between Mr Anwar and Mr Najib. And with three by-elections looming in the
coming weeks, Mr Najib will have little time to enjoy his promotion.

This is Karen Percy reporting for The World Today.