Malaysia’s outgoing premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi Thursday issued a damning indictment of the ruling party, saying it was contaminated by greed, complacency and internal rivalries.
In his last speech to the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) before handing over the party leadership to his deputy Najib Razak, Abdullah lamented the decay that has set in after a half-century in power.
“We were intoxicated by our own achievements and we became complacent. We believed that we had become all-powerful. We have put our own positions within the party first,” he told delegates at its annual meeting.
“Materialism has seeped into the party, making a number of party members greedy and avaricious.“
Abdullah said that elections a year ago, which handed the opposition control of a third of parliamentary seats in an unprecedented result that effectively ended his career, were a sign that “UMNO’s glory has dimmed.”
“UMNO faces a life and death situation — one that concerns our future and survival,” he said.
The 66-year-old drifted through a lacklustre term in power after taking over from veteran premier Mahathir Mohamad, who led Malaysia for more than two decades and publicly undermined his successor after the 2003 handover.
Abdullah was punished at the ballot box for failing to implement reforms he had promised, including overhauling the police force and tackling corruption, which is endemic in the UMNO and Malaysian society.
However, he won some measure of praise for giving more space to free expression after the repressive Mahathir years, and on Thursday he warned the party not to resort to a hardline approach.
“If we revert to the old path I believe we are choosing the wrong path, one that will take us to regression and decay. It is a path that I fear will hasten our demise,” he said.
Abdullah received a standing ovation, but outside the meeting hall there was a lukewarm reaction to his hard-hitting critique on the ruling party and the Barisan Nasional coalition that it helms.
“Barisan Nasional is still a relevant concept and it has survived over the years very well. All we need is just some house-cleaning,'” said Astaman Abdul Aziz, who is vying for a seat on the UMNO’s policy-making supreme council.
“UMNO members must really heed the call by the PM. If we don’t attempt to change, then the next general election will be bad for us,” he said. “But I have hope for the party.”
Najib, the son and nephew of two former prime ministers, was Thursday officially declared president of the UMNO in a handover that by party tradition was uncontested.
No date has been set for the formal transition of power, but the king is expected to swear him in as the nation’s next leader on April 3.
Najib has promised a radical overhaul of the UMNO, but pundits say his political baggage — including low popularity ratings and unsubstantiated allegations of corruption and links to a sensational murder — could weaken his position.
He faced another setback this week when delegates picked Abdullah allies for influential positions including chiefs of the women’s and youth wings.
But on Thursday the party’s members selected Najib loyalists for the top posts of deputy president and three vice-presidents, in a boost to his reform plans.
Trade Minister Muhyiddin Yassin seized the post of UMNO deputy president, which traditionally carries with it the position of deputy prime minister.
Under Malaysia’s turn-taking political tradition, he is now next in line for the nation’s top job as head of the UMNO-led coalition after Najib, who served as deputy premier for the past six years.
Muhyiddin called for all candidates, whether winners or losers, to close ranks after the divisive leadership elections which were marred by rampant vote-buying.
“It is important for us to be united in the face of very challenging times. I believe that this is a big task ahead that we have to bear and I hope that Malaysians will endorse this change,” he told reporters.
Badawi issued damning indictment of UMNO – it is contaminated by GREED, COMPLACENCY and INTERNAL RIVALRIES