In a farewell speech on Thursday, Abdullah warned that the party will perish if it continues with its old autocratic ways of silencing critics, jailing opponents and discriminating against minorities. “We must come to our senses,” Abdullah told the party’s annual congress, which is also holding elections for other positions this week.
The suave and articulate Najib’s ascent to power has not been without controversy. He has been accused of corruption, including an alleged shady deal to purchase French submarines when he was defense minister.
Najib denies the allegations, which have dominated blogs and Internet postings by Malaysian activists. The mainstream media, which are government controlled, have not reported
On Monday, police fired tear gas on an opposition rally, and a day later the government shut down two opposition party newspapers for three months.
As a result, the newspapers will not be able to reach out to voters during three parliamentary by-elections on April 7 that are seen as a referendum on Najib’s popularity.
“A phase of repression has descended on Malaysia as Najib Razak seizes control of the reins of power,” opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said. He accused Najib of unleashing “his brutality and violence on the people even before officially taking over as prime minister.”
The ban on newspapers also silences them on April 9, when a court will deliver its verdict in the trial of two policemen accused of murdering a former mistress of a close friend of Najib. The friend, Abdul Razak Baginda, was tried as an accessory, but was acquitted. Najib denies opposition allegations that he knew the woman.
Activists say UMNO should not allow Najib to become prime minister. “It is in the interest of our country that the person chosen to become the prime minister does not assume office with such baggage,” said Haris Ibrahim, a well-known lawyer and social activist.
UMNO is the centerpiece of the ruling National Front coalition that has governed Malaysia since 1957. But in last year’s elections, the National Front failed to get a two-thirds majority in Parliament for the first time in 40 years. It also ceded control of five of Malaysia’s 13 states to the opposition.
Much of the voter anger was directed at UMNO, whose leaders are widely perceived as corrupt and power-hungry. The party is accused of subverting the judiciary, the police force and the bureaucracy. The Chinese and Indian minorities say UMNO is racist.
In his speech, Abdullah warned that the party may not survive the next elections unless it adopts reforms.
Abdullah took power in 2003 amid great hopes that he would reform the country’s politics, bureaucracy and judiciary after a decades-long iron-fisted rule by his predecessor, Mahathir Mohamad.
But Abdullah remained largely ineffective, and he indicated in his speech that he was shackled by conservatives in the party.
“Sadly, there are still those who feel that we do not need to pursue reforms,” Abullah said. “They believe that UMNO will regain its glory if we revert to the old ways by restricting the freedom of our citizens and by silencing their criticism. It is a path that I fear will hasten our demise.”
Umno’s ways – silence critics, jailing opponents, discriminate against minorities