Saturday, March 15, 2008

Malaysian PM soldiers on despite calls to resign

Malaysia's Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has said he will continue as prime minister despite calls to quit, but promised change in his administration after its humiliating election performance.

Abdullah has been under pressure to resign since his Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition took a beating in March 8 polls, conceding four states and a third of parliamentary seats in unprecedented losses.

"People are unhappy over what has transpired over the last four years since I took over," said Abdullah in an interview broadcast on national television late Friday.

"I accept in good faith the decision of the people," he said, but added that the coalition had nevertheless attained a "strong majority".

"It is still the trust, the mandate given to me. I will not shy away from my responsibilities," he said.

Abdullah's address came hours after the son of former premier Mahathir Mohamad revived calls for his resignation, in the first open sign of revolt from the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which heads the coalition.

"I feel that Abdullah has to take responsibility for our losses and that the honourable thing to do is to withdraw," said Mukhriz Mahathir, who is a member of UMNO's powerful youth wing, who wrote to the premier calling for him to quit.

Mahathir has also pushed for Abdullah to step down, accusing him of "destroying" the ruling coalition and UMNO, and saying he regretted selecting him for the top job when he stood down in 2003.

A calm Abdullah noted that seething racial tensions, inflation and rising crime rates led to Malaysians punishing him in the polls.

"These are issues which I have not forgotten.

This will be given top priority in my administration," he said.

The three-party opposition alliance seized four states along the west coast -- Kedah, the island state of Penang, Perak and Selangor.

The Islamic party PAS already heads northern Kelantan state.

The unexpected gains have seen PAS, the ethnic-Chinese based Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the multi-racial Keadilan experience teething problems as they try to form workable coalitions to rule.

An UMNO-led protest was held Friday against the new DAP state government in Penang, which has announced the dismantling of race-based policies favouring Muslim Malays who dominate Malaysia's population.

The new DAP chief minister Lim Guan Eng then moved to reassure Malays their rights would be protected in Penang, the only Chinese-dominated state in the country.

Abdullah said the opposition would have to tread carefully and warned of "dire consequences" if it targeted Malay rights.

"They must be responsible when making comments. Don't make comments just to be popular with a certain race," he said.

Abdullah was also faced with a brewing crisis in the tiny northern state of Perlis, where the Sultan overlooked his choice as chief minister, Shahidan Kassim, in favour of another UMNO state lawmaker.

"Whoever is sworn in, apart from me, he can be regarded as going against the PM's orders and is an opposition (member)," Shahidan said according to the New Straits Times newspaper Saturday.

"We will see what to do next as it is the people who have chosen the BN to lead the state, not an individual," he said.

A palace statement said the Sultan wanted to appoint someone he believed enjoyed the confidence of the majority of state assemblymen as chief minister.

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