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 Malaysia: PM In Deeper Crisis As 3 Cabinet Ministers Seek Leadership Reforms

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Registration date : 2008-01-28

PostSubject: Malaysia: PM In Deeper Crisis As 3 Cabinet Ministers Seek Leadership Reforms   Mon Mar 31, 2008 7:06 pm

Three Cabinet ministers have endorsed demands by ruling party dissidents to hold an open contest for the party leadership, highlighting the prime minister's weakening control over power in Malaysia after disastrous election results.

The three _ from the International Trade and Industry, Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs, and Higher Education ministries _ have come forward to say everybody should be eligible to run for the post of the United Malays National Organization party's president, news reports said Monday (31 Mar).

At present, a contestant must be nominated by 30 percent of the party's divisions, which is hard to secure by someone not endorsed by the party leadership. The party president automatically becomes the prime minister.

The nomination quota encourages an "unhealthy political culture," International Trade Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, was quoted as saying by The Star daily.

"I hope that with the abolition, the party at all levels will have a healthy democratic election system," said Muhyiddin, who is also the party vice president.

The Star said Higher Education Minister Khaled Nordin also called for abolishing the nomination system. Aides of the two ministers confirmed they made the comments.

Muhyiddin stressed that his call did not mean he was against the current leadership or was encouraging members to challenge Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Abdullah is facing the biggest crisis of his political career after the March 8 general elections, in which the ruling National Front retained power but lost its traditional two-thirds majority. It also conceded five states to the opposition.

Being the dominant party in the coalition, Abdullah's party took most of the blame for the losses. The pressure on Abdullah increased after critics called on him to resign, a demand he rejected.

He also postponed party elections, which had been due in August, until December. But it will be difficult for a challenger to dislodge Abdullah in the elections because of the quota system, which was introduced by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in 1987 after he narrowly survived a challenge by then-Finance Minister Razaleigh Hamzah.

Mahathir, now an ordinary party member, is one of those calling for abolishing the nomination system. Among the others is Razaleigh, who has openly declared he will try to challenge Abdullah.

"I have never been for the ruling. But what to do? It was introduced by Dr. Mahathir himself. When I criticize the decision, everyone says I am critical of (Mahathir). But now it seems he has realized that what he did was not right in the first place," Shahrir Abdul Samad, the domestic trade minister, was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times daily's online edition.

"I feel that this is a refreshing development where we own up to our past mistakes and suggest that steps be taken to redress them," he said.

Critics say the quota system ensures that members dissatisfied with the prime minister's leadership cannot challenge him democratically. Supporters say it is necessary to ensure only serious candidates contest.

Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is also the party deputy president, denied it was an impediment to democracy in the party.

"It is not aimed at deterring democracy. Even though there is a quota system, democracy still flourishes in our party," he told reporters.

Abandoning the system would also mean changing the party constitution, which can only be done at an extraordinary general meeting. Party leaders have so far rejected calls for such a meeting.
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