- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA (AP) - Malaysia’s prime minister resigned Thursday after 5 1/2 years of largely ineffectual rule in a prelude to handing power to his deputy, who faces the mammoth task of rebuilding the economy and the ruling party’s shattered reputation.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi submitted his resignation to the king, the constitutional monarch, who is to swear in Najib Razak as the new prime minister on Friday.

But the carefully planned transition hit a snag when all 81 opposition lawmakers in Parliament sent a petition to the king, asking him to delay Najib’s swearing-in until he has been cleared of allegations of corruption and links to a murder case.

“Such an important post must be given to an individual who is clean and whose integrity is not questionable,” said the petition.

Abdullah, 69, was pressured to step down after the ruling National Front coalition suffered its worst results ever in the March 2008 general elections. Critics in the coalition blamed the setback on Abdullah’s efforts to provide greater freedom of speech and to allow criticism of the government.

Abdullah’s policies were in contrast to that of his predecessor, Mahathir Mohamad, who was known for his semi-authoritarian rule during his 22 years in office. Over the last three years, Abdullah has been debilitated by attacks from Mahathir, who accused him of nepotism and inefficiency.

Abdullah also did not deliver on promises to eradicate corruption, reform the judiciary and strengthen institutions such as the police and the civil service. He failed to rein in Islamic radicals and Malay chauvinists in the party, who alienated the ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.

“It is very difficult to say Abdullah has left behind a legacy of reforms,” political analyst Khoo Kay Peng told The Associated Press. “He had the ambition (to introduce reforms), but he lacked political will and leadership control.”

The ruling coalition, which has been in power since independence in 1957, failed to get a two-thirds majority for the first time in 40 years, conceding 82 seats to the opposition in the 222-member Parliament.

The opposition also benefited from anger among minorities against a decades-old policies that give preferences to majority Malays in jobs, education and business.

In one of his last acts while in power, Abdullah visited the Defense Ministry where he inspected a guard of honor. Standing on the back of slow-moving jeep, Abdullah saluted and waved to officers.

While Abdullah’s legacy is questionable, his successor’s future also is under a cloud.

The opposition has repeatedly accused Najib, 55, of corruption in a deal to buy French submarines when he was defense minister. They have also alleged that he was linked to the killing of a Mongolian woman who was the estranged lover of a close friend. Najib has denied the allegations as “malicious lies.”

Najib has vowed to revive the National Front’s support through political and economic reforms, which include efforts to fend off a looming recession.

Opposition leaders, however, fear that Najib will crack down on political dissent.

“I think we are going to face a much bigger clampdown,” said opposition lawmaker Tian Chua. “The bad days are coming.”

___

Associated Press writer Sean Yoong and Eileen Ng contributed to this report.

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