Malaysia’s newly appointed prime minister – who faces his first popularity test this week in a crucial by-election – is urging voters to give him a chance to prove himself.
But the pressure is on Najib Razak as many are looking to Tuesday’s special election for three seats – one in Parliament and two in state legislatures – as a referendum on his elevation to prime minister on Friday.
Najib has vowed to restore the ruling party’s plunging popularity after a drubbing in March 2008 general elections.
“I only hope the people will adopt an open and positive attitude in evaluating my leadership,” he told local TV3 television channel. “Hopefully, the people will accept my leadership.”
Najib received a boost over the weekend when veteran leader Mahathir Mohamad, who governed the country from 1981 until 2003, rejoined the United Malays National Organization, the dominant party in the National Front.
Mahathir quit the party last year over a fight with his successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who stepped down as prime minister and party president in favor of Najib.
Abdullah took partial responsibility for the poor results in the 2008 elections when the National Front failed to win a two-thirds majority for the first time in 40 years. The ruling National Front coalition has 138 seats in the national legislature to the opposition alliance’s 80; three others are independents.
The 83-year-old Mahathir spoke to thousands of people Monday at a government election campaign rally, where he voiced confidence that Najib’s administration would take better care of the public.
Najib may have earned some goodwill by freeing 13 dissidents and terror suspects who were being held without trial under a controversial security law.
Ooi Kee Beng, a political analyst at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, said the moves constituted a carefully planned offensive “ploy” that had eroded support for the opposition People’s Alliance, a three-party alliance led by former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim.
“I think the People’s Alliance is not as confident as it has been a while back,” he said.
The opposition has dismissed Najib’s moves as a political gimmick.
Among those freed by Najib on Sunday were two ethnic Indian activists, jailed after they led tens of thousands of minority Indians to protest against discrimination in 2007.
“My entire family and friends are really very happy,” said V. Raidu, the younger brother of one of the freed activists. He urged Najib to free the three other activists and to repeal the Internal Security Act, which allows indefinite detention without trial.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All right reservrd. this material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed.
Source : The Associated Press