KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia_Malaysia’s ruling party bosses on Wednesday hailed their next leader’s call for radical reforms to end deep-rooted corruption and patronage amid the possibility of a total rout in the next elections.
Local newspapers also praised the reform proposals by Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, who will take over the party’s leadership this week and the prime minister’s post next week.
In an unusually candid speech, Najib told the annual congress of the United Malays National Organization on Tuesday night that the party is out of touch with the people and should learn from its humbling losses in last year’s general elections.
“It is very important for every UMNO member to give undivided support to … Najib as the new president of UMNO,” Rafidah Aziz, the chief of the party’s women’s wing, said Wednesday.
UMNO, as the dominant party in the ruling National Front coalition, has been in power since independence in 1957. But its popularity plummeted in the March 2008 elections when the 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.
The party “must learn from the message” given by voters, the 55-year-old Najib said. “If we do not heed this message, their seething anger will become hatred and in the end this may cause them to abandon us altogether.”
Much of voter anger was directed at UMNO, whose leaders are widely perceived as corrupt, power-hungry and inefficient. The party is accused of subverting the judiciary, the police force and the bureaucracy.
Chinese and Indian minorities also say the party’s leaders have fueled a religious and ethnic divide in the country.
“Najib gave hope and the political will (to) ensure UMNO would change for the better,” said Education Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, the outgoing chief of the party’s youth wing, said.
Najib’s most radical proposal was to change the way the party elects its leaders. At present they are elected by some 2,600 delegates, while more than 3 million party members have no voice. This has led to a culture of patronage with delegates often taking bribes and other favors in return for their votes.
Rafidah said the elections were virtually an “auction of positions.”
“The greed to chase for posts and grab power has created a new culture. Support is given not to those who are capable of voting but to those who are able to offer” bribes, she said.
Other top leaders including International Trade Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and Rural Development Minister Muhammad Muhammad Taib, said Najib must be supported.
But at this year’s five-day congress, the office bearers will be elected under the old system.
On Wednesday, the party will elect the chiefs of its youth and women’s wings. Delegates will elect the deputy president, three vice presidents and 25 supreme council members on Thursday.
Najib will be elected unopposed as party president, a post that traditionally carries with it the office of prime minister. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, in office since October 2003, is expected to hand over power to Najib on April 2 or 3.
Associated Press writers Vijay aimhi, Julia Zappei, and Eileen Ng contributed to this report.
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Source : The Associated Press