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March 15, 2009

Corruption endangers Malaysia’s new premier, warns Mahathir
Reforms planned by Malaysia's incoming prime minister will be derailed if he appoints corrupt ministers and the government that has ruled for 51 years will lose power, Reuters quoted former premier Mahathir Mohamad as saying Saturday.

Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak will become premier at the end of March and has pledged to stamp out corruption in this Southeast Asian country of 27 million people and in the main governing party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

Najib has also said he will seek to transform Malaysia from a low-wage industrial economy into a high skill-based service economy during the current global downturn.

"Even if there is a transition, but the leaders who are chosen are corrupt people, UMNO will not gain the support of the people," Mahathir, who ruled Malaysia for 22 years and remains influential, told reporters after giving a speech.

While Najib, 55, will take the top job unopposed, UMNO is holding elections for other posts later this month.

Among those standing for UMNO's top decision making supreme council is Tourism Minister Azalina Othman Said who was this week told she was being investigated for corruption.

Azalina has denied that she is corrupt and can still stand for the party's top body unless she is actually charged.

Mohamad Norza Zakaria, a member of UMNO's supreme council, was charged in court on Friday with vote buying ahead of the party polls.

Malaysia has often pledged to clamp down on graft but few senior officials from UMNO or from the parties that make up the National Front coalition are charged.

Najib, who faces a parliamentary by-election and three state seat by-elections just a week after he is due to take office, pledged on Saturday to end the practise of showering money and projects on voters ahead of elections.

"We should change the approach where all sorts of projects are approved during elections like paving of roads, cleaning up the surroundings and all sorts of 'instant noodle' projects... we will implement what we can implement," Najib said on Saturday, according to state news agency Bernama.

Malaysia's opposition charges that Najib himself has benefitted from corrupt practices while defence minister, although he has denied the charges and they have not been proven.

The opposition rode a wave of popular discontent over corruption in elections a year ago to win over a third of the seats in parliament and ended up in control of five of Malaysia's states, its best-ever result.

Mahathir said that unless Najib dealt with corruption he would lose power in elections that have to be held by 2013.

"People are watching and we know who is corrupt. If Najib as prime minister chooses them, it will be signing his own death warrant and he will lose the 13th general election," said the former leader.

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