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5 Apr 2009

Malaysia's ex-PM returns to the ruling party

With Abdullah Ahmad Badawi out of the way, Malaysia's ex-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad rejoined the ruling party Saturday, a clear endorsement of the Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, who replaced Abdullah, reported Kyodo news agency.

Mahathir, 83, quit the United Malays National Organization last year along with his wife and son Mokhzani after a protracted feud with Abdullah, Mahathir's own hand-picked successor.

"His return to UMNO is a strong boost to UMNO," Najib told a press conference with Mahathir, "An episode has ended in UMNO. We take this as an opening of a new chapter in our wish to see the past and present leaders come together in helping UMNO."

Mahathir said his heart had "always been with the party" and he wanted to help rebuild it. "The image of UMNO has suffered somewhat in the last few years. The first thing to be done is to clean up UMNO," he said while urging those who had followed him out of UMNO to rejoin.

Though retired in 2003, Mahathir remained an influential figure in UMNO and when, in a move to pile pressure on Abdullah, he quit two months after the March 2008 general elections, it sent shockwave through UMNO.

Mahathir said he had lost confidence in Abdullah to lead the party and the government, but an expected exodus of UMNO members didn't materialise. Only several hundreds of UMNO's about three million members quit.

But Mahathir's pressure helped Abdullah's detractors force him to cut short his second five-year term as prime minister and the job to Najib. Mahathir said he will campaign for ruling National Front coalition candidates in the Bukit Gantang and Bukit Selambau by-elections over the next two days. Another by-election is also on at Batang Ai in Sarawak State.

UMNO is the largest party in the 13-party ruling coalition. The three by-elections are seen as a test of Najib's popularity.




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