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March 25, 2009

Malaysia's PM to be calls for radical overhaul

Malaysia's next premier Najib Razak on Tuesday warned the ruling party it must embark on a radical overhaul to win back public support, or face the end of its half-century grip on power, reported AFP.

Najib's address to the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) at the start of a landmark meeting where it will elect a new leadership, is an attempt to set a new direction for the party which was humbled in March 2008 polls.

"What is at stake is nothing less than the very fate of UMNO," said Najib, the current deputy premier, who is to succeed Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi shortly after the five-day assembly concludes.

"Clearly, the results of that general election have been the worst in the history of our party," he said, after the UMNO-led coalition lost five states and a third of parliamentary seats to the opposition.

"It is an awful and bitter truth, but a truth nonetheless and one which we must accept," he told the party, which has floundered since the polls which redrew Malaysia's political landscape.

The assembly was launched with a speech by Abdullah, who is to step down after a disappointing six years in power during which he failed to implement promised political reforms including tackling corruption.

UMNO delegates will on Thursday anoint Najib as the new UMNO president, and cast their votes for key roles including deputy president and heads of the youth and women's wings.

In line with UMNO custom, Najib is succeeding Abdullah unopposed. The party chief traditionally becomes prime minister and leader of the Barisan Nasional coalition of race-based parties.

Najib urged the delegates to choose wisely as they select the new leadership, and to reject vote-buying which is endemic in the party.

Despite the talk of reform, there are concerns that from its position of weakness, the party may reject calls for liberalisation and instead choose to shore up its support among conservatives.

Political observers say recent events, including sedition charges against an opposition veteran for criticising a Malay royal ruler, and the banning of two opposition newspapers, indicate a hardline approach could be in the offing.

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