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December 11, 2008

Malaysian PM pushes for anti-graft drive before quitting
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi sought Wednesday to push through two bills that he hopes will restore confidence in the Malaysian judiciary and bolster his anti-corruption drive, reported Kyodo news agency.

The moves are also seen an effort to salvage his tattered legacy before he steps down in March.

When he took over from Mahathir Mohamad in 2003, Abdullah pledged to reform the judiciary and the Anti-Corruption Agency, ACA, which critics said had long been "bent and twisted" to the will of the feisty Mahathir during his 22-year tenure.

Some Mahathir cronies were appointed as judges and others often escaped any ACA dragnet during the Mahathir years.

Abdullah sought to rectify the problems Wednesday with the introduction of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Bill and the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill.

"I should have done it over the last four years, but there were a lot of things I needed to do," he told reporters after presenting the bills in Parliament.

"People may ask, 'Why are you doing this now?' I have decided to do it and I shall be working until the last second as a prime minister," he said.

With his pledge to clean up the system, Abdullah won a landslide victory in the 2004 election, but since then political lethargy set in as Abdullah faced resistance from the old guard in the Cabinet and in his own party, the United Malays National Organization that has been in power since independence more than 50 years ago.

But the March 2008 election in which the ruling National Front coalition lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament and also lost five state governments changed everything.

With his approval rating plunging to an all-time low, he was pressed to give up his position before his five-year term ends in 2012. He is now slated to hand power to his deputy Najib Abdul Razak in March.

Abdullah's judicial reform plans long ran into opposition from his party old hands because they feared that a judicial appointment commission that would recommend the appointment of judges would overshadow the prime minister's power to appoint judges.

Judges are now appointed by the king on recommendation of the prime minister, who in turn only consults the chief judge.

According to the new bill, the prime minister's prerogative will remain, but "the new practice would be more transparent as we (will) know who the candidates are."

The judicial commission, he hopes, will revive investor confidence and give Malaysia a competitive edge, as in Singapore and Hong Kong.

"There have always been issues with regard to the appointment of judges. In joint ventures, the signed agreement always stipulates that if there is any conflict, then a solution will be sought in an overseas court -- Hong Kong, Singapore, London, Australia, but never Malaysia. This affects our competitiveness," he said.

The anti-graft bill seeks to give more bite and independence to the ACA. There will also be special bodies, including of lawmakers, to place a check on the agency.

The bills introduced Wednesday are expected to be debated and passed by Parliament next week.

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