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May 21, 2008

UMNO lawmakers close ranks behind PM

Lawmakers from the ruling UMNO closed ranks behind Malaysia's prime minister on Tuesday, while the son of former premier Mahathir Mohamad also ignored his calls for members to follow him in leaving the party, reported Reuters.

Mahathir had resigned from the party on Monday in an attempt to force his handpicked successor to quit, saying he would not return to the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) until Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi left office.

Mahathir's move sparked talk of mass resignations from UMNO by his supporters and fears of political turmoil, but Malaysia's domestic trade minister said after a special meeting between MPs and the premier that no party members were resigning.

"Nobody is moving out of UMNO... none of us is leaving UMNO," said Shahrir Samad, after the meeting attended by 73 out of 79 UMNO lawmakers. One minister criticised Mahathir's move as blackmail.

The former premier's son, Mukhriz Mahathir, who is a lawmaker with UMNO, said later on Tuesday he will not quit the party, dealing another blow to his father's bid to oust the Prime Minister. But Mukhriz echoed his father's call for Abdullah to step down. "I reserve my right as a voice of constructive criticism towards the present leadership," he told reporters.

Mahathir's departure came three days after Abdullah ordered the attorney-general to investigate him and five others on possible offences over the appointment of judges while Mahathir was in power.

UMNO, backbone of the 14-party BN that has ruled since independence from Britain in 1957, holds 79 of the coalition's 140 seats. The opposition is a loose alliance of Islamists, a Chinese-based party and the multiracial PKR, and needs to gain just 30 seats to win a simple majority and form the government.

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