Saturday, November 8, 2003

"Democracy, on the separation of powers, on a clean and incorruptible government, on respecting separation of powers, welcoming criticism"

Abdullah Ahmad Badawi - first 100 days as Malaysia's Prime Minister - Pt 1

November 8, 2003

With Abdullah Ahmad Badawi into his first 100 days as Malaysia's Prime Minister, RSI's Augustine Anthuvan explores some of the challenges that lie ahead for Abdullah as Malaysia gears up for its 11th general election.

Abdullah Ahmad Badawi , at the age of 63, took over as Malaysia's fifth Prime Minister from Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who retired after 22 years at the helm. And right at the outset of his tenure, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has pledged to tackle a range of pressing issues - from corruption and law-and-order problems to preparing the ground for an election.

R: "I think certainly the new Prime Minister seems to be right now coming out with the appropriate statements and comments on what has to be done".

Professor P Ramasamy from the Department of Political Science at University Kebangsaan Malaysia.

R: "I think as the new Prime Minister he has to build up the kind of support necessary for him to face not only the next elections but at the same time consolidate his position within UMNO. And so I think his statements about efficiency, accountability against corruption and all, I think this I mean the Malaysians will agree to that but the question is I think they'll be really looking forward to whether he'll have the kind of political will to implement what he has said so far".

At present, Prime Minister Abdullah, is acting president of UMNO as the United Malays National Organisation's general assembly is not due to be held till next June. In any case that's just a formality when Abdullah is endorsed as President of UMNO. But UMNO is also the dominant party in the ruling National Front coalition otherwise known as the Barisan Nasional. Reflecting on the road ahead for Abdullah is Lim Kit Siang, Chairman of the opposition Democratic Action Party.

KS: "Well I think his first immediate preoccupation is to how to consolidate his own power position in UMNO and government. So I think that will be his first preoccupation".

Lim Kit Siang, was the former Opposition leader in the Malaysian parliament and I asked him what he thought of Prime Minister Abdullah's inaugural speech in the Malaysian parliament on 3rd Novermber.

KS: "He gave a marvellous speech as his first maiden official address in parliament when he spoke about issues which are close to the hearts of concerned Malaysians. Questions on the democracy, on the separation of powers, on a clean and incorruptible government, on respecting separation of powers, welcoming criticism, but whether these will be translated into deeds and actions, only time will tell".

Offering another perspective on the challenges ahead for Prime Minister Abdullah in his first 100 days is Professor Emeritus Datuk Dr Khoo Kay Khim of University of Malaya.

KK: " Well I think 100 days will still be a little short. At the moment, based on the number of statements that Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi has made, the general feeling is that the people expect that he will be able to make significant changes for the improvement of the country. He has spoken about corruption. It seems that corruption is getting a little out of hand. If we go by the newspaper reports the public is becoming quite jittery especially if government servants are the ones largely involved in corruption".

According to Transparency International, a non-governmental organisation devoted to combating corruption, its annual Corruption Perceptions Index had Malaysia ranked in the 37th position this year.

Transparency International’s (TI) Malaysian chapter president Tunku Abdul Aziz has suggested that the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) be given the independence to look into cases of corruption, and hopes to see evidence of political will and enforcement within the first 100 days of Prime Minister Abdullah's tenure. Lim Kit Siang of the opposition Democratic Action Party.

KS: "Well we all of course hope that he will make a difference, that he will succeed and we wish him well. But he will have to do more than just making good and beautiful speeches and statements. What is needed are actions. But whether with a new IGP and with a new Prime Minister, a message will be sent out that the police will be professional, competent, clean and incorruptible, is still something to be seen. Corruption is very serious in the country and as you mentioned about the Transparency International's annual evaluation, Malaysia has done quite dismally. In fact the 37th position is the worst in the last nine years. And I think there must be a bold start".

On top of his existing portfolio as Home Affairs Minister responsible for domestic security, Prime Minister Abdullah has also taken over the Finance Minister's job.

Financial markets and political observers are closely watching Abdullah to see who he'll name as Finance Minister. More importantly, who will be his deputy, a coveted appointment that could settle - or inflame - factional squabbles within his party. Well to discuss this and a range of issues that Prime Minister Abduallah is likely to face, I spoke to Manu Bhaskaran, CEO and Director of the Centennial Group in Singapore

MB: "Couple of points. First of all Prime Minister Abdullah takes over at a point when the global economic recovery is feeding through to Malaysia. So there is no pressing problem that will pre occupy the Prime Minister for now. Secondly while he is covering several portfolios, it is only for a short duration until the fasting month is over, at the end of which he is likely to appoint a new Finance Minister as well as a Deputy taking the pressure of him. Thirdly the priority now clearly is the general election which is probably going to be sometime first or second quarter next year. And then the UMNO general assembly that follows. Once that is out of the way, then I see the new Prime Minister embarking on a series of new initiatives".

And with that final comment by Manu Bhaskaran, CEO and Director of the Centennial Group in Singapore, we end this first part in our series that looks into the challenges ahead for Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, as Malaysia gears up for its next general election.