Monday, November 3, 2003

"I Promise Openness"

Last Updated: Monday, 3 November, 2003, 10:53 GMT

Malaysia's PM pledges openness

Jonathan Kent
BBC, Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia's new prime minister has signalled his support for a more open and tolerant style of government.

In his first speech to parliament as the country's new leader, Abdullah Badawi committed himself to strengthening Malaysia's democratic culture and its checks and balances on power which critics say his predecessor undermined.

Abdullah Badawi
Mr Abdullah said he wanted democracy to thrive
What had been expected from Abdullah Badawi was a bland tribute to the former prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Though Mr Abdullah called his predecessor a hero, he appeared to distance himself from Dr Mahathir's style of government.

Mr Abdullah affirmed his commitment to democracy, declaring that he wishes to see it thrive in Malaysia.

While he said the government would not tolerate terrorism or those seeking to incite race or religious hatred, he said it should be open to critical and contrary ideas.

He went further, speaking of the importance of checks and balances and promised to respect the separation of powers between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.

Under Dr Mahathir the courts were widely seen as unwilling to cross the government and parliament had in effect been sidelined.

Mr Abdullah also issued a stern warning to public servants that they should reflect a clean and incorruptible image.

The new prime minister was a high-flying career civil servant before entering politics and has long been known to be intolerant of corruption.

Now the sentiments have been expressed, many will be waiting for something concrete to be done.

Mr Abdullah will meet with senior judges and civil servants in the next week.