Monday, March 10, 2008

"Why should I step down?"

Abdullah sworn in as PM for second term
Mar 10, 08 11:46am

A defiant Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was sworn for a second term as Malaysian prime minister today, rejecting calls to quit after presiding over the ruling coalition's worst ever election results.

Dressed in a traditional costume and matching "songkok", Abdullah was sworn in by the Agong in a solemn ceremony at the royal palace in Kuala Lumpur.

Also attending were his heir apparent, deputy prime minister Najib Abdul Razak, and other senior ministers.

Abdullah's coalition was mauled in Saturday's election, losing its crucial two-thirds majority in parliament for the first time since 1969 and conceding four states to the resurgent opposition, which now controls five in all.

Voters punished the government for rising inflation and its mishandling of racial tensions, leading to a backlash from Malaysia's minority ethnic Chinese Indians as well as Muslim Malays who form its powerbase.

But Abdullah told supporters he would not quit.

To continue the struggle

"Why should I step down?" he told a cheering crowd outside his home late Sunday. "Our party has won. I do not fear anyone except Allah. I will stay on, I will not give up.

"We have to continue our struggle, our agenda is far from over. We want our country to be progressive and successful and for you, the people, to be happy," he added.

Abdullah's task now is to form a new government under the Barisan Nasional coalition, dominated by his Umno.

"I give you my word, ladies and gentlemen, that I will continue my efforts to strengthen Umno and Barisan Nasional, to launch the manifesto that we have promised so that our country will be safe, peaceful and properous," he said.

Veteran leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who ruled for two decades before handing power to Abdullah as his chosen successor in 2003, accused the prime minister of "destroying" the coalition and led calls for his resignation.

"I think he should accept responsibility for this. He should accept 100 percent responsibility," Mahathir said Sunday.

"I am sorry, but I apparently made the wrong choice."

However there was support for Abdullah from abroad, with the United States signalling it was ready to keep up close cooperation with the government and saying he remained a viable partner.

"We have seen the preliminary election results and we look forward to working closely with Prime Minister Abdullah's government on a wide range of issues of mutual interest," State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper told AFP.

Stunning comeback

Meanwhile the opposition, led by former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim - who has made a stunning political comeback after his sacking and jailing a decade ago - was getting down to business.

The opposition parties - Anwar's PKR, the Chinese-based DAP and the Islamic party PAS - won an unprecedented four states in the polls.

PAS also extended its margin in northern Kelantan state, which it already held by a thin majority.

State media said PAS would appoint chief ministers in Kedah while a DAP figure will preside in Penang and a PKR chief minister will run Selangor and Perak.

Anwar said late Sunday that the coalition parties would be able to put aside their ideological differences and govern effectively.

He said they would "focus on the economic issue and trying to resolve some of the problems affecting the masses, particularly in the issue of poverty and the normal needs of an average citizen.

"What was promised will be enforced with the best of ability."

Anwar is banned from holding public office until April due to a conviction for corruption, and had said before the vote that he would enter parliament in a by-election in a Keadilan-held seat.

However, he said there were no immediate plans to do that as he had a full workload rallying the newly-elected Keadilan lawmakers.

"I'm not rushed to prepare for a by-election," he added. (-AFP)