Malaysia’s Next PM Faces Furor over Corruption Sweep

KUALA LUMPUR ~ Malaysia’s incoming leader Najib Razak faced a furore this week over corruption charges against members of his party, while a former cabinet minister called for the king to block his appointment.

Fifteen members of the ruling UMNO party were reprimanded on Tuesday over vote-buying during intense campaigning ahead of internal leadership elections next week.

The most prominent was Mohamad Ali Rustam, who was running to become deputy prime minister but is now disqualified. Najib, the current deputy, is due to replace Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi this month.

Mohamad Ali said he would appeal against the decision.

Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar said the decision to punish the party members was potentially damaging, and that although UMNO needs to stamp out money politics the timing was unfortunate.

“If action is taken before you reach the final hurdle, then things will collapse. When it collapses, it will create a lot of undercurrents,” he said, according to The Star daily.

“And these undercurrents for UMNO in its present state are not healthy,” he said, referring to the party’s crisis of confidence since disastrous results in general elections a year ago.

Najib has rejected suggestions that the move against Mohamad Ali – seen as close to Abdullah’s outgoing administration – could trigger a split within the party.

James Chin, a political analyst from Monash University’s campus in Kuala Lumpur, said vested interests meant Najib would survive the furore despite shouts of outrage from Abdullah’s faction.

“The best way to describe UMNO is that it’s a giant patronage machine. When people are angry it simply means they’ve been cut out of patronage. Those who are still on the gravy train will never go against the leader,” he said.

Adding to the pressure on Najib, former cabinet minister Zaid Ibrahim on Wednesday appealed to the king to block his appointment as prime minister because of “unanswered allegations” over corruption and a murder.

“The air must be cleared. It is thick with accusations and doubts which can only undermine the office of the prime minister if he were to assume it,” Zaid, a maverick who was sacked from the party last year, said in a speech.

Najib has been forced to repeatedly deny any involvement in the 2006 murder of 28-year-old Mongolian woman Altantuya Shaariibuu, the lover of one of his close aides, whose body was blown up with military-grade explosives.

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