Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi resigned yesterday after six years in office, clearing the way for his deputy to take over the task of steering the nation out of economic crisis.
Najib Razak will be sworn in today, completing a transition that has been in the planning since elections last year in which the ruling United Malays National Organisation party (UMNO) put up its worst performance in 39 years.
The incoming prime minister has said he will focus on a program to unite the multi-racial nation, whose ethnic minorities shifted towards the opposition in large numbers in last year’s polls, fearing their rights were being eroded.
“I think this new thrust will ensure there will be a fairer distribution of government allocations and assistance to all communities,” Najib said on Wednesday.
Najib and Abdullah had successive audiences with King Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin at the royal palace yesterday, and a senior official said the prime minister’s resignation had been accepted.
Najib was last Thursday officially declared president of UMNO, effectively smoothing his path to the premiership because of its dominance of the political scene.
UMNO represents the Malays who make up 60 percent of the population.
Analysts say Najib faces an enormous challenge to rejuvenate the party, which has floundered since last year’s elections, and cushion the country from the worst effects of the global meltdown.
Malaysia, Southeast Asia’s third largest economy, has been hit by slumping exports and manufacturing, with more than 26,000 people losing their jobs so far this year.
Najib, who is also finance minister, unveiled a stimulus package worth US$16.2 billion earlier this month, but warned that the export-driven economy could shrink by 1.0 percent this year despite the massive spending.
He will face his first big test as prime minister on Tuesday with three by-elections.
“He will inherit a divided party with trust in the government at its lowest ebb and a strong opposition,” political analyst Shahruddin Badaruddin said earlier.
He said Najib’s challenge would be “to unite the fractured elements of the party.”
Najib has an impeccable pedigree as the son and nephew of two former prime ministers, but he has been dogged by controversy.
Najib has repeatedly denied opposition allegations connecting him to the 2006 slaying of the mistress of a close aide whose body was blown up with explosives.