*News update* 20/5/2008
Malaysian ruling party holds crisis talks after Mahathir quits
Malaysia's ruling party on Tuesday moved to contain the damage from former premier Mahathir Mohamad's shock resignation, which it fears may trigger an exodus that could unseat the government.
Mahathir on Monday urged other members of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) to follow his lead by quitting the party to force the resignation of his successor, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
At an emergency meeting, UMNO lawmakers pledged their allegiance to Abdullah, who has faced mounting calls to take responsibility for March elections that produced the worst results in the party's history.
"Nobody has the right to use this dirty tactic to bring down a leader who was democratically elected. That is blackmailing the party," cabinet minister Nazri Aziz told reporters.
Nazri said the challenge was a "test of faith" for UMNO lawmakers and that none was planning to abandon the party which has dominated Malaysian politics since independence half a century ago.
Mahathir's son Mukhriz, who is a senior member of UMNO's influential youth wing, said Tuesday he would not be stepping down, in a move he conceded would disappoint his father.
He said he would instead continue to campaign for Abdullah's resignation from within UMNO, and that he had backing at the highest levels.
"My fear is that we will bring down the party if this leadership does not change," he told a press conference.
Senior voices in UMNO including Foreign Minister Rais Yatim urged Mahathir and Abdullah, who fell out soon after the succession took place in 2003, to meet and resolve their damaging row.
"The next few weeks would be crucial on how many would follow his footsteps. There is this need now... to act systematically so that UMNO will not disintegrate," Rais said in Singapore late Monday.
"I wish to say that for those who just want to say that it's OK, business as usual, those shouldn't be the words."
Top UMNO members and political commentators have warned that if the beleaguered party suffers mass resignations, Abdullah will be forced to call fresh elections.
With the opposition in control of five states and a third of parliamentary seats after the March 8 polls, and now claiming it has the support of enough defectors to seize power shortly, that is considered a high-risk strategy.
Share prices on the Malaysian bourse fell 1.0 percent Tuesday, as the political concerns dampened sentiment.
"People are worried about the potential fallout from Mahathir's resignation," said N. Kaladher, head of research at TA Securities. "We are looking at a down trend until this thing settles down."
Opposition figurehead Anwar Ibrahim, who was sacked by Mahathir in 1998 and subsequently jailed on corruption and sex charges, seized on the disarray within UMNO to pronounce that the party was in its death throes.
"Mahathir's decision to leave UMNO is indicative of UMNO's worsening crisis, where leaders continue to bicker and fight, while the welfare of ordinary Malaysians are increasingly neglected," he said in a statement.
"The internal problems of UMNO are clearly deteriorating beyond any hope of recovery," he said, inviting the disaffected to join his opposition alliance.
Reported Yesterday 19/5/2008
Former Umno president Dr Mahathir Mohamad has quit Umno with immediate effect and urged other members to emulate him. He said he was quitting the party, which he led for almost 22 years until handing over the reins to Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in 2003, as a sign of no confidence in his successor's leadership.
"I will only come back to the party when there is a change in leadership," the ex-premier told a crowd at a forum in his home state of Kedah this morning. He also called on all Umno ministers, deputy ministers and all levels of party leaders to join him in leaving the party.
I was reported that Najib, while expressing shock and sadness over Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's resignation from Umno, urged Umno members to remain calm, saying he would continue to discuss with party president Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on efforts to strengthen the party.
Reading from a statement here, when meeting Malaysian journalists attending the "World Economic Forum on the Middle East", Najib, who is also deputy prime minister, advised Umno members to continue to have faith in the efforts to rebuild the party.
"I am very shocked and sad that Dr Mahathir has announced his decision to leave Umno. He has contributed a lot to the party and country. I have met with Tun before this and I am willing to meet him to discuss his latest action." Najib noted that previously any problems were resolved within Umno.