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Politics: Malaysians Await Action Against Corruption

Contributed by Anonymous on Tuesday, November 08 @ 02:50:53 CST

National: PoliticsBaradan Kuppusamy

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 1 (IPS) - Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi's performance--especially his election promise to battle corruption, promote transparency and revamp the venal and inefficient police force--is under the spotlight as the 65-year-old leader enters the second half of his term struggling to redress excesses under the long rule of his predecessor, Mahathir Mohamad.

Abdullah, who took over in 2003, starts his third year in office this week and Malaysians -- from ordinary people to opposition politicians and human rights activists -- have begun to wonder if he has begun to backtrack on his pledges.

Two years into the job and the euphoria that greeted Abdullah's soft spoken, fatherly promises has vanished and given way to rumblings of displeasure.

The government still lacks transparency, corruption is endemic and open abuse of power and arrogance by government officials and the police, common.

Public scrutiny of Abdullah's performance has been softened only by sympathy for the Prime Minister who suffered a deep personal loss, last month, when his wife of 40 years, Endon Mahmood suc*****bed after a prolonged battle with breast cancer.

When his mother, Kailan Hassan, died, four months after he took over as prime minister, Abdullah openly wept at her grave. But the death of Endon devastated him and raised questions whether he has the heart to press on in an increasingly difficult political and economic climate.

''He is devastated, no doubt about it, but he is also a deeply religious man and I think he will come out of it before long,'' said Razak Baginda, executive director of the Malaysian Strategic Research Centre. ''In fact his religion will strengthen his resolveāhe might come out of it a stronger person,'' Razak told IPS.

After coming to power, Abdullah did take steps to curb corruption but the momentum appears to have stalled. Abdullah postponed or scaled back several of the hugely expensive, infrastructure projects that his predecessor had begun.

The government's previously toothless Anti-Corruption Agency went after several tycoons and businessmen and he took the bold step of sacking a minister and vice-president of the ruling United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) Isa Samad after he was found guilty of buying votes.

But he has not implemented any of the 125 recommendations made by a Royal Commission he established to revamp the police force.

''Admittedly, the premier has been longer on rhetoric than action. But what he has articulated so far should be applauded. The crackdown on corruption has been slow going, to be sure, but it is in the right direction. The commission on the police was long overdue while the scrapping of mega projects, although bemoaned by the construction sector, is rooted in sound economics,'' said veteran journalist S. Jayasankaran, in an op-ed piece in the Singapore Business Times of Oct. 31.

In recent weeks, Abdullah was embarrassed by a fiery fight between Mahathir and Rafidah Aziz, International Trade and Industry minister, over some 60,000 permits issued by her ministry in 2004 to import cars. Mahathir says an influx of cheap Korean cars has undermined Proton - the national car maker he created and nurtured for over two decades - whose sales have plunged by about 40 percent last year.

The bulk of the permits were issued to three persons, one of them an ex-officer in Rafidah's ministry. Abdullah has so far resisted vocal demands, not just from the opposition parties but also from within the government and the UMNO party, for Rafidah to be sacked, raising questions on his commitment to reforms.

Commenting on the controversy, Promuda, an elite organisation of young professionals, circulated an e-mail last week that in part said: ''The PM cannot act as though he is like an innocent bystander, whereas the public is looking for his leadership and decision. If he doesn't act, it appears he's giving immunity to the minister. Worst case is we might lose confidence on his ability to govern the country if this small issue can't be resolved soon.''

The e-mail from Don Rahim, Promuda chairman, dated October 16 continued: ''As young professionals, we support his policies to weed out corruption and to bring more transparency into the system. We sincerely hope his words can be translated into effective actions.''

For most rights activists Abdullah appears strangely indecisive. ''He speaks the language of reform but the reforms have dried up,'' said Socialist Party of Malaysia secretary general S. Arulchelvam. ''Two years into the job, the promises remain impressive but the performance is disappointing.''

Other political analysts, however, see Abdullah's apparent indecisiveness as a matter of style and a strategy for gradually defeating his entrenched enemies who oppose any form of reform.

''It is true that many wish changes could come faster since faults in the system are so obvious. However, these faults are old and entrenched, and to be fair, the political complexities of Malaysian politics make effective reform a sluggish vehicle to steer,'' wrote Ooi Kee Beng, a Malaysia expert at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore.

In an opinion piece dated Oct.30, Ooi said Abdullah will ''shift into third gear'' in his third year in office-- meaning he will quicken the reform pace.

Lim Guan Eng, secretary general of the main opposition Democratic Action Party or DAP, is less forgiving and demands that Abdullah get cracking by making the Anti Corruption Agency answerable to parliament rather than the prime minister, as at present.

Among other things the DAP wants instituted merit rather than racial quotas (that favour indigenous Malays) as a step towards revamping higher education and forge national unity based on democracy and justice.

The general view now is to bottle any dissatisfaction and give Abdullah some space in the weeks ahead to heal and, hopefully, return to the battle recharged.

When Abdullah returns, he will face increasing clamour to shake up the cabinet that is heavy with the holdovers from Mahathir's era-- some of them tainted by corruption allegations that were investigated but never acted upon.

''The economic and political climate is also worsening, with a slowing economy and increased competition within the UMNO for Abdullah's job,'' said political analyst P. Ramasamy. ''Mahathir has come out of the woodwork to light a fire under Abdullah's government. He wants to protect his legacy and is pressing all the buttons to have things his way.''

''Certainly Abdullah is having the toughest of times with powerful and ambitious UMNO leaders eyeing his job,'' Ramasamy told IPS. (END/2005)



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