KUALA LUMPUR, 8 Oct 2008: Ending almost two weeks of intense speculation, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi today announced he would not defend the Umno presidency at the party polls in March next year.
His deputy Datuk Seri Najib Razak now has a direct path to the presidency and is expected to obtain enough nominations by the Umno divisions which start holding their annual meetings from tomorrow.
The decision, announced after a special Barisan National (BN) supreme council meeting at Putra World Trade Centre this afternoon, also means Abdullah will be stepping down as prime minister after the polls.
Under the BN system, the Umno president is traditionally also the prime minister and BN chairperson.
In announcing his decision, Abdullah said we must reform elements of our nation or risk losing the gains we have made in 50 years.
“In all my years of service, I have been guided by my conscience. I have placed the interests of the nation above all. It is with this in mind that I announce my decision not to stand for the Umno presidency. I don’t want Umno and the Barisan Nasional coalition to be divided,” Abdullah said at a press conference after chairing the meeting.
Abdullah had on 26 Sept announced the Umno supreme council’s decision to postpone party elections from December to March in order to bring forward his transfer of power to Najib from June 2010. But he declined to state whether he would defend his post and had delayed the announcement until today.
“I love the BN and Umno — both of which I have had the privilege to lead,” said Abdullah, adding his decision not to contest was final. He also said he hopes to enhance national unity through the coalition.
The Prime Minister however said he was determined to continue with his plans to reform the judiciary and enhance the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA)’s effectiveness before he leaves office.
The initiates, he said, are needed to move the country forward to face global challenges.
These initiatives involve tabling two bills in parliament — one on the setting up a Judicial Appointments Commission, and the other on the ACA. The latter will be tabled by the end of the year.
Abdullah added he hopes to push through the bill to establish a Special Complaints Commission to Enhance the Effectiveness and Integrity of Law Enforcement Agencies, but gave no time frame for this to be done.
The prime minister also announced plans to widen the social safety net as stated in the Budget 2009 to help all Malaysians, regardless of race or religion.
“I will hand over all these initiatives to my successor,” said Abdullah. On who this would be, the prime minister said he hoped it will be Najib.
“I say ‘hope’ because he has to contest the presidency first,” said Abdullah.
When asked when exactly he will step down as prime minister, Abdullah said it would be discussed “after Najib wins the presidency”.
Asked what he would do if divisions still went ahead and nominated him, Abdullah said he would not change his mind.
With Najib now seemingly assured of the top post, the fight to be his deputy is heating up, with several leaders openly stating their ambitions for the number two job. Vice President Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is considered the front runner, though he has delayed throwing his hat into the ring until after today’s announcement.
The others who have already offered themselves for the post are Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Malacca Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam (both Umno supreme council members), and Pulai Member of Parliament Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamad.
The month-long Umno divisional meetings will end on 9 Nov.