P. S. Suryanarayana

SINGAPORE: Winning a key party post, Najib Tun Razak has moved a major step closer to succeed Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as Malaysia’s Prime Minister. Mr. Najib, Deputy Prime Minister, has already been designated by Mr. Abdullah as his successor.

The transfer of power is slated for March 2009 in the context of a session of the General Assembly of United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the most powerful constituent of the ruling coalition at the federal level.

Mr. Abdullah, under pressure since losing his 90 per cent parliamentary majority in the recent snap general election, has not sought re-election as UMNO president.

With this clearing the decks for a change at the helm, Mr. Najib threw his hat in the ring for the party’s highest post.

By Monday, he secured nominations from 140 UMNO divisions out of a total of 192, even as the electoral process remained unfinished in 51 divisions. However, the only other candidate in the field, Razaleigh Hamzah, had so far received the nod from only one division, his own.

With this, his chances of obtaining a minimum of 58 nominations to force a contest were snuffed out, and Mr. Najib emerged as the unopposed winner.

The result will be formalised at the party conclave next March, paving the way for a change of Prime Minister under the ruling coalition’s political conventions.

The succession process will now be watched against the “continuing efforts” by Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to “unseat” Mr. Abdullah within the political configuration of the present House of Representatives, said observers.