Nov 29, 2012

Malaysia - Malaysia's Najib faces test in "no ordinary" election

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KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose ruling party faces the most serious challenge yet to its half-century rule, said Thursday upcoming national polls will be "no ordinary election".

Rallying his United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) at its final general assembly before the polls, Najib also said the opposition would drive the economy into the ground if it won.

By mid-2013, Najib must call what is expected to be his party's toughest election yet after a resurgent opposition scored historic gains in 2008, and he acknowledged its pivotal nature.

"We will compete for every vote, we will work to win the confidence of every single Malaysian citizen, we will knock on every door, we shall open every pathway to hope," Najib, 59, told delegates.

"The 13th general election is not an ordinary election. It will determine the destiny of the country and the people."

His ruling coalition will square off against an opposition alliance led by Anwar Ibrahim -- the one-time deputy prime minister and UMNO star who was ousted in 1998 after a falling-out with then-leader Mahathir Mohamad.

Najib, whose UMNO-led Barisan Nasional coalition has been in power since independence in 1957, has yet to face voters at the ballot box as premier.

He took office in 2009 after his predecessor was ousted following the polls humiliation a year earlier.

Few political analysts give the opposition a strong chance of winning. But Najib could face a party leadership challenge if the coalition fails to reclaim the two-thirds parliamentary majority it lost in 2008, or loses further ground.

He has sought to shore up support by casting himself as a reformer -- scrapping repressive laws seen as tools to muzzle dissent -- while offering hefty handouts to the public.

He can also point to steady economic growth -- a 5.5 percent expansion in the latest quarter -- despite the troubles in key European and US export markets.

Najib indicated a campaign focus on economic issues and painted the opposition as inexperienced, despite Anwar's past tenure as finance minister.

"In three years' time (if the opposition wins), we will reach a critical stage where we will lose our economic sovereignty like Greece," he said.

Anwar was not immediately available for comment.

Tian Chua, a senior opposition lawmaker, said Najib was using "scare tactics" instead of offering a vision for the country.

"This is a reflection of how UMNO is losing their confidence as a ruling party... This is the end of the road for them," he said.

Najib's reformist credentials were hit by the government's harsh reaction -- for the second straight year -- to an April march in the capital by tens of thousands calling for reform of an electoral system viewed as pro-government.

Violent clashes erupted between protesters and police, with widespread reports of police brutality and anger at subsequent government attempts to vilify demonstrators.

- AFP/ir

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