May 21, 2008 3:00 am
Abdullah Badawi, the Malaysian prime minister, yesterday appeared to survive an attempt by his predecessor to force his resignation after MPs from the ruling party pledged their support for him.
Members of parliament from the United Malays National Organisation backed Mr Abdullah a day after Mahathir Mohamad, who ruled Malaysia for 22 years, announced his resignation from the party and urged other members to do the same.
Dr Mahathir is one of the prime minister's biggest critics, but the lack of response from Umno members suggested his influence might be waning.
Dr Mahathir has "been -firing bullets for some time and some of them are turning out to be blanks", said Ooi Kee Beng at the Institute of South-east Asian Studies in Singapore. "Umno politics is still very much about patronage and so whoever is in power has the edge."
Even Dr Mahathir's son, a leader of the Umno youth wing, ignored his father's call, although he said he would continue to criticise the prime minister.
Dr Mahathir appeared to be hoping that his resignation would trigger a revolt against Mr Abdullah, who has been blamed for the -ruling party's biggest electoral setback in March since independence in 1957.
Mr Abdullah has scheduled Umno party elections in December, when he could face a potential challenge to his leadership. But Dr Mathahir's dramatic move suggested that he wanted to see the prime minister ousted as quickly as possible.
Dr Mahathir's departure came shortly after Mr Abdullah ordered an inquiry into him and five other officials on possible abuses over judicial appointments while he was in power. Dr Mahathir insisted his resignation had no connection with the inquiry and said he would fully co-operate.
But the feud between Dr Mahathir and Mr Abdullah underscored that Umno is in turmoil two months after the March election, which saw the opposition take an unprecedented five state governments and deny the government a two-thirds parliamentary majority needed to amend the constitution.
Analysts suggested Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition leader, may take advantage of the disarray within Umno to try to persuade some government MPs to defect and bring down the government.
The three-party opposition alliance is just 30 seats short of forming a new government and Mr Anwar has been actively wooing government MPs to cross the aisle.
"The internal problems of Umno are clearly deteriorating beyond any hope of recovery," said Mr Anwar, who once served as deputy prime minister under Dr Mahathir until the two fell out in 1998.
"For the opposition, this is a time to stay back and watch Umno's growing turmoil. Anwar has a good chance [of being PM within a year] since he's wise enough not to push it," said Mr Ooi. Mr Anwar has been focusing his attention on attracting MPs from the Borneo states of Sarawak and Sabah, which now hold the balance of power in the ruling coalition.
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