Friday, September 19, 2008

Preparing for life after Badawi

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi today said he would pass his finance portfolio to his deputy Najib Abdul Razak (image), while he takes over as defence minister. [Malaysiakini, 17/9/08]

n July 11, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi announced that he will step down as the country's premier and UMNO president by 2010. Badawi took the blame for the ruling Barisan Nasional's humiliating defeat at the March 8 General Elections which saw the Opposition taking 5 states and gaining 62 more Parliamentary seats. He has since been under pressure to resign and allow for a new leader to lead the coalition. After much deliberation with component party leaders and members alike, it was agreed that he would resign as Prime Minister by 2010; paving way for his second-in-command Datuk Seri Najib Razak to succeed him in office.

However, things took an awful turn on September 17 when Badawi surprised everyone by swapping portfolios with his deputy, Najib. Badawi is now effectively the new Defence Minister while Najib takes over as Finance Minister. However, the former remained as the Prime Minister; at least till 2010. According to Badawi, the switch was necessary to ensure a smooth transition of power in the build-up to his resignation in about 3 years time.

The portfolio swapping came a day after the Opposition failed to form a new government on September 16. It was suggested that Badawi had done so in order to put to grave any unrest within the ranks of UMNO and Barisan Nasional. Badawi had also hinted that he might step down earlier than 2010 but it would all depend on Najib's fulfillment of his new role.

"The period of power transition is flexible. I might step down earlier than 2010 but it all depends on Najib's performance as the Finance Minister," he explained to the media in the presence of his deputy. [Malaysiakini, 17/9/08]
"Handing over is a process. Between now and June 2010 we will study the process and decide accordingly what we need to do. The agreement remains. I am PM and president, he is DPM and deputy president." [The Malaysian Insider, 17/9/08]
The possibility of Badawi stepping down prematurely would be a welcoming sight for International Trade and Industry Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin who had called on the premier to resign as early as possible.

"The year 2010 is too far away. I have asked Najib whether he really believes by then he would have enough time in restoring confidence among the people. In the interest of the Malaysian people, I think the Prime Minister should reconsider this (his resignation date)," he said to the media during a conference in Singapore. [The Star, 10/9/08]
The portfolio exchange received mixed reactions across the two sides of the Dewan Rakyat. Barisan Nasional leaders lauded the Badawi's move to groom Najib into the next Prime Minister. They also credited Badawi for ensuring a smooth transition of power and this latest move would give Najib ample exposure to the job that lies ahead of him.

"Although he was briefly a Deputy Finance Minister, he has never held a full ministerial post in the Finance portfolio. This will allow Najib to go into the deep end of the economy,” Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk Shahrir Abdul Samad commented. [The Star, 18/9/08]
“The swapping will allow the PM to focus his attention on more important matters, particularly during this testing time,” Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Rais Yatim said. [The Star, 18/9/08]

Curiously enough, Dr. Rais did not elaborate further on what was "more important" than managing the finances of the country.

Across the divide, Opposition leaders criticized Badawi's portfolio-swapping theatrics as irrelevant in bringing about stability to the country's ailing economy. Selangor Chief Minister Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim said that Badawi who tabled the Budget 2009 should continue with the plan til the end.

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng also questioned Badawi's motives behind the switch as he believed that it would not benefit the Malaysian people in any way. He told reporters,

"What can be achieved from at this transition but to hasten Najib's prospects at becoming Prime Minister?" [The Malaysian Insider, 17/9/08]
PAS Treasurer Dr. Hatta Ramli was even more less forgiving by saying that the exchange of posts by the country's top two leaders was not consequential enough to improve the country.

"The portfolio exchange does not hold any significance except to reflect their individual failures in their (previous) portfolios. The PM is not capable of handling finances in the country. The DPM is not capable of handling defence in the country," he shared. [The Malaysian Insider, 17/9/08]
Malaysians have yet to see if the exchange of offices would serve to stop the Opposition from taking over the federal government or to restore stability and confidence in Badawi's already fragile regime. Either way, Malaysians would now have to brace themselves for the post-Badawi era that has already begun.


  1. Anonymous said...

    Dr. Hatta put it right, both PM and DPM had failed in their previous ministry. The best thing and morally right is for both of them to resign and disappear from Malaysia politics.