Malaysian lawmaker gets Mahathir's support to challenge PM

March 28, 2008
KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) . Malaysia's former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad on Saturday backed an ex-finance minister's bid to challenge the prime minister after the ruling coalition's recent surprise poll losses.

Senior lawmaker Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah had said he would challenge Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi for the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) leadership if he received enough support.

UMNO leads the Barisan Nasional coalition that was humbled in the March 8 polls, and the party's leader traditionally takes the job of prime minister.

"Tengku Razaleigh may be one of them (to contest against Abdullah). A challenge (for the top post) is healthy," Mahathir said, adding: "I don't think UMNO is so poor in talent."

UMNO is scheduled to hold a party leadership election in December. Members of the party and former leaders including Mahathir have called on Abdullah to resign.

But Mahathir said it would be difficult for anyone to challenge Abdullah because of a requirement to secure 58 nominations from the 191 UMNO divisions.

"I think it should be abolished because of the tendency of the people in power to stifle any move to challenge them," he said.

Mahathir said Tengku Razaleigh failed to win sufficient nominations in 2004 for the top post because UMNO divisions were warned against nominating him.

"He (Tengku Razaleigh) only got one nomination because other divisions were told not to nominate him," he said.

Abdullah has claimed a mandate to rule despite the unprecedented election losses, but observers say he is on borrowed time as calls for his resignation persist.

-- AFP