Umno united against Pak Lah

The Malaysian Insider Commentary

For once, there was no flip, there was no flop. No flap even as Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi today stuck to his widely-expected decision to not defend his Umno presidency and step down as Prime Minister next March.

There was some speculation that he might chance it and go for broke to carry out his earlier transition plan until June 2010.

That plan had been torn to pieces by the Umno Supreme council two weeks ago but the 68-year-old premier had already been a dead man walking from exactly seven months ago when the Barisan Nasional lost five states and its customary two-thirds parliamentary majority to a resurgent opposition under Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

The loss exacerbated a sharpening of knives against the politician known as the "Mr Nice Guy" of Malaysian politics, led by his predecessor Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and followed by Umno politicians hungry for power and position.

"I know I've not been doing well, it's time for someone else to take over," Abdullah said, bringing down the curtain on a career spanning 45 years in public service, first as a civil servant, then as a politician and ultimately as prime minister.

Widely criticised by all quarters for a laundry list of reasons - internally by Umno politicians against reforms in governance and externally for not fulfilling such promises - Abdullah has seen his approval rating zig zag between the high 70s and the low 40s, epitomising his lack-lustre leadership that earned him the sobriquet "Flip Flop".

His indecisiveness had always been based on a need for consensus, unity and harmony that was borne from helping to administer the country after the May 13 riots. "I never want to see that again," Abdullah told reporters several years ago.

He followed the same theme today, saying "I have always been guided by my conscience. I do not want a divided party and governing coalition but one that is united. This is not the time for infighting."

The electoral debacle and threats by Anwar to topple BN and capture Putrajaya took its toll on Abdullah and his ruling coalition with the tiny Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) openly saying it had no confidence in Abdullah's leadership and walked out of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition last month.

A few other parties gave notice of dissatisfaction not so much with him but with other Umno leaders for racist rants but stopped short of leaving. Abdullah feebly chastised his party which further split the party.

With that in mind and taking the blame and being blamed for the humiliating loss, Abdullah decided to quit to give both the party and coalition a fighting chance for the next polls and to prevent a split and infighting for the leadership.

What was left unsaid was that a majority of Umno supreme council members were united in getting him to go but only split about a succession plan among themselves. They had engineered meetings to convince Pak Lah he was wildly unpopular for not keeping his promises.

But the perception on the ground pointed to the party losing support even among its core Malay constituencies, apart from the Chinese and Indians, for a raft of other reasons, particularly to do with price hikes in food and fuel.

For the next six months, Abdullah will not have to worry about such perceptions. Starting today without flip-flopping about his decision to retire from active politics, he can forge ahead to carry out the reforms without thinking of the political cost within the party.

And even if that fails with a lack of support from within Umno, the man known as "Mr Nice Guy" would at least leave behind a party united - against his efforts.

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