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Updated!: BADAWI WILL RESIGN! - Malaysiakini reports

Malaysiakini's updated report

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has decided not to defend his Umno president's post and will quit in March next year when the ruling party meets for its annual general assembly.

The embattled premier announced this today to a packed press conference after chairing a 90-minute BN special supreme council meeting.

He added that his decision not to contest in the Umno polls was not to create a rift in the party.

Under the power transition plan agreed between Abdullah and his deputy, Najib Abdul Razak, the deputy premier will take over as soon as Abdullah steps down.

Abdullah also said that he would want to implement his promises in reforming the judiciary and to give more bite to the Anti-Corruption Agency to fight graft before he leaves.

He added that Najib had agreed to back these initiatives.

Earlier a component party leader told Malaysiakini that after Abdullah's announcement, the BN leaders took turn to thank him for his leadership.

While Abdullah was briefing BN leaders on the power transfer plan at the meeting, scores of his supporters had gathered outside the PWTC building to urge him to stay on.

Armed with banners, the supporters called on the embattled premier to continue until 2010 amid the now confirmed speculation that he might be forced to step down earlier.

Most short-lived as PM

Should Abdullah resign in March 2009, he would be the most short-lived as prime minister, serving a total of five years five months.

The country's third prime minister Hussein Onn, who resigned in 1981 to make way for Dr Mahathir Mohamad ostensibly due to health concerns, served for five years six months.

Abdullah, who took power on Oct 31, 2003 from Mahathir, won a landslide victory in the March 2004 general election only to suffer an unprecedented defeat exactly four years later.

He was initially buoyed by a groundswell of support for his promises of reform after two decades of hardline rule under Mahathir - the country’s longest serving leader.

However, he was quickly seen as weak and ineffective after failing to come to grips with endemic corruption, high crime rates and inefficient bureaucracy, issues which he had vowed to address in his 2004 election manifesto.-

The Star Report:

KUALA LUMPUR: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi will not defend his Umno presidency in the party polls next March, paving the way for his deputy Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

"I will not contest in the Umno elections," he told reporters after a Barisan Nasional Supreme Council meeting at the Putra World Trade Centre here on Wednesday.

"I do not want a divided party, or a divided government," he said.

Abdullah also told reporters that he would "stay on as Prime Minister" till March.

He also outlined several initiatives he wanted to see implemented before he leaves. These will be tabled in Parliament by the end of the year, he said.

They involve his on-going commitment to reforming the judiciary; an anti-corruption Bill to give more clout to combat corruption; and the special complaints commission to revamp the police force.

By tradition, the Umno president and deputy president become the prime minister and deputy prime minister respectively. Najib is expected to run for president, and if he wins, would become the nation’s sixth prime minister.

Abdullah also said he would discuss handing over the prime minister's post to Najib after the Umno elections.

"I know I've not been doing well; it's time for someone else to take over," he said, adding that Barisan leaders have received the news well.

He said that he believes that other Barisan leaders would accept Najib as his successor and that the latter would win the Umno polls.

He added that he would not pick a deputy for his successor Najib.

Abdullah had said after a special Umno supreme council meeting that he would decide by Oct 9 whether he would defend his party presidency.

At the meeting, it was also decided that the Umno general assembly and supreme council elections, scheduled for Dec 16 to 20, will be postponed to March next year to facilitate an early transition of power from Abdullah to Najib.

Abdullah’s also said that the original June 2010 plan to hand over power as Prime Minister and Umno president was now off.

"We are talking about an earlier transition, so the 2010 plan does not arise any more," he had said.

Earlier on Wednesday, groups of supporters gathered outside the Umno headquarters here ahead of Abdullah’s meeting with the supreme council.

The supporters claimed to be from Umno divisions in Perak and Johor, as well as various non-governmental organisations.

Abdullah arrived at about 3.36pm to shouts of “Hidup Pak Lah” (Long live, Pak Lah).

Supporters were also heard shouting for Abdullah to follow the transition plan instead of stepping down now.

The supporters gathered outside the Umno building were holding banners which read “Hidup Pak Lah”, “Hormati Pengalihan Kuasa” (Respect the transition of power) and “Elak Perpecahan party” (Avoid splitting the party).

There has been a lot of dissatisfaction within Barisan after the March 8 general election, which saw the ruling coalition lose its two-thirds majority in Parliament, as well as ceding control of five states to the Pakatan Rakyat opposition alliance.

Large portions of the Umno grassroots, as well as many leaders, have been clamouring for a leadership change.