Abdullah had earlier pledged to stand down in 2010 and hand power to his deputy, Najib Razak.

But on Friday he said "since we have decided to speed up the transition, the original 2010 deadline is out of the question".

The meeting in Kuala Lumpur on Friday was called amid signs the Umno-dominated coalition government's 50-year grip on power could be under threat by the opposition.

The increasing political tensions have caused nervousness among Umno members over Abdullah's leadership that has threatened to cause a public rift in party ranks.

Mounting pressure

But with the opposition threatening to topple the government, pressure has been growing for him to go sooner.

Abdullah has also been criticised for failing to implement key pledges such as eradicating corruption and boosting the independence of the judiciary.

Critics say the government is out of touch with a population hurt by 27-year high inflation and slowing economic growth.

In March the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition suffered its worst ever results in national elections, losing its two-thirds majority in parliament for the first time, although still managing to form the government.

The opposition, led by Anwar Ibrahim, the former deputy prime minister, has said it plans to take power by organising the defection of at least 30 MPs from the BN.

The BN coalition is made up of race-based political parties, representing Malay, ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indian voters.

Ethnic Malays account for more than 50 per cent of the population and dominate politics, but Umno relies on the alliance with other parties to hold power.

Those smaller Chinese and Indian based partners, however, have seen support ebb away to Anwar's coalition which has promised a fresh start and to end an affirmative action programme for Malays.