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Profile: Najib Abdul Razak
Malaysia's sixth prime minister assumes power amid increasing political disunity.
Last Modified: 26 Mar 2009 08:59 GMT

As prime minister Najib Abdul Razak will face serious political challenges [EPA]

Najib Abdul Razak's rise to office as Malaysia's sixth prime minister caps a political career that began as a child in rural eastern Malaysia born into the country's political aristocracy.

The oldest son of Abdul Razak Hussein, Malaysia's second prime minister, and a nephew of the third, Hussein Onn, Najib is regarded as a political blue blood.

"We need to accept this challenge by making massive changes to the party and the government. If we are not brave enough to change, we will be changed by the people"

Najib Abdul Razak, incoming Malaysian PM

Today the family network continues to run deep into the reins of power, as well as corporate Malaysia, staking its claim to be the country's first political dynasty.

Najib's cousin, Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, holds the post of Malaysia's education minister while his younger brother, Nazir Abdul Razak, runs the country's second-largest lender, Bumiputera-Commerce Holdings Bhd.

As a child Najib went to a Christian mission school in Kuala Lumpur and later attended the renowned Malay College Kuala Kangsar before going to the UK for his bachelor's degree in industrial economics.

From his earliest days he grew up watching his father in office and came to learn the demands of mainstream politics, preparing the ground for his election to parliament in 1976.

Aged just 23, he became the youngest MP in Malaysian history, winning uncontested the Pekan constituency in the east coast state of Pahang after it fell vacant following the sudden death of his father.

A year later he became the youngest deputy minister and returned to state politics to become chief minister of Pahang, his home state, by the age of 29.

He later returned as MP and was appointed a full minister in 1987.

As he moved up through the ranks he took on the role of defence minister where he launched a national service programme intended to forge national unity, but the project was plagued by problems after more than a dozen trainees died during training.

Opportunist

Najib is facing one of the most challenging periods as a Malaysian PM [AFP]
Throughout his career Najib has developed a reputation as a non-ideological and opportunistic politician willing to enter alliances favourable to him.

He has strategically backed top leaders of his United Malay National Organisation (Umno) party when their positions were challenged, earning himself some influential supporters.

In 2007 however he raised doubts among many non-Muslim Malaysians when he declared that Malaysia was an Islamic state and had never been a secular one, contradicting historical records and leading many to question his intentions.

As he moves to assume the office of prime minister, topping his political agenda are policy reforms within Umno, the dominant party in the ruling coalition, where vote-buying encouraged by a culture of patronage has become entrenched.

He has also pledged transparency in government especially during a period of economic uncertainty, saying that his every move will be scrutinised under a microscope.

But Najib's road to the top office has not been entirely smooth, overshadowed by a string of rumours and allegations ranging from connections to a sex-murder scandal to vote-buying and involvement in widespread government corruption.

As of March his popularity rating stood at just 41 per cent, according to a recent poll by the independent Merdeka Centre.

Critics have accused him and his family of benefiting from a slew of defence deals – from submarines to advanced fighter jets and frigates - claims which Najib has fiercely denied.

More recently Najib has been dogged by allegations that he was implicated in the high-profile murder of a Mongolian model, claims he has dismissed as "unfounded".

He has also been accused of masterminding the ongoing sex allegations against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

Najib allegedly has close links to Saiful Bukhari Azlan, the 23-year-old former aide who accused the opposition leader of sodomising him in early 2008.

Challenges

Najib's ascension to power comes at a challenging time - both for his party, facing an increasingly powerful opposition; and for Malaysia itself, facing an almost certain recession as a result of the global downturn.

Given those challenges, many hope that he will have the political will and moral courage to address a range of long-running inequalities.

Topping the list is an overhaul of affirmative action policies favouring the ethnic Malay majority that a growing number of Malaysians view as outdated and some see as counterproductive.

The change of leadership also comes at a time of mounting political uncertainty in the top echelons of Umno and the Malaysian government, with the opposition at its strongest ever and in control of five states.

In one of his last speeches as prime minister and party leader, Najib's predecessor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, called for urgent and wide-ranging reforms warning that Umno "faces a life and death situation".

Last year, in the worst election result ever for the Umno-dominated Barisan Nasional coalition, opposition parties managed to deny the government the two-thirds majority it had held since independence in 1957.

Speaking to a ruling party newspaper days before his appointment as prime minister was confirmed, Najib conceded that his party and the government faced a "critical time" in their history.

"We need to accept this challenge by making massive changes to the party and the government," he said.

"If we are not brave enough to change, we will be changed by the people."

Source:
Agencies
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