Malaysia's new premier takes over in challenging times

Malaysia's new Prime Minister Najib Razak took over the reigns of power Friday in trying times, as he himself admitted, dpa reported.

  Najib, 56, replaces Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, 70, who resigned Thursday.

  As oldest son of Abdul Razak Hussein, Malaysia's second prime minister, and nephew of the third, Hussein Onn, Najib had an early start to politics.

  He obtained his bachelor's degree in industrial economics in Britain, and returned to Malaysia to become the youngest member of parliament parliament in Malaysian history at age 23.

  Just one year later, he became the youngest-ever deputy minister.

  Najib has held several ministerial positions, such as minister of education and minister of defence. Last year, Najib took over as minister of finance, replacing Abdullah.

  Najib's premiership was regarded to be an eventuality, considering his rapid rise within the ranks of the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party, which is the backbone of the National Front coalition of multi-ethnic parties.

  But instead of being marked by celebration, Najib's ascension is clouded by a slew of controversies and the worsening economic crisis.

  In a recent interview with a local paper, Najib acknowledged that he was taking over at a "critical time" in the country's history, pointing out the current economic slump, but making no mention of the loss of public support for the government or the scandals surrounding his person.

  The main, and possibly most damaging, controversy hounding Najib is the alleged link between him and the gruesome murder of a Mongolian beauty in 2006.

  Altantuya Shaarribuu, then 28, was shot and her body blown up with military-grade explosives. Police found her remains on a remote hill outside the capital Kuala Lumpur.

  Both media and public attention about the case reached fever pitch when prominent political analyst Abdul Razak Baginda, also a close friend and aide of Najib, was detained for his role in the woman's death.

  Abdul Razak was cleared of all charges last year, but allegations of links between Najib and the victim remained, a claim vehemently denied by the then-deputy premier.

  Even after Najib swore his innocence on the Muslim holy book of the Quran in an elaborate ceremony, opposition members and bloggers have been relentless in their accusations.

  The Mongolian murder, coupled with rampant rumours of corruption involving several arms deals while Najib was defence minister, continue to overshadow Najib's denials and attempts at projecting a clean image.

  According to independent pollster Merdeka Centre, Najib's popularity rating currently stands at 41 per cent, compared to the 46-per-cent rating of his predecessor Abdullah.

  The opposition has warned that Najib's ascension also signaled a crackdown on dissent and freedom of opinion, citing his hand in a controversial takeover of Perak, one of the opposition-ruled states, earlier this year.

  "Severe repressive measures may be the hallmark of Najib's ascendancy to premiership," said Tian Chua, the information chief of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's People's Justice Party.

  In response to criticism, Najib, who is married to Rosmah Mansor and has five children, has appealed for the public to give him a chance to prove his worth.

  "Give me a chance. Judge me on by actions. Don't judge me on rumours and baseless accusations," he said. 

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