KUALA LUMPUR, March 27 — Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi will end all speculation over his departure from office when he announces the date he steps down as prime minister during his speech at the close of Umno general assembly tomorrow.
The prime minister has kept the date a secret from even his close advisors and wants to follow the tradition of Umno and inform party members first of his retirement date. He told several party officials — who have been urging him to issue a press statement and quell speculation over his political future — he intends to follow in the footsteps of Umno presidents Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Hussein Onn and inform his party when he will hand power to his successor.
The Malaysian Insider understands that transition date is likely to be April 3, and the swearing-in ceremony for Datuk Seri Najib Razak as the country’s sixth prime minister is said to be slated for 11 am at Istana Negara. Initially, the handover date was scheduled for March 31 but Abdullah has indicated that he wants to bid farewell to his ministers at the weekly Cabinet meeting on April 1.
There has been intense speculation over Abdullah’s political future since he announced that he would not be defending his party president’s position. Opposition politicians, concerned that a Najib administration would signal a return to the autocratic style of the Mahathir years, have been appealing for Abdullah to stay in office.
They told him that he had the support of the majority of Parliament, a prerequisite for holding the top job in the country. But Abdullah has never had a change of mind about making way for Najib after the party elections in March.
An old school party man, it was inconceivable for him to cling on as prime minister without the endorsement from the people who matter most to him — Umno members. After retiring, he is likely to focus on improving ties between Malaysia and the Middle East.