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Cablegate: Pm Abdullah Regroups, Reaffirms Umno Election Plan

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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 KUALA LUMPUR 000847

SIPDIS

FOR EAP, EAP/MTS AND INR

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/19/2028
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR MARR KDEM MY
SUBJECT: PM ABDULLAH REGROUPS, REAFFIRMS UMNO ELECTION PLAN

REF: A. KUALA LUMPUR 833 - SEPT 18 SETBACK
B. KUALA LUMPUR 821 - ABDULLAH TAKES DEFENSE MINISTRY
C. KUALA LUMPUR 815 - SEPT 16 ANTI-CLIMAX
D. KUALA LUMPUR 810 - UPROAR OVER ISA

Classified By: Political Section Chief Mark D. Clark, reason 1.4 (b and
d).

Summary and Comment
-------------------

1. (C) Embattled Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi claimed
support from state-level officials of his ruling United
Malays National Organization (UMNO) for his re-nomination as
party president, in an effort to bounce back after some
national UMNO leaders on September 18 urged the PM not to
contest in the December party poll. Subsequently, Abdullah
again affirmed his commitment to seek reelection together
with Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, while other
senior UMNO leaders reiterated calls for Abdullah to step
down. On September 22, Anwar's camp spread news that the
Opposition leader would meet the King the following day; we
have no information to suggest such a meeting took place. PM
Abdullah said reports that he was in indirect talks with
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim over a transfer of power were
"rubbish;" Anwar also issued a public denial and advocated
caution.

2. (C) Comment: Rapidly approaching the Muslim holiday
period beginning October 1-2, and the October 9 start of the
party's divisional meetings, the UMNO leadership crisis
remains critical and unresolved. Reports of Anwar Ibrahim
meeting the King or opening up a third-party channel to
negotiate with PM Abdullah do not appear credible. Anwar's
most recent pronouncements sound a cautious tone and avoid
setting deadlines for bringing down Abdullah's government,
and it is unclear how far Anwar Ibrahim can push his agenda
before the end of September. End Summary and Comment.

Abdullah Claims State-Level Backing
-----------------------------------

3. (SBU) PM Abdullah traveled to Perak and Kelantan states
and held meetings with some UMNO state-level leaders over the
September 20-21 weekend in an attempt to regroup support for
his re-nomination as UMNO president following his setback in
the heated UMNO Supreme Council meeting on September 18.
(Note: Some prominent UMNO national leaders during the
September 18 meeting reportedly warned Abdullah he would not
get sufficient nominations from the UMNO party divisions and
urged him not to seek reelection in the December party polls,
ref A. End Note.) On September 23, Abdullah held a late
night meeting with the UMNO liaison chiefs from nine states,
with Johor, Sabah and Terangganu not represented (along with
Sarawak, which does not have an UMNO branch). Following the
meeting, a senior aide to Abdullah told reporters that the
Prime Minister had received the strong endorsement of the
party's state chiefs for his transition plan, which involves
PM Abdullah and DPM Najib's reelection in December, and
transfer of power from Abdullah to Najib by June 2010. Other
UMNO participants in the meeting noted a "unanimous" decision
in favor of the 2010 transition plan.

4. (C) Comment: By going to the state level, and reporting
strong endorsement from state leaders, Abdullah sought to
counter criticism from national leaders that he would not
receive sufficient backing for his reelection. State liaison
chiefs are appointed by the party president -- Abdullah --
and thus largely beholden to him, but they also exercise
important political power among their respective state's
party divisions. End Comment.

5. (SBU) After remaining awkwardly quiet on September 19,
the Prime Minister's spin machine operating through the
mainstream media and some on-line news portals, like The
Malaysian Insider, started up again on September 20.
Reporting from government sources and associated commentary
reaffirmed that Abdullah was moving ahead with the joint
ticket with Najib, and that the transition plan remained on
track and was not likely to be derailed.

Open UMNO Split Continues
-------------------------

6. (SBU) As Abdullah reaffirmed his transition plan and
intention to seek reelection, senior UMNO leaders Muhyiddin
Yassin and Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah adamantly stuck to their
positions that Abdullah should step down by December. On
September 23, Razaleigh issued a lengthy condemnation of
UMNO's undemocratic power politics and the party's failure to
reform: "We cannot afford to allow these disturbing trends
to play out their destructive course while we suffer a de
facto leadership vacuum..." (full text forwarded to EAP/MTS).
DPM Najib, who departs the evening of September 24 for the
UN General Assembly, largely avoided comment, feeding local
perceptions that he is attempting to keep some room open to
receive party nominations for president, possibly with
Muhyiddin as his number two. Former Prime Minister Mahathir
continued his attacks against Abdullah, and heaped blame on
Najib for facilitating Abdullah's continuation in office.

Opposition Rumors; Anwar's Caution
----------------------------------

7. (C) Beginning September 22, Opposition leader Anwar
Ibrahim's camp circulated two streams of rumor in what - in
the absence of more information - appears to be a
continuation of psychological warfare against UMNO and the
National Front (BN) government. On September 22, Anwar
advisor Khalid Jaafar whispered to us during a reception at
the Ambassador's Residence that Anwar would meet the King on
September 23 to discuss the parliamentary majority that Anwar
alleges he now has and the formation of a new government.
Other rumors of Anwar meeting with the King and other Royals
persist in Kuala Lumpur.

8. (C) On September 23, Tian Chua, Anwar's information
chief, publicly announced that the Opposition had opened
negotiations with Prime Minister Abdullah through a
third-party channel. PM Abdullah immediately dismissed this
claim, calling it "rubbish." Anwar later issued a statement
referring to Tian Chua's remarks as "misinformed." Avoiding
setting any new deadlines for toppling the government, Anwar
in his statement said, "We will proceed cautiously towards
our goals and we agree neither to be provoked into hasty
action nor to take an irresponsible approach that would lead
to instability and greater uncertainty in the country."
(Comment: Earlier on September 23, the GOM confirmed two
years detention without trial under the Internal Security Act
for controversial blogger Raja Petra, septel. Opposition
leaders continue to tell us that they seek to avoid creating
a pretext for the government to arrest them under the ISA.
End Comment.)

RAPSON

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