Mahathir wins nepotism row

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THE PRIME MINISTER of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamed, appeared to have emerged the winner yesterday at a party convention which was electrified by allegations of nepotism and corruption in his government.

In a conference hall buzzing for three days with talk of corruption and cronyism in the upper echelons of the governing United Malays National Organization party (UMNO), Mr Mahathir released at the weekend a list of people who had been awarded government contracts and promised more names.

On the list, significantly, were some of the very people who had accused his leadership of cronyism.

Mr Mahathir, 72, Asia's longest-serving leader, described the list as "just a start".

Among the prominent names listed was that of Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the powerful leader of the party's youth wing, whom the local press described as the "No 1 Antagonist" for spearheading the campaign against corruption in UMNO.

Prior to the annual convention, Mr Zahid had threatened to provide a list of benefactors of cronyism. His list never materialised, though he called for an end to nepotism in his speech before the UMNO Youth wing.

"Mahathir has secured his position for now and the immediate future," said Jomo Sundram, professor of economics at the University of Malaya. "The scenario of a change in the leadership, following the change of leadership in other Asian countries affected by the economic crisis, appears unlikely."

Mr Jomo was referring to Thailand, South Korea and Indonesia, where economic turmoil has triggered political upheaval and leaders' downfall.