Malaysian prime minister sworn in for second term

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's prime minister took the oath of office for a new five-year term Monday, rejecting calls to resign after unprecedented electoral setbacks wiped out the governing coalition's two-thirds majority and shook the political landscape.

Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was sworn in at a simple, nationally broadcast ceremony in front of the constitutional monarch, King Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin, and dozens of dignitaries in the national palace's throne room.

"I pledge to carry out my duties honestly and with all my abilities," Abdullah said, reading out the oath. "I pledge to protect and uphold the Constitution."

Abdullah smiled occasionally and mingled with guests after the ceremony, belying the stress of the last two days when he was confronted with the biggest political crisis of his life.

Abdullah's National Front governing coalition secured a fresh mandate in general elections Saturday, but lost its two-thirds parliamentary majority and relinquished control of 5 of Malaysia's 13 states to the opposition. The opposition alliance now has 82 of Parliament's 222 seats, up from 19 in the outgoing house.

The result was the coalition's worst electoral performance in the 51 years that it has governed Malaysia following independence from Britain. Scores of senior National Front officials lost their seats in the federal and state legislatures.

The stunning electoral upheaval was the outcome of simmering racial tensions, income disparities, inflation, rising crime and anger against the enrichment of the ruling elite. Analysts see it as leverage for the resurgent opposition to eventually break the National Front's stranglehold on power.

"A two-party system seems likely to evolve from the outcome of this general election," Wong Chun Wai, the editor of the pro-government Star daily, wrote in his newspaper Monday.

"The first page of the new Malaysian political era opens today. Certainly, the elections may have ended but the drama has only just started. Stay tuned," he wrote.

Abdullah told supporters who gathered Sunday at his official residence in Putrajaya, Malaysia's administrative capital, that he believed he still commanded coalition members' loyalty.

"I will not step down from any post, because I feel no pressure," Abdullah said.

Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak vowed to support Abdullah "in facing this big challenge" and urged party members to "close ranks."

Although the election results were a disappointment, "we accept the people's decision with an open heart," Najib said in a statement. "We will continue to strive to regain the confidence of the people."

Malaysians hailed the elections as a victory for democracy in a country accustomed to semi-authoritarian governments, including the 22-year rule of Mahathir Mohamad, who resigned in 2003 after picking Abdullah to replace him.

But Mahathir turned against Abdullah two years later.

On Sunday, Mahathir called for Abdullah's resignation, saying his successor "has destroyed" the National Front.

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