Badawi, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad
▪ 2005

      Five months after becoming prime minister of Malaysia, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi received a surprisingly strong personal mandate in general elections held on March 21, 2004. Gains by his party, the United Malays National Organization, demonstrated widespread support for Abdullah in the ethnically and religiously diverse country, despite his having been handpicked for the premiership by his predecessor, Mahathir bin Mohamad. Abdullah vowed to attack poverty and to eliminate the cronyism that had been a byword of Mahathir's long tenure. Two high-profile arrests in February suggested that Abdullah would make good his anticorruption pledge. When Abdullah announced his cabinet appointments after the elections, however, critics expressed disappointment; the group included several scandal-tainted holdovers from the previous administration. In September the Malaysian High Court's unanticipated release of Anwar Ibrahim, the former deputy prime minister who had been imprisoned on questionable charges since 1998, resolved one of the most troubling of legacies of the Mahathir era and brought new accolades for Abdullah's housecleaning efforts.

      Moving with quiet authority on the international stage, in January Abdullah initiated a rapprochement with neighbouring Singapore, seeking to end decades of territorial bickering. Responding in February to U.S. Pres. George W. Bush's charge that Malaysia was trafficking in nuclear secrets, Abdullah questioned the evidence for the claim but also called for a police investigation of his son's alleged involvement in the matter. In May Abdullah urged the world powers to renew efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and he criticized President Bush for sanctioning Israel's apparent abandonment of the “road map for peace” that had been endorsed by the UN Security Council in 2003. In June Abdullah called for the formation of an East Asian economic community, modeled on the European Union, to give Asian nations greater clout in world affairs.

      Abdullah was born on Nov. 26, 1939, in Kampung Perlis on the island of Penang, then part of the British Straits Settlements colony. In 1964 he graduated with a B.A. (with honours) in Islamic studies from the University of Malaya. He then joined the Malayan civil service. He served on the National Operation Council, which exercised executive power during a nationwide state of emergency (1969–70). In 1971 he moved to the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports. He resigned from the civil service in 1978 and campaigned successfully for election to the federal parliament. Also in 1978 he received his first administrative appointment in the Federal Territory Ministry. Under Mahathir, Abdullah served as minister in the Prime Minister's Department (1981–84), as well as minister of education (1984–86) and defense (1986–87). In 1991 he was appointed minister of foreign affairs, a position he held until 1999, when Mahathir named him deputy prime minister and minister of home affairs. On Oct. 31, 2003, Abdullah became Malaysia's fifth prime minister.

Janet Moredock

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Universalium. 2010.

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