Malaysia’s new prime minister

Najib Razak looks set to initiate aggressive political and economic reforms, but change could be slow and difficult as the country faces one of its toughest tests.

MALAYSIA'S new prime minister, Najib Razak, took the oath of office on Friday, inheriting myriad challenges, including a flagging economy, a racially divided society and a moribund ruling party.

The 55-year-old, British educated Najib replaces Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as the country's sixth prime minister. Mr Abdullah resigned on Thursday – part of a power transition dictated by the ruling United Malays National Organisation in the wake of massive losses in last year's general elections.

Reading the oath of office in a simple ceremony at the national palace, Mr Najib swore to 'fulfill the obligations of this post with honesty and with all my strength.' 'I will pour my full loyalty into Malaysia and preserve, protect and defend the Constitution,' he said, dressed in traditional Malay dress – a black tunic and loose trousers with a knee-length gold embroidered cloth tied around the waist. He was accompanied by his wife, Rosmah.

Among the dignitaries present were Mr Abdullah, his wife, and former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and his wife.

Mr Najib, who is expected to announce a new Cabinet lineup next week, faces a mammoth task ahead in healing the country's politics, society and economy, which is expected to shrink by 1 percent in 2009.

He also faces a belligerent opposition, which accuses him of corruption in a deal to buy French submarines when he was defense minister. It has also alleged he was linked to the killing of a Mongolian woman, who was the estranged lover of a close friend.

Mr Najib has denied the allegations as 'malicious lies.' 'Unlike Abdullah who inherited a battleship in full steam, Najib is taking over a battered ship and this may explain why he seems solemn and thoughtful rather than celebratory,' wrote analyst Joceline Tan in The Star newspaper.

But front pages across Malaysia were reveling. 'It's his time,' the New Straits Times said in a full page headline that showed Mr Najib in a dark suit. 'Enter Najib,' said The Star. — AP