Mahathir rejoins Umno

(Reuters) PUTRAJAYA (Malaysia) – FORMER Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad has rejoined the main ruling party, the prime minister said on Saturday, a day after his beleaguered successor stepped down.

Dr Mahathir, who ruled the South-east Asian country for 22 years until 2003, still wields some influence within the main ruling United Malays National Organisation (Umno) party.

He had quit the party in a huff last year, after months of criticism against his successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's policies and said he would return only if Mr Abdullah resigned. Mr Abdullah handed over power to Mr Najib Razak on Friday.

'The image of Umno has suffered somewhat over the last few years,' Dr Mahathir told reporters in the administrative capital.

'The first thing to be done now is to clean up Umno.' Dr Mahathir had handpicked Mr Abdullah to succeed him but later became his staunch critic, with some analysts saying that Dr Mahathir's constant criticism had added to pressure which forced Mr Abdullah to leave office earlier than he had planned.

'I was critical of Umno whenever it goes wrong. If it doesn't go wrong, I don't see why I should be critical,' Dr Mahathir said.

'I think under the leadership of Najib, I don't think he will stray from the old path, which was set by his father, not me.' Mr Najib's father, Abdul Razak Hussein, was Malaysia's second prime minister.

Mr Najib said Dr Mahathir's return would 'encourage Umno and help to rebuild the party'. Dr Mahathir also said he believed the ruling coalition had an 'even' chance of winning three by-elections scheduled for April 7.

Mr Abdullah led the ruling National Front coalition to its worst election result in 2008 polls, as voters rebuked the government for its failure to deliver on promises to tackle civil service corruption and boost the economy. — REUTERS