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New Malaysian PM Delivers First Speech - 2003-11-03

Malaysia's new prime minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, has delivered his first speech to Parliament since taking the oath of office on Friday. Malaysia's first new leader in 22 years unveiled no surprises.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi spent his first working day as head-of-government by appealing for help from across the political spectrum.

Prime Minister Abdullah says he inherits heavy responsibilities that he cannot fulfill on his own. As a result, he says, he needs cooperation from all lawmakers, government workers, political parties, the private sector and the news media.

Mr. Abdullah praised his predecessor, Mahathir Mohamad, who retired Friday after 22 years in power, saying he had made Malaysia into a modern, industrial nation. He gave no indication that he would deviate initially from the policies of Mr. Mahathir.

The prime minister pledged to fight poverty, crime and corruption, which he called an evil system that must be prevented through punitive means (punishment). And he expressed support for Malaysia's democratic system, though he warned that democracy does not mean total freedom.

Mr. Abdullah urged Malaysians to avoid inflaming issues of race, religion or language and he said that matters related to security would be dealt with firmly.

Malaysia has been proactive in going after suspected southeast terrorists from Jemaah Islamiyah. The government has arrested scores of alleged Islamic militants - detaining them indefinitely under the controversial Internal Security Act.

Mr. Abdullah began his first working day as prime minister at the new government offices in Putrajaya outside Kuala Lumpur, where he was greeted by senior officials and staff.

In the coming days, he is to meet with the National Security Council, the cabinet and the leaders of his UMNO party that has governed virtually since Malaysia's independence.

Malaysians are watching to see whether Mr. Abdullah in the coming days will announce his choice of deputy prime minister and call national elections, expected next year, or first seek to consolidate his position within his political party and the governing coalition.