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Malaysia's PM Strengthens His Position Appointing New Deputy

Najib Razak, the son of one of Malaysia's early political leaders, has been named deputy prime minister. Analysts say the appointment will add stability to the new government of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, and opens the way for national elections due before the year's end.

Najib Razak is a 50-year-old economist, a veteran politician, and the son of Malaysia's highly-regarded second prime minister, Tun Abdul Razak.

He has been considered one of the leading candidates for the deputy prime minister's job ever since Abdullah Ahmad Badawi took over as Malaysia's prime minster more than two months ago.

The appointment came as part of a minor cabinet reshuffle, and clears the way for general elections to be called.

Lim Kit Sang, leader of the opposition Democratic Action Party, believes general elections are now on the horizon, perhaps sooner rather than later.

"I think the room for holding elections is getting narrower and narrower and in any event I think the appointment of the new deputy prime minister and the minor reshuffle does signal that elections are around the corner," he said.

Mr. Najib, viewed by analysts as a staunch nationalist, was first elected to parliament in 1976 at the age of 22 - the same year his father died. He currently holds the position of defense minister.

He has long held senior positions within the United Malays National Organization or UMNO, the party that has dominated coalition governments since Malaysia's independence from Britain in 1957. He has also held the post of education minister.

The elections will be the first since the departure of long-serving Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, and will mark a new era in Malaysian politics.