Page last updated at 13:59 GMT, Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Malaysia party to choose 'new PM'

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (5th L) and prime minister-in-waiting Najib Razak (4th L) as the meeting opens
More then 2,500 delegates are attending the five-day meeting

Malaysia's main ruling party, Umno, has begun a five-day meeting to choose its new leaders.

The controversial deputy prime minister, Najib Razak, is widely expected to take over both the party and the job of prime minister.

Umno did badly in last year's elections, and almost lost its half-century grip on power.

Mr Najib will enter office despite claims that he was linked to a murder case, an accusation he strongly denies.

As the main party in the ruling National Front coalition, Umno has been in power since Malaysia's independence in 1957.

But correspondents say that the party is currently losing voter support. It is perceived to be corrupt and out of touch with the people.

'Change is good'

More than 2,500 delegates are gathering at Umno's headquarters to anoint Mr Najib as the new party president, and cast their votes for other key roles.

"The leadership change is good. It helps to give an opportunity for change," Domestic Trade Minister Shahrir Samad told reporters ahead of the meeting.

The head of the women's wing, Rafidah Aziz, said the changes would open a new chapter after last year's disappointing elections, which left the opposition in control of five out of 13 states.

The conference comes amid rising political tensions in Malaysia, and increasing protests from angry minority groups.

On Monday the authorities banned the opposition's two main newspapers for three months, and tear gas was recently used to break up a rally held by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

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