21 March, 2008

Malaysian PM facing ruling party revolt

A ruling party grandee has launched a challenge to Abdullah Badawi’s leadership of the United Malays National Organisation after the party’s worst election setback in 50 years.

The move by Razaleigh Hamzah to confront Mr Abdullah, Malaysian prime minister, could trigger a split in UMNO, which leads the National Front coalition government, and is likely to be supported by Mahathir Mohamad, Mr Abdullah’s long-serving predecessor.

Reports that some National Front members of parliament might defect to the opposition, headed by Anwar Ibrahim, are adding to Mr Abdullah's troubles as he fights to survive in power.

Mr Razaleigh, a former finance minister and royal prince, is seen as an elder statesman in times of crisis. Viewed as a reformer, he nearly toppled Dr Mahathir as prime minister in 1987 in a party revolt that was supported by Mr Abdullah.

Now the tables have turned, with Dr Mahathir likely to join Mr Razaleigh to oust Mr Abdullah, according to a Razaleigh aide. The former prime minister and his son, an Umno youth leader, have already demanded the prime minister's resignation....read more here.

Defections could sink Malaysia govt: Anwar

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Lawmakers from Malaysia's ruling coalition are willing to defect to the opposition, threatening to drag down the government, de facto opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said in an interview on Wednesday.

Anwar, who made a dramatic political comeback at elections on March 8, told Reuters that Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's coalition was cracking apart and was fast losing support from smaller constituent parties based on Borneo island.

"The sentiments in Sabah and Sarawak are strong with a number of people approaching us," Anwar said, referring to Malaysia's two resource-rich but relatively undeveloped states on Borneo.

"They are approaching us because they realize -- for Sabah and Sarawak -- we have a better deal for them," he said, adding that the opposition would offer them more royalties from Borneo's natural resources, more development and more help for the poor.

"Events are unfolding fast. Things are changing," Anwar said in an interview in the front garden of his office, a bungalow in a leafy suburb of the capital.

The minor parties of Sabah and Sarawak ensured Abdullah's Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition clung to power in the elections, which gave Abdullah's main ruling party, the United Malaysia National Organisation (UMNO), the fright of its life.

Barisan suffered the heaviest setback in its near-unbroken 50-year reign since independence. It lost its two-thirds majority in federal parliament and surrendered an unprecedented five states to the opposition, including its industrial heartlands.

Barisan now holds a 29-seat majority in the 222-member parliament, razor thin by its own standards. Sabah and Sarawak parties, a world apart from the politics of peninsular Malaysia, delivered 42 seats to Barisan but they failed to get many senior ministries in Abdullah's new cabinet announced on Tuesday.


There is widespread talk of grumbling within Barisan's ranks on Boreno, especially in Sabah, but political experts do not feel Anwar could persuade as many as 29 of their MPs to defect.

Sarawak could be particularly hard to crack for Anwar because its chief minister, Abdul Taib Mahmud, is a Barisan stalwart whose son was appointed a deputy minister in the new cabinet.

"I think he's unlikely to get 29," said Zainon Ahmad, the political editor of the local Sun newspaper.

But Anwar said it remained a possibility, though he declined to say how many lawmakers had voiced a willingness to defect.

When asked if it was more than five, he said: "Of course it's more than five." When pressed if it was more than 10, he declined further comment, saying, "We'll come to that."

Asked if the opposition could win enough defections to gain power, he added: "You cannot rule out that possibility."

But the prime minister dismissed this. "Why should the government be toppled? The government is strong," Abdullah later told reporters, then hinted Anwar might be making inducements for MPs to defect. "We don't go around buying the people," he added.

An aide to Anwar, Din Merican, denied this. "We don't buy politicians. It would make a mockery of what we stand for."

Opposition parties won 82 seats, with Anwar's Parti Keadilan Rakyat (People's Justice Party) holding the biggest block of opposition seats at 31. The Democratic Acton Party, which is backed mostly by ethnic Chinese, and the Parti Islam se-Malaysia, an Islamist outfit, make up the rest of the opposition.

Anwar, a former deputy premier, was barred from standing for election on March 8 because of a corruption conviction. He was jailed for about six years until 2004 on corruption and sodomy charges that he said had been cooked up by the government.

Around half of Keadilan's newly elected MPs, including his wife, have offered to resign their seat so that he can come back to parliament through a by-election, he said. Until then, his wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, has been chosen as parliamentary opposition leader, the opposition parties announced on Wednesday.

But Anwar has not ruled out a lawmaker from the prime minister's own party, UMNO, quitting and causing an opportunity for Anwar to contest. Anwar was once UMNO deputy leader and still draws grass-roots support from within the ruling party.

"Don't be surprised if there are by-elections in the UMNO-controlled seats," he said.




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