01 April, 2008

Malaysia Mahathir Demands Meeting to Oust Abdullah, opposition forms alliance

Malaysia’s opposition parties agreed on Tuesday to form a coalition in an effort to present themselves as a credible alternative for government, while the main ruling party sank deeper into dissent.

The three main opposition parties won a record number of seats in parliament at elections on March 8, dealing the ruling National Front coalition the biggest setback in its 50-year reign and spelling trouble for the prime minister’s future leadership.

“In today’s meeting, it was proposed to consolidate the cooperation among the three parties under the name Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Pact),” de facto opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim told reporters after a meeting with fellow party leaders.

As Anwar sought to present an ideologically united opposition, the main ruling party faced an open revolt, with hundreds of supporters meeting at a Kuala Lumpur hotel on Tuesday to demand Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s resignation.

More than 500 people, members of Abdullah’s United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), cheered as former premier Mahathir Mohamad and his son, elected MP Mukhriz Mahathir, called for Abdullah’s leadership to be challenged to save the party.

“UMNO risks becoming no longer relevant because there are now more ’yes men’ than those who are willing to give dissenting views,” said Mahathir, 82, himself intolerant of dissent during 22 years in power which ended when he retired in late 2003.

“We must look at ourselves and be brave and take action to correct UMNO.”

Mahathir and Mukhriz were joined at the meeting by another senior UMNO figure, Mohammed Khir Toyo, voted out as chief minister of central Selangor state on March 8.

Khir stopped short of asking Abdullah to quit, but indirectly criticised his leadership, calling for urgent reform of UMNO and its policies.

“We can no longer allow this to be handled in an ad hoc manner,” he told a packed meeting room.

Mahathir, calling Abdullah ``shameless'' for not resigning, needs the party's support to oust the man he picked to succeed him. Public demands for change are mounting in Malaysia as an opposition alliance, buoyed by unprecedented election gains, woos government lawmakers in a bid to topple the coalition.

The United Malays National Organisation, Abdullah's party and the main component of the National Front coalition, should change its constitution at a special gathering to make it easier for leadership challenges, Mahathir said today. UMNO, as the party is called, needs a new leader by December, he said.

Abdullah, 68, is under ``intense and localized pressure from within,'' said Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, a political analyst at Universiti Malaya. ``He won't go down without a fight.''

Abdullah has said he has the government's support and will remain in power. UMNO will hold leadership elections as scheduled by the end of this year, Muhyiddin Yassin, a party vice president, said on March 27.

Mukhriz Mahathir, Mahathir Mohamad's son and an UMNO lawmaker, told today's meeting that Abdullah has been unable to check corruption, cronyism, crime and higher living costs in the Southeast Asian nation.

``I beg all of you to rally beside me and find a solution for what is happening in this country, especially the leadership of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi,'' Mukhriz said.

For a region that isn't exactly a hotbed of democracy, it's rather remarkable that these days from Kuala Lumpur to Taipei the cocktail conversation seems to revolve only around political change. Prodded by a growing realization that the world is passing them by, voters in many of East Asia's laggard economies are either throwing out the incumbents or engaging in protest votes against their governments.

Voters are now demanding change in these countries by backing the more likely pro-growth candidates, as was the case in Taiwan last week with Ma Ying-jeou's thumping victory and in South Korea last December with the election of Lee Myung-bak. In a similar vein, voters in Thailand and Malaysia are turning back to leaders they associate with better economic times -- Thaksin Shinawatra and Anwar Ibrahim.

In Malaysia, the strong showing of the opposition in the polls stunned Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi and the vote was widely interpreted as a sign of voter disaffection with his United Malays National Organization party, which has dominated Malaysian politics since 1969. Following the unexpected result, there were fears that the government would not tolerate a smooth handover of power in the states where the opposition won and that it may even allow racial tensions to flare to get a firmer grip on its traditional vote bank of ethnic Malays. There was also much talk of how Mr. Abdullah's predecessor, Mahatir Mohammed, would have dealt with the electoral setback: if he was in power, he would put the main opposition leader, Mr. Anwar, behind bars again.

Instead, the transition to a more multi-polar Malaysian polity has so far been remarkably seamless and Mr. Abdullah has quickly moved to channel his energies to revitalizing the government with a cabinet makeover as a first step. Issues long considered too sensitive to broach, such as Malaysia's affirmative action policy, are on the table, with Mr. Anwar calling for a comprehensive review. Many economists blame the New Economic Policy of 1971, which grants special rights to only ethnic Malays, as the main factor that has undermined Malaysia's competitiveness in today's globalized world.

I'm not sure if this is an April 1st joke.

Camera crews discovered a colony of Adélie penguins while filming on King George Island, some 750 miles south of the Falkland Islands.

The programme is being presented by ex-Monty Python star Terry Jones, who said: "We'd been watching the penguins and filming them for days, without a hint of what was to come.

"But then the weather took a turn for the worse. It was quite amazing. Rather than getting together in a huddle to protect themselves from the cold, they did something quite unexpected, that no other penguins can do."

Viewers will see the penguins not only take flight from the Antarctic wastes, but fly thousands of miles to the Amazonian rainforest to find winter sun.

"The film reveals nature's stunning glory in exciting and unexpected ways, so much so that it defies belief," said Mr Jones.

"Not only does it create a vivid and emotional experience for the viewer, it also illustrates just how bold and simple Darwin's idea of natural selection was."



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