18 March, 2010

Malaysia's opposition coalition is struggling to stay united

Malaysia's opposition coalition is struggling to stay united as their popular leader Anwar Ibrahim focuses on his sodomy trial. Already four lawmakers have defected.

Over the past month, four lawmakers have left the opposition, shaving its bloc in the 222-seat parliament and raising doubts over its cohesiveness. Analysts say further defections are possible, as the ruling coalition seeks to regain its two-thirds majority in parliament, the minimum threshold for changing the Constitution.

Mr. Anwar, who is accused of sodomizing a young aide, a charge he denies, heads an unlikely coalition of ideological, racial, and social opposites. His popularity and charisma are widely seen as the glue that holds it together, and a criminal conviction would be a major blow.

Keadilian members say that Anwar hasn’t anointed a successor to run it in his absence, as his wife, a former lawmaker, did during his last jail term. A party executive, who requested anonymity, says Anwar refuses even to discuss the issue properly and is distracted by the trial.

Tian Chua, a lawmaker and spokesman for Keadilian, says the party is ready and would survive a guilty verdict. “Keadilian’s strength isn’t its leadership. It’s a people’s movement,” he says.

But the party has been badly stung by defections and by claims that Anwar’s erratic leadership was to blame. Last year, the opposition lost control of Perak, one of five states it won in March 2008, after similar crossovers by Keadilian assemblymen that infuriated the two other parties in the coalition.

Mr. Chua admits that the party has had trouble disciplining its ranks and needs to better scrutinize its candidates. “In an election, it’s quite easy to bring everyone together with a manifesto. But when you come into power the issue of implementation becomes key,” he says.

Pressure is starting to show on the opposition, which has struggled to raise funds while refusing to hand out no-bid contracts to party insiders, as UMNO is known to do. Anwar has campaigned on an anticorruption platform, seeking to capitalize on public anger over the issue, but some donors have complained of meager returns, says Chua.

The opposition also lacks a common policy platform that satisfies the three parties, which include a conservative Islamic party and a Chinese-oriented party. But observers say the same goes for the UMNO-led ruling coalition, which relies on support from the mostly Christian states of Sabah and Sarawak to fend off the opposition’s challenge.

“They’re still more united by what they’re against than what they’re for,” a Western diplomat says of the opposition. “But they’re still united.”

(Source: Malaysia opposition embattled by leader Anwar Ibrahim's sodomy trial )

Meanwhile,UK Parliament passes Early Day Motion on Anwar Ibrahim:

EDM 1092


Corbyn, Jeremy

That this House recognises Malaysian Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim's contribution to promoting democracy in Malaysia and peace and understanding between the Muslim world and the West; is deeply concerned at the charges laid against Anwar Ibrahim and that his current trial flouts international standards of fairness and adherence to the rule of law; notes that this trial resembles the one he faced in 1998 in which the conduct of the judiciary was condemned by Malaysians and by the international community; further notes the renewed exhortations by international human rights organisations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and prominent leaders from Commonwealth nations including the Right honourable Paul Martin of Canada and the Right honourable Michael Danby and 59 other elected representatives of Australia for the Malaysian government to drop the charges against Anwar Ibrahim; and calls on the Malaysian authorities to bring an end to the harassment and persecution of members of the political opposition.

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