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Malaysian opposition leader says he has enough votes to take power

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International Herald Tribune

Malaysian opposition leader says he has enough votes to take power

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

BANGKOK: The Malaysian opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, on Tuesday missed a self-imposed deadline to bring down the country’s government but asserted that he had secured enough support in Parliament to take power.

“We want the transition to be peaceful,” Anwar said at a news conference Tuesday. “That’s why we are not giving an ultimatum.”

Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, whose electoral setback in March gave Anwar an opening, scoffed at the idea. He called it “Anwar’s mirage” and insisted that he would not cede power.

If Anwar really has the numbers, the prime minister said, “he will storm into my room with hundreds screaming behind him, shouting, ‘Victory!”‘

Anwar said he did not want to identify the people who had defected to him from the governing party because publicity could put them at risk of harassment. But he said that he would like to show the list to the prime minister to persuade him to leave quietly.

Anwar’s opposition coalition unexpectedly won 82 seats in the 222-member Parliament in the general election on March 8. He now says that he has pledges of support from more than 30 defecting members of the governing party, which would give him a majority.

Support for Abdullah has eroded even within his party, the Barisan National, since the election. The vote marked the first time the party slipped below its two-thirds majority in the Parliament. On Monday, the minister for legal affairs, Zaid Ibrahim, resigned, saying that he did not rule out joining the opposition.

At the same time, Abdullah faces a challenge for leadership from Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Anwar’s campaign is the most serious threat to the governing coalition since it took power in 1957, when Malaysia gained independence from British colonial rule.

Malaysia, one of the most stable countries in the region, has been plunged into political turmoil, alongside its neighbor Thailand, whose government is in disarray after three weeks of protests.

The Thai Parliament was scheduled Wednesday to select a prime minister to replace Samak Sundaravej, who was forced from office a week ago because of a conflict of interest. On Tuesday an apparent rift in the governing party was healed when a dissenting faction agreed to support the candidacy of Somchai Wongsawat for prime minister.

As he outlines them, Anwar’s plans would overturn some of the central pillars of government and would open Malaysia to the possibility of democratic reforms. He says he will scrap the Internal Security Act, which allows the detention without trial of people who are considered security threats. He also would do away with special economic status for ethnic Malays and cleanse the government of corruption and nepotism.

If he succeeds, Anwar, 61, will have completed an extraordinary political rebirth after having been fired as deputy prime minister in 1998 and spending six years in prison on charges of sodomy and corruption.

Anwar had largely been written off as a factor in Malaysian politics, but with the governing party weakened by infighting, he put together a successful coalition that includes his own multiracial People’s Justice Party and the country’s largest Muslim and Chinese parties.

Anwar faces new charges of sodomy based on a complaint by a young aide, which he says are political fabrications similar to the charges of a decade ago.

Since returning to politics in April, he has been wooing disgruntled lawmakers from the governing coalition. “We have received firm commitments in excess of the number required to form a new government,” he said Tuesday. “It is increasing by the hour. I am not joking.”

So far, none of the governing party’s 140 members of Parliament have publicly declared support for Anwar’s opposition coalition, which is why Anwar has said he wants to show his list of defectors to Abdullah.

“I am very optimistic that the PM will grant us a meeting,” Anwar said Tuesday, referring to the prime minister. “We are giving him some time and space to set up an appointment.”

At a rally of 10,000 people Monday night, the opposition leader said, “We want to negotiate with the prime minister and ask him, ‘Do you want one week, do you want two weeks?”‘

The government took evasive action last week by sending a delegation of lawmakers to Taiwan on what was described as an agricultural study mission, effectively putting the lawmakers out of Anwar’s reach.

Then on Friday the government cracked down on its critics, arresting an opposition lawmaker, an anti-government blogger and a reporter under provisions of the Internal Security Act.

A government spokesman was greeted with derision even in the government-friendly press when he said the reporter had been detained for her own protection. She was freed Saturday, although the other two remain in jail.

“Our promise is that we will not follow the rule of the jungle,” Anwar said at the rally Monday.

“There will be no witch-hunting. What is done is done. What we want is to rule without corruption, detention without trial or theft of the people’s resources.”

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

September 16, 2008 at 1:55 pm

Posted in Burma's Geopolitics

Tagged with , ,

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