Thursday, March 20, 2008

Malaysia’s Anwar Plans Forming New Government

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said Wednesday he is moving towards forming a new government after landmark elections, with the help of defectors from the ruling coalition.

“I don’t know how soon we can form the new government but we are moving in that direction,” the former deputy premier, who was sacked and jailed a decade ago, told AFP in an interview.

The three-party opposition alliance made unprecedented gains in March 8 polls, seizing more than a third of parliamentary seats and four more states from the dominant Barisan Nasional coalition.

Anwar said that coalition members from Malaysia’s eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo island had contacted him to discuss switching sides. The power bloc there could unseat the government if it changed hands.

“The MPs from there have come here to see me,” Anwar said, adding that he was in no hurry to become the next prime minister, but that the opposition would already be in power if the polls had been clean and fair.

“I am maintaining that if there was no fraud in the election, we would have won. If we had two percent more votes we would have formed the new government,” he said.

Barisan Nasional has 140 lawmakers in the new 222-seat parliament, against 199 in the outgoing 219-seat parliament. The opposition alliance won 80 seats from just 19 previously.

Anwar’s Keadilan party, which is formally headed by his wife, will be the biggest opposition party in parliament, but Anwar is barred from standing for public office until April because of a corruption conviction.

Once heir apparent to veteran leader Mahathir Mohamad, Anwar suffered a spectacular fall from grace in 1998 on graft and sex charges widely seen as politically motivated.

Anwar said that Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s future was in jeopardy, with his United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which leads the coalition, riven by infighting and looming defections.

“Certainly, Abdullah’s UMNO is in a turmoil since there is infighting in the party. Abdullah is in a precarious position,” he said. The coalition’s worst election performance in its half-century history has triggered calls for Abdullah to resign, but he appointed a new cabinet this week after securing his party’s support.

Anwar said Abdullah’s heir apparent, deputy prime minister Najib Razak, did not represent a formidable prospect for the opposition either.Najib is weak and badly tainted. We have not seen such turmoil since UMNO was formed (in 1946),” he said.

Cracks in the ruling party have already appeared, with Mahathir’s son Mukhriz -- himself a senior figure in the party -- calling for Abdullah to resign and escaping punishment for his move in a party meeting Tuesday.

And on Wednesday, Radzi Sheikh Ahmad, who was dropped from Abdullah’s new cabinet, resigned unexpectedly from the powerful post of UMNO secretary general. “I feel that I cannot work effectively any more in the present circumstances,” he said.

Anwar said Abdullah’s move to rejuvenate his administration by downsizing the cabinet, dropping veterans and tainted politicians and introducing fresh faces will not spur confidence in his leadership. “It is an attempt to assure public confidence. But I think it has fallen flat,” he said.

“Abdullah brought some new faces... to boost his image but at the same time kept and also appointed some who are tainted with corruption,” he said.

Anwar has said he will return to parliament through a by-election in a seat held by Keadilan, but that the plan is on hold until he consolidates Keadilan’s unexpected electoral gains.

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