Anwar Ibrahim Seeks Government Ouster Over Fuel Hike
The rally in a football ground in the capital by opposition figurehead Anwar Ibrahim was part of a series planned to pile pressure on beleaguered Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to either reconsider the oil and diesel price rise or resign.
"Reformasi, reformasi", the crowd in a poor, largely ethnic Malay part of Kuala Lumpur shouted, recalling Anwar's rallying call for reforms from a 1998 campaign after he was sacked as deputy prime minister.
"Politically, the message was clear on March 8, economically it's now a disaster. That is why we are calling on them to resign," Anwar said at the late night rally.
Abdullah, fighting for political survival after leading his coalition to its worst electoral performance in five decades of rule in March, has said the price rise was necessary in line with a global surge in oil prices.
Fuel subsidies have become financially crippling, the government said. Pump prices in Malaysia are still one of the cheapest in Asia.
But Anwar said the decision to raise petrol prices by 41 percent and 63 percent for diesel will hasten the government's fall as members of the ruling coalition begin to break ranks over the move that would drive inflation to a 10-year high.
Anwar has said he has enough lawmakers to topple the government following the March 8 election and was waiting for the right moment. Anwar said in the past three months alone his party had received 50,000 applications for membership and these included members of constituent parties of the ruling coalition.
"We have seen clearly more interest and support for Pakatan Rakyat (the opposition alliance). This applies even to members of parliament. Even some of them have been encouraged to approach me directly even though they are being closely monitored," he said.
But he did not give any details and analysts say Anwar, who was cast into the political wilderness after being dumped in 1998 by his former mentor, ex-prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, has repeatedly made claims without showing any evidence.
Protests in Malaysia, unlike in countries such as India and Indonesia which too have raised fuel prices, have been small and scattered, partly because of restrictions on public assembly.
But the opposition has planned a demonstration on July 12 when it says it will bring 100,000 people into the city centre to demand that fuel prices be restored to earlier levels.
The government has said it would save 13.7 billion ringgit ($4.23 billion) as part of a broad overhaul of its heavily subsidised energy price system. The money used for subsidies, which eats up a third of the budget, would be better spent on development projects, the government said.
Abdullah, also fighting to fend off a challenge to his leadership from within, will spell out measures this week to ease the burden on consumers, state media said. The proposals include ways for state bodies to save costs, widen the social safety net for the poor, increase the number of price-controlled items and improve public transport.
***** What strategy has the opposition to control fuel prices here amidst an unprecedented and devastating surge in the selling price of crude oil? These protests seem more like rank opportunism and cashing in on the misery of the average Joe. The dilemma that we face now is not of the government's making. It is merely responding to the economic situation and while we have no choice but to bite the bullet, the kerajaan is at least trying to soften the blow with relief in other sectors. If this can be done speedily and efficiently then the ill-feeling all round would be somewhat assuaged.
Assembling a hundred thousand people to protest the fuel hike is not the way to go. Carefully and precisely enunciating their plan to overcome the current economic crisis is what the opposition should be doing instead of stirring unnecessary trouble at a time of stringency.