Malaysian Opposition Says Parliament Under Siege
Roads leading to parliament, which are important entry points to the capital Kuala Lumpur, were closed down by at least 400 heavily armed police, causing massive traffic jams that left motorists fuming over the move.
The security measures were put in place as the opposition attempted to hold a parliamentary debate on the shortcomings of beleaguered Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who is fending off calls to resign.
As expected, the parliament's speaker rejected the motion, triggering a walkout of lawmakers from the three-party opposition alliance led by Anwar Ibrahim.
"Today is a day we have never seen before in the history of the country, where parliament has become a war zone," said Anwar's wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who leads their Keadilan party.
Anwar was banned from coming to parliament by a court order. Instead he was called for an interview with police over new accusations of sodomy -- the same charge that saw him jailed a decade ago.
The opposition always denied it was planning a protest and there were no signs of gatherings at parliament. Lim Guan Eng from the Democratic Action Party condemned the decision to roll out police and barbed-wire barricades.
"Why do we put parliament under siege, turning parliament into a police state? It is unnecessary and the government is trying to instil fear using the police," he told reporters.
"Parliament should be open to the public to participate so they can listen to the debates and see how participatory democracy works. What we want to see is democracy in action, not police in action," he said.
Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar defended the police measures, which included officers armed with assault rifles patrolling inside the parliament building, saying they had to take "preventive action. I apologise to the public for the traffic jams but the police have to do their job to ensure a smooth access to parliament. With all sorts of threats and intimidation that come out, we cannot wait for things to happen," he said.
Nazri Aziz, the minister in charge of parliament, criticised the opposition's attempt to stage a debate that would have addressed criticisms of Abdullah and accusations that he has lost the country's confidence.
"I think the no-confidence motion is a waste of time. It is eating into the house's time to debate this motion which has no voting element and so it cannot resolve anything," he said.
In the March polls, the opposition alliance won a record number of 82 seats in the 222-seat lower house of parliament.
Anwar -- a former deputy premier who was jailed for six years on sodomy and corruption charges before making a return to politics -- has rattled Abdullah's ruling coalition by saying he is poised to oust the government with the help of defecting lawmakers.
***** The filing of a no-confidence motion by the opposition, in accordance with the rules of Parliament, is 'a waste of time' says Nazri. Speaks volumes of the contempt that the ruling party has for procedures and the law.