After breaking the ruling party's two-thirds majority in the Malaysian parliament in the March 8 elections and with talks of cross-overs, the race is on for the Opposition to form the next federal government. As Malaysia Today's Raja Petra Kamarudin says, "Whoever crosses the finishing line first with 112 Members of Parliament wins. And it could be Anwar Ibrahim or it could be Tengku Razaleigh. If it is Anwar, then Barisan Rakyat will form the new government, and if it is Tengku Razaleigh, then Barisan Nasional will remain in office."

 

OPPOSITION READY TO FORM GOVT
Anwar says it's possible with BN defections

Malaysian opposition chief Anwar Ibrahim says he is moving towards forming a new government with the help of defectors from the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

"I don't know how soon we can form the new government, but we are moving in that direction," said the former Deputy Prime Minister, who was sacked and jailed a decade ago.

This comes as the opposition alliance said Anwar's wife, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, will be the opposition leader in Parliament, holding the post until her husband formally returns to politics.

A corruption conviction prevented Anwar from contesting the elections, but the ban will end in the middle of next month.

Dr Wan Azizah has said during the polls that she was her husband's proxy. She is expected to vacate her parliamentary seat after next month so that Anwar can contest a by-election there.

Anwar is expected to win easily and to officially take over the helm of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).

Dr Wan Azizah is officially the head of PKR, but Anwar is its de facto leader in his capacity as its adviser.

The post of the opposition leader in Parliament was previously held by the Democratic Action Party (DAP). But in the recent elections, PKR emerged as the largest opposition party - winning 31 seats to the 28 for DAP and 23 for Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).

The opposition alliance of PKR, DAP and PAS seized more than a third of parliamentary seats and four more states from BN.

Anwar said coalition lawmakers 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 2 per cent more votes, we would have formed the new government," he said.

Anwar said Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's future was in jeopardy and that the ruling United Malays National Organisation was affected by infighting and looming defections.

Abdullah has dismissed Anwar's plans and refuted opposition claims that ruling party members want to defect after the election debacle. - AGENCIES, 20 March 2008

One day after the March 8, 2008 general election, Anwar Ibrahim flew to Sarawak and the following day he stopped over in Sabah before coming back to Kuala Lumpur. And the two-day flying visit to these two East Malaysian states was certainly not to catch up on the latest Iban or Dayak cultural shows. The three opposition parties had just swept 82 of the 222 Parliament seats plus now had control over five states and all it needed was another 30 seats to form a federal government with a simple majority of 112.

Sabah and Sarawak, which have a combined 53 seats in Parliament, make sense because about 80 per cent of these seats are in non-Umno Barisan Nasional component members' hands. The opposition had made little in-roads in East Malaysia or else the opposition would by now have formed the federal government. One million 'new' voters from Indonesia and the Philippines ensured that Sabah would not be to PKR what Kelantan is to PAS.

There is little love-lost between East Malaysians and Umno. East Malaysians view Umno as a parti penjajah or a colonialist party. Many regret the move to allow Umno into Sabah, and although Umno is not quite in Sarawak yet, the many Umno flags flying all over the state give the impression that it is a matter of time before Umno moves into Sarawak as well. This 'visible' presence of Umno makes Sarawakians very nervous and if they have to leave Barisan Nasional just to keep Umno out they would do just that.

"Kita orang Umno juga tidak suka Umno," said one Sabah warlord who is an Umno division chief and a Member or Parliament. "Kita meyertai Umno kerana Umno berkuasa di Sabah tetapi kita harap Umno akan jatuh supaya kita boleh kembali ke parti asal." [Translation: "We are Umno members but we dont' like Umno. We joined Umno because Umno is strong in Sabah but we hope Umno will fall so that we can continue with our original party."]

This sums up the sentiments of even those who can be viewed as Umno 'strongmen' in Sabah. "Saya mahu bertanding di atas tiket PKR tetapi Anwar Ibrahim beritahu kami jangan tinggal Umno untuk sementara waktu. Anwar suruh kami bertanding di atas tiket Umno dan kemudian, sekiranya pembangkang menang cukup kerusi, barulah kita keluar Umno dan menyertai pembangkang." [Translation: "I wanted to stand on the PKR ticket but Anwar Ibrahim told us not to leave Umno for the time being. Anwar said to stand on the Umno ticket and later, when the opposition has won enough seats, then we can leave Umno and join the opposition."]

It is apparent that March 18's Cabinet reshuffle was a cleansing exercise to rid the party of the Mahathir-Najib elements. But what this has achieved instead is to create many powerful enemies within the ranks of Umno who, before this, stayed low-key for fear of losing their positions.

Yes, there were many planned defections before the March 8, 2008 election but Anwar told them to stay put in Umno and Barisan Nasional and make sure that they win their seats first. Only if the opposition wins with a large enough minority and all it needs are those few extra seats to form the government should they leave the ruling coalition and join the opposition.

This was certainly a sound strategy because Sabah and Sarawak can always play the role of king-maker. And, considering that Sabah and Sarawak control about 24 per cent of the seats in Parliament, they would be a most powerful king-maker indeed. And if Anwar agrees that Malaysia shall have two Deputy Prime Ministers and one of the two shall be rotated between Sabah and Sarawak, this would be enticing enough for the 50 odd Parliamentarians from Sabah and Sarawak to cross-over to the opposition to enable it to form the new federal government.

But Sabah and Sarawak are not the only discontented group. Even if just half the Sabah and Sarawak Members of Parliament cross-over this would be good enough. Thus far it is rumoured that 23 Barisan Nasional Parliamentarians have already agreed to cross-over. This means Anwar needs just seven more Parliament seats to form the federal government. And it will not be that difficult to find seven discontented Parliamentarians from amongst the 90 or so remaining from Peninsular Malaysia.

Anwar's job is cut out for him and he does not have to try too hard to find these discontented Parliamentarians. Umno President and Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is on self-destruct mode and his own moves are helping Anwar by the day. It makes one wonder whether Abdullah is intentionally shooting himself in his foot to make Anwar's life as easy as possible. Could Abdullah be secretly helping Anwar to take over just so that another nemesis, previous Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, fails in his effort to help Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak take over?

It is no secret that Mahathir wants Abdullah out and that he plans for Najib to take over. It is apparent that March 18's Cabinet reshuffle was a cleansing exercise to rid the party of the Mahathir-Najib elements. But what this has achieved instead is to create many powerful enemies within the ranks of Umno who, before this, stayed low-key for fear of losing their positions but now no longer have anything left to hold them back. Abdullah would have been best-advised to keep his friends close and his enemies even closer the way Mahathir normally does. Now, Abdullah has isolated and antagonised his enemies and has allowed them to regroup into a golongan kecewa or discontented lot.

How to get Mahathir to agree that he takes over from Abdullah but not with Najib as the number two and as the successor-in-waiting? This was Tengku Razaleigh's dilemma the last two years in his long-drawn negotiations with Mahathir.

In the run-up to the March 8, 2008 general election, Abdullah and Najib made a pact whereby 60 per cent of the candidates will be Abdullah's men while 40 per cent will be Najib's. Then, on the eve of Nomination Day, Abdullah deviously amended the candidates' list and kicked out Najib's men. Najib was caught with his pants down, not to forget Rosmah's twisted knickers as well.

Now, the golongan kecewa no longer need to pretend that they support Abdullah just to protect their positions. They can now openly side with the anti-Abdullah faction. After all, they have nothing to lose any more, anyway.

Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah is not sitting pretty as well. Since 2006, he has been holding secret meetings with Mahathir to explore the possibility of getting support from the Grand Old Man of Malaysian politics in his bid to mount a challenge for the Umno presidency. Mahathir is not against the idea of Tengku Razaleigh taking over but he wants Najib to be part of the equation. Maybe Tengku Razaleigh takes over for one term and then Najib takes over from there.

But Najib is a liability and Tengku Razaleigh does not feel that this running-mate will augur well for his image. Najib is carrying just too much baggage which will be very difficult to whitewash. So, the almost two-year negotiations with Mahathir has not gone any further than how it first started.

Tengku Razaleigh can, of course, declare Mahathir as irrelevant and he can mount his bid with or without Mahathir's endorsement. This is not Tengku Razaleigh though. He would like to mount his challenge but he would like to do it with Mahathir's blessing. He may have his differences with Mahathir but he would not like to belakangkan [leave behind] the man who has been Prime Minister for 22 years and who was in fact the founder of Umno Baru, the party that Tengku Razaleigh intends to take over.

Mahathir is member No. 1 and his wife, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Ali, member No. 2 in the members' registration list. This should account for something. Mahathir, therefore, should not be left out in determining the new power structure of Umno. How to get Mahathir to agree that he takes over from Abdullah but not with Najib as the number two and as the successor-in-waiting? This was Tengku Razaleigh's dilemma the last two years in his long-drawn negotiations with Mahathir.

While both Anwar and Tengku Razaleigh are fishing in the same PAS-DAP pond, Anwar will have to look at PKR and the non-Umno Barisan Nasional Members of Parliament for support while Tengku Razaleigh will depend on the Umno Members of Parliament.

But the time for negotiations has ended. Before the March 8, 2008 general election, Razaleigh had the luxury of time. After all, the party elections will not be till August 2008. But the way things are going, Abdullah may not last till August 2008. So Tengku Razaleigh has to move now or else, yet again, miss the boat.

On March 19, in Kota Bharu, Tengku Razaleigh announced that he is going to make a bid for the Umno Presidency, which will then automatically make him the Prime Minister - if Barisan Nasional can hold on to its 140 seats in Parliament. If he did not make this announcement then there is a possibility that no less than 30 Barisan Nasional Members of Parliament will cross-over to the opposition and the Barisan Nasional government will have to make way for the new Barisan Rakyat government.

The race is on and the countdown begins. Abdullah may not last till August 2008. Some have even boldly predicted that Abdullah may not last 30 days. Whether this is clairvoyance or wishful thinking we will, of course, know in time. But one thing is for sure, both Anwar Ibrahim and Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah are in a race to see who will cross the finish line first and become the new Prime Minister of Malaysia.

Both Anwar and Tengku Razaleigh are acceptable to PAS and DAP. PKR, though, would prefer Anwar while many in Umno do not want to see Anwar become Prime Minister. So while both Anwar and Tengku Razaleigh are fishing in the same PAS-DAP pond, Anwar will have to look at PKR and the non-Umno Barisan Nasional Members of Parliament for support while Tengku Razaleigh will depend on the Umno Members of Parliament.

Whoever crosses the finishing line first with 112 Members of Parliament wins. And it could be Anwar or it could be Tengku Razaleigh. If it is Anwar, then Barisan Rakyat will form the new government, and if it is Tengku Razaleigh, then Barisan Nasional will remain in office.

The earliest possible date for the challenge would be when Parliament convenes on May 5, 2008. If 112 Members of Parliament support a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister then the Agong will have no choice but to appoint a new Prime Minister from amongst the 222 Members of Parliament. It is as simple as that. But whether they can get 112 Members of Parliament to do just that and which of the two, Anwar or Tengku Razaleigh, would lead that motion of no confidence is something we shall all have to bite our fingernails and wait to see what happens.

Whether Anwar gets to form the new federal government will all depend on Tengku Razaleigh. If Tengku Razaleigh makes his move and appears to have some chance of success, then the people will wait and see what happens. But if Tengku Razaleigh does not make his move or appears to have no chance in hell of toppling Abdullah, then the people will look to Anwar for this change.

To the party members, it will make a a big difference as to whether Anwar or Tengku Razaleigh heads the new government. To the non-partisan voters, though, it does not matter which scenario prevails because both will bring about reforms. Anwar's agenda for reform is well-documented and does not need to be repeated here. Tengku Razaleigh, however, is an unknown commodity and certainly quite an attraction to those who wish for changes but are not quite ready for a paradigm shift just yet.

Humans, just like all mammals, are creatures of habit and are resistant to change. Sure, the system has failed and it needs changing. But how much of a change should they risk? Should they go for an absolute change and take their chances with a Barisan Rakyat federal government of should they keep Barisan Nasional in office on condition that there is a leadership change?

Many want to first see how the five states under opposition control perform before opting for a complete change. Let them run these five states for five years and let us see whether we can trust them with the job of running the country, appears to be the popular sentiment. Not many are adventurous enough to dabble with the unknown. And it is not known yet whether Barisan Rakyat is capable of running the country. So Tengku Razaleigh as Prime Minister appears to be more comforting to most Malaysians than an opposition Anwar Ibrahim.

If Abdullah stays on then there would be no choice in the matter. If the only way to get Abdullah out would be to kick out Barisan Nasional then so be it. But if there is an alternative, and if this alternative involves a leadership change within Umno and Barisan Nasional, and if this new leader is the likes of Tengku Razaleigh, then this would be a 'gentler' and safer change than a paradigm shift.

Whether Anwar gets to form the new federal government will all depend on Tengku Razaleigh. If Tengku Razaleigh makes his move and appears to have some chance of success, then the people will wait and see what happens. But if Tengku Razaleigh does not make his move or appears to have no chance in hell of toppling Abdullah, then the people will look to Anwar for this change.

And that is why, on March 19, Tengku Razaleigh was forced to announce his decision to challenge Abdullah. Now, Tengku Razaleigh has offered Malaysians two options instead of just one, Anwar Ibrahim. If Tengku Razaleigh had kept quiet and had waited until August to make his move, it may be too late. By then Anwar may already be the new Prime Minister of Malaysia. And as for Najib, well, he can always lead the Barisan Nasional golongan kecewa club which has grown very large indeed.

Note: The above article was posted on www.malaysia-today.net (Your source of independent news). Raja Petra Kamarudin started the Malaysia Today website and his blog to facilitate open discussion on Malaysia's political and social scenes. A relative of a former Malaysian King from Selangor and known for his hard-hitting commentaries, which are often infused with humour, Raja Petra is also the author of When Time Stood Still and From Prince To Prisoner.

Other articles by Raja Petra:

Between Reality And Perception
The Aftermath Of The 'Bloodbath'
Why We Are Voting Tomorrow
Guarding An Empty Field







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March 24, 2008