Posted by Super Admin
Tuesday, 13 May 2008
By Leslie Lopez, THE STRAITS TIMES
OPPOSITION leader Anwar Ibrahim insists that support for his Pakatan Rakyat alliance is growing among politicians and parties from the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) government, and that a change of government will take place before mid-September.
In an interview with The Straits Times yesterday, he also said that Umno leaders were showing signs of desperation by stirring racial tension and harping on the sensitive issue of the possible erosion of Malay rights should the opposition take over the government.
'We won't fall into the trap of racial politics. This fanning of Malay chauvinism is a clear sign of desperation on the part of Umno leaders because they know the prospect of losing power is very real,' said Datuk Seri Anwar, who also leads the multiracial Parti Keadilan Rakyat party.
Dismissed as sheer political posturing only weeks ago, Datuk Seri Anwar's claims of forming a new government by accepting BN defectors to his opposition alliance are now being taken seriously by senior Umno leaders such as former premier Mahathir Mohamad and former finance minister Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.
In recent days, Umno officials have privately said that as many as 17 BN Members of Parliament, mainly from the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, could defect to the opposition as early as tomorrow.
'We'll let Umno speculate. We already have the numbers to form the government and we'll move when the time is right,' Datuk Seri Anwar said, adding that the opposition-led government could be in place before Malaysia Day on Sept 16 which commemorates the establishment of the Malaysian federation.
'I stand by that date,' the former deputy prime minister told reporters yesterday.
He declined to discuss the extent of his support among BN politicians and its component parties. But people close to the politician say that the number of BN parliamentarians who could defect is 'in the high 30s'.
The Anwar-led opposition alliance made sharp inroads in the general election in early March, winning control of five state governments, 82 of the 222 parliamentary seats and just under half of the popular vote.
The opposition coalition needs only 29 defections to secure a simple majority in Parliament, but people familiar with the opposition leader's political game-plan say that he is holding out for more defections so that he can put together a more stable government.
BN politicians speculate that the switch in alliance in favour of the opposition will most likely take place in Sabah first.
Sabah is a fiercely parochial and ethnically diverse state with a history of tossing out incumbent governments since the early 1970s.
Over the past decade, there has been widespread disenchantment with Umno because many Sabahans believe that economic opportunities in the state are being dished out to business groups linked to the state's Chief Minister, Datuk Panglima Musa Aman, and his BN allies in Peninsular Malaysia.
Datuk Seri Anwar has promised BN politicians in Sabah and their counterparts in Sarawak greater autonomy in running their states, including increasing the petroleum royalties that the state government receives to 20 per cent from 5 per cent currently.
'These things are powerful pull factors and we are confident that many will take up the offer,' said Datuk Jeffrey Kitingan, who heads the opposition alliance in the Sabah state.
'With this kind of deal, I am sure the politicians in Sarawak will also have to consider the Pakatan Rakyat offer.'
Close associates of Datuk Seri Anwar say that he is still undecided as to whether the defections should be carried out on a staggered basis or in one fell swoop.
'The current position is that defections in a staggered fashion will help build the momentum and entice other fence-sitters to the opposition,' said a businessman close to Datuk Seri Anwar.
The businessman and others close to the opposition leaders say the Pakatan Rakyat coalition is not in a hurry.
Umno leaders have increasingly issued warnings that the country's ethnic Malays could lose their privileges should the opposition form a government.
But Datuk Seri Anwar said these concerns are misplaced.
'We are here to uphold the Constitution, including the special position of the Malays and Islam. There is nothing that the Malay community and the non-Malay communities should fear,' he said.