Perak politics in disarray

(The Straits Times) Politics in Perak is in turmoil. One Umno state assemblyman has defected to the opposition — which rules the state — and this was followed shortly by the resignation of the state's top Umno official.

Yesterday, it emerged that two state councillors who were accused of graft last year had gone missing, as speculation swirled that they had jumped ship to join the Barisan Nasional coalition.

Perak Parti Keadilan Rakyat chief Osman Abdul Rahman said that Jamaludin Mohd Radzi and Mohd Osman Mohd Jailu could not be contacted for the past four days.

He said the party believed that BN had enticed the duo to defect in exchange for some rewards, including the dropping of the corruption charges against them.

Since the defection of Umno Bota assemblyman Datuk Nasarudin Hashim last Sunday, speculation has been rife that the two missing PKR assemblymen would cross over to BN. Both have not commented on the rumours.

“We believe that there are efforts by BN to persuade the two to defect in exchange for a desperate reward on offer by (Deputy Prime Minister) Najib (Razak), including dropping corruption charges against them,” Osman was quoted as saying on the Malaysiakini website.

Last August, Jamaludin and Mohd Osman, along with three others, were charged with 16 counts of corruption involving a RM180 million housing project spanning 36ha in Sri Iskandar, south of Ipoh.

Their trial is scheduled to begin on Feb 10. If convicted, they could face a maximum of 20 years in jail and a fine of not less than five times the amount of gratification, or RM10,000, whichever is higher.

They will also stand to lose their seats as the federal law mandates for any elected representative who is convicted and fined more than RM2,000.

Perak has been embroiled in political turmoil since Nasarudin's defection to PKR.

It sparked rumours of more defections. There has also been speculation that PKR's recruitment of Nasarudin was aimed at unseating Perak Menteri Besar Datuk Mohamad Nizar Jamaluddin, who belongs to Pas.

This is because Nasarudin is a graduate and a former high-ranking civil servant. PKR also holds eight of the 32 state seats belonging to the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat, while Pas has just six.

A Malay Mail report, quoting an unnamed Umno candidate, said that PKR should have had the menteri besar post, but it could not as it “did not have qualified candidates among its state assemblypersons” then.

The Pakatan Rakyat comprises PKR, Pas and the DAP.

But PKR and Pas leaders have denied there was a fight for menteri besar's post, and insisted that the incumbent would remain in office.

On Thursday, Najib, who is also Umno deputy president, was forced to take over as Perak Umno chief when Datuk Seri Tajol Rosli Ghazali, a former menteri besar, resigned over the embarrassment of Nasarudin's defection.

But reports say there has also been growing disenchantment within Perak Umno with Tajol Rosli's leadership.

With Nasarudin's defection, Pakatan now has 32 state seats, while BN holds 27.

But, if Jamaludin and Mohd Osman were to defect to BN, Pakatan would be reduced to just a one-seat majority.

Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had previously promised enough defections to topple the ruling BN coalition, which suffered major losses at the general election last March, but he has so far failed to deliver. — MI