Umno in-fighting leads to talk of defections in Negri

By Lee Wei Lian, The Malaysian Insider

Two factions in Negri Sembilan aligned to Prime Minister-to-be Datuk Seri Najib Razak are said to be “persecuting” a faction aligned with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, fuelling speculation that several state assemblymen belonging to Abdullah's faction will defect to PKR in the near future.

Adding to Umno's woes are rumours that MCA's sole assemblyman in the state, Siow Chen Pin (Chennah), is ready to defect to the DAP. The state government is currently controlled by Barisan Nasional, which has 21 seats to PR's 15. If four state assemblymen defect, the BN-led government will fall to PR.

A state PKR leader, Badrul Hisham Shahrin, said PKR is negotiating with several assemblymen but stressed that it involves no offers of money or government posts. "We have an open policy. Whoever agrees with the principles and mission of PKR, we welcome them," he told The Malaysian Insider.

"But we do not offer money. If they are qualified for government posts, then if we form the state government they may get to hold positions."

He added: "There will be a big change soon." However, he declined to disclose a specific timeframe, citing the need to keep it under wraps to avoid any counter-measures being taken by BN.

The Najib factions are said to be attempting to disgrace members of the Abdullah faction with charges of corruption to disqualify them from climbing up the party ranks. This unhappiness has led to members of the Abdullah faction holding crossover talks with the other side.

Bernama reported on Monday that Negri Sembilan Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan had dismissed the rumours as an opposition ploy.

"We should not fall prey to the opposition trap. After seeking clarification from the assemblymen, we know that the opposition is full of hot air," Mohamad said.

Badrul, however, said the state leadership was in denial. "There are serious cracks in the state Umno. There is a war going on to try to frame certain faction members with corruption," he says.

Several names have been suggested as possible defection candidates. They include Palong assemblyman Datuk Aziz Shamsudin and Serting assemblyman Shamsulkahar Mohd Deli. Both have denied the rumours and Badrul refused to confirm if the two lawmakers were in talks with PKR. "These names were suggested by other people in Umno, not us," he says."But I am not saying these names are not correct either."

Khairy Jamaluddin, Abdullah’s son-in-law and the MP for Rembau, said he was not aware of any factional in-fighting in the state and that BN's position in Negri Sembilan remains strong.

"I believe that BN representatives in Negri Sembilan have pledged continued support and our position will stay strong." He also said that, contrary to Badrul's claims, any attempt to entice representatives to cross over to the opposition will definitely include financial incentives.

Of the 21 seats held by BN, Umno has 19 while MCA and MIC have one each. Of the 15 seats held by PR, DAP has 10 while PKR has four and Pas one.