Malaysian Opposition Leader Warns of More Repression

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim warns of rising repression in the country as a new prime minister takes office this week.

Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak is expected to take over Thursday as prime minister of Malaysia, when Abdullah Badawi steps down.

But Malaysian opposition-leader Anwar Ibrahim told reporters in Bangkok that recent developments suggest the Najib administration could usher in a further stifling of dissent and a return to the authoritarian style of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.

"We can only point out to the statements he has made, measures like banning newspapers, threatening tough measures the moment he took over the presidency [of his party, UMNO]," he said. "That is why the opposition People's Alliance views this with great consternation that Datuk Seri Najib represents the old order."

The government recently shut down two opposition newspapers for three months, preventing them from reporting on a series of high profile events, a hotly contested by-election in Perak state on April 7 and the verdict in a sensational murder case involving a close aide of Najib Razak two days later.

Najib Razak is seen as a protégé of Mahathir Mohamad. In an interview with the French news agency AFP, Mahathir said he expects Najib to govern more firmly than Mr. Abdullah, who was seen as a moderate.

Mr. Abdullah's exit came a year after the United Malays National Organization suffered its worst electoral defeat, losing more than a third of the seats in Parliament.

Opposition-leader Anwar was once UMNO's rising star, until he was fired by Mahathir Mohamad in 1998 and jailed on charges of corruption and sexual misconduct. He was released in 2004.

After the United Malays National Organization poor showing last year, the three-party opposition People's Alliance was close to taking control of parliament – which could have opened the way for Anwar Ibrahim to become prime minister.  

The by-election in Perak state next week pits candidates from the Islamic party and the United Malays National Organization in what is seen as an early referendum on the Najib government.

But Anwar says with Najib Razak as prime minister, it would be a tougher battle to wrest control of Parliament.

"How do you enter elections where you do not even have one minute on television? I have been the leader of the opposition since August.  Not one interview, not one minute on the Malaysian media," he noted.

Anwar Ibrahim is in Bangkok until Tuesday and will meet Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and other officials. Anwar and Mr. Abhisit are expected to discuss cooperation in addressing the Muslim insurgency in southern Thailand, which borders Malaysia. Anwar called for greater engagement, rather a purely military solution, to end the continued violence there.