Crunch time for Anwar?

How he handles controversyover resignations could decide Penanti by-election
Trixia Carungcong, TODAYonline

HOW Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim handles the controversy surrounding the resignations of Penang Deputy Chief Minister and assemblyman Fairus Khairuddin will be one of the main issues in the upcoming by-election in Penanti, said Penang’s Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.

Mr Fairus quit his posts following allegations that he covered up illegal quarrying activities. On Thursday, he threatened to expose potentially damaging information about Pakatan Rakyat (PR) and the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) state government, claiming that he had been framed by party insiders.

Mr Anwar – who is believed to have "forced" the by-election to prevent the graft allegations against Mr Fairus from blowing up and to avert any possibility of him defecting to the United Malays National Organisation – has come under fire for the decision, but kept silent about the issue over the last week.

The Election Commission said on Friday that it will meet next week to determine the status of the seat and announce a date for the by-election, to be held within two months.

Asked if the by-election could become a referendum on Mr Anwar, Mr Lim told Today: "I wouldn’t use the word referendum … It’s essentially a private matter which has wider ramifications both for PKR and the state government – directly for PKR and indirectly for the state government. How Anwar handles it will be judged by voters and probably this would be one of the principal issues in the by-election, more than the state government."

Malaysian political analyst Ong Kian Ming disagreed: "The Penanti by-election is very much a referendum on Anwar given that it was he who picked Fairus to be the Malay Deputy Chief Minister for PKR, and it is likely whoever Anwar picks will replace Fairus as the next Malay Deputy Chief Minister."

The by-election for the seat, which falls under Mr Anwar’s parliamentary constituency, will be the sixth after the March 8 general election last year. The opposition recently won against the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) in two of the three by-elections on April 7.

Mr Lim has postponed naming a successor to Mr Fairus because Mr Anwar has yet to suggest a nominee. Some BN politicians questioned the delay, saying that Mr Lim appeared "powerless" as Chief Minister – comments which the Democratic Action Party (DAP) secretary-general dismissed. The DAP is a component of the three-party PR alliance.

"I still have to wait for Anwar’s recommendation because this position is allotted for PKR, so in any genuine partnership you have to wait for their recommendation and then decide whether to accept or reject," he said.

"I think my record speaks for itself … In certain areas of Penang, you can get free wifi; we’ve wiped out hardcore poverty," he said. "We did in one year what Barisan couldn’t do in 51. So who is the one without power?"

Last month, Mr Lim announced that Penang has become the first state to eradicate hardcore poverty by arranging financial aid and economic activities for all households earning RM400 a month or less.