Political Struggle in Malaysia Heats Up

“This is really going to strain the legitimacy of the state government,” Mr. Ibrahim said. “Fair-minded people will find it very difficult to accept the way in which they took over.”

By THOMAS FULLER, The New York Times

Police arrested Malaysian opposition lawmaker Tian Chua as he arrived at the Perak state legislature in the northwestern city of Ipoh on Thursday. 

In an extraordinary day that was part wrestling match, part democratic process, Malaysia’s governing party appeared to retake control of a major state legislature on Thursday when a group of unidentified men dragged the assembly speaker out of the hall and escorted the governing party’s choice to the empty seat.

The bare-knuckled proceedings, in the state of Perak, underlined the continued deep and bitter divisions between the country’s embattled governing party and a resurgent opposition. But they also showed the limits imposed by technology on the mildly authoritarian ways of Malaysia’s government.

Reports from the assembly hall streamed out over mobile phones, the Internet and Twitter.

Khalil Idham Lim, an opposition assembly member, blogged throughout the heated exchanges and posted pictures, including one of the speaker in hauled away .

Malaysia’s independent news Web sites offered minute-by-minute updates. “If this event had taken place 10 years ago, people might never have known what really transpired inside the assembly,” said Ibrahim Suffian, director of the Merdeka Center, an independent polling agency.

The country’s newspapers and television stations are closely monitored by the government and generally toe the line of the governing party, the United Malays National Organization. But high-tech gadgetry is widespread in Malaysia, which is home to many factories that make components for mobile phones and computers.

“This is really going to strain the legitimacy of the state government,” Mr. Ibrahim said. “Fair-minded people will find it very difficult to accept the way in which they took over.”

Malaysiakini.com reported that at 12:41 p.m. “plainclothes personnel” dragged out the speaker, V. Sivakumar. “It cannot be ascertained if these were police personnel,” the Web site said. “Sivakumar resists and shouts, ‘I am the legal speaker. Why am I being treated like this?”’ the site reported.

At least eight opposition members of Parliament who had come to support Mr. Sivakumar were arrested by the police as well as about 60 other opposition supporters, according to the reports by news Web sites and news services. Many Web sites showed photos taken by mobile phone of the members of Parliament being led away in handcuffs.

The police banned protests within 500 meters of the legislature in Ipoh. They also confiscated boxes of black shirts that protesters were urged to wear.

The deadlock over the Perak state legislature began in February, when the governing party orchestrated the defection of three members of the assembly and claimed control over Perak, one of the country’s largest states. The opposition called for fresh elections and is contesting the takeover in the courts.

The defections were masterminded by Najib Razak, a member of the governing party who became the country’s prime minister last month. Soon after assuming office, Mr. Najib said his government would be “more transparent, responsible and focused on prioritizing the people.” He also vowed to promote “a vibrant, free and informed media” and lifted a ban on two opposition-run publications.

But opposition leaders say they see no sign that Mr. Najib will rescind laws that allow, among other things, the government to jail critics indefinitely without trial.

On Tuesday the spokesman of a group that advocates cleaner election practices, Wong Chin Huat, was arrested and charged with sedition. The next day, the police arrested eight people who took part in a candlelight vigil for him.

“The police, particularly the present inspector general of police,” are clearly biased, Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of the opposition, said in a telephone interview Thursday. Mr. Anwar called the takeover in Perak “a complete disregard for the democratic process” and reiterated his call for elections in the state.

“We still believe the correct decision is to let the people decide,” he said. Mr. Anwar has been charged with sodomy in a highly politicized case and is due to appear in court in July.