Battle for Perak state takes new twist

(AFP) – A political crisis over control of a Malaysian state deepened Tuesday as a court agreed to review a controversial ruling that handed power back to the opposition alliance.

In the latest twist in the battle for northern Perak state, the Barisan Nasional coalition, which rules nationally, won a "stay order" against Monday's High Court decision that its takeover in February was illegal.

"The circumstances of this case are very unique because it not only involves the applicant and respondent but the whole state," said appeals court judge Ramly Mohamad Ali, saying a date would be fixed for the appeal hearing.

Perak has been in limbo since defections cost the Pakatan Rakyat opposition its balance of power in the state which it won in general elections last year, and its chief minister Nizar Jamaluddin was sacked by the state's sultan.

Barisan Nasional ruled out holding fresh polls, installed its own leader, Zambry Abdul Kadir, and reconvened the state assembly last week in a move which triggered brawling inside the chamber and dozens of arrests outside.

"Until the appeal is heard, Zambry is the chief minister," Barisan Nasional lawyer Mohamad Hafarizam Harun said outside the court. "I urge Nizar to vacate his office and Zambry to enter the office," he told reporters.

An aide to Nizar, who had been back in office for less than 24 hours, said he was holding talks with his lawyers and state legislators over whether to appeal the decision.

On Monday Nizar said he wanted to petition the sultan to dissolve the assembly to pave the way for fresh elections, which the Pakatan Rakyat would likely have won.

Malaysia's top legal body has warned against a lengthy legal process and said that only new elections would resolve the impasse.

"Power has to be returned to where it rightly belongs–in the hands of the people," the Bar Council said.

There were chaotic scenes in the Perak state capital Ipoh last Thursday as the assembly convened for the first time since February. Legislators scuffled and hurled insults while dozens of protesters were arrested outside.

The opposition's speaker, V. Sivakumar, was forcibly removed from his chair and dragged out of the parliament, triggering a melee as opposition legislators tried to shield him.