Defections from opposition

MALAYSIA’S opposition is putting a brave face on a spate of defections and in-fighting that has hit just as its leader Anwar Ibrahim fights sodomy charges that could end his career.

Two opposition lawmakers and a top party official quit Anwar’s Keadilan party in recent weeks, in a boost for the long-serving coalition government which was humbled by its worst ever performance in 2008 elections.

Senior figures in the Pakatan Rakyat opposition alliance say an exodus which has included many more lower-ranking members is a necessary ‘cleansing’ after the polls, which saw some untested candidates sweep to surprise victories.

‘Before the 2008 general elections, Keadilan faced difficulties in finding candidates and we took whoever we could get, with the consequence that some of them were not up to the mark,’ party vice-president Sivarasa Rasiah told AFP. ‘It’s better they leave now rather than weaken us later at a more critical time near or at the next general election.’

But analysts say that party-hopping is nudging the government towards regaining the crucial two-thirds parliamentary majority which it lost in 2008, depriving it of the right to amend the constitution in its favour. Anwar, a former deputy premier who was sacked and convicted on separate sodomy and corruption charges, emerged from prison in 2004 to forge an alliance between Keadilan, the Islamic party PAS and the Democratic Action Party.

After stunning success in the 2008 polls, which also netted the opposition control of five states, Anwar plotted to seize power by securing mass defections from the Barisan Nasional (BN) government. But it was the BN that ended up drawing defectors, wresting control of northern Perak state when three state assemblymen jumped ship in early 2009. — AFP


*Last month, an opposition lawmaker in the national parliament left the party, followed last Sunday by former Penang state deputy chief minister and senior Keadilan member Mohammad Fairus Khairuddin.

*Prime Minister Najib Razak welcomed the defection of Mohammad Fairus, who stood down as deputy chief minister amid graft allegations, saying that Keadilan members have ‘lost confidence’ in their leaders.

*On Monday, another Penang lawmaker, Tan Tee Beng, announced his departure and declared himself an independent.

*Anwar has also struggled to quell ideological rows among his alliance partners over issues including a ban on alcohol for majority Muslims and non-Muslims being barred from using the word ‘Allah’ as a translation for God.

*Veteran opposition lawmaker Lim Kit Siang said it was all part of ‘a long-needed self-cleansing process which, however painful and agonising, is necessary to restore public confidence’.

*The BN only needs 11 more seats to reclaim its two-thirds majority in the 222-seat parliament, and Mohammad Agus Yusoff from National University of Malaysia said more defections were likely.

*If Pakatan Rakyat loses its one-third hold on parliament, it would have ‘a huge impact’ because the government would once again be able to amend the constitution and change election rules to boost its own position. — AFP