Saturday, June 21, 2008

Malaysia's game of brinkmanship

Malaysia's game of brinkmanship
Lorna Tan
Jun 22, 2008
The Straits Times

Kuala Lumpur - When the Malaysian Parliament meets tomorrow, one burning issue will likely dominate the minds of Members of Parliament (MPs) and Malaysians: Will Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi face a motion of no-confidence that threatens to bring him down?

The Sabah Progressive Party (Sapp) has said it will table or support such a motion as the party - which is part of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition - has 'lost confidence' in Datuk Seri Abdullah's leadership.

But yesterday, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Mohamed Nazri Aziz dismissed any possibility of a motion of no-confidence being tabled tomorrow.

The office of the Dewan Rakyat Speaker, he said, had not received any notice from the Sapp. 'With this, we are giving an assurance that on Monday there will be no constructive motion of no-confidence against the Prime Minister,' he said.

The MPs, however, will be voting on another critical issue tomorrow: Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Shahrir Abdul Samad has tabled a motion seeking support for measures taken by the government over the increase in prices of food, oil and commodities.

The Shahrir motion says that the government's move is necessary to reduce the burden on the economy and to ensure that only the poor and lower-income groups enjoy subsidies.

The government recently slashed oil subsidies in the wake of record-high global crude prices, a highly unpopular move that saw fuel prices rise by at least 40per cent. The widespread resentment triggered street protests, including one nine days ago that attracted 1,000 people.

While the government is seeking MPs' support on the tough issue, the opposition is ironically planning to make use of it to bring down the Prime Minister and the government.

MPs could join the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition to vote against this motion, a move that would be tantamount to a show of no confidence in the government, according to veteran Democratic Action Party leader Lim Kit Siang.

'It is not necessary to have a proper motion of no confidence to create a 'no confidence' vote in Parliament on the Prime Minister and the government of the day,' online paper Malaysiakini quoted him as saying.

Vetoing the Shahrir motion, he said, could be treated as a no-confidence motion 'if there are enough numbers in Parliament to defeat it'.

BN holds 140 of the 222 seats in Parliament, but the opposition appears to be trying to garner support from disgruntled BN backbenchers to vote against the government on this sensitive issue.

Mr Abdullah's government seems to have pre-empted this. Yesterday, Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri said MPs could not combine the motion on fuel prices with another on confidence in Mr Abdullah.

In the meantime, the party which started it all, the Sapp, was relatively quiet on the issue yesterday. Its deputy president, Datuk Raymond Tan, had earlier openly opposed the surprise move by party chief Yong Teck Lee for a no-confidence motion, but yesterday he said he would remain in the party - even if it were expelled from BN.

Datuk Tan said he felt that the party needed him now, and stressed he would not entertain any invitation to join other BN parties 'for now'. He also told reporters he was prepared to face the consequences of opposing his president over the no-confidence move.

BN secretary-general Tengku Adnan Mansor has said the ruling coalition is considering issuing a show-cause letter to Sapp for deciding to go ahead with the move to support a no-confidence vote against Mr Abdullah.

Bernama, The Star/Asia News Network

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