Monday, June 2, 2008

Malaysia's opposition says some government lawmakers may change mind about defecting

Malaysia's opposition says some government lawmakers may change mind about defecting
Monday, June 2, 2008

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Some Malaysian government lawmakers who were planning to defect to the opposition might change their minds now that the prime minister has announced policy changes to win their allegiance, opposition leaders said Monday.

Officials in the opposition People's Justice Party nevertheless voiced confidence that enough members of Parliament will still switch sides by September to topple Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's government.

"My gut feeling is (Abdullah's reforms) are not going to change things very much," said the party's vice president, Sivarasa Rasiah.

Worries about potential defections were believed to be a main reason that Abdullah promised on Saturday to increase funding and improve administrative policies for Sabah, a poor eastern state where complaints about government neglect have simmered for years.

Abdullah's National Front coalition has been jittery about losing power after it clinched only 140 seats in the 222-member Parliament in March elections — the first time in 40 years that it failed to secure a two-thirds majority.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim of the People's Justice Party has repeatedly claimed that he can get at least 30 lawmakers, mainly from Malaysia's Sabah and Sarawak states on Borneo island to defect. That would be enough to topple Abdullah's government.

Sabah contributes 25 lawmakers while Sarawak has 31 in the National Front.

Syed Husin Ali, deputy president of the People's Justice Party, insisted that the "core people who are fully committed" about defecting will not change their minds because they realize Abdullah's reforms were not enough to tackle their grievances.

"There will be a few people who will be influenced by this. There will be some marginal effect," he said, adding that the crossovers would be announced in September "by the latest."

Abdullah and other top officials in the United Malays National Organization, the biggest party in the National Front, were scheduled to hold a two-day retreat later this week to discuss measures to safeguard their hold on power.

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