Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A new Malaysia unfolds, Part 2

A new Malaysia unfolds, Part 2

This is a five-part post-election Timeline, a thread weaving through and linking the political events and occasional drama in the aftermath of a Malaysian general election unlike any other. In this instalment we present Days 21-40.

Compiled by Shannon Teoh and Yip Ai Tsin

Dr Mahathir Mohamad renews attack on Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Day 21:

Three weeks after March 8 and it is clear that Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi still needs to consolidate his position as prime minister. Today, Umno Sabah leaders met with him at his residence for over three hours and the issue of representation was surely of high priority on the agenda. Kalabakan division chief Datuk Seri Abdul Ghapur Salleh, who recently resigned from his post as natural resources and environment deputy minister, tells the press that he is “confident that the Barisan Nasional top leadership will look into the issue of Sabah's representation over the next four years as they have also made a commitment to ensure that no one is left out".

In a further assault on his successor's presidency, Tun Dr Mahathir says that he now favours reducing the number of nominations required to contest the Umno presidency. It was after his narrow escape from Tengku Razaleigh's challenge in 1987 that he raised the minimum of two nominations to 30% of the party's divisions.

And after a reported 10-day period of negotiation, which in turn was initiated belatedly due to DAP's initial objection of the choice of menteri besar, Perak now has its 10-man state exco in place with DAP having the lion's share of representation with six members.

Muhyiddin Yassin calls for abolishing Umno nomination quota

Day 22:

United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation party president Tan Sri Bernard Dompok piles the pressure on Pak Lah concerning Sabah BN's representation in the federal government. Dompok, who is minister in the prime minister's separtment, in comparing Sabah BN's 24 MPs and three ministerial posts to Johor BN's 25 MPs and seven ministerial posts, declares that it appears that what the people of Sabah have given to BN has been taken for granted.

Sarawak PKR state chief Dominique Ng also stokes the fires of discontent in East Malaysia by claiming that de facto party leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had promised the two states a four-fold increase in oil and gas royalties.

More pressure on Pak Lah arrives in the form of support for the abolishing of the nomination quota to contest top posts in Umno from the highest-ranking officer yet – party vice-president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. Muhyiddin's rationale is that “the nomination quota will encourage money politics as those who want to contest will buy enough nominations to contest. It will also create an unhealthy political culture as some of the delegates might not dare nominate a particular person if it could be viewed as going against or showing disrespect to the party leadership.”

He, however, denies that his support for the proposal means he is encouraging members to challenge the president.

Pak Lah is not the only one who has to try to appease his crew. In a case of too little too late, MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu announces that he would speak to Pak Lah about the release of the five Hindraf leaders held under the ISA. He also raps the PKR-DAP-PAS coalition for not having two Indians in their respective state excos despite promising better representation for Indians during the election campaign.

Another blow for BN components comes in the form of Gerakan deputy secretary-general Datuk Lee Kah Choon's resignation from all party posts. The former parliamentary secretary to the health ministry claims his decision is due to a personal sense of responsibility for the party's dismal performance in the recent elections but insists he will remain a party member.

Day 23:

After Sabah's turn, Sarawak makes its plea to Pak Lah to consider increasing its representation in the Cabinet. Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu (PBB) deputy president Datuk Seri Abang Johari Tun Abang Openg feels it should be “double or nothing” as Sarawak BN has 30 MPs as compared to Sabah's 24 with both now having two full ministers in Cabinet.

Meanwhile, Kijal assemblyman Datuk Ahmad Said is sworn in as Terengganu's chief executive three days after the Umno Supreme Council finally relented to his appointment, making him the last of the MBs to take his oath.

For a change, Dr M this time snipes at Anwar, telling Malays to be careful who they pick as PM as Anwar will sell them out to foreigners.

At night, PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang announces to a crowd of 25,000 that the Opposition would form a coalition that would open its arms to “colleagues” in the ruling BN coalition, in particular elected representatives from Umno, MCA, MIC and Gerakan, signalling PAS's turnaround in accepting the idea of crossovers.

Deputy PM Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak also gives us the dreaded assurance that the price of rice will not be raised.

Day 24:

April Fools' Day sees the rather serious announcement that PKR, DAP and PAS have agreed to a formal coalition called Pakatan Rakyat (People's Alliance). With DAP and PAS supremos Lim Kit Siang and Hadi flanking him, Anwar makes two key statements – that component party leaders would take the proposal back to its party for approval and that the governments of Kelantan, Kedah, Penang, Perak and Selangor would now be known as Pakatan Rakyat state governments. However, both Lim and Anwar seem non-committal on the matter of official registration of the coalition, perhaps the lessons of 1999's abortive Barisan Alternatif weighing on their minds.

Pakatan Raykat also continues to hog the limelight when its Perak government announces that it will appoint the country's first Indian state assembly speaker when it convenes the following month.

While Pakatan Rakyat makes its advance, Umno finds itself facing internal strife as Dr M calls for party members to openly demand for reforms, including asking Pak Lah to resign. His son, Datuk Mukhriz declares his intention to run for Youth chief and states his preference for Najib.

Abdullah Badawi asks: Why should I resign?

Day 25:

It has come to the point where Pak Lah has to refute speculation that he is stepping down: “I am here. I am here. I am here. They make all the speculation that I want to run away, I've resigned. Why should I resign?”

Newly-appointed Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman gives him some reason to after she announces that the ministry is terminating its MoU with opposition-led states, instead, channelling the RM1 billion budget to the respective states' Tourism Action Councils which in the case of these five states, would no longer be the state tourism exco.

Meanwhile, Pakatan seems to strengthen its numbers as the Malaysian Democratic Party and Parti Sosialis Malaysia mull over joining the coalition. Perak MB Nizar Jamaluddin also announces that 10,000 temporary occupation licence holders will receive permanent land titles.

It appears that Dr M is being given a taste of his own medicine as former UN special rapporteur Datuk Param Cumaraswamy calls for a probe into alleged interference with the Anti-Corruption Agency by Mahathir in 1998.

Day 26:

It's back to school for MPs as 138 out of 162 (minus the 60 who hold government positions) invited attend a briefing on Dewan Rakyat procedures, a move undertaken due to the fact that an unprecedented 99 parliamentarians will be rookies. After the briefing Opposition leaders say they are considering nominating a deputy speaker from their ranks, a suggestion likely to be shot down by the BN majority.

Instead, to exhibit BN's transparency, the information ministry opts to broadcast Question Time in Dewan Rakyat for half-an-hour over RTM1 and radio station, Klasik Nasional, at 10am beginning April 30.

Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein decides not to seek re-election as Umno Youth chief, paving the way for Mukhriz and former Selangor MB Datuk Seri Dr Khir Toyo to contest the post in December, while a third potential candidate Khairy Jamaluddin refuses to confirm or deny his intentions to contest.

Gerak, an anti-corruption NGO piles the pressure on Mahathir as it supports Param's proposed probe into the former PM's interference with the ACA.

Day 27:

Tengku Razaleigh's push to oust Pak Lah notches its first milestone as the Gua Musang Umno division, of which Ku Li is leader, vote to press the party to hold an EGM over the election results. It seeks to pass a motion to abolish the nomination quotas for party elections.

Over in Pahang, state Umno liaison secretary Datuk Ahmad Tajuddin Sulaiman calls for all supreme council members to resign due to the party's poor performance in the general election. He adds that resignations are necessary to enable the party to call for an EGM and hold an election for a new supreme council.

Meanwhile, Hishammuddin explains that his early decision not to seek reelection was not to facilitate a move for a higher party post and Khairy still refuses to announce a decision on whether he would attempt to succeed Hishammuddin.

DAP chairman Karpal Singh blows his top after Pas Youth suggest that Pakatan Rakyat be the springboard for PAS to establish an Islamic state, telling them to “dream on”. He also seconds Gerak's call to probe Dr M.

MIC chief Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu declares he will contest the party presidency next March despite speculation that his humbling defeat in the Sungai Siput parliamentary seat and resignation of branch leaders and members would force him out of contention. But he says that this would be his last party elections and that he is done with running in the general elections.

Day 28:

PKR vice-president Mohd Azmin Ali today claims that close to the required 30 MPs needed to topple the BN government are ready to reject the leadership of Abdullah. “They feel the best person is Anwar,” he says.

Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk Shahrir Samad hints at increasing fuel prices. He reveals a proposal to revise subsidies and channel them to lower octane fuels which will suffice for most vehicles and reduce subsidies for higher octane fuel which is usually required by luxury cars.

Selangor MB Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim dismisses speculation that he will vacate his Bandar Tun Razak parliamentary seat for Anwar after April 14 when the de facto party leader would be able to contest a by-election. Ostensibly, with the MB post already taking up much of Khalid's time, it would suit both leaders if Anwar took over as Bandar Tun Razak MP.

In a continuing bid to stave off the end of his political career, Samy is now brokering a merger with the Indian Progressive Front. “When two hearts become one, there will be no problems,” he adds romantically.

Nik Aziz invites DAP leaders to Kelantan to see the merits of Islamic rule.

Day 29:

Pak Lah's had enough and comes out storming as he lashes out at Mahathir, Ku Li and Anwar. He accuses the former of abusing his influence to undermine Umno and then blames the Kelantan Prince – who as Semangat 46 chief cooperated with PAS to deliver the state into their hands in 1990 – for BN's continuous failure to recapture Kelantan. Anwar he taunts by referring to his self-styled title of “leader-in-waiting”, saying, “Let him wait. I am the prime minister now.”

But he also for the first time reveals a succession plan that will see Najib step up as No. 1 but does not put a time frame to it, wanting instead to be given enough time to implement the things he has promised.

Related to this, Muhyiddin speaks out, calling for reforms in BN, a statement that fuels speculation that he is gunning for a promotion in the upcoming party polls.

We move from an amusing display by Pak Lah to a bemused PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat. Nik Aziz responds to Karpal's indignance at PAS Youth's Islamic state amibitions by inviting DAP leaders to experience Kelantan to see for themselves the merits of an Islamic state. Nik Aziz, Kelantan's five-term MB, believes that most non-Muslims there were comfortable with the PAS-led administration.

While talk of buying out MPs and assemblymen have been rife, DAP assemblyman for Tronoh, V. Sivakumar 's claim of an RM65 million offer must surely be the most outrageous sum mentioned so far.

Day 30:

“I'm not going to stay on for years. Certainly not," says Pak Lah, which is the closest thing to a timeframe has given for when he passes the premiership to Najib.

Najib also comments on fuel subsidies, which practically ensures that the country will see a fuel hike.

Karpal continues his attack on Mahathir, saying that the former PM should be probed for abuse of power during the 1987 Ops Lallang which saw 106 people detained under ISA.

MCA chief Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting faces further pressure as the party's public services and complaints head of legal advisers Datuk Theng Book claims that 30% of party members would leave if he refuses to quit as president. Theng is part of a Save MCA campaign with a stated aim to oust the “Ong brothers” Ka Ting and Ka Chuan from party leadership.

Day 31:

Cabinet meetings will now be held on Fridays instead of Wednesdays as ministers are now expected to strengthen the BN headcount in parliament. This is also due to the fact that Question Time will be telecast live and thus, ministers should be seen to be actively engaging MPs in the Dewan Rakyat.

In Selangor, a proposed RM100 million pig farm in Sepang is sparking controversy as MB Khalid says it has already been approved by the previous administration and is a good project to proceed with but his predecessor Khir Toyo insists his exco had only discussed it without giving the project approval. He personally opposes the project because of its size and objections from the local community.

Ahmad Tajuddin Sulaiman himself resigns as Umno state liaison secretary after reiterating his call to supreme council members to step down. “We must shoulder the responsibility together. Don't let the people lose confidence in Umno as it will destroy the party.”

Karpal's outburst regarding the Islamic state issues clearly still strikes a nerve as Kedah MB Azizan Abdul Razak tells the DAP chairman to be quiet on the matter and concentrate on bigger issues.

Day 32:

For 21 days, starting today, dissatisfied election candidates can submit petitions to the Election court after the results were officially gazetted.

Shahrir, also a Johor MP, denies that Johor Umno has decided to ask Pak Lah to step down.

While authorities continue to allay fears of a rice price rise, noodles instead, will become dearer. The Flour Millers Association Malaysia raises prices by RM10 per 25kg of wheat-based noodles while the price of ground rice had also risen by RM22 for each 50kg bag.

Fresh from playing a key role in the appointment of Perak MB, the state's Regent, Raja Dr Nazrin Shah, continues to be a prime influence in local politics, this time observing that the time is right to review the judiciary and offers six key steps to reforms.

The pig farm saga continues with Sementa state assemblyman saying that his constituents in Sepang were against the proposal as most of them are Muslims and that BN had rejected the proposal but Khalid insists the previous administration had already okay-ed the project on Jan 30. “They even went to Europe to study this. It's good. Now I don't have to go to Europe to study it,” he says sarcastically. He also reveals that he is stepping down as PKR secretary-general to concentrate on his duties as MB and MP.

Karpal, fighting on two fronts, tells Dr M that the Opposition does not need his help and Azizan not to emulate an ostrich which buries its head in the sand, stating that there is no bigger issue than PAS wanting to create an Islamic state.

And more than a month after the elections, Terengganu has at long last, sworn in its state exco which comprises seven new faces.

Salleh Abbas, the prime minister suggests restoring his dignity and public standing sullied in the 1988 judiciary scandal.

Day 33:

Azmin Ali makes an even more astonishing claim that the overwhelming response from BN MPs to cross over means that “30 seats is the minimum” number who will defect. “It is Abdullah who is running out of time, we are not, we will announce the details at a right time,” says Azmin.

Pak Lah instead, is fighting fires elsewhere and given the impression that the Cabinet are none too impressed with the idea of apologising for the 1988 judicial crisis, he instead moots the idea of restoring Tun Salleh Abas. He also reveals a new food security policy is on the cards, the most obvious hint yet that food prices will definitely spiral in coming months.

Sensing disgruntlement among Umno ranks, Nik Aziz cheekily opens up PAS to such individuals including Ku Li to make a pact or join the party. In other PAS-related news, president Hadi Awang is hospitalised after a mild stroke.

Day 34:

Ong Ka Ting today denies that he had set up a “snoop squad” to take out his political rivals in MCA. While insisting the accusation by vice-president Datuk Donald Lim is hogwash, he notes that “what is more important is finding out how such a thought could even be conceived", and thus, would be setting up a panel of veteran members to investigate the issue.

Day 35:

Today's double dose from the Mahathir family comes in the form of a "Jew jibe" aimed at Anwar by Dr M and Mukhriz's claim that attacks against his father hurt BN at last month's polls. Claiming that only Israelis will install Anwar as PM, he tells the press that "Haaretz (the Israeli newspaper) thinks he is going to be the prime minister. It is the only paper in the world which thinks he is going to be the prime minister... he is the prime minister that the Israelis will vote for.” Mukhriz, on the other hand, says that many people were hurt and upset by the attacks on Mahathir and thus did not support BN in the elections. Later in the night, Mahathir calls Karpal and Anwar “big fans” of Pak Lah, whose weak administration plays into the Opposition's hands.

Meanwhile, given the recent barrage of comments in the media centring around Karpal, Pakatan Rakyat leadership take the move to insert a disclaimer that these are personal views and not representative of the coalition parties.

Day 36:

Anything Mahathir can do, Karpal can do too it seems, as his son Gobind Singh Deo, MP for Puchong, accuses Dr M for damaging the the country's democratic process and interfering with the judiciary. Karpal, meanwhile, urges Mukhriz to advise his father to retire with dignity, adding that Abdullah's administration had won the elections and this has to be respected by all.

Anwar himself, will not be left out, calling Dr M “tired and confused”, because it was the ex-PM who was in cahoots with the Jewish lobby, he claims.

But the real news, in fact, is Johor Umno now openly calling for changes in leadership and for Abdullah to expedite a succession plan. One of its strongmen, party VP Muhyiddin, leads the calls and signals that he is ready to contest a higher post in the party.

In an embarrassing gaffe, Perak MB Nizar refers to Sikhs as Bengalis when wishing them Happy Vasakhi. It's a common error in Malaysia but still one that Nizar surely is not proud of.

Day 37:

It's the ninth year anniversary of Black 14 which also marks the return of Anwar to active politics after a five-year ban following the end of his jail sentence for corruption. Despite the lack of a police permit, thousands (seven, 10 or 20, depending on who you ask) gather to celebrate at Kelab Sultan Sulaiman Kampung Baru. Anwar addresses the public and reaffirms his goal of installing Pakatan Rakyat as government saying that it has enough defectors to seize power and is now working on securing a more comfortable majority.

Save MCA campaigners slam Ong Ka Ting for allegedly picking a biased three-man “snoop squad” panel. The choice of two lawyers when the party chief had earlier stated he would pick party veterans leads Theng Book to say “I doubt that they are even MCA members”.

Ong has other things to consider as former MCA vice-president Datuk Chua Jui Meng announces he will make a political comeback and contest the party presidency.

In price hike news, Gardenia says its high-end products will cost more although its white loaves are a controlled item and the ministry of domestic trade and consumer affairs confirms that approval must be given to raise the price of white loaves.

Day 38:

Following the Black 14 rally, police pay a friendly visit to Anwar, Khalid and Azmin asking them to come to Dang Wangi police station to make a statement later in the day on the previous night's illegal gathering. PKR deputy president Dr Syed Husin Ali claims that the police action is the result of political pressure as earlier discussions with police on traffic and security had occurred without the issue of legality coming up. Police respond by saying they thought it was a dinner event not an outdoor rally.

BN leaders also move today to scoff at Anwar's “crazy claim” of being able to form a new federal government. As usual, Samy Vellu has the pick of the quotes, saying it would be better for Pakatan to join BN.

At least one group is still firmly behind Pak Lah, though. The chairman of the Umno Veterans Club Datuk Tajuddin Ali calls on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to continue leading the country describing those in Umno who call for his resignation as "wretched and ungrateful fellows".

Possibly the country's most recognisable Sikh, Karpal Singh says that Perak MB Nizar did not mean offence when referring to Sikhs as Bengalis but it was due to the fact that Sikhs have been called Bengalis for decades out of ignorance.

PKR president Wan Azizah says she will step aside for her husband Anwar, if that is what the party wants but it as yet unclear if he will contest in her Permatang Pauh constituency at a by-election.

Today, it is revealed that even cooking oil will have its subsidies reviewed. In happier news though, with the winds of change sweeping the country, Anugerah Industri Muzik 2008 announces it will do away with postal ballots and adopt a more transparent system.

Day 39:

The home ministry refuses to renew the licence of Tamil daily Makkal Osai. It is the general belief that its widespread coverage given to the Opposition is the cause. The paper says it will file an appeal the next day.

In a turnaround, Muhyiddin says he will not contest the top two Umno posts, clarifying that his earlier comments calling for change were the reflection of grassroot views.

After delaying for a day – Azizah claimed she had a full day of commitments – PKR leaders relent and record their statements regarding the Black 14 rally to the police.

PKR supreme council member, Badrul Hisham Shaharin, better known as Chegu Bard, has a petition ready to file in a bid to nullify the results of the Rembau parliamentary election won by Khairy Jamaluddin with a 5,726-vote majority.

Day 40:

The Bar Council's dinner sees Pak Lah drawing huge applause as he announces two steps to redeem the judiciary. A Judicial Appointments Comission will be set up to nominate, appoint and promote judges in a transparent manner and the government will “acknowledge the pain and loss” suffered by late Tan Sri Eusoffe Abdoolcader and Tan Sri Wan Suleiman Pawanteh and their families, Tun Salleh Abas, Tan Sri Azmi Kamaruddin, Tan Sri Wan Hamzah Mohamed Salleh and Datuk George Seah over the 1988 judicial crisis with goodwill ex gratia payments.

Still on legal matters, Anwar files a defamation suit against Deputy Education Minister Dr Wee Ka Siong over the latter’s alleged insinuation of Anwar being a homosexual during the Machap by-election campaign in April last year. Wee had referred to Anwar as someone who “can say one thing then and something else now. For him, front is okay, back is also okay”.

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