Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Anwar says he will soon seize power

(Update) Malaysia's Anwar says he will soon seize power


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim missed his self-imposed deadline to oust Malaysia's entrenched government Tuesday but vowed it would happen soon — a threat the prime minister rejected as a mirage despite cracks in the ruling coalition.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi told reporters that if Anwar really had the support of government lawmakers who want to defect, "the whole world would have known" by now.

Abdullah's comments belie the pressure he and his National Front coalition are facing, not only from Anwar but also because of dissent and a festering rebellion against Abdullah's weak leadership after disastrous election results in March.

Anwar told a rally of some 10,000 supporters late Monday that even though enough government lawmakers were ready to join his coalition he wouldn't bring down the government by Sept. 16 as he had pledged for months. Instead, he said, he wanted Abdullah to hand over power voluntarily so that the transition can proceed "smoothly and peacefully."

"We do not want to force it," he said. "Therefore, we want to negotiate with the prime minister and ask him, 'Do you want one week, do you want two weeks?'"

He also said he sought a meeting with Abdullah to discuss the power transfer. Abdullah dismissed it as a ploy, saying if Anwar really has the numbers to form a government, "he will storm into my room with hundreds screaming behind him shouting 'victory.'"

"This is Anwar's mirage. It is nothing. It is merely a dream," he said.

Abdullah's National Front has been in power uninterrupted since 1957 when Malaysia gained independence from British colonial rule. But it suffered a massive jolt in the March 8 general elections when Anwar's opposition coalition unexpectedly won 81 seats in the 222-member Parliament.

With the support of an independent member, the alliance is 30 seats short of a majority.

In a sign of panic in the government, authorities on Friday arrested an opposition lawmaker, an anti-government blogger and a reporter under the Internal Security Act that allows indefinite detention without trial. The act is normally used for people regarded as security threats. The journalist was freed Saturday, but the other two remain in jail.

The use of the security act has been criticized by lawyers, human rights groups and even some Cabinet ministers. On Monday, the minister in charge of legal affairs, Zaid Ibrahim, resigned in protest.

Zaid said Tuesday that he will not change his mind even though Abdullah asked him to reconsider.

"ISA was the last straw for me," said Zaid, who also complained that his attempts to initiate judicial reforms have been stymied by top party members.

"I hope with my departure it will trigger some change ... and some positive response from my party ... my colleagues," he said.

Zaid did not rule out joining Anwar's group, saying it is too early to make a commitment "but I have an open mind." - AP

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