Friday, September 12, 2008

Malaysian opposition says power takeover may be delayed

Malaysian opposition says power takeover may be delayed
Sep 12, 2008

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - Malaysia's opposition admitted Friday it might not meet its goal of seizing power by next week as it sent a delegation to pursue potential defectors from the government on a trip to Taiwan.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has repeatedly said he is "on track" to topple the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition by next Tuesday, but his party said in a statement that it could be delayed.

"The process of transformation to a new government... is proceeding smoothly and we believe that Barisan Nasional will be replaced in a very short period," the statement said.

"The date might be delayed from September 16... but the agenda is still going on," it said, adding that one complicating factor had been the government's move to ship lawmakers overseas this week.

The ruling coalition sent 46 parliamentarians on a controversial and hastily arranged "study trip" to Taiwan, in what Anwar has said is an attempt to "corral and seclude" parliamentarians amid the high-stakes negotiations.

Leaders of Anwar's Keadilan party, which fronts the three-member opposition alliance, were headed there Friday to meet up with the delegation, in a "gatecrashing" move that is likely to irritate the government.

"We are looking forward to meeting with BN MPs and to have discussions and meals with them," Keadilan information chief Tian Chua, who is leading the four-person team, told AFP.

"Our team will also meet with Taiwan's government and opposition parties to brief them on the political situation in Malaysia," he added.

Anwar needs 30 of the 140 coalition lawmakers to defect in order to form a new government. Most of the potential crossovers are believed to be from the Sabah and Sarawak states on Borneo island.

"They play all sorts of political games so don't get carried away... I don't think BN MPs will defect," deputy premier Najib Razak told reporters.

The opposition alliance gained unprecedented ground in March's general elections, securing a third of parliamentary seats and five states from the coalition, which has ruled since independence from Britain half a century ago.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has faced repeated calls to quit since the polls debacle, and in recent days his plan to hand over power to his deputy by mid-2010 has come under renewed scrutiny.

Trade Minister Muhyiddin Yassin - who is seen as a potential challenger - this week said Abdullah should consider stepping down earlier to allow a new leader to address the issues that have eroded government support.

On Friday, Najib was also lukewarm over the 2010 plan that he had earlier backed wholeheartedly, and said it would have to win the support of the ruling party's 191 divisions in December internal elections.

"His statement shows a change in stance from what he said in July when he appeared to be fully behind the plan," said Tricia Yeoh from the Centre for Public Policy Studies.

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