Friday, September 12, 2008

Malaysia's prime minister faces mounting pressure

Malaysia's prime minister faces mounting pressure
12 Sept, 2008

Malaysia (AP) - Malaysia's embattled prime minister appeared to lose support in the ruling party as opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim ramped up efforts Friday to bring down the government.

Apparently rattled by mounting setbacks, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's administration arrested a prominent anti-government blogger and warned three newspapers their coverage of sensitive issues could cause them to be shut down.

The developments underscored a worsening sense of political insecurity in a country that has long been considered one of Southeast Asia's most stable territories.

Abdullah faces threats from two corners. While Anwar seems poised to seize power through defections from the ruling coalition, Abdullah is also battling demands from dissidents in his own party to resign and to let his deputy, Najib Razak, confront Anwar's challenge.

Abdullah has said he wants to hand power to Najib in mid-2010. But Najib signaled a shift Friday in his support for Abdullah's plan by saying that ruling party officials can decide next month whether to back a faster power transition.

"Because (this) is a party that practices democracy, the matter must be decided by the party members through its internal process," Najib told a news conference.

Najib comments follow an outcry over the past week involving a ruling party politician who described the ethnic Chinese minority as «immigrants» who were power hungry. Abdullah was forced to suspend the official after other parties in his multiracial coalition protested.

Separately Friday, Anwar sent four envoys to Taiwan, where they will likely meet with a group of traveling Malaysian government lawmakers in an apparent bid to finalize defections.

"The scenario is developing very fast," said Tian Chua, an opposition lawmaker participating in the trip. "We are relatively confident that by Sept. 16, we will be able to make a concrete announcement."

Anwar's alliance has said it hopes to hold fresh general elections within a year if it succeeds in its ambition to overthrow Abdullah's ruling National Front coalition next week.

The National Front lost its two-thirds parliamentary majority in March elections. Anwar needs at least 30 government lawmakers on his side to take over.

In signs of tensions, police arrested anti-government blogger Raja Petra Raja Kamarudin under a law allowing indefinite detention without trial. Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar said Raja Petra's writings pose a threat to national security.

The Home Ministry also sent warning letters to two newspapers and an opposition publication about their coverage of political and racial issues, the Malaysiakini news portal reported. Media outlets operate with a government license that can be suspended at any time.

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