* Demonstration if no fuel price hike reversal - opposition
* Government given until December to act
* Ultimatum adds pressure on govt and raises tensions
By Razak Ahmad
KUALA LUMPUR, July 28 Malaysia's opposition and
rights groups on Wednesday issued an ultimatum to the
government to reverse a recent fuel price hike by December or
face a mass street protest.
The demand by PROTES, a coalition of student and human
rights groups as well as opposition parties, adds to pressure
on the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak, which is
trying to shore up its popularity while curbing the budget
"We will use all available avenues to give the government
the opportunity to do the right thing before we go to
demonstrations," said Nurul Izzah Anwar, an parliamentarian and
daughter of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.
The government on July 15 raised prices of the most popular
blend of petrol by 2.7 percent and sugar by 15 percent. The
move would save the government 750 million ringgit to stem a
budget deficit that hit a 20-year high of 7 percent of gross
domestic product last year.
The savings were a fraction of the 2.88 billion ringgit
($905.1 million) originally proposed by a government body
tasked with subsidy reform and were delayed for months by a
government wary of upsetting voters after record poll losses in
PROTES said it would launch an awareness campaign next
month and issued the government with five demands that include
re-instating the fuel, gas and sugar subsidies as well as
introducing a minimum wage.
^^ For a related Q+A please click on [ID:nSGE66L0BI]
For a factbox on Malaysia's price rises, click on
For a graphic of the country's subsidy bill, click here
^> It said it would give the government until December 15
-- the end of the next parliament session -- to meet its
demands or face a major demonstration in the capital.
Hatta Ramli, a top official from the opposition Pan
Malaysian Islamic Party, said large companies, including
independent power producers (IPPs), continued to enjoy big gas
According to government data, the country's IPPs were given
10.39 billion ringgit in 2009 in gas subsidies, with money
going to the likes of YTL Power (YTLP.KL), Genting Power
(GENT.KL) and Tanjong TJPL.KL, among others.
"They do this without even touching the IPPs, they withdraw
the subsidies to the people, this is what we are very much
against," said Hatta.
Analysts say the demands are placing additional pressure on
Najib, who is trying to consolidate support from the majority
Malay votebank ahead of the next general election.
Opinion polls and by-elections have shown ethnic Chinese
voters, who account for a quarter of the electorate, have
abandoned the government and that majority Malays are split
between the government and the opposition.
The next national polls are not due until 2013, but any
political backlash from subsidy cuts could emerge in a state
election expected by the end of the year in Sarawak on Borneo
island, which provides a fifth of the government's 137 MPs.
A poor showing in Sarawak could damage the ruling
coalition's ability to stage an electoral comeback.
"This (subsidy) issue represents the best chance for the
opposition in trying to shift Malay support from the
government," said political analyst Shaharuddin Badaruddin.
(Reporting by Razak Ahmad; Editing by Ron Popeski)