KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia’s opposition alliance claimed on Tuesday it had enough support in parliament to oust the government and sought a meeting with the premier to discuss a handover as well as the king’s consent.
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim told a media conference that he expected Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to meet him within the next few days to discuss a transition of power from the government, which has ruled for more than 50 years.
It was the most forceful statement yet that Anwar, a former deputy prime minister, is close to winning Malaysia’s top job after being imprisoned for sodomy and corruption in the late 1990s and barred from office.
He declined to spell out what his majority could be in the 222-member assembly, but he needs at least 30 MPs to cross the floor from the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition and join his 82-strong bloc, which is made up of three political parties.
“We have enough strength to form the government. Once we meet the prime minister, we will abide by the constitution and seek the consent of the king,” Anwar told a news conference.
The government dismissed his claims of a parliamentary majority. Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak called talk of the opposition winning power “the politics of deception”.
Abdullah said he would not meet Anwar unless the opposition leader had something substantial to discuss. His party is to hold a meeting of its top policy-making body on September 18 and there has been pressure on the prime minister to step down.
Anwar has not named MPs he says will change sides, nor have any Barisan Nasional members announced they would switch.
Even though Anwar has had to unite a sometimes fractious coalition of reformers, Islamists and ethnic Chinese, as well as deal with a new trial on what he says are trumped up charges of sodomy, the opposition has piled pressure on the government.
In March it deprived Abdullah of his two-thirds majority in parliament, the first time since independence from Britain more than half a century ago that the government has not had the ability to change the constitution.
The rise in political tensions has unnerved investors.
The cost of insuring the country’s debt has risen sharply to around $153,056 per $10 million, from $90,185 prior to the March election, based on prices for 5-year credit default swaps a barometer of risk.
Political analysts said it was likely that Anwar had his majority and that there was little the government could do.
“Whatever number of MPs Anwar will bring over to Pakatan Rakyat (his alliance), the moment he reveals their names he will want to have them hidden away,” said James Chin, Professor of Political Science at Monash University’s Malaysia campus.
Chin said that, once Anwar had letters of support from the MPs and is granted an audience by the king, the king would then ask the speaker of parliament to hold a formal vote on the prime minister’s post.
He noted that the government could not suspend parliament and that the only option would be to call a state of emergency.
“The problem with declaring a state of emergency in Malaysia is that it needs the king’s consent,” Chin said.
UMNO TO MEET
Anwar’s call came just two days ahead of a meeting of the top decision-making body of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the dominant force in the 14-party ruling coalition.
There have been calls for Abdullah to accelerate a planned transition of power to his deputy Najib set for 2010.
On Monday, Abdullah’s law minister resigned in protest against the use of the harsh Internal Security Act (ISA) to detain an opposition MP, a journalist and a well-known blogger.
The ISA allows imprisonment without trial, although the journalist was later released.
That was the latest in a series of apparent mis-steps from a government that has struggled to connect with voters reeling from a surge in inflation to more than quarter-century highs.
Although ethnic Malays and UMNO dominate the government, they need the support of smaller ethnic Chinese and Indian parties who were outraged recently when an UMNO official labeled the country’s Chinese “immigrants” and “squatters”.
Zaid Ibrahim, the outgoing law minister and an independent co-opted into government, said he had largely failed to make the judiciary more independent and limit the use of the ISA.
Additional reporting by Niluksi Koswanage and David Chance; Writing by David Chance; Editing by Paul Tait
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