Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Malaysian govt faces more tests - Malaysiakini

IPOH (Malaysia) - MALAYSIA'S government on Tuesday was preparing for further political challenges, as two electorates fell vacant shortly after its controversial power grab in northern Perak state.

The Barisan Nasional coalition has been humiliated by the loss of two by-elections since putting in a dismal performance in general elections last March, and will be looking to prove it can claw back public support.

The votes are also a chance for the Pakatan Rakyat opposition alliance to re-assert itself after the loss of Perak, which triggered calls for opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to quit.

The new Barisan Nasional leadership was sworn into power in Perak on Tuesday, despite objections from the Pakatan Rakyat, which lost its narrow majority when it was hit with four defections.

Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin, the Pakatan Rakyat's chief minister in Perak who has rejected an order from the state's sultan to quit, reported for duty at the government building Tuesday before being turned away by police.

'As far as we are concerned we are still the government. There is no document, no proof that we are not. We will continue doing our usual daily jobs,' he told reporters at the official residence he still occupies.

Mr Mohammad Nizar said the opposition would take legal action in the state's High Court to back its claim that it remains the legitimate government.

He said it was too soon to say whether he would contest one of the by-elections - for a national parliamentary seat in Perak, which was made vacant when an opposition MP died of a heart attack.

The other vacant seat is for the state assembly in Kedah, in Malaysia's far north, where the opposition legislator quit citing threats to his family.

'At this point, the raw public mood appears to be setting the Barisan Nasional an uphill task' in winning back the Perak seat, The New Straits Times said in an analysis on Tuesday.

The coalition has been undermined in past by-elections by internal rivalries and poor candidate choices, and Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi indicated it would make a concerted effort for the new contests.

'We should start our preparations now. We have to work very hard to win these seats,' he said, according to the official news agency Bernama.

The opposition said the special votes would be a test of the Barisan Nasional's popularity and its conduct in Perak, where public protests greeted the installation of the new government.

'(It) will be an important referendum for the core question in Perak... Let's see the people's verdict,' Sivarasa Rasiah, vice-president of Anwar's Keadilan party, which is part of the three-member opposition alliance. -- AFP

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