Monday, September 15, 2008

"We Can Form Government"

I was having dinner with my wife yesterday evening in a Mamak Shop when we heard the news that PKR is forming the new government. Will we finally see the toppling of the blokes who held sway over this country for the past 51 years? Soundbites were coming in even as we feasted on the plates of Maggi Goreng before us. "PKR's got the numbers!", "BN still in denial!", "Zaid quit to protest ISA!", etc. Like I said time and again, these are interesting times.....

PETALING JAYA: Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim told thousands of supporters yesterday he had enough defectors to oust the government and has sought a meeting with the Premier to discuss a handover.

Shouting the popular opposition battle cry of "Reformasi" or reform, and "Merdeka" or freedom, the crowd of about 8,000 roared with approval when Mr Anwar told them that his plan was on track.

"We want the transition to be made in a peaceful manner. We have got the numbers, tomorrow is the D-Day and we are ready to form the government," he said.

He added that he had sent a letter to Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi yesterday to seek a meeting with him to discuss "a peaceful transition of power" to the opposition.

He said, however, that the opposition would not take over by force today but instead "in the nearest time".

"Why do we not want to seize power tomorrow? We don't want to force it. We do not want to go to Putrajaya and force them out," he said.

"We want to discuss with PM, if he wants a week or two weeks, we promise we will not follow the rule of the jungle and there will be no witch-hunt. What is past is past. What we want is to rule without corruption, detention without trial or the theft of the people's resources," he added.

The mass rally in a stadium just outside Kuala Lumpur was organised on the eve of Mr Anwar's self-imposed deadline to take over the federal government with what he said would be at least 30 defecting Barisan Nasional (BN) MPs.

He chose Sept 16 or Malaysia Day, on which Sabah and Sarawak joined the federation in 1963, as most of the MPs he targeted come from these states.

The rally, which was both a protest as well as a celebration of Malaysia Day, is a signal that Mr Anwar has no intention of giving up his plans to seize power even if his Sept 16 deadline is missed.

Most analysts do not expect a change of government today.

Mr Anwar has also said several times that his plans could be deferred because of last week's arrests under the Internal Security Act (ISA) that allows for detention without trial.

But the large crowd that turned up for the rally is a clear show of strength that signals to the government that he is not defeated, and has the people on his side.

Nevertheless, observers note that if he is unable to announce even one defection by today, it would not be a good sign. His bold declaration would be called a bluff by the ruling coalition, and it would make it harder for him to convince fence-sitters.

Mr Anwar told his cheering supporters yesterday that if he came to power, he would abolish the ISA.

"This is an arrogant government that simply detains anybody who criticises... we want to restore the dignity of all Malaysians."

Blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin and a Democratic Action Party MP Teresa Kok remain in custody despite the growing pressure on the government to release them.

A Chinese press reporter Tan Hoon Cheng was released on Saturday after being held overnight for reporting on the fiery remarks of an Umno politician who described the Chinese community as "immigrants and squatters".

The politician, Mr Ahmad Ismail, was suspended by Umno for three years for refusing to apologise as he insisted that his remarks were made in a historical context.

The ISA arrests have been neatly turned around by the opposition to urge Malaysians not to accept another five years of BN governance.

Parti Keadilan Rakyat treasurer William Leong, in a statement, said the improper use of the ISA makes it more imperative that Malaysia does not wait till the next election.

"Now is the time to act, the nation cannot wait for five years. The ability to allow MPs to cross the floor recognises that there may be a significant shift in public opinion that does not require fresh elections but needs to be reflected in the Parliament," he said.

The next few days are expected to be tense as all eyes are on Mr Anwar's movements, and the reaction from the government which has shown that it will not sit by quietly as the opposition threatens its position.

Mr Abdullah, however, remained nonchalant about the threat to his government, dismissing Mr Anwar's claim as "empty talk" last night.

"We like to go on and on about this (change of government). It won't happen," he said at the breaking of fast with local leaders and people at the Abidin Mosque in Kuala Terengganu.

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