Defecting lawmakers add to Anwar's woes

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 March, 2010, 12:00am

The defection of three lawmakers from his ranks in the past three weeks is pouring more pressure on opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, even as he faces a sodomy trial that could end his political career.

The latest to quit was Perak state lawmaker Mohsin Fadzli Samsuri, who resigned yesterday saying he 'strongly disagreed' with Anwar's support for a December 31 court ruling that allowed Christians to use the word 'Allah'.

'Allah is exclusively for Muslims,' Mohsin said. Other Muslim lawmakers in the People's Justice Party were ready to quit over this issue, he said.

Tan Tee Beng, a lawmaker from Anwar's home state of Penang, quit the opposition leader's three-party People's Alliance on Monday, while Zahrain Hashim, another Penang lawmaker, resigned three weeks ago.

All three declared themselves independent but are expected to align themselves with the ruling National Front coalition of Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Other senior members of the opposition hierarchy have also been turning their backs on Anwar.

'I hereby announce that based on the principles of defending my religion and race, and the people I resign from Pakatan [the opposition coalition] and join the Barisan [National Front],' said Fairus Khairuddin, the former deputy chief minister of opposition-ruled Penang state who was earlier forced to step down amid corruption allegations.

'I have lost confidence in Anwar's leadership,' he said before hugging Najib last week.

Most political analysts believe that Malay Muslim Anwar took a big risk by supporting minority rights with his backing of the Allah ruling. While minority Chinese and Indians were happy with his stance, some Malays felt betrayed.

There is now a serious risk for Anwar that the government will regain its crucial two-thirds majority in parliament, a margin it lost for the first time in 2008 in the face of big gains by the former deputy premier's alliance.

'The additional seats will see the Barisan stay in power in the next election,' predicted political scientist Sivamurugan Pandyan, referring to Najib's National Front coalition. 'The defections are the key. They will give the government the all powerful two-thirds majority to change the rules.'

But a further eight opposition members must jump ship to give Najib that buffer, by most calculations. Opposition leaders admit more lawmakers are likely to defect.

The reason the two-thirds majority is so crucial to the government is that it is needed to amend the constitution, change election rules in its favour and approve a bill on electoral boundaries that will allow it to add more electorates to the 222-seat parliament. All such tactics could stave off the threat posed by Anwar.

The deputy president of Anwar's Keadilan, or People's Justice Party, Dr Syed Husin Ali said yesterday the defectors were likely to be angry with the party for refusing their demands for money and other perks.

Another possible reason for the defections is the widely held belief that Anwar will be jailed again.

'They are jumping ship because they believe the ship is sinking with Anwar heading for jail,' an opposition backbencher said. 'They feel Anwar will lose no matter what the evidence and jailed. It has happened before,' he said referring to Anwar's 1998 jailing on corruption and sodomy convictions. That sodomy conviction was later overturned.