AGORA

Sunday, July 6, 2008

6 JULY 2008

Can Pak Lah step up to the plate?

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi - Bernama
JULY 6 – After a week of high political drama, all eyes are now focused, once again on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
Many feel he has been a passive bystander during the explosive exchange of fire between his deputy Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and opposition icon Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
Both men have traded bloody blows – some way below the belt – in a fight reminiscent of Anwar taking on former Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed.
While in the court of public opinion Najib has come out worse off, Anwar is also not without his detractors. The latest about turn made by private eye, P Balasubramaniam, in retracting his earlier statutorydeclaration has set Anwar's charge against Najib back somewhat.
Clearly the situation between the two potential future Prime Ministers is fluid and it is anyone's guess what the next salvo will be and from whom.
Amid this tit for tat, the stock market has dived and investor confidence was not helped by a full day suspension in trading on Thursday because of a technical glitch.
As if to compound bad news on a day of market jitters, the police announced that it would conduct joint exercises with the armed forces to ensure public order. To most people, having soldiers on the streets means nothing less than martial law.
All of these developments have worsened the sense of uncertainty that began right after Barisan Nasiona's electoral setback in March. It comes at a time when inflation figures are creeping up partly due to the Government's move to slash petrol subsidies and development expenditures have had to be reprioritized because of escalating costs.
For most Malaysians, if there was ever a need for strong leadership, it is now. The big question is whether Abdullah can step up to the challenge. The answer is, he has no choice but to do so.He has to put together the best innings of his political career to get things back on track. Why? Because, for now, there is no other alternative.
With all the accusations and counter-accusations, Najib will need time to repair his image and credibility with the wider public even though UMNO appears unperturbed by the damage inflicted on Najib over the last weeks. Any move for him to succeed Abdullah in the immediate future will cause further instability especially since Anwar has claimed that he has more dirt to dish on Najib.Anwar himself is not an option. For all his huffing and puffing of crossovers from Barisan Nasional, not one has materialized so far. Even the renegade Sabah-based SAPP has decided not to leave Barisan Nasional.
Until Najib is able to resuscitate himself, Abdullah will have to dig deep into his reserve of experience, shake off his indecisiveness and take charge. He has to calm the market by appearing focused on the economy and getting his economic ministers to send out positive signals to investors and businessmen. Government bureaucracy for the implementation of the rest of the Ninth Malaysia Plan projects must be cut so that there is economic activity and the corresponding multiplier effect.
Abdullah must send a clear message to the armed forces to stand down and honour the division of duties between the police and the military. He needs to tackle the spat between Anwar and Najib by ensuring speedy and professional investigations into all the allegations, protecting at all times due process. In the case of the sodomy allegations against Anwar, Abdullah needs to get the police moving quickly to complete their investigations.On the allegations against Najib, a speedy resolution to the investigations into Balasubramaniam's contradictory declarations will reduce the political temperature considerably.
Most importantly, Abdullah needs to stay in front of the news cycle. Many feel that he is being reactive and merely responding to events as they unfold. As the most powerful man in Malaysia, he should be pre-empting issues and directing swift and transparent responses that can ease speculation and rumour mongering.
This is a tall order for Abdullah. Yet, this is still his mandate and since he has indicated that he does not want to resign, he must prove himself by showing Malaysians that his mind and heart are still in the game. This is a chance for him to come back from the political dead and assert his leadership that has been absent or the last few years.
The odds are against him to succeed, but Malaysia has no other choice for now. Not with the global economic turmoil at our doorstep.



Thousands at rally despite Syed Hamid warning

Crowds gathering with momentum at the Kelana Jaya stadium
KUALA LUMPUR, July 6 -Thousands garbed in red t-shirts are crowding the Kelana Jaya Stadium for a pump price rise protest and a pro-Anwar rally despite police calling it illegal.
Some 10,000 people were at the stands at lunchtime listening to speakers such as PAS treasurer and chief protest organiser Dr Hatta Ramli and Hindraf coordinator S. Jayathas while others patronised stalls selling food and party merchandise.
There were no untoward incidents reported at the carnival-like rally as Pakatan Rakyat has mobilised 2,500 marshalls to keep the peace. Police presence was minimal save for two mobile police stations.Roads around the stadium were choked with traffic although many took the light rail transit to a nearby station.
Home Minister Datuk Syed Hamid Albar warned the public yesterday not to attend the rally, saying police will take action to keep public order and peace.


"We won't compromise if public safety and order is threatened. So don't break the law," Syed Hamid was quoted as saying by Mingguan Malaysia in the Sunday paper's edition.He said the authorities wanted to prevent possible chaos and trouble in the rally starting at 10am and ending at 12 midnight. Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who is facing fresh sodomy accusations, is expected to launch a nation-wide roadshow to clear his name with a speech after 9pm at the rally.
The rally was planned in early June after the government raised pump prices for petrol and diesel but has suffered a change of venue, dates and causes over the weeks culminating with Anwar's new sexual misconduct claims headlining the event. A roster of top opposition leaders and performers are expected at the rally but a planned band performance was nixed by Anwar's ally Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS).
There is a large police operations centre at the corner of the stadium car park but police were largely absent from the stadium. People have started to park their cars near roads leading to the stadium and traffic is building up, reporters at the stadium told The Malaysian Insider.
Syed Hamid charged the rally had ulterior motives and went beyond protesting the fuel price rises. "The police is there to protect the interests of the people and I hope our citizens can read the intentions and motives of those who clearly believe the ends justify the means," he told the newspaper in an exclusive interview.



Malaysia's Anwar to address rally as turmoil deepens
2 hours ago
KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) — Thousands gathered at a stadium here Sunday for a mass anti-inflation rally which Malaysian opposition figurehead Anwar Ibrahim was due to address amid deepening political turmoil.
Anwar is fighting back new accusations of sodomy -- the same charge that saw him jailed a decade ago. The marathon event will run until midnight (1700 GMT).
The protest is going ahead at an alternative venue after the original plans were slapped with a police ban, and despite fears authorities may use force to break up the gathering.
"Our aim is not to cause trouble but to get the message to the government that fuel prices must come down and we will not stop our protests until this happens," said organiser Hatta Ramli from the Islamic opposition party PAS.
"The protests will only get worse until the government listens to the voice of the people to ease their burden and suffering."
By noon up to 6,000 people had gathered at the suburban stadium, which was ablaze with red T-shirts, the colour of the protest movement, with many sporting bandanas with the caption "No Price Hike."
There was a festive air, and outside the stadium traders sold everything from drinks to Islamic religious tracts.
"We want prices lowered, we are suffering but the government appears to be doing nothing," said housewife Aminah Rahman, 48, who along with her two young daughters was dressed in red T-shirts and scarves.
"If this continues, the people will have no trust left in the PM, he must go now," she said.
Last month's 41 percent fuel price hike has heaped pressure on Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, whose government is reeling from March general elections that produced the worst showing in its half-century history.
Anwar has said he is poised to seize power with the help of government defectors, after his opposition alliance claimed one third of parliamentary seats and five states in the elections.
He is now embroiled in a political battle with deputy prime minister Najib Razak -- Abdullah's heir apparent -- trading serious allegations that have deepened Malaysia's political crisis.
A week ago an aide to Anwar filed a police report claiming that the 60-year-old opposition leader had sodomised him, causing Anwar to flee to the Turkish embassy saying he feared for his life.
The claims threatened his stunning political comeback, staged after he was sacked as deputy premier in 1998 and jailed on sodomy and corruption charges he said were orchestrated by the government.
In the next sensational turn of events, a private investigator them made allegations linking Najib to the 2006 slaying of a Mongolian woman. A close friend of Najib is on trial for abetting the murder.
At a press conference organised by Anwar, Balasubramaniam Perumal released a sworn statement saying he had given police detailed information about 28-year-old Altantuya Shaariibuu which was never raised during the trial.
However, a day later, he retracted the claims, saying he made them under duress.
His nephew on Saturday filed a missing person's report, saying he and his family had disappeared.
Criminal Investigation Department director Bakri Zinin said Malaysian police had enlisted the help of Interpol and authorities in neighbouring countries to help locate the investigator.
"We suspect he is either in hiding or someone is hiding him," he told a press conference Sunday.
"I give a guarantee of his safety if he comes to meet us, and he is free to bring a lawyer to the meeting."
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Thousands protest fuel price hike in Malaysia despite police warning
The Associated Press
Published: July 6, 2008
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PETALING JAYA, Malaysia: Thousands of Malaysians thronged a stadium Sunday for an opposition-backed protest against a steep hike in fuel prices, ignoring a police warning that the gathering was illegal.
Some 5,000 people assembled in the 50,000-seat stadium, many wearing red bandanas and red T-shirts with the word "Down" emblazoned on the chest, a reference to their demand for oil prices to be reduced.
By midday, most people had left after listening to speeches by opposition leaders and other speakers, which were interspersed with chants of "Down with the oil price" and "Long live the people."
They were expected to return at night when Anwar Ibrahim, the de-facto leader of the three-party opposition People's Alliance, is scheduled to deliver a speech at the stadium in Petaling Jaya, a town in central Selangor state outside Kuala Lumpur.
Selangor is governed by the People's Alliance, which approved the protest organized by opposition and nongovernment organizations. The federal police, however, banned the rally, saying organizers did not obtain a police permit that is required in Malaysia for gatherings of more than four people.
But there was no trouble Sunday, and there was no visible presence of security forces in and around the stadium.
"People are under pressure because of the rise of prices. The cost of living is very high and people are under stress. This government has forgotten the people," said S. Indran, a 48-year-old security guard.
Public anger against the federal government, run by the National Front coalition, is high after it increased gasoline prices by 41 percent and diesel prices by 63 percent last month. Food prices have also been rising.
The National Front, which has been in power since independence in 1957, suffered heavy losses in the March 8 general elections, returning to power with a slim majority. The People's Alliance boosted its strength from 19 to 82 seats in the 222-member Parliament.

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