Friday, February 27, 2009

Pas calls for a unity government

In another sign that Pas has yet to abandon the idea of forging a closer relationship with Umno, the Islamist party's president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang has called for the formation of a national unity government in view of the current political turmoil.

In an interview with The Malaysian Insider, the Marang MP said Barisan Nasional could not on its own bring the country out of the economic crisis.

Hadi was also certain that the party would not suffer the same fate as in 1970s when it was expelled from BN and lost its control over Kelantan.

Last year, the party was split between the conservative faction which favours cooperation with Umno through what it calls muzakarah (dialogue) and another which prefers to strengthen the then newly formed alliance Pakatan Rakyat.

“We need to look common ground in uniting political parties in carrying out responsibilities, it’s not that we cannot disagree, but we want this common ground to be given priority, before we spend our time on issues that we disagree on,” said Hadi.

He added that he was inspired by the efforts taken by former Indonesian president BJ Habibie who united and reformed the country after the end of Suharto’s era.

“Most importantly, the people must be united. It has to take precedence over party interest. Let us sacrifice some of our rights sincerely for the sake of saving our country,” said Hadi.

“I wish to suggest to the outgoing Prime Minister to make some changes, to at least complete his agenda in reforming the judiciary, eradicating corruption and I believe Barisan Nasional cannot do it alone.

"To do it fairly it must involve all parties, in times of crisis it is important for all of to carry out our duties collectively,” said Hadi.

He confirmed that while the matter has been discussed internally it has yet to be brought to the Pakatan Rakyat leadership council of which Hadi is a member.

“This is a very big thing. Even at party level, we have yet to discuss in detail but I could see that many agreed with me in principle, but the execution will not be easy.

"It takes time, the right attitude, and openness from all parties and a sense of responsibility,” said Hadi.

“We have discussed many options in restoring the nation’s political stability. Pas is very experienced. We have joined a coalition government and Pas was also part of Barisan Nasional and we have to enrich our experience, by taking the responsibility of solving our country’s problems,” he added.

He also said that the party has yet to contact any BN leader on his idea.

Hadi added that the idea of forging political cooperation must be seen in a wider context.

“In handling national issues, we are allowed to tahaluf (forming alliance) with any party. Tahaluf not only in the context of opposition parties but in the context of governing the nation, and without us joining BN or BN joining us,” he said.

“I have floated this idea in Selangor at a victory celebration after the general election at Melawati Stadium, but at the time BN wanted to defend their position and Pakatan Rakyat wanted to bring about change its own way,” he added.

Hadi said that with the current economic crisis and political turmoil the time is right for a unity government.

-Malaysia Insider

Pakatan not averse to unity govt if Pak Lah stays on as PM

A call by the Islamic-based PAS for the formation of a unity government to put aside unnecessary negative politicking and focus national resources and attention on weathering the economic crisis has the full backing of the Pakatan Rakyat.

However, there is one all-important condition.

“Broadly speaking, Pakatan is agreeable with the idea and principle of a unity government given the uncharted economic uncertainty facing the nation,” said KeADILan information chief Tian Chua.

“But we are agreeable only, and only if the unity government is under Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. You can see for yourself, it is becoming quite clear, the people are uncomfortable with Najib, and we have to abide by their wishes.”

Put aside differences until next general election?

PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang had said that Barisan Nasional could not on its own pull Malaysia out from the economic crisis.

“To do it fairly it must involve all parties, in times of crisis it is important for all of to carry out our duties collectively,” Hadi was quoted as saying by the Malaysian Insider.

“I wish to suggest to the outgoing Prime Minister to make some changes, to at least complete his agenda in reforming the judiciary, eradicating corruption and I believe Barisan Nasional cannot do it alone.”

Abdullah is due to step down in favour of his deputy Najib Abdul Razak, who is also Finance Minister, on March 31.

The 55-year old Najib is the scion of one of the best-known political families in the country. Despite his distinguished lineage, he himself has been plagued by scandal throughout his 33-year political career.

Lacks the confidence of the people

Although the Umno-led Barisan Nasional no longer commands its long-held two-thirds majority in Parliament, it still has sufficient mandate to push through many programmes. However, it does not enjoy the confidence of the people and has been losing every by-election to the Pakatan since the March 2008 national polls.

The problem lies with the growing unpopularity and public distrust for Najib, who angered many Malaysians earlier this month with a questionable power grab in Perak state, leading to an outbreak of open and intensifying hostilities between the Pakatan and Umno-BN.

When news surfaced early last month that not a single initiative from a RM7 billion economic stimulus plan unveiled on Nov 4 had been implemented yet, public disquiet grew. Only then were steps hurriedly taken to push out RM5 billion in projects disbursements.

Disclosures from Najib’s own cabinet colleagues that chunks of the stimulus package were also to fund special projects in states holding by-elections further fuelled public distaste for his methods - reminiscent of those employed by his mentor, ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad and former economic adviser Daim Zainuddin.

Guilty or not, calls have been growing from the public as well as from civil society for Abdullah to stay on and keep an eye on the economy and the national coffers, as the government prepares to spend unprecedented billions to mitigate what will clearly be the worst-ever economic crisis.

-Suara Keadilan

UPDATE3 Malaysia hikes toll rates by as much as 33% on five major highways

Malaysia will hike toll rates by as much as 33 percent on five of its major highways this Sunday, in a move that is likely to be sharply condemned by consumer groups and commuters.

Works Minister Mohd Zin Mohamed said the government paid RM245 million in compensation to concessionaires to waive the toll hike for last year.

“The increase should not be seen as burdening the people because the quality of the highways will be ensured,” he said in an attempt to deflect the wave of criticism.

Nevertheless, the steep rises are unlikely to sit well with Malaysians, who have become increasingly unhappy with the way the government has been negotiating multi-billion ringgit privatisation deals that favoured corporate bigwigs rather than the man in the street.

“I am appalled by the move. It negates all the fuel price reductions and comes at a time when the people are only starting to feel the economic pain

“It will be a huge burden to commuters and to businesses as well because transportation costs will rise. We cannot discount a cost-transfer and knock-on negative effect to the rest of the economy


Umno Youth Press Karpal For Apology

A group of 15 Selangor Umno Youth members on Thursday stopped DAP chairman Karpal Singh from entering Parliament House here and demanded an apology from the Bukit Gelugor Member of Parliament (MP) for alleging that Umno Youth had sent live bullets to him.

The incident occurred at about 2.30pm and caused tension for 15 minutes when the Umno Youth members and several DAP MPs including Karpal Singh's son, Gobind Singh Deo, who is also the MP for Puchong, challenged each other.

The Umno Youth group, led by Serdang Umno Youth head Ungku Mat Salleh and Petaling Jaya Utara Umno Youth head, Latt Shahrizan Abdullah, also demanded an apology from Karpal Singh for uttering the words "Pemuda Umno Celaka" (Damned Umno Youth) during the debate at the Dewan Rakyat yesterday.

The situation was pacified by BN Backbenchers Club (BNBBC) chairman Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing who asked the group to disperse, and Karpal Singh later entered the Parliament House via the tower block.

Tiong (BN-Bintulu) later told reporters that he regretted the incident that took place at the grounds of Parliament House and hoped that security around the Parliament building would be tightened.

"Regardless whether whether we are from the Barisan Nasional (BN) or opposition, we must respect the existing constitution, don't make any provocation that could arouse the sentiments of others," he said.

At the same time in the Dewan Rakyat, while Datuk Tajuddin Abdul Rahman (BN-Pasir Salak) was debating the motion of thanks on the speech by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Karpal Singh had sought for permission to seek a ruling from the Dewan Rakyat Speaker, Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia, on the police who had not provided protection to him when he was obstructed.

"I want a ruling whether the police were carrying out their job to provide assistance to me. This is unacceptable. What protection you, as a Speaker, will give us, we expect protection from you," he said.

Pandikar Amin said he would meet with Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar and ask the police to investigate the matter.

"I will give a very clear ruling. If it occurs within the grounds of the Parliament House, such a thing has never occurred here.

"I don't allow such things to happen in Parliament like celebrating birthdays because the interest of everyone, especially security must be preserved, this is what I have stressed right from the start," he said.

Pandikar Amin's reply drew a firm response from Karpal Singh who wanted an investigation to be carried out there and then as he claimed the group was still loitering within the grounds of Parliament House.

Pandikar Amin then ordered the Parliament security personnel to maintain security and check the claim by Karpal Singh.

Meanwhile, Karpal Singh, together with Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Ipoh Timur MP Lim Kit Siang, were seen meeting Pandikar Amin in the Dewan Rakyat Speaker's office.

Karpal, when met later, said they had demanded Pandikar to take legal action against the group who had caused the commotion.

He said that Section 9E, Houses of Parliament (Privileges and Powers) Act 1952 provided for "assaulting, obstructing or insulting any member coming to or going from the House or on account of his conduct in the house or endeavouring to compel any member by force, insult, or menace to declare himself in favour of or against any proposition or matter pending or expected to be brought before the house".

He also asked the Speaker to make the ruling at today's session.


Batang Ai, but for whom?

Fate has not intervened in the destiny of Malaysian politics for a while until now. The last time it did, we lost several national leaders in the 1970s, bringing forth Tun Hussein Onn and later Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Since Election 2008 that ended Barisan Nasional's traditional two-thirds parliamentary majority, there have been two parliamentary by-elections and there are a few more by-elections coming due to either deaths or resignations.

At this point in time, it’s the two hills — the Bukit Gantang parliamentary seat and Bukit Selambau state seat in the peninsula — while one batang — the Batang Ai state seat in Sarawak — are up for grabs. The fate of the Bukit Lanjan state seat very much depends on its Pakatan Rakyat representative Elizabeth Wong Keat Ping's political destiny.

Either way, it is a second chance both political coalitions have been looking for since March 2008 although the chaotic constitutional stalemate in Perak now is slowly and possibly developing into emergency rule if a political solution is not found.

Pakatan itself is setting its sights on capturing Sarawak in the next state election due in 2011 but the Sarawak BN under the firm hand of long-serving Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud is equally as confident, boosted by the ruling coalition's takeover of Perak.

It is still unclear which side will prevail at the next state election as Sarawak is still largely rural based and immune from the extreme politicking in Peninsular Malaysia.

The phenomenon of digital democracy is not widespread in Sarawak. Therefore Pakatan does not have the powerful weapon of the Internet to win over enough voters to take power. But they do have thousands of Sarawakians who have left Sarawak to find work in the peninsula to help spread their anti-BN message back to their families.

In my opinion, the problem for the ruling coalition in Sarawak is not the component parties but more of the leader who has overstayed, not unlike the situation former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed faced before 2003.

Taib has two remarkable achievements. He has been chief minister for 28 years and a MP for 38 years, records that are unlikely to be broken in Malaysian political history although Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah is coming close at 35 years in Parliament.

He has done a lot for the people of Sarawak throughout his long service. But his greatness is also his biggest drawback and he has become Sarawak BN's greatest liability, just like Dr Mahathir was to BN before.

He holds the fate of Sarawak BN in his hands. If he can demonstrate significant rejuvenating changes in the party leadership and engineer a smooth transition plan to an acceptable younger person, I believe Sarawak BN will continue to gain the trust of Sarawakians.

The voters of Sarawak are holding their breath waiting for Taib's next move since the March 2008 elections. But it’s been business as usual for the old warrior.

However, the gods, depending on your beliefs and no disrespect meant, intervened last Monday and took the life of BN's Batang Ai assemblyman Datuk Dublin Unting to trigger a by-election.

Maybe the supreme beings are anxious to find out what Sarawak voters are thinking now too and can't wait to see the outcome as much have been debated about the Malaysia's largest state and its next elections.

In that sense, the Batang Ai constituency is homogeneously Dayak and should provide a good test of support for the contesting parties.

Pakatan will be eager to peddle their promise to the Dayaks to turn their collective customary land into freehold individual titles, a wish long denied by the state constitution.

This strategy may succeed in Batang Ai considering the smaller majority of 806 votes that the BN obtained in the 2006 state elections.

But it is still unclear whether the voters there would be enticed by the promises of freedom and land ownership or they would vote for practical reasons.

In the end, the voters of Batang Ai, which is near the Kalimantan border, may not be swayed by Dayak nationalism or be influenced by politics of hate.

They would probably be more interested in development and improving their standard of living. There's no point owning land in a remote area without infrastructure like roads, electricity and water to serve it.

Still, it may be a tough election campaign but Batang Ai is not an indicator of the outcome of the next state election. One swallow does not a summer make and Pakatan's strategy of bestowing land titles to buy Dayak votes or bring anti-BN politics could backfire.

Yet, a BN win in Batang Ai would not necessarily mean victory in the next state polls if Taib does not make the ultimate sacrifice and remove him and his family as a target for Pakatan.

Ironically, the BN may wish that Sarawak still had Rajah Brooke to overcome another political stalemate like Perak finds itself in today if the political situation remains marginal at the next state elections.

While Batang Ai decides aye or nay to either party, Taib too will have to decide his next political move as it could lead to either more ayes or nays for BN.

An aye for an aye, on his part agreeing to quit, could well be the new politics for Malaysia.


PM wants toll hike review

In a surprising turnaround the prime minister has called for his Cabinet to review the new toll rates announced by his government today for five major highways.

Datuk Seri Abdulah Badawi’s remarks will raise the spectre of another flip-flop by the government, and suggests the Barisan National (BN) government has one eye on the up coming by elections.

He said the Cabinet should consider other methods to defer the toll hike as the current economic conditions were “not a good time.”

Just today, Works Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Zin Mohamed announced toll rates will go up at five major highways from March 1.

The government's announcement has already drawn sharp criticism from the Pakatan Rakyat, and is not likely to be received kindly by voters bracing themselves for the full impact of a global recession.

Mohd Zin had said the government had no choice but to allow the toll hike because it was stated in the concession agreements.

Toll rates were supposed to go up last year but the government had asked concessionaires to defer the hike until this year.

With any further deferment, the government would have to pay concession holders compensation .

Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim called the hike an unreasonable burden placed on ordinary Malaysians in light of the gloomy economic outlook.

He also took potshots at the BN government for favouring businessmen.

The announcement of toll hikes follows the revelation two days ago that the government was now subsidising YTL’s Express Rail Link service to KLIA because of concession terms which appear to extend favourable terms to the train operator.

Besides the toll and ERL concessions, the federal government is also embroiled in a tussle over the mandated takeover of private water companies in Selangor whereby concession holders are demanding to raise rates or be paid high compensation.

The BN government will now have its work cut out trying to defend accusations and answer questions about the cosy deals with businessmen which were mostly made during the administration of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

From March 1 the North-South Expressway, Sprint/Kerinchi/Damansara Link Highways, Ampang Elevated Highway, Sungai Besi Highway and the New Pantai Expressway will raise their toll charges.

Users will pay five per cent more to use the North-South Expressway.

The Sprint/Kerinchi/Damansara Link, which is already choked with traffic, will charge between 30 sen and 50 sen more.

The Sungai Besi Highway will see an increase of 10 sen, while users of the Ampang Elevated Highway and the New Pantai Expressway will pay an extra 50 sen and 40 sen respectively.

“The increase was actually due in January last year but we had postponed it until now. This means the government has been paying compensation for 14 months,” the minister said today.