Posted by SM Maulana
KUALA LUMPUR, June 21 — It is the summer solstice today — the longest day in the year and for Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, it is another long weekend in politics for him this year.
Datuk Yong Teck Lee, SAPP’s maverick president.
The first was 15 weeks ago on March 8 when his Barisan Nasional coalition was badly mauled in the general election, losing its traditional two-thirds majority in Parliament and five states to a resurgent opposition led by sacked Umno leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
Pak Lah is not taking things lying down.
This weekend sees Abdullah facing down a rebellion by a BN component party — the tiny Chinese-based Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) that promises to file a no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister when Parliament meets on Monday — after weeks of being besieged by similar calls by several Umno leaders.
Abdullah is not taking things lying down. His deputy Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak has warned SAPP lawmakers to toe the line when Parliament reconvenes as all other BN MPs are recalled to defend the Prime Minister while the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) is reopening a case against SAPP’s maverick president Datuk Yong Teck Lee.
The former Sabah chief minister, who claims the ACA probe is selective prosecution for his lack of faith in Abdullah, is also facing a possible split in his party this weekend from deputy president Datuk Raymond Tan, who has opposed the party’s anti-PM vote.
Other government agencies are also dusting off files against trenchant critics and political rivals that have sniped at Abdullah since the poor showing at the polls. Yong’s move to humiliate Abdullah with the no-confidence vote has pushed Abdullah to use his powers of incumbency in his battle for political
Abdullah is not keen for any compromise and when Parliament meets on Monday, expect Abdullah to move his coalition’s majority against the opposition bent on creating a crisis of confidence by hoping to defeat Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk Shahrir Abdul Samad’s motion on price rises.
Notwithstanding the loss of the two SAPP lawmakers, Abdullah will have 138 votes against the Opposition’s 82, including independent MP Datuk Ibrahim Ali.
But this weekend is long and Abdullah is still at a disadvantage,
The overnight 41 per cent jump in pump prices in early June has not endeared him further to an electorate already angry with institutional racial bias, rising prices of goods and crime.
His reform proposals for the judiciary, enforcement agencies and civil service is seen as unnecessary by fellow Umno politicians and not far-reaching enough by political opponents and civil society. His unpopularity is high and approval ratings low.
Abdullah’s time in political office is also slipping day by day as rivals in and out of Umno strategise to ensure he won’t be eligible for the party presidency by denying him the quota of 58 nominations and force him to hand over to deputy Najib as soon as possible.
His chief critic, predecessor Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, wants him out and replaced by Najib more than anything else, even at the expense of protege-turned-nemesis Anwar becoming Prime Minister as BN implodes despite having the majority.
Anwar, alluding to the SAPP duo joining the opposition, has invited other BN MPs to the fold. “Come. Save this country, Malaysia! Let us bring down the BN government,” Anwar told a cheering crowd of 10,000 at the Shah Alam Stadium last night.
Dr Mahathir is looking at Najib combining with Umno vice-president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin for the two top party posts while his son Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir aims for the Umno Youth chief seat in a package to maintain Umno’s control in the government.
The dark horse for the Umno presidency is party veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, who narrowly lost to Dr Mahathir in the 1987 party polls that made Umno illegal. His candidacy could upset any leadership change pact between Abdullah and Najib.
But Najib too is having a long weekend as fresh allegations connect him and family to the murder of a Mongolian model two years ago. His political advisor Abdul Razak Baginda and two elite police escorts are facing murder and abetment charges.
Weblogs — seen as the latest and more lethal poison pen letters in Malaysian political culture — are awash this week with Malaysia Today blog editor Raja Petra Kamaruddin’s statutory declaration claiming that Najib’s wife was at the murder scene.
Najib and wife are said to be mulling possible action against Raja Petra who was arrested recently for sedition about the case. Analysts see the latest twist as another move to force Najib to abandon Abdullah and go for the top job.
Najib has been steadfast in his loyalty to Abdullah even at the risk of being called a coward by Dr Mahathir, who quit Umno in disgust last May in another move to topple Abdullah whom he chose to succeed him when he retired in October 2003.
Dr Mahathir has been agitating the BN MPs to declare themselves independent in Parliament to unseat Abdullah, and the SAPP’s move appears partial to that idea although Yong had once defected from Sabah’s ruling coalition in 1994, ironically at Anwar’s behest.
Yong and the SAPP have yet to decide to quit the BN but their no-confidence vote is just a step away from that decision, and then it’s a short hop to Anwar or to stay it alone, either for the good of Sabahans or personal greed as claimed by Abdullah.
Which leaves Abdullah and Najib to firm their battle plans this weekend for their political survival as the SAPP rebellion is just another step in a journey that could end up with Anwar as Prime Minister come Malaysia Day.