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Malaysia’s coalition government cracked down hard on a troublemaking minor coalition member party June 26, for proposing to introduce a vote of no-confidence against Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. This is likely an attempt to ward off a Trojan Horse strategy that opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is using to exploit the fissures inside the ruling body.
Malaysia’s 14-party Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition government moved to rein in a troublemaking minor coalition member party on June 26, when BN leaders gave the offending Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) 30 days to explain its recent proposals to introduce a vote of no-confidence against Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak confirmed that the SAPP’s response will determine how severely it is disciplined.
Having secured majority support from within its coalition, and being relatively confident that no significant bloc will break away in the coming weeks, the Malaysian leadership is moving to crack down hard on the most vocal dissenters among its ranks. The BN is hoping to stop the worsening intra-government disarray that first started snowballing after elections in March, in which Abdullah’s ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) lost its powers of unilateral policymaking.
The ruling coalition is currently juggling multiple internal and external challenges. It is trying to bring the government budget back into balance despite rising inflation and win over a public soured by the government’s continuing failure to improve living standards, all while fending off almost-weekly political attacks from opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad .
So far, Abdullah’s government is succeeding at keeping the first two challenges at bay, with an ambitious plan to reform its expensive fuel subsidy program , and promises of real-time cash handouts and other subsidies funneled to the most potentially volatile social groups to appease the resultant public anger. It remains to be seen, however, whether these initiatives will be enough to keep the BN comfortably in power.
The Malaysian leadership also appears to have kept Mahathir contained thus far by retaining the loyalty of the only other viable internal replacement for Abdullah: his deputy, Najib. Although Mahathir still commands influence within the ruling coalition, loyalty to him appears to have been superseded by a desire to prevent the UMNO party from self-destructing.
Anwar, on the other hand, poses one of the most serious risks that the current Malaysian leadership faces. He hopes to gain power by exploiting existing fissures inside the ruling government, and has cleverly been using behind-the-scenes dialogue with factions inside the ruling coalition (such as the SAPP), plus well-timed media leaks, to keep Abdullah constantly off-balance.
But, despite his claims to the contrary, Anwar has not yet secured enough would-be defectors to topple the prime minister from underneath. In fact, premature media leaks about the identities of coalition members considering moving to Anwar’s camp might have persuaded the more conservative parliamentarians to stay with Abdullah. One of the most critical coalition groups that Anwar has been trying to woo — the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), which holds 15 seats to the SAPP’s two — has decided to stay loyal to the ruling coalition. As such, the next-best strategy Anwar can use is to send in what support he has (that is, the SAPP) as a sort of Trojan Horse to maximize the intra-government disarray ahead of a larger-scale political attack, to be launched most likely in 2009.
Abdullah understands what Anwar is doing. With the MCA under his belt, the prime minister is now moving fast to crack down on the smaller remaining potential troublemakers before Anwar’s plan can come to fruition.