Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Minister walks as pressure piles up on Malaysia’s PM

From The Age

MALAYSIAN opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim moved closer to a parliamentary showdown yesterday as the embattled Government suffered another blow when its law minister resigned.

Zaid Ibrahim, a minister assisting Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi on legal affairs, resigned over last week’s arrest of two journalists and an opposition member of parliament under the Internal Security Act.

Mr Zaid said the Government was wrong to use the act, which allows indefinite detention without trial.

This came as Mr Anwar was convening a mass meeting in a Kuala Lumpur sports stadium last night to protest against the arrests. Mr Anwar has predicted that enough MPs of the ruling Barisan Nasional, or National Front, will cross to his People’s Alliance coalition for him to form government.

In recent days Mr Anwar has suggested the September 16 deadline for this is not fixed, but sources close to his headquarters said he already had firm promises from about 37 MPs now in Barisan.

The parliament is in recess for the Islamic fasting month, so any immediate shift in power would depend on Mr Anwar persuading the King, Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin, that he has a majority.

Mr Zaid’s resignation, which was not immediately accepted by Mr Abdullah, came after the arrests of internet political blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin, an opposition Democratic Action Party MP Teresa Kok, and for one night, Sin Chew Daily reporter Tan Hoon Cheng.

At the same time, the Government issued “show-cause notices” to three newspapers under a press law requiring annual renewal of publishing licences and lets authorities suspend or withdraw licences for public order threats.

Originally enacted in 1960 to fight a long-running communist insurgency, the Internal Security Act allows police to hold and interrogate a suspect for 60 days, and for the Home Minister to authorise detention without trial for renewable periods of two years. But the latest arrests have rebounded on the Government, with Mr Zaid among half a dozen ministers and Barisan’s smaller parties voicing criticism.

“Rightly or wrongly, the perception about the latest arrests is that it’s related to the political situation of the country,” said Malaysian Bar Council president Ambiga Sreenevasan. “Certainly the intention is intimidation and to put fear into people so that they are more careful in the comments that they make.

“It is really a direct threat to the freedom of speech, and very telling that a blogger and a journalist have been held.”