Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has vowed to entice 30 Members of Parliament to join his coalition and unseat the government next Tuesday. But can any of those pols jump ship if they’re not in the country?
Earlier this week, more than 40 of the ruling National Front coalition’s 140 MPs flew to Taiwan for an agricultural “study tour.” All backbenchers, nearly half hail from Sabah and Sarawak, the Borneo Island states with a clutch of MPs rumored to be considering Mr. Anwar’s offer. The state-run Bernama News Agency reported that the group is expected to return next Wednesday or Thursday — which happens to be after Mr. Anwar’s Tuesday deadline.
The government, from Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak to the backbencher caucus that organized the excursion, denies a link between the trip and Mr. Anwar’s time line. The opposition thinks otherwise. Mr. Anwar said Tuesday that the opposition could “postpone” its takeover bid.
Whatever the real reason behind it, the timing of this trip hasn’t done much to engender confidence in Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s government. Mr. Abdullah has already showed signs of his unease in recent weeks as the opposition movement has gained momentum. Late last month, his government banned a popular pro-Anwar news portal. In late July, he implied that Mr. Anwar could use corrupt practices to “entice” MPs to join the opposition. Mr. Anwar denies he would do such a thing.
If Mr. Abdullah really wanted to prove that his ruling coalition can withstand a challenge from Mr. Anwar, then he could have exerted some executive influence and convinced the backbenchers to stick around and vote with his side. But perhaps some good will come of all this. After all, the MPs are in Taiwan, one of Asia’s most vibrant democracies. Maybe they’ll learn something.