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Mar 14, 2008

Can Anwar become Prime Minister in next few weeks?


KUALA LUMPUR, March 14 – If there is one name that has pushed Barisan Nasional leaders out of their comfort zone and caused confusion and anxiety, it is Anwar Ibrahim.

When he said on Tuesday that the Opposition should be referred to as the government-in-waiting, he was not referring to five years down the road. He was referring to the next few weeks or months.

He knows that if he manages to convince 30 Members of Parliament to cross over, the government of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi will fall.
Since the PKR-DAP-PAS alliance that he cobbled together won big on March 8, taking 52% of the popular vote in Peninsular Malaysia and snaring 82 of the 222 seats in parliament, Anwar has become the most mentioned name in Umno circles.

Along the corridors of powers and in Umno circles, there is a belief that the former deputy prime minister will not rest and settle for second-best, not with the momentum of being a reformer on his side.

He knows that the troops of the BN war machine are demoralised and its leaders still reeling from the psychological scars of Election 2008. He will go for the kill, rattling the coalition’s cage, creating the impression of an inevitable wave that some fickle-minded BN MPs will be tempted to abandon the BN ship and join the Opposition.

An Umno division chief from Pahang, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the information, said: “The talk on the ground is which MPs Anwar is going to approach to join PKR. Everyone says that Sabah and Sarawak MPs are being targeted. But I think everyone except the PM and DPM are targets.’’

Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir, in a letter asking Abdullah to resign, noted that a move has been made to woo BN representatives to join the Opposition. The fear of crossovers is palpable.

Among the senior leaders of BN, the question being asked is this: who can take on Anwar?
Increasingly the view is that no one individual is strong enough to withstand the momentum of the former deputy prime minister. Abdullah is like a general who has been badly wounded in battle. He needs time to recuperate from the deep wounds he suffered – time which he may not have.

If Abdullah steps down and Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak takes over, the latter will be vulnerable to a personal and potentially costly onslaught by Anwar.

During the election campaign, Najib was assailed by Anwar over the murder of the Mongolian model and over a few defence deals. Expect the ferociousness of the attacks to multiply if Najib becomes Number 1 now.

Even the return of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad could be counterproductive.

The Malaysian public believes that Anwar was wronged by Mahathir. This was evident during the election when attempts to paint the former DPM as a charlatan, racist and chameleon failed miserably.

So who can stop Anwar?

Professor Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, a political commentator, says that only a united Umno and BN can hold the line against the Anwar-led Opposition.

“Anwar is pressing BN at 20 different points. Only if they are strong and united can they survive. But can they stay united?’’ he wondered.

The next few weeks will be important. If the new Cabinet catches the imagination of Malaysians, the morale of the ground troops will improve and it will boost the confidence of BN’s leaders.

Otherwise, the grumbling against Abdullah will grow into a crescendo and it may embolden Dr Mahathir or Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah to step forward to “save the party’’ – a situation which could lead to a party split like in 1987.

Such a scenario will be heaven-sent for Anwar.

Umno politicians believe that any upheaval in Umno or BN will convince the weak-hearted that it may be prudent to cross the Parliament floor.

Within the higher reaches of Umno, the strategy appears to be to rally around Abdullah, go down to the ground and get the troops ready for war. But for Umno and BN to prevail over Anwar, they will need a few conditions to be met.

1) Abdullah must be able to hush his band of critics in Umno.

2) Abdullah must be able to inspire the troops on the ground.

3) Abdullah must be a strong leader and reform his party and the country.

4) Anwar and the Opposition need to commit a few major mistakes.

5) For the public to fall out of love quickly with the reform-minded Opposition.


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