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Mar 19, 2008

Wanita Umno, Sabah warlords signal unhappiness

Wanita Umno, Sabah warlords signal unhappiness and Anwar claims dozen BN MPs ready to defect

KUALA LUMPUR, March 19 – Wanita Umno is restless. Some Sabah component parties are unhappy. And Anwar Ibrahim believes that he can persuade at least 12 Barisan Nasional MPs to change colours, narrowing the gap between between the government and Opposition to 18 seats.

These are some of the rumblings on the ground since Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi announced his Cabinet line-up yesterday.

There has been generous praise for some of his choices, notably the selection of Datuk Zaid Ibrahim as de facto Law Minister, Datuk Shahrir Samad as Domestic and Consumer Affairs Minister and Datuk Amirsham Aziz as the Economic Planning Unit Minister, as well as grudging respect for his decision to drop veterans Rafidah Aziz and Tengku Adnan Mansor.

But below the surface, some segments of Umno and BN are seething.

Supporters of Rafidah Aziz in Wanita Umno made threatening noises yesterday, demanding to know why the leader of their wing had been asked to give up her International Trade and Industry portfolio. They were peeved at the perceived snub towards the contribution of Wanita Umno, noting that only one ministerial position was given to their candidate (Datuk Azalina Othman Said).

The mercury level dropped a notch or two only when news filtered out of Putrajaya that Wanita Umno number 2 Datuk Shahrizat Jalil had been made special advisor to the PM on Women’s Affairs and Community Development. Still the festering problem between Wanita Umno and the PM is not over yet.

Rafidah is expected to wash some dirty linen at a press conference today, where she could make public her analysis on why BN lost so many seats to the Opposition. In the past, the combative politician has blamed Abdullah for listening to his advisers. Umno officials say that they expect the noise from Rafidah’s camp to become lower after a few days. After that, she could join forces with Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and other critics of Abdullah.

Abdullah is set to meet senior members of the women’s wing this evening to try and head off a political storm he can do without.

Another problem is brewing in Sabah, the state that delivered big for BN in the elections. The Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) leaders are wondering why their winning candidates in the polls were not given positions in the Cabinet when other lesser Sabah parties such as Liberal Democratic Party and Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah obtained a deputy minister-ship each.

In Election 2008, SAPP won two parliamentary seats, PBRS (one) and the LDP (one). Officials of the SAPP are expected to air their unhappiness today. There has also been unhappiness by some Umno warlords over the division of Cabinet positions. The prevailing sentiment is that Umno’s superb performance in Sabah should have been recognised with one or two more ministers’ posts.

There are three Sabah ministers in the Cabinet – Tan Sri Bernard Dompok (PM’s Department), Datuk Shafie Apdal (Culture, Heritage) and Datuk Maximus Ongkili (Science, Technology and Innovation). Datuk Anifah Aman who was given the deputy Transport Minister’s portfolio felt that he should have been made a full minister.

He and Tengku Azlan Abu Bakar (Deputy Foreign Minister) made unsuccessful representations to Abdullah yesterday.

The million-ringgit question is whether the bubbling unhappiness among some component parties and individuals in BN would persuade them to join the Anwar Ibrahim bandwagon. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has claimed that many lawmakers BN want to defect to his camp after their election debacle.

Anwar has said that he was approached by many MPs but has ruled out using money to luring them across the Parliament floor.

Buying political support, especially by paying voters money, is common in Malaysia, and bribing lawmakers to defect, while not widespread, is known to occur.

The 3-party opposition alliance put together by Anwar won an unprecedented 82 seats in the 222-member Parliament in the election. It needs 30 more MPs to get a majority needed to unseat Abdullah’s government.

Umno sources say that they doubt that Anwar can snare 30 members, believing that he would be able to get as many as 12 or 15 defections. But that calculation could be as out of whack as their predictions for the general elections, where they were confident that only 55 parliamentary seats would fall to the Opposition.

Unless Abdullah can quell the rumblings on the ground over the Cabinet appointments and the division of the spoils of victory, Anwar could be looking at rich pickings. – THE MALAYSIAN INSIDER


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