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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Malaysians Go to Taiwan Amid Strife


Published: September 8, 2008

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — The Malaysian ruling party flew more than a third of government lawmakers to Taiwan on Monday in a hastily arranged trip, ostensibly to study farming techniques.

But the trip was widely interpreted as a desperate government effort to try to stop lawmakers from shifting their support to Anwar Ibrahim.

Mr. Anwar, the country’s most prominent opposition figure, won re-election to Parliament last month after a 10-year absence and needs 30 more seats to oust the current government and form his own. His National Justice Party is openly wooing members of the ruling coalition.

Salehuddin Hashim, the National Justice secretary general, called the trip a “kidnapping” meant to protect the coalition, Barisan National, or National Front, which has ruled Malaysia for 51 years but is fracturing.

“This has obviously nothing to do with agriculture,” Mr. Salehuddin said. “It’s a very clear sign of the anxieties and insecurities inside Barisan.”

Top officials have dismissed the challenge by the opposition as unrealistic. But they have also publicly asked government lawmakers to sign pledges of allegiance to the ruling coalition.

Officials insisted Monday that the weeklong trip by about 50 members of Parliament was strictly for study purposes.

“We are going to Taiwan to study about agriculture,” Bung Mokhtar Radin, a member of Parliament from the eastern state of Sabah, told Reuters. “There’s nothing political about this trip.”

But Tricia Yeoh, director of the Center for Public Policy Studies, a Malaysian research group, said the trip would give Barisan officials an opportunity to try to dissuade potential defectors. “The Barisan government is really grasping at straws,” she said.

- New York Times


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