Malaysia’s government on Tuesday scoffed at claims by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim that he had secured a parliamentary majority, dismissing talk of losing power as “the politics of deception”.
Anwar’s opposition coalition said he was seeking immediate talks with beleaguered Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to discuss a handover after convincing enough government MPs to cross the floor.
But Abdullah’s Barisan Nasional coalition insisted on Tuesday that it would stand firm.
“I am confident that the Barisan government will continue to rule,” Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak told journalists.
“This is the politics of deception, deployed to deceive, and clearly it has not become a reality,” Najib said.
Anwar will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. (0600 GMT), but has so far has not named any defectors. None of the government’s 140 MPs have publicly declared for him either.
But the government has come under heavy pressure from the opposition since losing its two-thirds parliamentary majority in March for the first time since independence over half a century ago. Anwar needs 30 MPs to cross the floor to join its 82-strong bloc and seize a majority in the 222-member assembly.
Anwar’s claim to have won over enough MPs was also met with skepticism in the Malaysian press on Tuesday.
“It is the 16th of September, 2008. And we do not know what if anything will happen. We do not know what, if anything is going on,” the pro-government New Straits Times wrote in an editorial.
Anwar, a 61-year old former deputy prime minister, returned to politics in April after being barred following imprisonment on sodomy and corruption charges in the late 1990s.
He faces another trial for sodomy on charges that he says are trumped up and aimed at preventing him from winning power.
Prolonged political uncertainty has unnerved both markets and ordinary people.
“His plans to become PM have caused so much uncertainty and problems in this country. This should not happen in the month of Ramadan, all this talk of power, backstabbing and smearing of reputation,” said Hapsiah Omar, 52, a housewife at a shopping complex in central Kuala Lumpur.
Anwar says that if he forms the next government he will root out corruption and end a system of affirmative action for ethnic Malays, over half of the population in this nation of 27 million people.
The opposition says that the system has not only failed the people it was aimed at helping, but has also created a class of crony businessmen who are dependent on the government.
Anwar’s rise has been mirrored by a sharp fall in the government’s popularity and there have been calls for Abdullah to step down.
The first ministerial resignation since March’s elections came on Monday when the law minister stood down in protest at the use of the draconian Internal Security Act, which allows indefinite detention, to arrest three people, including an opposition MP and a journalist.
The journalist has since been freed.
The United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which is the main force in the 14-party Barisan Nasional government, is to hold a meeting of its ruling council on Wednesday.
Abdullah, who has already said he will hand over power to Najib in 2010, said that he would see out his term.
“The government is strong, we are here to stay,” he said on Tuesday. REUTERS