The high drama surrounding the collapse of the Perak state government yesterday is set to deepen the country’s political despair and distract the government from tackling the effects of a worsening global recession.

Here is why:

The decisive execution of the Perak takeover by the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition offers a glimpse into the street-fighting instincts of incoming premier Datuk Seri Najib Razak. This could mark a departure from the less confrontational brand of politics practised by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who is set to step down late next month.

A humiliated Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the de-facto leader of the opposition, is unlikely to accept the Perak takeover quietly. Outfoxed by his chief nemesis, Anwar could raise the stakes by mounting a counter-offensive against the BN and pushing on to woo government-elected representatives to his opposition alliance.

The Pakatan Rakyat alliance consists of his multiracial political organisation Parti Keadilan Rakyat, conservative Pas and the Chinese-led DAP.

The twists and turns leading to yesterday’s collapse of the Perak government have exposed the frailty of the ideologically diverse opposition alliance Anwar heads. He will need to keep his guard up and ensure that the remaining four states under opposition control do not fall because of defections of its elected representatives to the 13-party BN.

With more political brinkmanship expected in coming months, the big loser will be the Malaysian economy. International stockbroking firm CLSA says that Malaysia will slip into a recession this year, with the economy set to contract by as much as 5 per cent — the most severe contraction in the country’s post-independence history.

This latest estimate, released this week, is down from the group’s original estimate that the economy will grow by 1.5 per cent, against the government’s projection of 3.5 per cent.

The opposition’s imminent loss of the Perak state assembly is likely to be confirmed today if the Sultan of Perak accepts the new BN government and does not call for fresh elections.

It has come about because of the defection of three elected opposition representatives to BN and the return of another state assemblyman who only last week defected to the opposition.

How the four were won over by the BN is not known. Two of the former opposition politicians are facing corruption charges.

The collapse of the Perak government magnifies the unsettled state of Malaysia’s political landscape, shaken by the general election in March last year when the BN lost four states, bringing the total held by the opposition to five. BN also lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament.

Since then, the governing coalition that has ruled Malaysia uninterrupted for 51 years has struggled to regain its footing.

In the initial months after the polls, the coalition — headed by Umno — was wracked by fears that some of its people would defect to the opposition.

Its slumping morale hit new lows with devastating electoral defeats in the Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat in Penang, which saw the return of Anwar to Parliament.

And it lost again last month in the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary constituency in Terengganu, a seat previously held by Umno.

The developments this week in Perak underscore Umno’s concerted move to rob the opposition of the momentum it has enjoyed since last March.

Najib’s recapture of Perak will no doubt win him admiration and respect in Umno, even as detractors will question his methods.

But it is unlikely to win back the admiration of Malaysians already unhappy with the bitter politics that caused them to desert the ruling coalition in droves at the last elections.

Some say Anwar invited onto his opposition alliance what he himself had sought to do the ruling coalition, thus far without any success. Since March he has claimed that he would get enough MPs from the BN to defect and help him topple the federal government. But that plan never materialised.

Yesterday, a beaming Najib declared that what BN had done in Perak was no different from Anwar’s tactics to encourage defections.

The tit-for-tat manoeuvring looks set to continue. Perak is not the only roiled state. Opposition-held Kedah is said to be a target as well, while Anwar and his alliance are said to be keen on getting defections from BN-held Negri Sembilan.

Ironically, the harshest attack against Umno of its takeover of Perak through defections came from former strongman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

The ex-premier chastised the government he once led for accepting two former opposition leaders who are facing corruption charges.

“If they are accepted now and then found not guilty, the so-called Umno-led government will be accused of influencing the court,” he wrote on his widely-followed blog. “True or not does not matter as the public’s perception is such.”

He argued that it would hurt BN’s performance in the next general election.

For now, though, it looks like both sides will be caught in protracted fighting that can only get uglier. — Straits Times