Opposition-held Perak was in the grip of political turmoil yesterday, with its chief minister Nizar Jamaluddin refusing to resign despite being told to do so by the state’s ruler.

Sultan Azlan Shah acted after four assemblymen in Datuk Nizar’s coalition defected.

Mr Nizar, who has helmed the state government for 11 months, maintained that he was still its legal head, and said he would go to office today.

But police have taken over the State Secretariat building, which houses the state’s administration, and instructed leaders in the chief minister’s coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, to surrender property such as cars and keys. They were also asked to vacate the premises.

Mr Nizar, however, remained holed up in the chief minister’s residence with other Pakatan leaders.

Police said the situation was under control but reports indicated otherwise, with shops closing early and employers allowing their staff to return home before time.

In a show of force, the opposition coalition held a rally in Ipoh last night at the chief minister’s residence, drawing several thousand supporters.

Mr Nizar has said he would appeal to the Sultan to call fresh elections to allow the people of Perak to choose their government following the defections of his four colleagues in the state assembly.

‘I was asked by the Perak Sultan to resign but I told him I did not intend to do so,’ he said yesterday.

‘I explained to his Majesty that following a guidebook that the Perak Sultan had written on the monarchy, the Sultan should follow my advice as leader of the House to dissolve the assembly.’

Sultan Azlan, a highly respected ruler and once top jurist in the country, yesterday refused Mr Nizar’s request to dissolve the state assembly for fresh polls, and instead ordered him and his executive council to step down.

He did so after the four defectors jumped ship on Wednesday, with one assemblyman rejoining the Barisan Nasional (BN) just 10 days after he had defected to the opposition’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat. The other three became independents who supported the BN.

This has left Pakatan and BN with 28 seats each, and three independents supporting the BN.

Deputy Premier Najib Razak met the Sultan yesterday morning to inform him that the BN had the numbers to form the new government.

In a statement, the Sultan’s office said the ruler was convinced Mr Nizar had ceased to command the confidence of the majority of the state assembly members.

‘If Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin does not resign his post as Perak Menteri Besar together with the members of the state executive council, the posts of menteri besar and state executive councillors are considered vacant,’ the statement said.

The Sultan will swear in the BN government today with Pangkor assemblyman Zambry Abdul Kadir, an outspoken intellectual, as the new chief minister.

Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi urged the opposition coalition to accept the change of government. ‘They should accept it just as we had accepted the results of the general election,’ he said.

But this seems unlikely to happen.

Soon after Mr Nizar met the Sultan yesterday, top Pakatan leaders – including opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim – rushed to the chief minister’s official residence from all corners of the country.

They huddled in a meeting to plan their next move, even as Datuk Seri Abdullah headed to the palace to meet the Sultan with the name of the new chief minister.

The Pakatan leaders emerged from their meeting to declare that they would remain firm. They questioned the validity of the ‘power grab’, claiming that the three independent assemblymen no longer held their posts, and therefore could not defect.

The three had given pre-signed resignation letters in March last year which Pakatan used to declare that they had resigned from their seats, but the Election Commission refused to recognise the letters.

The commission also refused to hold by-elections to fill the seats. The opposition coalition has a very good chance of retaining these seats if polls are held.

To bolster their case, Pakatan yesterday filed a suit in the High Court, and said the takeover should not happen until a ruling is obtained.

‘The BN’s majority may not be a valid one,’ said Mr Nizar.

Given the strong public sentiment against the BN’s victory through defections, the stand-off promises to remain tense over the next few days, as the BN takes power.

THE STRAITS TIMES