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February 9, 2009

Defections hit Malaysia opposition

Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim faced calls to quit on Sunday after losing control of a key state to the ruling party when four of his state legislators defected.

Last week the National Front government, in power in Malaysia for 51 years, seized control of Perak, one of five opposition-held states, a move that analysts said would shore up the credibility of incoming premier Najib Razak, Reuters reported.

The defections came after Anwar tried to strengthen the majority of his opposition People's Alliance in Perak by winning over legislators from the main United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party in the poor and disadvantaged state.

Two of the People's Alliance state legislators who switched sides are in court on corruption charges, something that raises questions over whether Najib's promises to reform UMNO and deal with its history of graft will be carried out.

"It's time Pakatan (the People's Alliance) got itself another leader," said Karpal Singh who is Chairman of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), one of three parties in Anwar's People's Alliance coalition.

A defiant Anwar, who leads a three-party opposition embracing Islamists, reformers and the DAP, told 5,000 cheering supporters in Perak that his coalition had not asked him to step aside and vowed to carry on governing the state.

He will also mount a legal challenge to the shift in power.

"Our fate is not decided by people who can be bought over and threatened but is decided by the people," the 61-year old former deputy prime minister said on Sunday.

Malaysia's predictable political scene has been thrown into disarray by the opposition's success in general elections in March last year when it won control of five of 13 states and deprived the government of a two-thirds parliamentary majority.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was forced to say he would step down in March and the opposition has since scored two big by-election wins, including one where Anwar was returned to parliament for the first time in 10 years.

Abdullah will be replaced after March elections in UMNO, the main party in the National Front coalition, by Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak who orchestrated the defections in Perak.

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