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February 20, 2009

Malaysia: Opposition accuses govt of bribing legislators

Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim accused the government of bribery in its intensifying efforts to engineer the defection of opposition lawmakers to bolster the power of incoming premier Najib Razak, reported Reuters.

Political tensions between government and opposition have risen in recent weeks after the federal government seized control of the opposition-held northwestern state of Perak with the aid of four defecting legislators from Anwar's alliance.

Anwar, who leads the three-party opposition People's Alliance, told parliament on Thursday that a legislator from the opposition-held state of Kedah had been offered 5 million ringgit ($1.36 million) to join the ruling National Front.

"It's intensifying because Najib is very involved, and he wants to prove a point, that he's going to be an effective, tough leader," Anwar later told reporters in the parliament lobby.

Najib is due to take power at the end of March in this South East Asian country of 27 million people which faces its first recession in eight years as exports plunge due to the global economic slowdown.

The National Front government Najib will lead has been in power for 51 years but stumbled to one of its worst election losses last year under Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi when it lost its two-thirds parliamentary majority.

It has since lost two significant by-elections and one of those saw Anwar, a former deputy prime minister, returned to parliament for the first time in 10 years.

Anwar was imprisoned and barred from office in the late 1990s on what he says were trumped up charges of sodomy and graft.

The attempt to bribe the Kedah state lawmaker followed three other attempts where People's Alliance lawmakers were either bribed or threatened to defect or to resign in the wake of the March 2008 general election, Anwar said.

Another legislator from Anwar's party in opposition-ruled Kedah state resigned recently due to what the legislator said was intense "pressure" from the National Front.

The government has dismissed Anwar's accusations as sour grapes, noting that the opposition leader had sought to engineer defections from National Front MPs when he wanted to take power at a national level in September last year.

A spokesman from Najib's office described Anwar's allegations on Wednesday as "baseless and unfounded".

"Anwar attacks is to deflect public attention from the problems within PKR (People's Alliance) and his embarrassment for failing to take over the federal government on September 16," the spokesman said.

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