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Friday, August 30, 2013

UNITY TALKS: A major concession from Anwar, all eyes now on Najib's response

UNITY TALKS: A major concession from Anwar, all eyes now on Najib's response
KUALA LUMPUR - Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim has stirred up a storm with his eve of Merdeka (Independence Day) speech, which has been interpreted by some parties as accepting the results of the 13th general elections and signalling his willingness to consider forming a unity government with Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Over the past few weeks, it has been widely reported that Najib had approached former Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla to broker a deal with Anwar, where Anwar would be made Deputy Prime Minister and his PKR party given 4 slots in the federal Cabinet.
Anwar has nixed the proposal, saying that PKR would not abandon its Pakatan Rakyat partners DAP and PAS.
Najib too has come out to deny having made such a proposal to the Opposition Leader.
Testing the waters
There is obviously great trepidation on both sides of the political divide as a unity government is uncharted territory in Malaysia. Moreover, Najib is facing a crucial party election in October, which could result in his losing further support from members especially those belonging to the right-wing informally led by former premier Mahathir Mohamad.
Given the high stakes involved, seasoned observers believe that what both Anwar and Najib are now doing is to test the waters before taking the next step forward.
Many experts believe some form of national reconciliation is essential if Malaysia is to get out of its current economic and social troubles. However, to what extent and whether a fully-fledged unity government can ever reach fruition remains to be seen.
Watershed in Malay and Malaysian politics
For Najib, if he is able to swing through a deal with the Pakatan Rakyat, it would be a defining moment for both the nation and himself. It would cement his legacy of being the Malay leader who finally managed to unite the Malays, who have been split by Mahathir's shock sacking and jailing of Anwar in 1998.
Any bid at unification is bound to be welcomed by many Malaysians who want to see the nation get moving again. Indeed, the country has been sickened, while the government held ransom, by a spate of religious and racial attacks launched by extremist groups with links to the powerful hardline factions within Umno.
In his eve of Merdeka speech, Anwar called for a roundtable between the Barisan Nasional and the Pakatan Rakyat. He called on all parties to set aside political differences and place top priority on the rising racial polarization, religious bigotry, crime in the country as well as the weakening economic prospects.
What Anwar said in the Q&A
In the question-and-answer that followed, Anwar gave many open-ended answers that were seized on by various quarters to spin out the view that they favored.
"We have not given any conditions as to where but it must be transparent. I'm not keen to have a secretive rendezvous. It must be a transparent meeting inviting all the BN and Pakatan Rakyat leaders in a friendly and conducive manner," was Anwar's answer when asked where would the roundtable be held.
"The purpose is because we recognize the sliding economy, the precarious racial and religious relations partly instigated by certain quarters, the crazy threat to public safety due increased crime rate and the lack of leadership in dealing with these issues, including condoning or tolerating the endemic corruption in this country," Anwar replied, when asked what would be the purpose of such a roundtable.
"No, we are saying there is a need to have an open engagement on issues and this is done in any democratic country. Umno leaders must not think in terms of the old mind-set that they are masters of all. They must accept that like it or not, the majority by sheer numbers have said they want a change and there must be a fair exchange. The least we are asking is that we must be heard and I can assure Prime Minister Najib there will be a conducive environment in these sort of exchanges. But I don't think we are going to talk in terms of national government. Policy issues,economic issues, crime - let us listen and get these going," said Anwar when asked if he was proposing a unity government.
"We have stated repeatedly that while we have the mandate from the majority (of voters) but we can put this aside and even the fraud of the Election Commission for the sake of matters of national importance, where racial and religious issues are being played up with greater intensity, economic issues that are starting to gain force and crimes issues that are becoming a problem in every part of the nation, the lack of accountability in governance especially corruption in tenders and such. This is why we call on Najib to hold a roundtable to resolve the issues in an open way and we will give our full co-operation," Anwar said when asked if he would agree to accept the results of the controversial tainted 13th general election.
Najib has pointedly said several times that accepting the GE13 outcome would be the first concession the Opposition would have to make before opening the door to national reconciliation.
Malaysia Chronicle

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