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Malaysian Appeals Court Deals Setback to the Opposition

Posted in Uncategorized by malaysiasms on May 23, 2009

FROM MALAYSIA TODAY WEBSITE

By James Hookway, The Wall Street Journal

A Malaysian appeals court on Friday granted control of a northern state to the ruling National Front coalition, the latest development in a dispute between Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s government and an opposition alliance led by former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

Some political analysts say Malaysia’s judiciary will play an important role in determining the country’s political future. With Mr. Ibrahim gaining popular support in the past two years, they say, Mr. Najib and the National Front increasingly may rely on the country’s courts to decide disputes over political control.

“It looks like the government is blocking the opposition’s legal roads to power and this ruling will reinforce the belief among many people that the judiciary is compromised in favor of the government,” says James Chin, a political-science professor at the Malaysian campus of Australia’s Monash University.

The dispute over Perak, Malaysia’s second-largest state and a mining center, began in February. According to some political analysts, Mr. Najib persuaded a number of opposition lawmakers to join his party in the Perak state assembly. That gave the National Front coalition a slim majority, prompting Perak’s sultan, Azlan Shah, to oust Nizar Jamaluddin, as chief minister and to award the post to pro-government lawmaker Zambry Abdul Kadir. Mr. Najib’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment after Friday’s verdict. Attempts to reach the sultan’s office for comment were unsuccessful.

Opposition supporters objected, saying their chief minister, Mr. Jamaluddin, could be removed only by his resignation or a no-confidence vote in the Perak legislature. The opposition and Mr. Nizar took the case to court, arguing the sultan has the authority to appoint a chief minister but not to remove one from office.

Malaysia’s High Court ruled in the opposition’s favor earlier this month. The National Front appealed the ruling. Friday’s verdict by the appeals court reversed that decision, prompting analysts and legal experts to say that fresh elections in Perak are the only way to resolve the matter.

“It’s a political problem and should be solved that way,” said Ragunath Kesavan, president of the Malaysian Bar Council, a lawyers’ association.

Mr. Nizar said he plans to challenge the appeals-court ruling.

Malaysia, which has been ruled by the National Front coalition since independence from Britain in 1957, is a constitutional monarchy, with democratically elected lawmakers. The country has a king and each of its 13 states has a royal ruler, or sultan.

The fight over Perak has galvanized opponents of Mr. Najib, eclipsing economic woes as a voter concern. This month, almost 100 people were arrested when protesting the pro-government faction formally taking country of the Perak state legislature.

Meanwhile, the prime minister is struggling to shore up the economy, amid wilting global demand for exports of oil, biofuels and computer parts.

Perak is among five states the opposition won in a 2008 general election. It was the National Front’s worst loss, forcing the early retirement of former Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and the elevation of then-deputy prime minister Mr. Najib to premier in April. The National Front has since lost a number of parliamentary and state by-elections.

Write to James Hookway at james.hookway@wsj.com

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