Practising in Perak
May 14th 2009 | BANGKOK
From The Economist print edition
For federal battles to come
WHEN three legislators in Perak, one of five of opposition-ruled Malaysian states, switched sides in February, overturning a narrow majority in the 59-seat assembly, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) was cock-a-hoop. After a big electoral setback last year, the long-dominant UMNO was at last taking the fight to the opposition, led by its nemesis, Anwar Ibrahim, a former deputy prime minister. Loyalists credited the defections, reportedly induced by the threat of corruption probes, to the bare-knuckle tactics of Najib Razak, since sworn in as prime minister in place of the mild-mannered Abdullah Badawi. Taking back Perak was just the start, UMNO snarled.
Perak was indeed the start of something, but not the rollback of Malaysia’s opposition, as foreseen by UMNO and its ruling coalition partners. Instead it has snowballed into a constitutional crisis that reveals the wobbly underpinnings of a democracy yet to be tested by a handover of power at the federal level. On May 7th, amid scuffles at Perak’s parliament, UMNO’s man was installed as chief minister. Scores of people were arrested, including the speaker of the house, who was bundled away by plainclothes police. He had objected to the takeover as it had never been put to a vote in the assembly.