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BN MPs Fly Off For Agriculture Study Trip

An official says more than 50 Barisan Nasional MPs are travelling together to Taiwan amid jitters about opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s threat to recruit enough defectors from the government to seize power by next week.

The opposition has accused the BN ruling coalition of sending its MPs overseas to keep them away from Anwar and to prevent him from enlisting government legislators to join the opposition by Sept 16 — the date he has vowed to take power.

Tiong King Sing, chairman of the BN Backbenchers Club, said more than 40 lawmakers flew to Taiwan for an agricultural study tour today and that around 10 more will join them tomorrow. The trip will stretch through next week, but there is no confirmed date for their return.

Tiong denied the visit was timed to foil Anwar’s threat.

Top government leaders earlier defended an overseas trip planned for Barisan Nasional MPs over the next two weeks, dismissing speculation that it was to prevent their defection to the opposition.

“Why connect their trip to the Sept 16 issue? They are not the ones planning to jump and leave the BN,” said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

“We will not give them the opportunity to set up government on Sept 16,” Abdullah said.

The Deputy Premier, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, confirmed that he had approved the trip from Sept 7 to 19 organised by the BN Backbenchers Club for its 75 members.

Sept 16 is the date on which opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim claimed that he would topple the BN government with help of at least 30 BN defectors.

Despite their denials, the coincidental timing swiftly cemented the impression of a panicky BN, as rumours spread wildly yesterday that the first wave of crossovers was imminent.

Even national news agency Bernama had to issue a denial that it had sent a text message that seven BN component parties were holding a news conference to announce that they were quitting the coalition.

Observers say the trip appears to suggest a government losing confidence in itself, and this will increase the pressure on Abdullah to resign and hand over leadership to restore public confidence.

He won a reprieve after announcing that he would retire in mid-2010 but Anwar’s landslide victory in the Permatang Pauh by-election has triggered fresh calls for the Prime Minister’s resignation.

An Umno MP was dismayed to find out that Abdullah and Najib had endorsed the trip which he had initially believed was a frolic of the backbenchers’ club.

“My god. We should not create an unnecessary perception that we are afraid of Anwar, and look like we are panicking,” he told The Straits Times.

Yesterday, the vocal Chinese-based Gerakan party threw in another shocker when its acting president Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon said it will review its position in the BN if Umno failed to restore people’s confidence.

Gerakan, which has two MPs, had stayed loyal to the BN, to the point of near rebellion from its grassroots.

“We will give a reasonable timeframe, then we will see the situation,” Koh said.

The party was among those rumoured to be announcing a crossover. After speculation spread like wildfire, seven of the smaller BN component parties especially from Sabah and Sarawak were forced to deny a mass defection.

The BN coalition has 14 component members.

Observers suggest that the rumours could be part of a psychological war by the opposition to diminish confidence in PM Abdullah’s government.

The opposition has hinted that 40 MPs are ready to move, although so far, there has been no sign of any movement.

As Sept 16 draws closer, rumours have become so rife that it has become impossible to separate fact from fiction. It is speculated that Kelantan prince Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah may be asked to lead the new government.

Tengku Razaleigh, who is challenging Abdullah for the Umno presidency on a platform of reform, has maintained that he will stand by Umno, and has urged the BN component parties to do the same.

The BN Backbenchers Club chairman Tiong King Sing, an MP from Sarawak, who organised the overseas visit, denied that it had anything to with Anwar.

He said it was an “agriculture study” to look at technologies to increase farm output. The destination had not been confirmed.

“It is a suitable time for us to go on the trip,” he said, referring to the Parliament’s six-week break for Ramadan.

The speculation was that the MPs would be brought to Australia or New Zealand.

Source: AFP and The Straits Times

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