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We have the numbers to win, says Anwar

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 16 - Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's fate was hanging in the balance after opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim claimed last night he had secured the necessary backing to topple the prime minister by his self-imposed deadline of today.

Abdullah's woes were compounded by a key minister submitting his resignation yesterday and the ruling Umno split over when the prime minister should quit his post.

"We have the numbers to defeat BN," Anwar told a rally of up to 10,000 supporters last night. "Tomorrow is D-day, we are ready to form the government."

After landmark March elections that saw the opposition dramatically increase its seats in Parliament, Anwar set today as the deadline to oust the coalition by persuading at least 30 lawmakers to defect.

"Our representatives have delivered a letter to Abdullah to demand a meeting - to discuss the future of politics in Malaysia and the handover of power," he said. "We have the numbers but we want to meet Abdullah, show him the evidence and work out a handover because we want a peaceful transition."

Tian Chua, information chief of his PKR party, said the three-member opposition alliance had secured a simple majority in Parliament and that more government lawmakers would defect later.

But he said there were concerns that the coalition would stoke conflict to justify a crackdown to keep itself in power.

De facto Law Minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim yesterday tendered his resignation over the use of controversial security legislation in the weekend arrests of an opposition politician, a blogger and a reporter.

"He has resigned over the ISA issue," an aide to Zaid said, referring to the Internal Security Act, which allows indefinite detention without trial.

Abdullah said he did not accept Zaid's resignation and told him to "think carefully".

Zaid told the New Straits Times newspaper that the Act was open to abuse. "If we cannot be fair in implementing it, then we should confine its use to terrorists," he said.

The DAP planned to file a court application to free its lawmaker, Teresa Kok Suh Sim, who was arrested under the Act after allegedly complaining about the noise of prayers from a mosque.

Abdullah is also under fire from other members of his party, with some senior leaders publicly calling on him to quit in December at the party conference, instead of handing power to his deputy Datuk Seri Najib Razak in 2010, as he preferred.

"There is no other way for Umno. He has to go now or we end up as history," said Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, a former finance minister who plans to challenge Abdullah for the post of party president, which brings with it the prime ministership. "Umno does not need him any more. He has to go now."

Umno vice-president and Trade Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said: "I feel bad to ask him to leave soon - but otherwise Umno cannot reform and win back lost ground."

Abdullah's supporters, meanwhile, are rallying behind him. "The top Umno leaders had endorsed the 2010 plan and should not question [it], they should honour it," Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk Shahrir Samad said.

"They should not embarrass [Abdullah]."

Abdullah has to secure the nominations of 58 of the 197 Umno divisions to allow him to run again for Umno president in December. Failing that, he would be disqualified from the race and would automatically cease to be prime minister. But he is thought too weak politically to win the nominations by himself.

In May, Najib pledged total support for Abdullah, but on Thursday stepped back, saying the 2010 handover plan had to be endorsed by all Umno divisions.

Some Umno members saw the statement as a signal that he was prepared to abandon Abdullah and take over in December.

With the increasing infighting in UMNO, Zaid's resignation, Muhyiddin and Ku Li's challenge, and Najib's uncertain challenge for the top post, UMNO looks to be pretty weak and fractured at the moment. If there is a time for Anwar to snatch and consolidate his power, it is now, and he has to act fast.

Stay tuned for more news on the meeting between Badawi and Anwar, which is tipped to start the processes for Pakatan Rakyat to take power.