By: Our Correspondent

Any
hope that Malaysia's political situation would stabilize with the
April selection of Najib Tun Razak as prime minister appeared to be
dimming this week with the arrest of at least four individuals, one a
political reformer who was charged with sedition, and with
restiveness growing in the northern state of Perak.

Wong
Chin Haut, a spokesman for the reform group Bersih (Clean) was
arrested at his home Tuesday night in Kuala Lumpur after calling a
press conference earlier in the day to urge the public to wear black
Wednesday to protest the takeover of what was then the
opposition-held Perak state government in February after Najib
persuaded three assembly members to quit the opposition coalition
amid charges that their allegiance had been bought.

On
Wednesday, Parti Islam se-Malaysia vice president Mohamad Sabu, Parti
Keadilan Rakyat Youth Leader Badrul Hisham and another unnamed
activist were arrested as well. It isn't known what they were
charged with. Local media reported that Mohamad Sabu had publicly
announced he would seek to hold mass prayers of the PAS followers in
Ipoh over the Perak state assembly sitting.

One
UMNO insider in Kuala Lumpur told Asia Sentinel that he didn't
expect large numbers of rank and file members of the United Malays
National Organization to show up in Perak, although Mohamad's
prayer session was expected to draw large numbers.

"I
think the PAS people with Quran in hand will lie on the streets and
protest but I don't think the Barisan people will be out in
droves," he said.

It
may well be that both of the opposing factions in the assembly will
attempt to physically occupy the seats overnight to keep their
opposite numbers from doing so, he added.

The
burgeoning crisis stems from a standoff in Perak, where the
opposition leader, Mohd Nizar Jamaluddin, refused to give up his
office in November last year despite being ordered to by Sulan Raja
Azlan Shah, the state's titular head, who dissolved the
assembly and designated Zambry Abdul Kadir, an UMNO stalwart, as the
new chief minister.

The
parliamentary standoff has been adding to tension ever since despite
the fact that in a March by-election, Nizar, the head of Perak's
Islam-based Parti Islam se-Malaysia, cleaned Zambry's clock.
Nizar's victory, viewed as a barometer for anti-Barisan feeling
in the state after Najib's tactics in persuading the three
opposition members to change sides, dealt a major propaganda blow to
the Barisan and raised the pressure to preserve the opposition's
hegemony in the statehouse. The sultan, refusing to be intimidated,
recently named Zambry a datuk, a government honorific.

In
addition to seeking to keep the Barisan from taking over the
statehouse as a result of the sultan's decree, the opposition
is also calling for a new state election to end the standoff.
However, after having lost the by-election so decisively, Najib views
calling a new election as untenable.

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"The
Perak situation is very tense," said a Kuala Lumpur-based
political operative for the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition. "The
Barisan Nasional has gone through flaming hoops to try to justify the
legality of its takeover but it appears to have been unsuccessful.
There is a mass protest developing which will happen tomorrow in
Perak."

Concerns
over mass demonstrations in Perak led the police to order the closure
of sections of all major roads leading into Ipoh, 170-odd kilometers
north of Kuala Lumpur, and to warn against demonstrations.

The
assembly is currently deadlocked at 28-28 after the sultan's
dismissal of the opposition leadership. However, the opposition
leadership said it would use parliamentary maneuvers to refuse to
allow the UMNO chief minister appointed by the sultan and six of his
executive council members to attend the new assembly session. If the
seven are barred, that would leave the Barisan with 24 votes,
including the three lawmakers that Najib persuaded to jump ship.

"It
will be very embarrassing for the government if the speaker is able
to reject any legitimacy of the new Barisan chief minister,"
the Kuala Lumpur-based political source said.

The
arrest of Wong and the others is evidence of the rising tension –
as well as a possible indication of how thin Najib's skin is to
insults. Bersih, nominally nonpartisan but often aligned with the
opposition, has grown into a formidable protest organization, leading
demonstrations in November of 2007 that brought tens of thousands
into the streets of Kuala Lumpur, demanding election reform.

At
his press conference, Wong issued a statement asking people to wear
black was aimed at Najib himself. The campaign slogan
"1BlackMalaysia: Democracy first, elections now," is a
direct parody of Najib's new slogan as prime minister:
"1Malaysia: People first, performance now."

Since
his takeover as prime minister in early April, Najib has publicly
attempted to cool tensions, even going so far as to take his wife to
an ethnic Indian area to flip chapattis, the ubiquitous Indian
flatbread. However, he has come into office a crippled prime
minister, partly over a long series of scandals stemming from his
time as defense minister, and partly because UMNO itself is riven
with dissention, the coalition has been weakened by losing four of
five by-elections since national elections last year, and the country
is facing growing economic problems as its export-oriented economy
flags in the face of the global financial crisis.