Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Malaysia’s Anwar is free at last

But will the erstwhile opposition leader really be able to co-exist with new premier and former nemesis Mahathir Mohamad?


Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia’s twice-jailed former opposition leader, walked free on Wednesday afternoon, bringing an end to a tumultuous legal saga that saw the iconic politician incarcerated on sodomy charges that critics and observers have long regarded as politically motivated.

Emerging from a hospital in Kuala Lumpur where he had been receiving treatment following shoulder surgery last November, Anwar smiled and waved to supporters before being whisked away for an audience with Sultan Muhammad V, Malaysia’s constitutional monarch, or Yang di-Pertuang Agong. The sultan gave Anwar a full royal pardon.

Anwar’s expedited release is yet another stunning development in Malaysia’s politics following the shock election victory of the Pakatan Harapan coalition earlier this month, ending the uninterrupted six decade rule of the once-dominant Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition and returning former leader Mahathir Mohamad to the premiership.

Mahathir, who previously governed Malaysia for 22 years as prime minister, was the first to greet Anwar upon his arrival at the national palace. The scene signaled a new chapter in the volatile and dramatic relationship between the two politicians, who have been both political allies and bitter rivals at different intervals of Malaysia’s recent history.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

The shape of things to come under Mahathir 2.0

Malaysia's 92-year-old new premier has moved swiftly against his scandal-plagued predecessor Najib Razak, setting the tone for a new political era


A new era has dawned for Malaysian politics with the once opposition, now ruling Pakatan Harapan at the helm of government after a shock May 9 election result few experts foresaw. And it’s first hours in power have already produced a string of dramatic events.

In a stunning reversal of fortunes, the once-dominant Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition garnered just over one-third of the national vote, bringing an end to its uninterrupted 61-year rule. Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad – an iconic former prime minister who led the BN coalition for 22-years – was again sworn in as premier, this time as Harapan’s chairman.

Malaysians greeted the extraordinary events with jubilance, celebrating in the streets and waiting with baited breath for Mahathir, 92, to take his oath. Electoral gains by Harapan, an unlikely coalition of former rivals and adversaries who set differences aside to end BN’s scandal-plagued rule, have since turned the country’s political landscape on its head.

As nonagenarian Mahathir began his first non-consecutive term as premier, ousted leader Najib Razak retreated into quiet as the first Malaysian premier to ever lose a general election, a stunning fall from grace that forced his resignation as head of the once-ruling BN and its lynchpin party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO).

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Mahathir wins in shock election result in Malaysia

Ex-premier's Harapan alliance decisively ends Prime Minister Najib Razak's Barisan Nasional coalition's 61-year run in power


Voters in Malaysia have elected a new federal government for the first time in history. Malaysia’s Pakatan Harapan opposition alliance, led by ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad, has claimed a stunning victory, bringing an end to the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition’s uninterrupted 61-year rule.

Contrary to widely cited expert projections predicting a slim victory for BN, the four-party opposition Harapan pact has handed the long-ruling coalition a devastating defeat, moving Malaysian politics into unchartered territory and raising questions about the fate of repudiated scandal-plagued premier Najib Razak.

Official results trickled in slowly throughout Wednesday evening showing Harapan making stronger-than-expected inroads in battleground state Johor, long regarded as a fortress of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the now-defeated party Mahathir previously led during his 22-year tenure as Malaysia’s fourth prime minister.

Hours later, in a stunning 3:00 am press conference declaring Harapan’s victory with a simple parliamentary majority, reality set in that Mahathir would soon be sworn in as Malaysia’s seventh prime minister.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Malaysia’s election teeters on a knife edge

While Prime Minister Najib Razak's coalition is favored to prevail, Mahathir Mohamad's opposition alliance appears to have momentum on its side


On the eve of Malaysia’s most hotly ever contested election, conventional wisdom suggests that Prime Minister Najib Razak will emerge the victor, extending the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition’s six-decade hold on power.

Momentum on the ground, however, appears to be with the Pakatan Harapan opposition pact led by ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad.

Massive crowds have greeted urban-based Harapan rallies since campaigning commenced on April 28. Several veteran ex-members of Najib’s ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) have come out in support of Mahathir, who previously led the country for 22 years under UMNO’s banner.

The opposition pact – an unlikely alliance of secular Chinese politicians, pro-democracy reformers, moderate Islamists and ex-UMNO supporters – appears closer than many imagined possible to capturing Putrajaya in what is shaping into a knife-edge contest.

Malaysia’s electoral machinery, critics and observers say, favors the ruling coalition through gerrymandered electoral boundaries. The Election Commission, though statutorily independent, has imposed various restrictions that have hobbled Harapan’s campaigning, raising questions about the legitimacy of the May 9 polls.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Prelude to unfree, unfair elections in Malaysia

State-controlled Election Commission is pulling all stops to hobble the Mahathir Mohamad-led opposition's chances at May 9 polls


Campaigning is off to a controversial start in Malaysia ahead of May 9 elections pitting premier Najib Razak’s ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition against ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad’s upstart Pakatan Harapan opposition alliance.

Expectations of a tight race abound as opposition parties ramp up their bid to win over voters in key constituencies across the country in an attempt to oust Najib’s ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which has governed the country continuously for over six decades.

Preliminary forecasts predict a victory for the ruling BN, though observers expect a tightly fought race. While recent electoral boundary changes will benefit UMNO and BN, opposition candidates now face a raft of legal hurdles that are significantly hobbling their campaigns.

Arbitrary restrictions on opposition campaigning are already raising questions about the legitimacy of the upcoming polls and stoking concerns of possible instability if opposition supporters become convinced that Harapan is denied a deserved victory.

Candidates submitted nomination papers at their home constituencies on April 28, marking the start of an 11-day campaign period. Several opposition candidates, however, were disqualified from contesting by the Election Commission (EC) on what many see as spurious and potentially unlawful grounds.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Israel drops gauntlet on Malaysia’s help to Hamas

Targeted assassination of researcher in Kuala Lumpur likely part of Israeli campaign to kill overseas Palestinian scientists and engineers


Thousands of mourners gathered in Gaza on Friday for the funeral of Fadi al-Batsh, a respected Palestinian researcher and engineering lecturer who was assassinated by gun-wielding assailants in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur on April 21 while heading to a mosque for dawn prayers.

Al-Batsh studied electrical engineering in Gaza and earned a PhD on the subject from the University of Malaya. The slain academic was a member of Hamas, the militant Islamic group that has governed the Gaza Strip since 2007. Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’ political bureau, led the funeral prayers and alleged that Israel was involved in the killing.

Malaysian police have issued facial composite sketches of two men suspected of firing at least 14 shots at al-Batsh from a high-powered motorcycle. Authorities have said that the suspects, who remain at large and are still believed to be in Malaysia, were light-skinned and of European or Middle Eastern descent.

Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister, claimed the perpetrators were Europeans with links to a foreign intelligence agency. He added that al-Batsh was a “liability for a country that is an enemy of Palestine”, a thinly veiled reference to Israel.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Malaysia’s election a de facto vote on China

Premier Najib Razak has built robust relations with Beijing, ties opposition leader Mahathir Mohamad vows to scrutinize and unwind if elected


When Malaysians head to the polls on May 9, their choice will also determine the nation’s future relations with China.

Mahathir Mohamad, the four-party opposition alliance’s nonagenarian prime ministerial candidate and a previous premier, is campaigning in part on resetting Malaysia’s ties to China, a relationship he says has become too one-sided under incumbent Prime Minister Najib Razak.

In a recent media interview, Mahathir vowed if elected to put Chinese investments under greater scrutiny, saying that Chinese companies would be welcome to set up operations in Malaysia provided they hire locals while bringing in capital and technology.

The former premier said in the interview that Malaysians currently “gain nothing” from China’s investments in the country. Though Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan alliance pledged in its election manifesto to encourage continued investment from China and other Asian countries, it has also vowed to review all foreign-funded mega-projects.

That includes the China-backed US$13 billion East Coast Rail Line, the US$7.3 billion Melaka Gateway port project, as well as other billions pledged by Beijing toward urban infrastructure, land reclamation and industrial parks.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 23 April 2018

How Islamic does Brunei want to be?

Sultan's announced move towards full sharia law has been delayed, with some speculating nation fears the strict code could deter Chinese investors


When Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah first indicated in 2014 his oil-rich sultanate planned to implement sharia law, the announcement stirred waves of controversy, with Hollywood stars and rights activists calling for a boycott of the luxury Beverly Hills hotel owned by his sovereign wealth fund.

Four years on, however, the Muslim majority Southeast Asian state has yet to fully implement the harshest elements of the Islamic criminal code, including amputation or even execution for theft, apostasy, adultery and the deemed offense of sodomy.

While Hassanal, who rules as absolute monarch, prime minister and head of state religion, continues to call for the full implementation of sharia law, there has been little public explanation for the delay.

That’s led to certain speculation the sultanate is sensitive to outside perceptions, particularly as the nation courts more foreign investment – including from China – to help diversify its long dependence on energy revenues amid fast depleting supplies.

While nearby Malaysia and Indonesia also enforce laws that exclusively govern the conduct of Muslims, Brunei would be the first East Asian country to adopt strict sharia law at the national level.

Read the full story at 
Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Trump’s trade war pushes Singapore to China

Premier Lee Hsien Loong, a staunch American ally, sides with Beijing as US-led trade tensions threaten the city-state's fortunes



Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s recent five-day trip to China signaled strongly rebounding ties with Beijing and the trade-reliant city-state’s unease with America’s moves to instigate a potentially destabilizing trade war.

In an address to the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA), a talk shop held last week in China’s southern island province of Hainan, Lee spoke candidly on the prospect of souring Sino-US ties, in terms of both trade and global security.

While Lee said that a US-China trade war was “still far from inevitable”, the premier underscored the need “to be prepared psychologically” for such a turn. Strained ties between the rival powers, he noted, “would make it very difficult for all the countries in Asia who are trying very hard to become friends with both, or stay friends with both.”

Lee, a key US strategic ally and staunch advocate of free trade multilateralism, praised China’s leadership’s cautious response to the threat and attempts to defuse the standoff prompted by the Trump administration’s threats to impose tariffs on as much as US$150 billion in Chinese goods.

Beijing has responded with its own proposed retaliatory duties on US goods, targeting mostly agricultural shipments. After meeting with top Chinese officials, Lee told Singapore media that China’s leaders were “trying their best to think through how this can be resolved, trying to protect their position because it’s not possible for any country to be in this situation and not have any response whatsoever.”

Read the full story at 
Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Europe-Asia trade war looms over palm oil

Draft EU law seeks to ban all palm oil biofuel imports by 2021, a move Malaysia has likened to 'crop apartheid' and Indonesia has vowed to retaliate


Mah Siew Keong, Malaysia’s minister for plantation industries and commodities, is on the front line of a looming trade war against what he sees as unfair European Union (EU) trade practices.

Last April, the European Parliament voted in favor of a draft law that aims to ban on palm oil biofuel imports to the EU beginning in 2021 due to environmental concerns the crop is contributing to deforestation.

The European Commission, the EU’s principal executive body, has yet to formulate a final draft law. Each of the EU’s 27 national governments will have to ratify the ban before it is uniformly enforced.

Still, the proposed move has spurred a diplomatic row with Malaysia and Indonesia, the world’s top palm oil exporters, and now threatens to spiral into tit-for-tat punitive trade measures.

Mah, known as Malaysia’s global palm oil ambassador, has likened the EU proposal to “crop apartheid.” The draft law, he notes, does not prohibit other similar oils such as rapeseed, olive and soybean that are mostly grown in EU member states.

Indonesia and Malaysia employ around 3.5 million people in the palm oil industry, generating a combined export value of over US$40 billion annually.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.