Friday, 17 November 2017

Malaysia Airlines’ recovery shadowed by politics

Buffeted by two of global aviation's recent worst disasters, the renationalized carrier's foreign-led restructuring has been hit by alleged political meddling


Buffeted by two of global aviation’s worst disasters in recent history, Malaysia Airlines’ (MAS) plans for a turnaround were never going to be easy. Alleged political meddling in the state-held airline is complicating matters, with the recent resignation of two foreign chief executives raising even wider questions.

In August 2014, Khazanah Nasional, Berhad a Malaysian state investment fund that previously owned 69% of the carrier, became its sole stakeholder in a US$430 million bailout.

Earlier that year, MAS lost two aircraft, the still unresolved disappearance of Flight MH370 and the shooting down of Flight MH17 over Ukraine, sending its finances into a downward spiral.

The national carrier was delisted from the country’s stock market, effectively renationalizing the carrier, and aggressively restructured. Khazanah unveiled a five-year recovery plan, dubbed as “rebuilding a national icon”, to reverse massive losses and return to profitability in three years. The plan set a target date of March 2019 for a new initial public offering.

Two foreign chief executives were hired in short succession to professionalize management and in hope that international expertise could restore its fortunes. MAS has cut 6,000 jobs since Khazanah’s takeover while various unprofitable long-haul routes to North and South America have been discontinued.

Read the full story at the Asia Times.

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

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Malaysia’s sultans back in political swing

Sidelined since the 1990s, traditional rulers are reasserting their royal authority against rising ethno-religious polarization stirred by divisive politicians


Last month, Malaysia’s constitutional monarchs issued a rare statement expressing their collective concern over rising ethno-religious polarization. A string of religious controversies, which the sultans branded as “excessive actions”, have called the country’s traditionally moderate brand of Islam into question.

Monarchical activism, dormant since being sidelined politically in the early 1990s, is rising again to push back against religious institutions that have steadily expanded their jurisdiction in favor of a narrow interpretation of Islam and Muslim identity.

In October, Malaysian authorities cancelled two annual beer festivals following political objections raised by leaders of the hardline Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), signaling an increased sensitivity towards activities regarded by some as insulting to Islam.

Then, a self-service laundromat in the southern state of Johor caused a social media uproar when it attempted to ban non-Muslims for ‘hygienic’ concerns, prompting a scathing rebuke from Johor’s Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar in defense of moderation and racial harmony.

“This is not the Johor we want,” said the monarch, demanding that the laundry mat’s owner end the discriminatory practice. “This is not a Taliban state and as the head of Islam in Johor, I find this action to be totally unacceptable as this is extremist in nature.”

Read the full story at the Asia Times.

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

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Najib bids to buy another Malaysian election

Expansionary new budget offers tax relief, welfare benefits and cash handouts in schemes critics view as veiled pre-poll vote-buying


Malaysian premier Najib Razak recently unveiled an expansionary national budget for 2018, a politically strategic spending plan to lower middle income earner taxes and increase welfare benefits broadly ahead of general elections that must be held by next August.

Najib promised to maintain fiscal prudence despite a 7.5% year on year budgetary rise during a parliamentary address that emphasized bread and butter issues linked to rising living costs. The national leader referred to the plan in a three-hour speech as “the mother of all budgets.”

“The (people) must benefit from our economic policies,” the national leader said. “We must make sure that levels of income and the quality of life for Malaysians is improving.”

The ramped up spending is consistent with Najib’s ruling United Malays National Organization’s (UMNO) past electoral tactics, where hand-outs and cash transfers are dished out to win over voters in the run-up to polls.

Government critics and opposition politicians say the spending is tantamount to vote-buying, which combined with other complaints of tainted electoral rolls, truncated campaign seasons, aggressive gerrymandering and unequal access to media unfairly tilts the electoral playing field in favor of UMNO.

Read the full story at the Asia Times.

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