Thursday, 31 May 2018

Could Mahathir’s clean-up spark a financial crisis?

Revelations that Malaysia's public debt is closer to 80% of GDP than previously disclosed 50% is pushing down shares and driving capital outflows


Though few expected the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition to win Malaysia’s May 9 polls, markets were mainly calm following Mahathir Mohamad’s spectacular return to the premiership.

His appointment of well-respected ministers to economic and finance related portfolios, as well as creation of a council of experienced advisors including a former central bank chief, meanwhile, aimed to reassure investors that his government would remain business-friendly.

But three weeks into Mahathir’s course-shifting term, market skepticism is already starting to creep in. The coalition campaigned on promises to scrap an unpopular goods and services tax (GST), reintroduce petrol subsidies and review toll road concessions. Mahathir has also called for the review of large-scale investment projects awarded during the predecessor Najib Razak’s administration.

Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings have weighed in with a shared view that GST abolishment could raise government deficits if not offset by other revenue-raising measures. Fitch has forecasted short-term “headwinds” while noting that current economic growth momentum is still strong.

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, 28 May 2018

What Singapore could learn from Malaysia

Cross-straits relations will be tested as newly elected Malaysian government aims to review bilateral deals and projects in the name of reform


When then Malaysian premier Najib Razak met his Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong at their annual leaders’ retreat in January, it wasn’t readily apparent at the time that it would be their last bilateral meeting.

Najib, grinning ear-to-ear, told a press conference that he didn’t expect upcoming elections in his country would “change the nature” of bilateral ties between the two neighbors. “Because you have confidence in the results,” quipped Lee, giving way to chummy laughter.

Both men share a personal chemistry, rapport and common vision that had eluded often prickly cross-straits ties in previous decades. The off-the-cuff exchange between the two leaders’ went viral on social media at the time.

Mahathir Mohamad’s return to the premiership has thus stirred certain anxieties in Singapore in light of his past antagonism towards the city-state. Some commentators felt that Lee had “bet on the wrong horse” at the May 9 polls Najib lost and Mahathir won, and that Lee had failed to nurture meaningful ties with the pre-election opposition.

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, 22 May 2018

Malaysians agog as tables turn on Najib

Expedited probes into ex-premier's alleged corruption could reach beyond 1MDB scandal to a dodgy submarine deal to the murder of a Mongolian model


Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is under heavy fire as new premier Mahathir Mohamad’s government quickly launches and widens investigations into alleged corruption at the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state development fund that may have cost the nation billions of dollars in pilfered losses.

Najib, whose once-dominant Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition lost resoundingly at May 9 polls, is implicated in an embezzlement racket after suspicious transfers allegedly linked to 1MDB were discovered in his personal bank. He has denied all wrongdoing at the fund he created and oversaw, claiming the US$681 million found in his account was a gift from a Saudi royal.

In recent days, Malaysians have watched agog as Najib’s properties were raided by armed police. Authorities have seized and carted off luxury items, confiscating 284 designer handbags presumably belonging to his wife Rosmah Mansor, and 72 suitcases containing cash in various currencies, watches and jewelry.

Mahathir’s office has quickly established a special taskforce, comprised of members of Malaysia’s anti-graft agency, police and the central bank, to investigate 1MDB. A similar investigative body was established in 2015, but was halted by Najib, who was widely seen as interfering with the domestic probe by removing the attorney general and other probing officials.

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, 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.