Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Mahathir has an Islam problem

New premier wants Malaysia's brand of Islam to reflect mercy, justice and compassion, a stance his conservative opponents have seized on as too soft and lenient

Months after the Pakatan Harapan coalition swept into power on a reform agenda promising to build a “New Malaysia”, recent controversies on race, religion and sexual minorities have harked to the old, stirring unease among supporters of the new government.

Two Muslim women who pled guilty to having a sexual relationship were convicted under Islamic laws earlier this month and given six strokes from a rattan cane in a public whipping witnessed by dozens of people at a Sharia law court in Terengganu, a rural northeast state governed by Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), an Islamist opposition party.

The sentence, believed to be among the country’s first-ever punishments for female homosexuality, caused an uproar in the Muslim majority country, where both progressive and conservative interpretations of the faith contend. International and local human rights groups, meanwhile, said the judicial caning was tantamount to torture.

Debate over the role of religious courts erupted earlier in June when news surfaced that a 41-year-old Malaysian rubber tapper from the northern state of Kelantan, which is similarly under PAS rule, had married an 11-year-old Thai Muslim girl. Underage unions between Muslims are legal in Malaysia, though permission from a Sharia court is required.

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

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Najib stares at jail time as 1MDB charges mount

Malaysian ex-premier hit with 25 new criminal charges including receiving, using and transferring illegal proceeds in what may prove to be the world's biggest ever financial scam

New charges were leveled today against Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Najib Razak in connection with an international corruption scandal at the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state development fund, which accumulated billions of dollars in debts while the ex-premier served as its advisory board chairman.

Twenty-five charges were laid against Najib, 64, whose nine-year premiership was repudiated by voters at this year’s May 9 polls, related to a US$681 million transfer made into his personal bank account in 2013. Najib does not dispute the transfer but claims the funds were a “political donation” from a Saudi royal and not subject to regulation under Malaysian law.

Investigators, however, believe the funds were pilfered from 1MDB in one of the world’s biggest ever financial scandals. Charges unveiled today include nine counts of receiving illegal proceeds, five counts of using illegal proceeds, seven counts of transferring the proceeds to other entities and four counts of power abuse.

The former premier, who faces a maximum 20-year prison sentence if convicted, has pleaded not guilty to all charges so far and has denied any wrongdoing. Graft probes are underway in at least six countries and investigators at the US Department of Justice (DoJ) believe Najib’s associates embezzled and laundered US$4.5 billion from the fund from 2009 to 2014.

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

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Chinese buyer beware in Mahathir’s Malaysia

Malaysian leader aims to bar foreign, spelled Chinese, buyers from the US$100 billion Forest City real estate project he has lambasted as a Chinese 'enclave'

A vast real estate development under construction in Malaysia’s southern state of Johor is in the spotlight over a widening political row pitting the country’s wily nonagenarian premier against a large private Chinese property developer backed by the state’s influential ruler, Sultan Ibrahim Ismail.

The ambitious US$100 billion mega-project, known as Forest City, is administered in partnership with an investment entity whose largest shareholder is the sultan. It is designed to span four artificial islands built adjacent to neighboring Singapore and if fully built will alter the area’s map by creating a new private residential township expected to accommodate 700,000 residents by 2050.

Though Forest City is at an early stage of development and barely inhabited, Chinese nationals reportedly make up some 70%, or two-thirds, of apartment buyers so far, with Malaysians accounting for just 20% of sales. Foreign property buyers from 22 other countries, including Indonesia, Vietnam and South Korea, have also invested in units.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad announced in late August that foreigners could no longer buy properties there, surprising many – including Johor’s state government – and contradicting Malaysian law, which allows for foreign citizens and companies to acquire land and property subject to the prior approval of state, rather than federal, authorities.

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

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Mahathir driving for a new national dream car

Malaysian premier aims to revive his past ambition to build an indigenous auto despite the loss-making reality of his previous Proton pet project

When Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad proposed a new national car project shortly after his May 9 election win, Malaysians quickly took to social media to question the wisdom of reviving a state-led strategy that had delivered at best mixed results during his previous tenure as premier.

For some, Mahathir’s talk of producing a new national car appeared less about an automobile and more about course-correcting the legacy of his earlier 22-year premiership from 1981-2003, under which industrialization policies and ambitious prestige-boosting projects were deployed to modernize Malaysia’s then-largely agrarian economy.

Proton, Malaysia’s flagship national car, was arguably the main driver of the country’s industrialization push when it launched over three decades ago as a fully state-owned entity. When the first generation Proton Saga rolled off the production line in 1985, Mahathir – a noted car enthusiast – hailed it as “a symbol of Malaysians as a dignified people.”

The state-financed carmaker dominated the Malaysian market in the early 1990s, with a 74% market share at its peak. Protectionist tariffs that made imported cars comparatively expensive drove those local sales. Post-Mahathir governments, however, eased those import levies and precipitated a sharp decline in Proton’s sales. By 2017, only 13.8% of the new cars on Malaysia’s road were Protons.

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