Wednesday, 27 February 2019

New politics dawning in pre-election Singapore

Opposition politician Chee Soon Juan says he senses unprecedented weakness in the ruling Peoples Action Party ahead of anticipated snap polls


Will elections come early in Singapore? Singaporeans have wondered ever since Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hinted last year that the wealthy city-state might go to the polls earlier than they must be held by April 2021.

The opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), for one, isn’t wasting any time waiting for an official announcement. At a campaign launch event on February 23, party leader Chee Soon Juan made his case for political change in the form of a “freer and more democratic” Singapore. 

He said his party aims to deny the long-ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) a two-thirds majority of seats in Parliament at the next election.

If they succeed, the PAP – the longest-governing incumbent party in Southeast Asia – would lose its ability to make constitutional amendments and be put in check by a parliamentary opposition in a way that’s never before been seen in the island-nation’s history.

Realizing this electoral goal will be a herculean task, Chee openly admits. The PAP has maintained overwhelming parliamentary supermajorities since achieving independence in 1965, making Singapore one of Asia’s most asymmetrical democracies.

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, 20 February 2019

Pork barrel politics hint at early polls in Singapore

Expansionary spending plan includes billions of dollars worth of voter-friendly hand-outs and subsidies, including special earmarks for the elderly


Singaporean Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat delivered a closely watched budget statement earlier this week, unveiling an expansionary spending plan for 2019. Widely viewed as one of the key events of the city-state’s political calendar, the latest budget points towards the probability of a snap election later this year.

Speculation has been rife since Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hinted last year that early elections could be called in 2019, more than a year before his government’s mandate ends. As external uncertainties weigh against the island nation's trade-reliant growth, some analysts see early polls as a hedge against a dimmer, less-predictable economic forecast.

Data released ahead of the latest budget proposal showed that Singapore’s economy grew at its slowest pace in more than two years in the fourth quarter of 2018. As such, all eyes were on Heng for signals on how the long-ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) plans to stave off economic headwinds in the financial year ahead.

The budget statement was the first major policy speech given by Heng since he was designated to succeed Lee as Singapore’s next prime minister, following a protracted selection process that saw the city-state abuzz with political guesswork. Some wondered whether the finance minister might now showcase a more campaign-oriented persona.

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, 18 February 2019

Conscript deaths making political waves in Singapore

Death of a heartthrob actor at defense training drill sparks an uproar over military accountability amid a rash of similar casualties


When actor Aloysius Pang died last month after sustaining serious injuries during a military training exercise, Singaporeans responded with an outpouring of grief. Family, friends and fans mourned the loss of the 28-year-old Chinese-language film and television star, whose passing is the latest in a recent spate of military training fatalities for the island nation.

Tragedy struck when Pang, an armament technician with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), was crushed while carrying out repair works inside the cabin of a self-propelled howitzer, a self-propelled artillery gun. Despite a number of surgeries to treat his injuries, the young conscript died four days later in hospital on January 23.

The incident dominated local headlines and struck a chord with the Mandarin-speaking community, an important voting bloc for the long-ruling People’s Action Party (PAP). Chief of Defense Force Melvyn Ong addressed the tragedy at a press conference and promised things would not be “business as usual” after Pang’s death.

Aiming to reassure the public, he announced a halt to all high-risk training activities as well as measures to reduce the pace and duration of training across the SAF for safety reviews. Singapore’s Ministry of Defense (Mindef) also said it would convene an independent Committee of Inquiry (COI) to investigate the incident.

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, 16 February 2019

Ukraine faces crowded and combative elections

There is no clear frontrunner ahead of next month’s presidential election and huge challenges face the eventual winner


An uphill battle awaits incumbent President Petro Poroshenko in Ukraine’s March 31 presidential election as, despite his lagging popularity, he aims to rally nationalist-leaning voters in a bid to secure a second mandate.

With a modest 10.8% approval rating, victory looks distant. Yet Poroshenko is still among the front-runners in a presidential race tallying a record 44 candidates, none of whom are expected to secure more than 20% support.

Elected in the aftermath of the 2014 “Maidan Revolution” that overturned pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych’s corruption-plagued rule, Poroshenko – a billionaire businessman before entering politics – was entrusted with the difficult task of guiding Ukraine toward a new western-oriented, democratic path and away from Moscow’s orbit.

Five years have passed since tumultuous scenes of revolution unfolded in Kiev’s main square. While certain democratic, social and civic gains have been realized, the revolution’s outcomes are for many decidedly mixed.

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, 12 February 2019

Malaysia’s trial of the century put on hold

Ex-premier Najib Razak has said an impartial trial is his “best chance” to clear his name of massive corruption charges but his lawyers are pulling all stops to delay hearings


Former Malaysian leader Najib Razak’s highly anticipated corruption case, scheduled to begin hearings today (February 12), was postponed after his lawyers filed a last-ditch bid to stay what is being likened to the nation’s trial of the century.

Harvinderjit Singh, one of Najib’s lawyers, told reporters on February 11 that the Court of Appeal had agreed to postpone the trial until an appeal is heard on a court jurisdiction issue. No new date for the trial or the appeal has been set.

Attorney General Tommy Thomas had earlier argued that the stay application should be rejected because Najib’s case is of public interest. Justice Ahmadi Haji Asnawi nonetheless granted the stay application, but called for the appeal process to be expedited.

When the trial finally begins, it will be the first of several criminal proceedings against the former premier over various corruption charges linked to a globe-spanning financial scandal that saw billions of dollars stolen from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state development fund, some of which was traced to his bank accounts.

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, 5 February 2019

Najib plays comeback kid as 1MDB trial looms

Scandal-plagued ex-premier is weaponizing social media to reinvent himself as a man of the people


Malaysia’s scandal-plagued former premier Najib Razak is down but clearly not out. At least that’s the message he apparently hoped to send by aggressively campaigning in a by-election held late last month that saw the former ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition clinch a rousing victory after being toppled in last May’s general election.

Ramli Mohd Nor, a 61-year-old former police officer and BN candidate, became the first candidate from the indigenous Orang Asli community ever elected to Parliament after a January 26 vote in the Cameron Highlands constituency. It was Najib, however, who stole the limelight in a race widely seen as a testing ground for his political comeback.

Since his electoral ouster, Najib has leveraged social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram to relentlessly criticize the ruling Pakatan Harapan government’s policies and leaders. It’s a bid to reinvent himself as a champion of the working class, all while facing trial for his alleged involvement in the biggest corruption case in Malaysia’s history.

Najib, 65, has been charged with 42 counts of graft, money laundering, abuse of power and criminal breach of trust, mostly tied to a sprawling corruption scandal that saw an estimated US$4.5 billion stolen from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a now-defunct state fund he established in 2009 and oversaw as advisory board chairman.

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.