Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Race and religion roiling Malaysian reform

The political pendulum is swinging away from the ruling Harapan coalition just ten months after its historic election win


Ten months after Malaysia’s historic election that unseated the long-ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO), there are already signs the political pendulum is starting to swing back. 

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s multiracial ruling coalition, known as Pakatan Harapan, is now suddenly on the defensive from an emboldened opposition pact that has successfully rebranded itself after last May’s crushing electoral defeat.

Earlier this month, UMNO and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), the country’s two largest ethnic Malay-based parties, formalized their loose cooperation into a formal alliance after notching two consecutive by-election wins so far this year, with the latest electoral gains made in a government stronghold state.

Divisive rhetoric from UMNO and PAS figures has flared tensions, as both parties fashion themselves as defenders of ethnic Malay rights and Islam, which they say are being threatened by the government’s reform agenda and the appointment of non-Malay politicians to prominent positions.

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 March 2019

Hear no evil, see no evil in Singapore

A last-minute decision to cancel a black metal gig has irked fans and sparked debate about the limits of expression in the city-state


Southeast Asian metalheads descended on Singapore last week for an event they hoped would be infernal and enthralling: a live concert performance by the acclaimed Swedish black metal band Watain.

Known for their abrasive sound and unhallowed imagery, the group had been given official approval to play their first-ever show in the wealthy city-state on March 7. Fans, however, were left disappointed when a media regulator announced the show’s cancellation just three hours before it was set to blast.

The state’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), a regulatory agency, announced the show could not go on due to its “potential to cause enmity and disrupt Singapore’s social harmony.”

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) raised “security concerns” about the event, while Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam acknowledged a public outcry against the group, though he denied that an online petition calling for the concert’s cancellation had forced the government’s hand.

The petition, which had gathered more than 16,000 signatures before the show, called on lawmakers to ban Watain and Soilwork, a comparatively anodyne Swedish heavy metal band scheduled to perform in Singapore in October.

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, 14 March 2019

Vietnamese woman now lone suspect in Kim Jong-nam killing

Malaysian prosecutors deny defendant’s appeal despite Hanoi’s protestations and evidence of North Korean state complicity in the assassination


Prosecutors in Malaysia have rejected an appeal to drop a murder charge against Doan Thi Huong, a 30-year-old Vietnamese woman accused of assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s estranged half-brother Kim Jong-nam.

The decision to proceed with the trial comes after a surprise court decision on Monday (March 11) allowed her Indonesian co-defendant Siti Aisyah, 27, to walk free. A High Court judge discharged the Indonesian suspect without an acquittal after prosecutors said they had been instructed to withdraw the charge against her without offering a reason.

The Indonesian embassy flew Aisyah to Jakarta the same day while lobbying efforts by President Joko Widodo’s administration are thought to have played a key role in securing her release.

Doan is now the only suspect in the case still behind bars. Her lawyer, Hisham Teh Poh Teik, slammed Malaysian Attorney General Tommy Thomas’s decision to reject the appeal.

“The decision not to withdraw does not sit well with our criminal justice system. There is discrimination as the prosecution favors one party to the other,” he told reporters.

Both women were charged on the same evidence and ordered by the court in August to enter their defense on the same grounds after a judge ruled the prosecution had proven a prima facie case against the accused.

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, 11 March 2019

Woman accused of killing Kim Jong-un’s half-brother walks free

Malaysian court’s surprise and unexplained decision resurrects suspicion of North Korean state complicity in the cloak-and-dagger crime


An Indonesian woman accused of assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s estranged half-brother Kim Jong-nam with a liquid VX nerve agent in 2017 has walked free after a Malaysian court dropped a murder charge against her.

“I am surprised and very happy. I did not expect that today I would be released,” Siti Aisyah, 27, told reporters before being ushered out of the courtroom and escorted to an Indonesian embassy car waiting for outside, according to media reports.

Upon hearing the court’s decision, the Indonesian broke out in tears and hugged her co-accused, Doan Thi Huong, a 30-year-old Vietnamese woman who is still being held in the case and is soon expected to testify.

The pair, who have been in custody for two years, are the only suspects detained in connection with the killing of Kim Jong-nam. Police quickly apprehended both women shortly after closed-circuit television cameras captured them accosting the 45-year-old North Korean in an airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur on February 13, 2017.

The two women, both from rural Southeast Asian villages who lived precariously as undocumented migrant workers in the Malaysian capital, say they were duped by North Korean agents into believing they were participating in a prank for a hidden camera TV show that saw them smearing lotion on the faces of strangers in exchange for cash.

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, 9 March 2019

Eye on China, Singapore splurges on top-line arms

Big-ticket procurements will enable the island state to operate with the US in any South China Sea conflict


For global arms companies looking to ply their wares in Southeast Asia, Singapore is a sought-after client. And American and German hardware suppliers are poised for windfall profits as the island nation moves to shore up its defenses.

Last month, the wealthy city-state passed its biggest ever defense budget worth US$16.7 billion, or around 30% of the government’s total planned expenditure for 2019, with rich earmarks for defense, security and related diplomacy.

Singapore allocates between 3% and 5% of its gross domestic product on defense, well above the global average, while most regional states spend closer to 1-2% or lower, according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute data.

That spending is set to climb in the years ahead as the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) moves to enhance its conventional capabilities through the procurement of more modern military hardware and equipment, including new generation fighter jets and submarines.

Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen recently told Parliament that defense spending over the next decade was expected to rise by 3% or 4% a year, mostly to strengthen and modernize the SAF’s aging hardware.

This month, Ng announced that Singapore would order four new F-35 fighter jets from US defense contractor Lockheed Martin and that it may purchase an additional eight of the advanced fighters after a technical evaluation.

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.