Friday, 26 April 2019

Raffles bicentennial anniversary ruffles Singapore

City-state’s 200-year commemoration of the Englishman credited with founding Singapore is under fire for glorifying colonialism and overlooking atrocities


Along the banks of the Singapore River stands a gleaming white statue of an Englishmen in 19th century dress, surveying his surroundings with folded arms and a self-satisfied air. Sir Stamford Raffles, a British colonial official, is said to have landed two centuries ago at the very spot where his pedestal now rests.

The wealthy city-state has organized a series of events marking the bicentennial of his 1819 arrival on the island, where he established a trading post for Britain’s East India Company. That act, according to the plaque on his statue, “changed the destiny of Singapore from an obscure fishing village to a great seaport and modern metropolis.”

What critics see as a simplified national history – one which casts Raffles as the “founder” of modern Singapore – is now being reevaluated through a slew of state-sanctioned events, exhibits, festivals and talks. But to some, the bicentennial feels less like a commemoration of Singapore’s colonial past and more like a celebration of it.

Singapore, in sharp contrast to neighboring and regional countries who endured Western colonialism, is distinct for its salutary appraisal of the period. Unlike former British colonies like India and neighboring Malaysia, it chose to retain anglicized names left behind by the British. 

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, 17 April 2019

Mahathir sets tone for renegotiating with China

Malaysia and China have come to new cheaper terms on the suspended East Coast Rail Link, a BRI mega-project many previously saw as a corrupt debt-trap


Malaysia has announced it will move ahead with the suspended East Coast Rail Link (ECRL), a multibillion-dollar China-backed infrastructure project designed to connect strategic ports on the peninsula’s east and west coasts. A new deal reached with the mega-project’s main Chinese state-owned contractor will cut previously agreed construction costs of nearly US$16 billion by nearly one-third, according to reports.

The renegotiated contract represents a potential boon for the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition, which suspended the project last July to make good on Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s campaign vow to review China-linked projects initiated by the previous government that some felt risked overburdening the country with debt.

The resumption of the rail link, touted as an important part of China’s US$1 trillion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) infrastructure scheme, comes after nine months of protracted negotiations over the future of the project, during which Malaysian officials issued conflicting statements and sent mixed signals about whether it would proceed at all.

A supplementary agreement signed in Beijing by representatives from both countries on April 12, however, paves the way for the on-again, off-again project to finally proceed on terms Malaysia now apparently finds equitable.

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, 16 April 2019

Mahathir’s reforms face a royal challenge

Malaysia’s premier tussles with influential Sultan Ibrahim Ismail, rekindling an age-old spat that could have implications for stability


Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is once more at daggers drawn with the royal family of the southern state of Johor, with the two sides jousting over issues ranging from the powers of hereditary sultans to whether they can be prosecuted in international tribunals.

The tussle reprises Mahathir’s earlier challenge to royal authority, a political power play that helped to define his previous premiership spanning 1981-2003. Whether the nonagenarian leader is willing to openly clash with traditional sultans during his second tenure in power could have implications for stability in the months ahead.

Faced with vocal opposition from the Johor royal house, Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan coalition government recently reneged on plans to accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). In the wake of the policy reversal, the premier alleged a plot by critics of his administration to pit the country’s constitutional monarchy against his government.

Johor’s influential ruler, Sultan Ibrahim Ismail, spoke out against Harapan’s plans to ratify the international treaty on war crimes and genocide by claiming the move would contravene the constitution, which affords special treatment to the country’s monarchs and their families and the setting up of a special court to prosecute them should the need arise.

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.

Friday, 5 April 2019

Is Brunei’s sharia law just for show?

Nation’s move to mandate penalties including amputation and death by stoning has sparked a global outcry but is more symbolic than substantive


Brunei, one of the world’s smallest countries and few remaining absolute monarchies, is under global fire for phasing in a controversial new sharia penal code that mandates amputation, whipping or stoning to death for violations.

The oil-rich sultanate of less than half a million people is now the first Southeast Asian country to adopt Islamic criminal law at the national level, reflecting a regional shift toward an increasingly conservative interpretation of Islam.

The stricter laws come five years after the first phase of the penal code entered force. Enacted in April 2014, the initial phase related to tazir offenses that included penalties such as fines or imprisonment for indecent behavior, failure to attend Friday prayers and out-of-wedlock pregnancies.

The latest phases relate to hudud and qisas which mete out punishments interpreted by Muslim juristic scholars derived from the Koran. They include public flogging for abortion, amputation for theft and the death penalty for a number of offenses, including rape, adultery, sodomy, robbery and insulting or defaming the prophet Muhammad.

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, 3 April 2019

Will Mahathir offload Malaysia Airlines?

Malaysian leader says the country can no longer afford to keep the loss-making national carrier afloat, opening the way for a foreign takeover


Does Malaysia really need a national airline? That’s the question many are asking as Malaysia Airlines (MAS) comes under rising pressure to revise its growth strategy and profit plan after consecutive years of poor performance.

The loss-making flag carrier has struggled to stay afloat after being privatized in 2014 by Khazanah Nasional Berhad, the Malaysian government’s sovereign wealth fund. A five-year recovery plan was unveiled soon after the state investment arm became the airline’s sole shareholder with an aim of returning the carrier to profitability within three years.

Despite a six billion ringgit (US$1.47 billion) capital injection and retrenchment of some 6,000 staff, MAS has yet to break even and recently failed to meet its March 2019 target date for re-listing on the local bourse.

Last year, Khazanah posted its first annual loss in more than a decade, with nearly half of its registered 7.3 billion ringgit ($1.78 billion) impairment loss attributed to keeping the airline afloat.
The state fund has yet to indicate if it will inject additional funds into the airline and recently called on the company’s management to produce a new strategic plan to produce better returns.

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.

Trial of the century opens in Malaysia

Ex-premier Najib Razak finally took the stand today in the first of 42 criminal charges he faces in the multi-billion dollar globe-spanning 1MDB swindle


The long-awaited first hearing of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak’s trial began at the Kuala Lumpur High Court today. It marks the first time a former Malaysian leader has stood in the accused dock for a criminal hearing.

The date coincidentally marks exactly a decade since Najib was sworn in as Malaysia’s sixth prime minister. He has been arrested multiple times since his unexpected ouster in a May 2018 general election and now faces 42 criminal charges linked to a globe-spanning financial scandal involving the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state development fund.

Investigators believe an estimated US$4.5 billion was embezzled from the state fund between 2009 and 2014, some of which was traced to the ex-premier’s bank accounts. After a wait that has had Malaysians on tenterhooks, the opening of today’s trial represents just the first of several criminal proceedings Najib is due to face in the months ahead.

The former premier, who has deftly utilized social media to reinvent himself as an opposition politician in recent months, maintains his innocence and denies all wrongdoing.

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, 1 April 2019

Murder charge dropped in Kim Jong Nam assassination

Vietnamese suspect is given a lesser charge of causing harm and will soon walk free, a verdict that leaves the nerve agent killing of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half brother unsolved


Doan Thi Huong, the lone suspect held in connection with the February 2017 assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother Kim Jong Nam, is expected to walk free after pleading guilty to a lesser charge than murder in a Malaysian court.

A Malaysian judge today sentenced the 30-year-old Vietnamese national to three years and four months in jail for causing harm using dangerous means rather than murder, which under local law carries the death penalty by hanging.

Her legal team said that with usual sentence reductions for good behavior she would be released by “the first week” of May. Huong said she welcomed the “fair sentence” after the verdict was handed down in a case that involved the use of the lethal nerve agent VX.

Prosecutors offered the reduced charge after receiving representations from the Vietnamese embassy and the woman’s lawyers. The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry reportedly stepped up lobbying efforts in recent weeks after prosecutors withdrew a similar murder charge against a second defendant, Indonesian national Siti Aisyah, last month.

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.