Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Fifty years on, fateful race riots still haunt Malaysia

PM Mahathir Mohamad’s political career was forged in the fires of May 13, 1969 race riots yet he remains reluctant to seek the truth about the violence

This month Malaysia commemorated the 50th anniversary of one of the darkest episodes of its post-independence history, a convulsion of racial violence that still haunts the multi-ethnic nation. The bloody race riots of May 13, 1969, saw explosive communal clashes between ethnic Malays and Chinese break out in the streets of Kuala Lumpur, leaving hundreds dead and a then young nation traumatized.

Five decades on, the date still looms large in the national consciousness and weighs like an albatross on the generations that lived through the carnage where as many as 800 may had been killed in an orgy of racial violence.

Then as now, race relations remain a delicate matter and at the center of multi-ethnic Malaysia’s long-enduring but controversial social contract that favors the ethnic Malay majority over minority Chinese and Indians, a construct that emerged in the riots’ aftermath with the 1971 New Economic Policy (NEP).

Over the years, various politicians have evoked the episode’s sectarian violence as a warning, often in the lead up to elections, that any challenge to the special rights and constitutionally-ascribed privileges enjoyed by Malays would upset the nation’s delicate balance and possibly lead to new bloodshed.

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, 23 May 2019

US, Malaysia in a 1MDB quid pro quo

Malaysia’s extradition of ex-Goldman Sachs banker Roger Ng to the US likely facilitated a first $196 million tranche return of recovered fund assets

When Malaysian authorities filed criminal charges in December against Goldman Sachs’ employees and subsidiaries for alleged misconduct in their dealings with the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state investment fund, they sought from the outset to exact a high price.

Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng declared soon thereafter that Malaysia would seek a whopping US$7.5 billion in reparations from the American investment bank, a figure that exceeded market expectations and underscored the urgency his government placed on recouping billions of dollars lost in the now infamous global scandal.

While law enforcement officials in the United States, Malaysia and beyond have maintained pressure on Goldman Sachs, sources familiar with the matter told Asia Times that Malaysian authorities have voiced frustration with the perceived slow pace of the multinational effort to recover assets illegally acquired through funds diverted from 1MDB.

That could explain why Malaysian authorities ultimately allowed ex-Goldman Sachs banker Roger Ng to be extradited to the US earlier this month on a warrant permitting him to remain in American custody for up to 10 months. His extradition was initially postponed by Malaysia as it sought its own legal proceedings against the banker.

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, 15 May 2019

Rapper, fugitive and lobbyists in new 1MDB twist

Malaysia scandal turns as US indicts financier Jho Low and American rapper Prakazrel Michel for illegal foreign funding in 2012 US presidential election

The United States’ Department of Justice (DoJ) has leveled election conspiracy charges against a fugitive Malaysian financier and an American rapper, the latest twist in the globe-spanning multi-billion dollar 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) corruption scandal.

Unsealed on May 10, the indictment claims Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho, also known as Jho Low, directed the transfer of approximately US$21.6 million into accounts controlled by music mogul Prakazrel “Pras” Michel, some of which allegedly went to campaign contributions for the 2012 US presidential election in violation of US law.

Low, a close associate of then Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, and Michel, a founding member of the 1990’s Fugees hip hop group, both face charges of conspiracy to defraud the US government by making and channeling illegal foreign campaign contributions. Michel has also been charged with scheming to conceal material facts and making a false entry in a record in connection with the alleged conspiracy.

The pair reputedly masked the source of foreign money by funneling it through more than a dozen “straw donors” who made legal contributions in their own names, according to the indictment, which said Michel and Low hoped to “buy access to, and potentially influence with a candidate, the candidate’s campaign and the candidate’s administration.”

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, 9 May 2019

One year on, Mahathir’s grip starts to slip

On the first anniversary of Malaysia’s historic election, the honeymoon is clearly over

One year ago today (May 9), Malaysians from all walks of life went to the ballot box seeking change. Victory for Pakatan Harapan, a reform-oriented multi-party alliance led by 93-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, stunned observers and brought six-decades of rule by the once-formidable Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition to a jubilant end.

At a time when many lamented democratic backsliding in the region and beyond, the unlikely election of a pluralistic ruling coalition bent on broad political reform imbued Malaysia with a newfound significance. Economic headwinds and widening sociopolitical polarization, however, have since complicated matters for the upstart leadership.

Though some argue campaign vows have been realized, perceptions of the government’s performance after a year in power are decidedly mixed. According to research by the Merdeka Center, an independent polling agency, recent approval ratings for both the ruling coalition and the prime minister have suffered a significant slide.

Mahathir, an iconic political personality who previously served as premier for over two decades before his re-election, polled at 83% shortly after taking office last May. His popularity, according to a survey published last month, has almost halved to just 46%.

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, 7 May 2019

Western boycotts soften Brunei’s sharia law

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah has stepped back from new anti-gay measures amid celebrity-led calls to boycott his Western-held commercial interests

Amid a global outcry against Brunei’s implementation of Islamic sharia law measures that allow for death by stoning for sex between men and extramarital affairs, the sultanate’s ruler has apparently climbed down from the harshest measures in what some have interpreted as a bid to shield his nation’s besieged overseas commercial interests.

The United Nations, United States and other Western governments had all lodged their concerns over the strict new measures. Hollywood celebrities, meanwhile, had called for a boycott of luxury hotels in Europe and the US owned by the country’s sovereign wealth fund, exclusive properties known collectively as the Dorchester Collection.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, the small oil-rich sultanate’s absolute ruler, had previously defended his nation’s right to implement the code, part of his move towards what some see as the most extreme interpretation of sharia law. Apart from death by stoning for sexual offenses, the law also allows for amputation of limbs for theft and whipping for other violations.

In a televised May 5 speech, the 72-year-old monarch appeared to step back from those measures, declaring first that Brunei would ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture and that it would not enforce the death penalty on those convicted under new religious laws.

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

Friday, 3 May 2019

Diplomacy trumps justice in Kim Jong Nam killing

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother’s assassination is left diplomatically unresolved with release of last suspect in Malaysia

Vietnamese woman accused of assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s estranged half-brother Kim Jong Nam with VX nerve agent in 2017 has been released from a Malaysian jail. Doan Thi Huong, 30, walked free early Friday (May 3) morning after being held in custody for more than two years.

She was taken directly into immigration custody after her release from prison and is expected to remain there before boarding a flight to Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital, later in the day. Huong’s lawyers told local media that she looked forward to returning home and that she plans to pursue singing and acting as a career.

The release of the sole suspect held in connection with Kim’s murder in all likelihood suggests the case will fade from view without a conviction. Analysts believe that Malaysia – and the wider region – have little appetite for raising further questions over the incident amid expectations that previously strained bilateral ties will soon be normalized.

Malaysian prosecutors dropped a murder charge against Huong on April 1 following diplomatic pressure from the Vietnamese government, which had stepped up lobbying efforts for her release after prosecutors withdrew a similar murder charge against a second defendant, Indonesian national Siti Aisyah, who was released on March 11.

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