Friday, 28 February 2020

Malaysia’s shattered politics on a razor’s edge

Mahathir and Anwar both bid to form new government but the impasse increasingly points to snap polls


A high-stakes political impasse in Malaysia, with interim leader Mahathir Mohamad and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Anwar Ibrahim making separate bids to power, promises more twists and turns that could eventuate in the formation of a new government or snap polls.

The multiracial Southeast Asian nation was thrust into sudden turmoil when Mahathir resigned on February 24 in the fallout of a failed attempt by his purported supporters to form a new coalition government to block a promised transfer of power to Anwar.

The backdoor move caused the collapse of Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition and opened a power vacuum that both veteran politicians are now bidding to fill.

In a televised address to the nation on February 26 as newly appointed “interim” premier, 94-year-old Mahathir explained the factors behind his decision to resign and apologized for the political discord now roiling the nation.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Inside story behind Malaysia’s political meltdown

Government insider tells Asia Times what did and didn't happen on Malaysia's Feb 24 night of the long knives


Malaysia has been cast into political disarray following Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s shock decision on February 24 to resign as prime minister, a move that shattered his Pakatan Harapan (PH) ruling coalition and opened an unprecedented power vacuum in the Southeast Asian nation.

While simultaneously giving up and retaining power, Mahathir could now be in a position of strength amid indications he intends to form a national unity government. Though with allegiances in flux, the situation may yet go awry for the 94-year-old leader, who Malaysia’s king immediately named as interim premier following his resignation.

The political turmoil follows an abortive bid by political forces purportedly loyal to Mahathir to form a new coalition government that would have explicitly excluded his presumed prime ministerial successor, 72-year-old Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Anwar Ibrahim.

But Mahathir, his coalition allies later attested, did not endorse maneuvers to form a “backdoor” coalition government that would have entailed joining hands with the scandal-plagued opposition party United Malays Nasional Organization (UMNO) and its allies, which the PH coalition toppled in a historic election in May 2018.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 24 February 2020

Mahathir still on top as knives out in Malaysia

PM's shock resignation and return as interim leader puts nation's fractious politics on new treacherous course


In a shock move with wide-reaching ramifications, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir tendered his resignation today (February 24), setting off heated speculation about his motives and where the country’s suddenly tumultuous politics are headed next.

The move followed an abortive bid by political forces purportedly loyal to Mahathir to dissolve the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition and form a new one that would explicitly exclude his presumed successor, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Anwar Ibrahim.

Crucially, Mahathir also stepped down as chairperson of his own party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), a key component of Pakatan Harapan.

The political situation remains fluid and uncertain, with possible scenarios ranging from anti-Anwar politicians bidding to form a new coalition government, a “hung parliament” where no political party or coalition commands a majority and thus forces a snap election, or Mahathir retaining the premiership indefinitely.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Mahathir, UMNO reunite in Malaysia political coup

Pending 'backdoor' coalition aims to thwart prime minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim's bid to power


“Betrayal.”

That is the word Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Anwar Ibrahim used to describe the seismic political realignment taking shape in Malaysia that could soon see the formation of a new coalition government that excludes his party.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, which took power in May 2018, is widely expected to be dissolved following a tumultuous day of political intrigue and maneuvers to form a new federal government on February 23.

A series of meetings involving major political parties and a rival faction of PKR led by deputy president Mohamed Azmin Ali eventuated in an audience with Malaysia’s constitutional monarch, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, fuelling speculation of a “backdoor” bid to form a new ruling coalition that would reunite Mahathir with the long-ruling United Malays Nasional Organization (UMNO).

“We were shocked today by developments that, to me, were a betrayal because promises were made,” said the 72-year-old Anwar in a Facebook Live broadcast on Sunday evening, referring to repeated vows by Mahathir to eventually step aside and hand power to Anwar.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Friday, 21 February 2020

Singapore seeks to spend its viral blues away

City-state launches stimulatory 'Unity Budget' to stave off a coronavirus caused recession and pre-election political fallout


Singapore had earlier viewed the start of a new decade as an opportunity to rebound from last year’s anemic growth that nearly knocked the city-state into recession. Then came the coronavirus, or Covid-19, curveball.

The global health emergency is quickly evolving into an economic one which has sent Singapore’s political leadership scrambling to devise countervailing stimulus measures to mitigate the fallout, significantly as the nation enters an election cycle.

With the unveiling of a so-called “Unity Budget” earlier this week that includes an S$800 million (US$575 million) virus containment package, Singapore’s prime minister-in-waiting, Heng Swee Keat, appears at first blush to have stuck the landing.

“We will put in every effort to slow down the spread of the virus,” said Heng, who is currently finance minister, upon delivering a more than two-hour budget statement in Parliament. The 58-year-old is set to become Singapore’s next leader as the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) prepares to hand power to a cadre of younger ministers soon after the next polls.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Why Mahathir may not step aside for Anwar

Malaysia's succession plan is in doubt as resistance mounts to a prime ministerial handover


In one corner is Malaysia’s 94-year-old premier, Mahathir Mohamad. In the other is his nemesis-turned-ally and presumed successor, 72-year-old Anwar Ibrahim.

When the two long-time rivals last traded figurative blows in a spectacular 1998 feud, the latter landed in prison with a literal black eye. This time around, Mahathir claims, it’s the media that is pining for a fight.  “If Anwar and I were to fight in a boxing match, you will be even happier because you can write more stories,” the premier recently jested to reporters.

Mahathir prefaced his remark with an oft-repeated vow to step down from office after Malaysia hosts the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in November. But despite his recurrent promise of a smooth leadership transition, the country’s rumor mill continues to spin wildly with whispers of conspiratorial plots and backroom deal-making to thwart Anwar’s bid.

Voices on both sides of the political aisle, meanwhile, are calling for Mahathir to continue as prime minister for a full five-year term rather than step down to make way for Anwar’s ascension.

The rising uncertainty threatens to hit stability and investor sentiment, with some analysts now predicting that Malaysia’s first post-independence change of government could end in a single-term administration.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Singapore’s model response can’t stop viral panic

City-state’s virus containment is widely lauded but small nation still has among most infections outside of China


With 50 confirmed coronavirus cases, among the highest worldwide outside of China, Singapore’s management of the health emergency is shaping into a key test for the city-state’s political leadership ahead of a soon anticipated general election.

While the wealthy island nation has won wide praise for its containment effort, seen in free face mask distribution and cash allowances for those in quarantine, it has not yet immunized Singaporeans against panic and fear.

Long queues formed in supermarkets as shoppers cleared shelves of toilet paper, instant noodles and rice in a spree of panic buying on February 7 after authorities raised the nation’s disease outbreak alert level to “orange” after an uptick in cases involving local transmission of the disease to people with no travel history to China.

DBS, Singapore’s biggest bank, was forced to evacuate 300 staff from its headquarters at the Marina Bay Financial Center on February 12 after an employee tested positive for coronavirus. The bank said it was conducting contact tracing in relation to the infected employee, while evacuated staff have been advised to work from home.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

How scandal-hit AirAsia could fall even further

Shareholder lawsuit against bribery-tainted company execs could hit budget airline’s shares


When is a bribe not a bribe? According to Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who controversially chose to weigh in on a bribery scandal involving top executives at budget airline AirAsia amid ongoing official probes, a bribe is only a bribe when an inducement is pocketed for personal gain.

“I hear there are allegations that AirAsia is involved in corruption. I am hesitant to comment, but usually, when governments buy equipment, we always ask for an offset,” Mahathir said on February 6. “If the money we obtain does not go into our own pocket, but instead is meant for a certain purpose, then it becomes an offset and this is not bribery. That’s my view,” he said.

The premier’s remarks were widely seen as tacit approval of AirAsia business dealings that British prosecutors at the United Kingdom’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) have deemed as fraudulent.

Bribery claims involving two still unnamed AirAsia executives came to light late last month after French airplane maker Airbus admitted to paying US$50 million to secure a large aircraft order with the budget carrier.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

AirAsia in a tailspin amid Airbus bribery claim

Budget airline pioneer Tony Fernandes steps aside while successful carrier he launched goes into free fall


Malaysian mogul Tony Fernandes, one of the aviation industry’s best-known executives, temporarily stepped down on February 3 as chief executive of the AirAsia budget carrier he co-founded amid US$50 million bribery allegations involving Airbus, the world’s largest plane maker.

The bribery claims involve two unnamed senior AirAsia executives and were brought forward by prosecutors from the United Kingdom’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) on January 31, which said Airbus had used hidden payments to win deals in a pattern of worldwide corruption. Airbus admitted to the broad allegations as part of a record $4 billion settlement to avoid criminal prosecution.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has initiated an investigation into the claims, with its chief commissioner Latheefa Koya issuing a statement saying the anti-graft agency is in touch with UK authorities over the matter. Malaysia’s aviation and securities regulators have also launched independent probes into the spiraling scandal.

As global carriers grapple with lower margins and air travel disruptions linked to the worsening coronavirus epidemic, allegations of bribery and corruption have cast a cloud of uncertainty over one of the best-known brands in Asian aviation and put AirAsia Group Bhd and its long-haul subsidiary AirAsia X Bhd’s share prices in a tailspin.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 3 February 2020

Malaysia, Singapore brace for China viral contagion

Both SE Asian nations poised to take an economic hit as coronavirus fears spread


As China’s coronavirus epidemic spreads and global panic rises, with over 17,000 infections and 360 fatalities, countries in neighboring Southeast Asia are rolling out travel restrictions and bracing for contagion effects.

While the wider region has pursued closer ties with Beijing in recent years under the auspices of the Belt and Road initiative (BRI), the coronavirus scare is seeing countries turn away an otherwise lucrative stream of Chinese arrivals.

Malaysia’s government, which began the year with the goal of attracting 3.48 million Chinese tourists by the end of 2020, is now weighing an economic stimulus package to cushion the expected negative impact of the worsening viral outbreak.

With a total of eight cases, all involving Chinese nationals, it has yet to enact more stringent measures such as blanket entry restrictions for Chinese passport holders, as imposed by some other regional countries.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.