Thursday, 16 September 2021

Bipartisan deal puts Malaysia’s PM on safer ground

Newly appointed premier clinches deal with opposition coalition in a boon for political stability and reform


A historic agreement signed this week between Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s government and the opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition looks set to ease months of political instability and shore up the government’s position as it grapples with Covid-19 and an economy hit hard by the pandemic.

Following a decree for more bipartisanship by the constitutional monarch, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on “Transformation and Political Stability” was inked on September 13, which will see the newly appointed government implement several policies and institutional reforms sought by the opposition.

In exchange, PH has agreed not to obstruct the government on critical votes in Parliament that could have an implication on its survival, such as budgetary matters. The agreement, seen by analysts as a de facto a confidence-and-supply deal, is good news for Malaysia’s ninth premier, who leads the country’s third government in as many years.

The MoU is being seen as a form of political insurance for Ismail, whose administration will be better insulated from lawmaker defections that led to the collapse of the previous two governments. The premier, sworn in on August 21, presides over a government that commands just 114 out of 222 seats in Parliament, where two seats are vacant.

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, 3 September 2021

Ismail brokers a political ceasefire in Malaysia

New premier expected to preside over a period of political stability but its not clear his line-up will be any more effective than the last


Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob has been in office for less than a fortnight with a mere four-seat majority at the helm of the nation’s third administration in just three years. While his rivals are plenty and political risks abound, not least the ever-present potential for a new round of parliamentary defections that bring down yet another government, signs for now point to a period of relative stability.

More stability than Malaysians have become accustomed to amid recent turbulent times, at least. Ismail’s rise has resulted in a political ceasefire between warring factions of the ruling coalition that brought down the predecessor Muhyiddin Yassin government, but have since recoalesced to support the new administration.

Ismail, a former defense minister, has taken the reins at a time of unprecedented turmoil as daily Covid-19 cases and deaths hit record highs, stretching health resources and battering the economy. With the same razor-thin majority of his predecessor, the premier is similarly beholden to the various parties and personalities backing him.

But the more Malaysia’s politics change, the more they stay the same. After announcing his Cabinet last week, Ismail faced criticism from within and outside his party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), for largely retaining the previous Perikatan Nasional (PN) administration’s line-up with only a minor reshuffle of personnel and portfolios.

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, 26 August 2021

Good optics, shallow vows for Harris in SE Asia

US Vice President's two-country tour aimed to reaffirm America's commitment to strategic region but China still has the upper hand


The Joe Biden administration has rarely missed an opportunity to stress the critical importance of Southeast Asia to its Indo-Pacific agenda of containing China’s influence and rise. But until a string of recent high-level visits to the strategic region, observers noted that little had been done to match its words with deeds.

Now, Washington hopes that Vice President Kamala Harris’ seven-day trip to Singapore and Vietnam this week will influence perceptions of America’s resolve and commitment following the administration’s slow start in engaging the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its members’ leaders.

Some political analysts and observers see the vice president’s visit and her strong reaffirmation of partnerships in the region as a clear counter to earlier criticism of the administration’s foreign policy neglect. But the United States’ outreach is ultimately still seen as being heavy on symbolism and short on concrete and meaningful proposals.

With pointed criticism of Beijing aplenty, the Biden administration has to carefully frame its regional initiatives on their merits and as separate from any explicit agenda to confront China, which analysts say would dampen support from Southeast Asian nations seeking to balance their relations with Washington and Beijing.

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, 20 August 2021

Ismail’s rise puts UMNO back on top in Malaysia

Ismail Sabri Yaakob's ascent to the premiership brings nation's politics full circle since the tainted party's historic fall at 2018 polls


Ismail Sabri Yaakob, vice president of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), will be sworn in as Malaysia’s ninth prime minister on Saturday (August 21), less than a week after his predecessor Muhyiddin Yassin resigned after lawmakers withdrew support for his government.

Few foresaw Ismail’s rise from a mid-tier party leader to Malaysia’s next prime minister prior to recent developments that put him in pole position to claim the top job. Ismail, 61, served as deputy premier in Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition and broke ranks with his own party’s leadership to support the previous government.

But with a razor-thin governing majority, his new administration will be as vulnerable as the last to being toppled by a small handful of defectors. Ismail secured the support of 114 lawmakers, only three more than required for a simple majority, leaving him with the exact composition of PN’s previous legislative support.

The Istana Negara, or national palace, announced Ismail’s appointment following a special Conference of Rulers (CoR) meeting of the country’s nine royal households on Friday and issued a statement expressing hope that political agendas would be immediately put aside in the interests of dealing with the country’s severe Covid-19 crisis.

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, 18 August 2021

Deja vu dash for Malaysia’s premiership

Muhyiddin Yassin's resignation has sparked new rounds of cut and thrust politicking for the nation's top job


With royal consultations underway to determine who will lead Malaysia’s third government in as many years following Muhyiddin Yassin’s resignation on Monday (August 16), Malaysians are bound to be struck with deja vu as aspirants for the top job once again race to form a governing majority.

Muhyiddin is set to stay on as a caretaker prime minister until Malaysia’s king determines his replacement. But the nation is now without a government as it contends with Southeast Asia’s highest per capita rate of Covid-19 infections and deaths, and the mounting economic costs of its prolonged political turmoil.

Nor is there a clear successor in sight given that no politician or political party is known to have clinched the majority support of legislators in Parliament. Amid the uncertainty over which parties could form the next government and whether it would even be viable, Muhyiddin could conceivably serve in a caretaker capacity for months until new elections can be safely held.

Among his most likely successors is former deputy premier Ismail Sabri Yaakob, opposition leader and long-time prime ministerial hopeful Anwar Ibrahim, and 11-term veteran lawmaker Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, who could emerge as a compromise candidate amid a factional split between supporters and opponents of the outgoing premier.

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, 16 August 2021

PM’s resignation opens power vacuum in Malaysia

Muhyiddin Yassin says he was forced out for refusing to sacrifice his principles and cooperate with the kleptocrats


After weeks of political turmoil, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin handed his resignation to Malaysia’s king on Monday (August 16) after losing his legislative majority, bringing an end to a tumultuous 17 months in office marred by legitimacy questions, leadership challenges and a tragically mishandled pandemic response.

“It is obvious that I have lost the majority support, so there is no longer a need to ascertain my legitimacy as the prime minister in Parliament,” said the 74-year-old in a nationally televised speech. “I have therefore tendered my resignation as prime minister and also the resignation of my entire Cabinet as required by the federal constitution.”

A statement issued by the Istana Negara, or national palace, said that Muhyiddin would serve as Malaysia’s caretaker prime minister until the monarch, who is known as Yang di-Pertuan Agong, appoints a new prime minister from elected lawmakers on the basis of who he thinks is most likely to command a majority in the Lower House.

But it is far from clear who may form the next government. While opponents of Muhyiddin have succeeded in toppling his Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition and forcing his resignation, no alternative candidate from any other political party has so far managed to cobble together a clear majority in Parliament, casting uncertainty over the transfer of power.

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, 13 August 2021

Singapore sees light at the end of Covid’s tunnel

City-state revises up economic growth projection to 6-7% while touting exemplary vaccination rate of over 70%


Singapore upgraded its 2021 growth projection on Wednesday (August 11) as its trade-reliant economy charted a stronger than expected recovery in the first half, a rebound that is projected to expand as the city-state looks to re-open more sectors and ease travel restrictions in the weeks ahead.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) revised its gross domestic product (GDP) for this year to a range of 6% to 7%, up from the previous 4% to 6%, putting the island nation on track to boost economic output above pre-pandemic 2019 levels. While mainly sanguine on Singapore’s outlook, economists still see potential downside risks on the horizon.

The improved forecast came as the city-state announced it achieved a target of fully vaccinating 70% of its 5.9 million population by independence day on August 9, giving Singapore one of the best vaccination rates in the world as it transitions to treating coronavirus as an endemic disease and advances its so-called “Covid-resilient” nation status.

“Today, we are vaccinating 1% of our population daily. A higher proportion of our population is now better protected. We are in a more resilient position. We can now look forward to a careful, step-by-step reopening of our economy. This is how we can move into the new normal,” said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a televised speech on August 8.

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, 6 August 2021

Muhyiddin holding on by thinnest of political threads

Malaysian premier's days could be numbered as coalition partner asserts he's lost a governing majority and calls for him to resign


Amid a deepening political quagmire, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is defying calls for his resignation while maintaining that his embattled government still commands a parliamentary majority following a bold bid to unseat him by leaders of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the ruling coalition’s largest party.

Flanked by 10 UMNO lawmakers, UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi claimed on Tuesday (August 3) he had a sufficient number of statutory declarations from legislators who were withdrawing their support for Muhyiddin, asserting at a press conference that the premier had lost his governing majority and should resign.

It wasn’t the first time that Zahid had made such an assertion. On July 8, he declared UMNO had withdrawn its support for Muhyiddin, but UMNO ministers serving in Cabinet stayed on, refusing to toe the party line. At least one minister has so far resigned following Zahid’s latest directive, and speculation is rife that further defections may follow.

Unprecedented tensions between the government and Malaysia’s constitutional monarch, cited by Zahid as one of the factors behind his latest push to topple Muhyiddin, has given the premier’s opponents fresh impetus to bring down his wobbly administration amid talk of the country being on the cusp of a major constitutional crisis.

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, 29 July 2021

Emergency ends but crisis deepens in Malaysia

Monarch accuses government of sidelining his function and power, a royal rebuke the opposition claims is tantamount to treason


Malaysia’s constitutional monarch delivered an unprecedented rebuke of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s administration on Thursday (July 29), accusing the government’s law minister of “misleading” Parliament over the alleged revocation of emergency ordinances that have been in effect since January to stem a rising tide of Covid-19 infections.

A strongly-worded statement issued by the Istana Negara, or national palace, accused the government of issuing “conflicting and confusing statements” earlier this week in Parliament that had not only “failed to respect the sovereignty” of the nation’s laws, but “sidelined the function and powers” of the king as enshrined in the federal constitution.

King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah was “very disappointed” in particular by the conduct of de facto law minister Takiyuddin Hassan and Attorney-General Idrus Harun, who the palace said had failed to fulfill their promise to table and debate the annulment of the emergency ordinances in a special legislative session that opened on Monday (July 26).

The emergency proclamation, which the king assented to earlier this year, effectively suspended Parliament and state legislatures, disallowed elections and gave the premier powers to enact emergency ordinances without legislative scrutiny, supposedly to enable the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government to more effectively manage the health crisis.

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, 23 July 2021

Singapore not quite ready to live with Covid-19

City-state reimposes lockdown-like measures just weeks after saying Covid-19 would be treated as a manageable endemic disease


Wet markets, hawker centers and coffee shops have once again gone quiet after tighter Covid-19 restrictions were reinstated on July 22 to counter the highest incidence of community cases in 11 months, a development that health authorities say is a “huge setback” for the city-state’s reopening plans.

Despite making vaccination strides with the highest inoculation levels in the region, the threat of runaway infections fueled by the more transmissible Delta variant led the country to reimpose restrictions in place during May and June, prohibiting dining in at restaurants, closing indoor venues such as gyms, and limiting gatherings to two people.

After reporting very few locally transmitted cases in recent weeks, new infections rapidly mushroomed with major clusters at karaoke bars and a fishery port that soon spread to fresh seafood markets frequented by the elderly, a demographic given early priority for vaccination but with the lowest take-up rate among all eligible age groups.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung told reporters on Wednesday (July 21) that stricter curbs were needed to prevent “an uncontrollable rise in cases, which could potentially result in many severe illnesses or even deaths” among unvaccinated seniors. He said that more than 200,000 residents over age 60 have yet to be immunized.

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.