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Nile Bowie

Singapore leadership succession back to square one


Questions swirl about who will be the next PM after Heng Swee Keat withdraws in major setback for the ruling PAP


Singapore's leadership succession plans were thrown into disarray on Thursday when Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat told a press conference he was taking himself out of the running to be the Southeast Asian city-state's next prime minister after being chosen for the role less than three years ago.

Heng, 59, said he decided to step aside as leader of the People's Action Party's (PAP) fourth-generation, or "4G," team to allow a younger person to lead the country once incumbent Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong retires. Heng cited his age, the governance challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and the exacting demands of the top job.

"I do not want to take on any job which I cannot deliver," Heng told reporters, adding that he had questioned whether he was the right person for the role and that his decision was taken after careful deliberation and discussion with his family. "I think it is better for someone who is younger, with a longer runway, to take on this job."

Like a bolt out of the blue, the widely unexpected announcement took observers by surprise. After what many regarded as an indecisive and drawn-out selection process that resulted in Heng being chosen as the 4G's leader and Lee's designated successor in late 2018, the PAP now finds itself back at square one and facing uncomfortable questions.
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.
translate | 10.4.2021 06:29

Singaporeans standing up to Lee’s libel lawfare


PM Lee's use of punitive defamation suits to stifle dissent comes back to bite as Singaporeans galvanize to pay convicted blogger's bills


Leong Sze Hian playfully describes himself as the first person ever to be sued for sharing a news story on Facebook with no accompanying comment.

The 67-year-old financial advisor, blogger and opposition politician is the latest critic to lose a punitive libel suit against Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is widely seen as following in his national founder father Lee Kuan Yew's footsteps in using lawsuits to stifle dissent.

The offending post came at a steep price. Last month, a court judge ordered Leong to pay the premier, the world's highest-paid political leader, S$133,000 (US$98,867) in damages for defamation. Justice Aedit Abdullah found that Leong could not "reasonably claim that the defamatory words" in the link he shared "did not impugn [Lee's] character."

The article in question was published by Malaysian website The Coverage in November 2018, and falsely alleged that Lee was involved in financial fraud and working in cahoots with former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak to launder funds in the multi-billion dollar 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.

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.
translate | 10.4.2021 04:38

A parting of political paths in Malaysia


Ruling coalition coming undone as UMNO party announces it will compete against PM Muhyiddin's smaller Bersatu at elections expected this year


When Malaysia's largest political party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), held its annual general meeting last weekend, its delegates endorsed a plan to contest against Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's shaky ruling coalition at the next general election – the same coalition it is currently propping up.

The Malay nationalist party is currently the largest bloc in the Perikatan Nasional (PN) governing alliance. UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi's announcement that the party will contest elections as part of the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition it separately leads and not cooperate with any other parties was, however, a foregone conclusion.

A feud between UMNO, which continuously governed Malaysia for more than 60 years until 2018, and Muhyiddin's smaller Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) party, an UMNO splinter group, has stoked infighting and ultimatums, effectively destabilizing the premier's 13-month rule as his government maneuvers to get a handle on a resurgent Covid-19 outbreak.

Despite the rupture, power-sharing between UMNO and Bersatu is set to continue until at least August, when a declared state of emergency that has suspended Parliament and the holding of elections will expire. UMNO's president has said its ministers, deputy ministers and lawmakers would withdraw support from PN once a clear exit date is decided.
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.
translate | 1.4.2021 13:08

Why Muhyiddin won’t reopen Malaysia’s parliament


Malaysian leader is presiding over a Covid-19 emergency that critics say has cynically suspended legislative democracy

When embattled Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin delivered a speech marking his first year in office earlier this month, the leader reiterated his vow to dissolve Parliament and hold a general election after the Covid-19 pandemic is brought under control, reassuring voters that they will ultimately decide the fate of his unelected ruling Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition.

With vaccinations now being rolled out and coronavirus restrictions easing as the still high national caseload trends lower, bipartisan pressure to reopen Parliament is coming to a head. The bicameral legislature was controversially suspended with the proclamation of emergency rule on January 12 amid an alarming rise in daily infections, a move that effectively suspended democracy.

But there is no indication yet when Parliament will reconvene as the premier ramps up efforts to court opposition defectors to shore up his coalition's razor-thin legislative majority. It's also unclear if the political stability Muhyiddin has sought to provide through the emergency will hold after the declaration expires in four months.

Malaysia's politics have been in tumultuous flux since the collapse of the elected Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration last February, a political convulsion that brought Muhyiddin to power. The 73-year-old premier has since faced daunting health, political and economic crises, all while his government has struggled to maintain its slim ruling majority.
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.
translate | 28.3.2021 12:51

North Korea-Malaysia frayed friendship finally breaks


Pyongyang severs diplomatic ties after Malaysia agrees to extradite North Korean citizen to US on money laundering charge


A Malaysian federal court decision earlier this month to approve the extradition of a North Korean citizen accused of money laundering to the United States has been hailed by some as a major coup in Washington's efforts to uproot Pyongyang's sanctions-evading activities.

A high court judge rejected the appeal of businessman Mun Chol Myong on March 9, making him the first-ever North Korean citizen extradited to the US to face a criminal trial. At the same time, the ruling has caused a diplomatic rupture, with North Korea ten days later announcing the total severance of its decades-old bilateral ties with Malaysia.

Relations had been uneasy ever since the 2017 assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, on Malaysian soil. Pyongyang's decision to end its diplomatic ties with Putrajaya will deepen its isolation in Southeast Asia, a region that has traditionally kept its doors open to North Korea.

Some analysts see the timing of North Korea's move as aimed at the Joe Biden administration and a sign that Pyongyang intends to shun offers to rekindle talks in favor of more a provocative strategy of resuming missile and nuclear weapons tests.
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.
translate | 22.3.2021 10:21

Unlawful assembly of one in Singapore


Singaporean politician Louis Ng is latest to face police investigation for his single-person 'smiley face' activism


Police in Singapore are investigating whether a ruling party lawmaker broke a strict law barring virtually all forms of protest when he held up a placard encouraging support for local food businesses, a case that has sparked debate over the proportionality of the city-state's broadly-defined public order legislation.
Louis Ng, a member of the People's Action Party (PAP), posted four pictures on Facebook last June of himself with hawkers at a food center in his constituency. He held up a piece of paper that read "support them" alongside a smiley face. That act alone could be deemed an offense if found by courts to constitute an illegal public assembly.

Though freedom of speech and assembly are enshrined in Singapore's constitution, civil liberties are significantly circumscribed in practice by the country's Public Order Act, under which a single person demonstrating support for or opposition to a cause without a police permit can be deemed an unlawful assembly and fined up to S$5,000 (US$3,760).

The investigation into Ng drew immediate comparisons with charges leveled last November against Jolovan Wham, a civil rights campaigner who posed in public with a smiley face drawn on a cardboard sign in a show of solidarity with young climate change activists who were questioned by police last year over similar single-person protests.

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.
translate | 12.3.2021 14:43

Myanmar crisis now or never moment for ASEAN


Bloc is well-placed to coax Myanmar's generals to compromise but it will need to do more than just express grave concern


More than a month on from a democracy-suspending military coup in Myanmar, many see the junta's increasingly violent crackdown on dissent as approaching a point of no return. As the United States and others press for tougher sanctions on the junta's leaders, Southeast Asian nations are under pressure to intervene to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.

With its credibility on the line after past failures to tackle human rights crises in the region, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is still widely seen as the best hope for a diplomatic solution amid uncharacteristic outspokenness from some of its member states who are pushing to build a regional consensus on the need for Myanmar to return to democracy.

But the grouping isn't speaking with one voice, with some of its members describing the putsch as an internal matter, consistent with the bloc's long-held tradition of non-interference in members' domestic affairs. Moreover, the organization's diplomatic efforts have been met with skepticism by those protesting across Myanmar who are staunchly opposed to any engagement that would confer legitimacy onto Naypyidaw's generals.

Questions persist as to whether ASEAN will pragmatically endorse new elections in the country as part of a negotiated compromise, which critics fear would ultimately lead to a military-engineered outcome – potentially with the nation's powerful army chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, 64, taking the reigns as elected president under a so-called "guided democracy" framework.
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.
translate | 4.3.2021 14:12

The duo who stole Malaysia’s democracy


Muhyiddin Yassin and Azmin Ali's 'Sheraton Move' coup has one year on resulted in nation's worst political crisis in decades


Malaysia is in the grip of arguably its worst political crisis since independence, with critics and politicians accusing embattled Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin of abusing his power to stifle any challenge to his unelected rule.

Parliament has been suspended under a state of emergency on public health grounds, the economy is in deep decline and the nation's democracy is unmistakably under heavy strain. It all marks a dramatic turn from May 2018, when the nation basked in its first democratic transition of power since achieving independence.

One year since former prime minister Mahathir Mohammad's shock resignation after that historic electoral upset, many have come to blame the two-time premier for the political coup orchestrated by his then-allies to topple his popularly elected government.

That coup brought Muhyiddin to power after a weeklong political impasse now known as the "Sheraton Move", a backroom political maneuver that brought Mahathir's Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition's 22-month reformist rule to an early and highly unexpected end.

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.
translate | 24.2.2021 13:50

Malaysia holds media freedom in contempt of court


Court ruling sets punitive precedent by holding top news site Malaysiakini liable for third party comments critical of the judiciary


Malaysiakini, widely considered the most popular independent media portal in Malaysia, was deemed liable for contempt of court in connection with reader remarks posted in the comments section of an article, a ruling that observers see as the latest blow to freedom of the press in the Southeast Asian nation.

In a Federal Court judgment on Friday (February 19), the online publication was found to be fully responsible for publishing third-party comments that "undermined the system of justice in the country" in a six to one decision. Malaysiakini was fined 500,000 ringgit (US$123,762), more than double the 200,000 ringgit fine prosecutors had sought.

Delivering the majority decision, judge Rohana Yusuf said the comments "involved allegations of corruption which were unproven and untrue," and that the court could not accept Malaysiakini's contention that it is not liable for public postings given that it owns, designs and controls its online platform in the way that it chooses.

"I am terribly disappointed," said Steven Gan, Malaysiakini's editor-in-chief, following the court ruling. "I think the decision made against us is perhaps an attempt to not only punish us but shut us down. It will have a tremendous chilling impact on discussions of issues of public interest and delivers a body blow on our campaign to fight corruption."
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.
translate | 19.2.2021 12:28

Bellwether Singapore pivots from the pandemic


City-state is moving away from pandemic-induced big spending but forecasts point towards an uneven economic recovery


With an economic recovery underway and its worst-ever recession receding, Singapore is pivoting away from pandemic-induced big spending to renew its focus on key structural changes to stay competitive in the years to come. That is at least how the city-state's latest budget, unveiled on February 16, is being pitched.

But as the small island-nation emerges from the crisis of a generation, forecasts point to an uneven recovery across various sectors of its bellwether economy. That unevenness, say economists, is bound to be reflected in regional growth performances, as neighboring countries continue to battle Covid-19 resurgences and move haltingly to vaccinate their populations.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat introduced the S$107 billion (US$80.5 billion) budget this week, acknowledging that while Singapore is heading towards a recovery fraught with uncertainties, the latest spending plan shifts the focus "from containment to restructuring" while retaining scaled-back support for the hardest-hit economic sectors.

"While last year's budgets were tilted towards emergency support in a broad-based way, this year's budget will focus on accelerating structural adaptations," said the 59-year-old in reference to seismic socio-economic and political "mega-shifts" triggered by Covid-19, which he said were on a scale greater than the 1929 Great Depression.
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.
translate | 19.2.2021 12:27
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