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Nile Bowie

Muhyiddin’s emergency aims to save his political life


Malaysian leader's declaration of a Covid-19 state of emergency allows him to forestall snap polls and strengthen his grip on power


With daily Covid-19 cases hitting new record highs and political tensions at a breaking point, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's declaration of a nationwide state of emergency could give him the power and time he needs to stabilize the country and retain the premiership.

Malaysia's king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, consented to a state of emergency on January 12 under which Parliament and the holding of elections have been suspended. Under emergency rule, the premier has broader and more enhanced powers to enact new laws as emergency ordinances, which the military has been empowered to enforce.

"Let me assure you, the civilian government will continue to function. The emergency proclaimed by the king is not a military coup and curfew will not be enforced," said Muhyiddin in a televised address as he sought to dispel alarm over the measures, which could last until August 1 or end earlier if transmissions are contained.

Malaysia hasn't declared a national emergency since the bloody race riots and civil unrest of 1969. The announcement has strengthened the 73-year-old premier's shaky grasp on power, ending speculation that a snap election could soon be called and forestalling any attempt by his political opponents to force early 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.
translate | 14.1.2021 12:40

Axed railway raises Malaysia-Singapore trust deficit


Bilateral cancellation of once ballyhooed high-speed rail project runs deeper than disagreements over costs and Covid


Not long after ringing in the new year, disappointment set in for those on both sides of the Causeway separating Singapore and Malaysia. On January 1, the two countries announced the termination of a multi-billion-dollar high-speed rail (HSR) that would have directly linked the city-state to Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur.

News of the much-anticipated project's cancellation came as a blow to frequent travelers who shuttle between the two neighboring Southeast Asian states, with leaders from both sides offering conflicting explanations for why the rail link, once touted by Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as a "game-changer" for bilateral relations, was axed.

According to a joint statement, the two countries were unable to reach a consensus on continuing the project after Malaysia's government proposed several changes to reduce costs in light of the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Slated for completion by 2031, the rail link would have cost an estimated US$14.9 billion to $19.8 billion.

The 350-kilometer, or 218-mile, HSR would have cut the travel time between the two cities down to about 90 minutes from the more than four hours it now takes by car. According to official estimates, the rail link would have contributed $5 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) to Malaysia and Singapore, as well as create 111,000 jobs by 2060.
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 | 7.1.2021 10:55

Singapore shines the way to a post-pandemic 2021


City-state sees hope on the horizon with arrival of Covid-19 vaccines and virtually no new daily cases or deaths


Once a cautionary tale of the pandemic era, Singapore is beginning 2021 boasting a comeback story. Having once had the highest Covid-19 caseload in Southeast Asia when daily infections were at their peak in April, the city-state has nearly eradicated local transmission of the virus in a hard-fought narrative reversal.

While parts of the world experience new lockdowns and a resurgence of the coronavirus, daily cases are almost zero in Singapore, with only a small number of infected people arriving from abroad. Fatality rates are among the world's lowest with just 29 deaths nearly one year on from when the island republic reported its first case.

"Covid-19 has been a relentless fight that has tested our resources and resolve to the fullest," said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his New Year message on December 31. "The first batch of vaccines has arrived in Singapore, and vaccinations have already begun. We can now see light at the end of the tunnel."

Singapore was the first country in Asia to receive doses of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German firm BioNTech. Healthcare workers and the elderly were among the first to be inoculated in late December. To show the vaccine is safe, Lee, 68, and his colleagues are slated to be early recipients of the shots.
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 | 1.1.2021 08:47

Lee family still just can’t get along in Singapore


Singapore's simmering 'first family' feud could come to a new head as related court verdicts are handed down in 2021


When the fifth anniversary of the death of Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew was observed earlier this year, his estranged children mourned apart. An acrimonious dispute among the siblings that began over the fate of their late father's estate has not yet been put to rest and has since taken on political dimensions.

Related legal proceedings are set to be heard in 2021, including a defamation case brought by the late Lee's eldest son, incumbent Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, 68, against a local news editor who repeated an allegation made by his younger brother Lee Hsien Yang and sister Lee Wei Ling, neither of whom the premier has sued directly.

With the prime minister now expected to retain power and push back a leadership transition that was set to happen by 2022 in order to see the nation through the Covid-19 crisis, it remains to be seen how a bitter family feud could play out in the final years of Lee's litigious rule.

Unprecedented public sparring between members of Singapore's first family began in earnest in 2017 when the premier's siblings accused him of abusing his executive powers to impede their efforts to demolish the family bungalow, a five-bedroom residence at 38 Oxley Road, as their elder statesmen father had wanted and stipulated in his will.

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 | 22.12.2020 13:24

Global Britain ditches EU for an Asian future


UK has clinched Singapore and Vietnam free trade deals that will serve as templates for its post-Brexit Asian trade relations


With the future of Britain-European Union (EU) trade on a precipice, simmering post-Brexit uncertainty hasn't deterred the United Kingdom (UK) from projecting itself as a re-emerging force in global and particularly Asian trade.

Ahead of what some fear will be a chaotic end to the five-year Brexit process, with the UK set to break with the EU's single market on December 31, London is already casting its gaze eastward, eyeing bilateral deals and membership in a regional trade bloc.

Last week, the UK announced new trade pacts with Singapore and Vietnam, which International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said would be "vital for the UK's future as an independent trading nation," and help make Britain a "global hub for services and technology trade."

Touted as symbolically extending the UK's foothold in Asia, both deals largely replicate existing trade agreements that Singapore and Hanoi have with the EU, and could pave the way for similar pacts with nations in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as Britain pledges to take a more active role in regional affairs in the Indo-Pacific.
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 | 16.12.2020 05:27

First notes of Anwar’s swan song in Malaysia


Opposition leader's strategic missteps and questionable tactics have his coalition partners looking for new leadership ahead of polls


Anwar Ibrahim, long seen as a champion of national reform and multiracial unity, is under pressure from his coalition partners to step aside as frustration with his strategies and leadership mount in the aftermath of a watershed budget vote in Parliament that failed as promised to topple the government.

After pillorying the government's expansionary 2021 budget and intimating he would not cooperate with Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's "back-door government", opposition leader Anwar allowed the draft expenditure bill to pass in a walkover as per an eleventh-hour strategy shift that has apparently ignited an intra-coalition revolt.

The Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition had intended for the bill's November 26 vote to serve as a do or die test of Muhyiddin's nine-month-old administration, which has clung to power with a razor-thin two-seat majority. Instead, the vote has resulted in a legitimacy crisis for the opposition, one that could knock Anwar out as PH's prime ministerial candidate at the next election.

"The mood in the last week since the vote is one of anger and frustration," said a senior figure from Anwar's Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). "Everyone is angry, especially with Anwar's last-minute U-turn. And until now, Anwar has failed to provide a satisfactory explanation to his coalition partners about why he did that."
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 | 7.12.2020 10:20

Malaysia looks high, China hides Low


China denies but Malaysia insists fugitive 1MDB fraudster Jho Low is living quietly and comfortably in Macau


When will Jho Low finally be brought to justice? It's a question many in Malaysia are asking since new revelations about the country's most wanted man came to light, including China's apparent role in providing him refuge to evade global authorities seeking his arrest.

Low, whose full name is Low Taek Jho, has been on the run for nearly five years and is widely viewed as the mastermind behind the multi-billion-dollar 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) corruption scandal.

Earning infamy for his extravagant spending and penchant for partying, the elusive 39-year-old financier has avoided the limelight and kept largely silent as a fugitive, spending millions on legal fees and public relations services. He has continued to travel internationally despite having two Interpol Red Notices and an active US arrest warrant out against him.

The long-running search for Low hasn't let up amid a year that has seen Malaysia gripped by political turmoil and an ongoing health crisis. Police officials have lamented making no discernible headway in repatriating the Penang-born fugitive at the center of one of the biggest ever financial heists, though they claim to know where he is.
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 | 3.12.2020 08:33

Vote puts Anwar’s takeover bluff to bed in Malaysia


PM Muhyiddin Yassin sees down opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's challenge in what was billed as a make-or-break budget vote


With his political survival on the line, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin overcame a key hurdle when lawmakers approved on November 26 his government's expansionary 2021 budget, the first in a series of votes that will ultimately determine whether the spending plan is passed.

By failing to seize a golden opportunity to put the spending bill through a formal count in Parliament, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim dismayed his supporters and had little to show for his oft-repeated claims of commanding the parliamentary numbers needed to bring down Muhyiddin's nine-month-old government.

Passage of the 322.5 billion ringgit (US$78 billion) annual budget, the nation's largest-ever at 20.6% of gross domestic product (GDP), had been in question with legislators on both sides of the aisle – including those within the premier's ruling Perikatan Nasional (PN) administration and its allies – voicing opposition to various components of the spending proposal.

Pitched as essential to the nation's post-pandemic economic recovery, the budget ultimately passed in a voice vote in the policy stage of the voting process. Prior to its approval, Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz announced last-minute concessions aimed at meeting certain government backbencher demands.
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 | 27.11.2020 13:19

How China won and US lost the trade war


RCEP trade pact marks beginning of China's and end of America's centrality in Asia-Pacific trade

Signed and sealed in a video conference ceremony after nearly eight years of grueling negotiations, the world's largest free trade bloc was forged on November 15 in a show of collective defiance against protectionism that sets the stage for China to supplant the United States as the Asia-Pacific's main trade engine.

Proclaimed as a win for the multilateral trading system, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) harmonizes regulatory standards and allows member countries to offer themselves as an integrated market for investment, providing a confidence boost to aid a regionwide post-pandemic recovery.

Apart from the promised benefits of trade liberalization, the RCEP has been acknowledged more for its symbolic significance in relation to the world's two largest economies, only one of which is a signatory to the deal. China's inclusion in the pact will expand its economic reach and arguably help to solidify its position as a standard-bearer for globalization.

"What the RCEP clearly does is entrench China as the leading player within the free trade architecture of the Asia-Pacific, and it comes at a time when the United States is painted as a regressive force on free trade under Donald Trump," said Harrison Cheng, an associate director with consulting firm Control Risks.
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 | 25.11.2020 07:41

Muhyiddin faces make or break budget vote


Crucial vote in coming days will double as a no-confidence motion that could upend Malaysian leader's eight-month-old rule


Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin will face a political moment of truth when Malaysian lawmakers vote on proposals for the nation's largest-ever annual budget in Parliament later this month. A defeat of the spending plan would be equivalent to a no-confidence vote and could plunge the country into a leadership crisis.

Muhyiddin's eight-month-old government intends to spend a record 322.5 billion ringgit (US$78 billion) in 2021 as it seeks to offset the economic ill-effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and bring Southeast Asia's third-largest economy back from the brink after gross domestic product (GDP) plunged 17.1% year on year in the second quarter.

The expansionary budget, a 2.5% increase in spending from 2020, aims to hasten an already evident recovery from the worst effects of business activity restrictions enacted under an earlier nationwide lockdown. Third quarter data announced by Malaysia's central bank on Friday (November 13) showed a smaller 2.7% contraction.

A resurgence of coronavirus infections since September has seen infections triple to nearly 44,000 cases. Authorities have in response imposed targeted movement curbs in parts of the country, threatening an economic turnaround that the budget, the first to be presented since Muhyiddin was appointed premier by the nation's king in March, is designed to spur.
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 | 13.11.2020 16:17
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