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Nile Bowie

Malaysia’s Ismail reverts to a race-based past


New PM's five-year plan will ramp up pro-Malay affirmative action policies that have long hindered growth and competitiveness


A historic bipartisan agreement between Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob's government and the opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition will be put to the test on Thursday (October 7) when lawmakers vote on the newly installed administration's first major policy initiative.

Ismail tabled his government's five-year road map, known as the 12th Malaysia Plan, in parliament on September 27. The plan calls for 400 billion ringgit (US$95.53 billion) in spending on development projects including new highways and rail networks, affordable housing, as well as improvements in health, education and broadband connectivity.

The ambitious blueprint aims to reverse a pandemic-induced downturn while targeting high-income nation status by 2025, breaking free of the so-called middle-income trap that economists have long-regarded Malaysia as being stuck in, with its once high per-capita growth rate stagnating for at least a decade.

But a key plank of Ismail's plan calls for dialing up of race-based affirmative action policies that critics have long argued are overdue for reform, a move that has been panned by economists, industry groups and opposition lawmakers who say such measures will only benefit "cronies" instead of poor and working-class ethnic Malays.
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 | 13.10.2021 08:32

Singapore finding it hard to ‘live with Covid’


City-state set to tighten social distancing rules amid a record surge in cases despite a world-beating 82% vaccination rate


Singapore's "living with Covid" strategy is being tested by a record rise in new daily cases, laying bare the challenges of moving from pandemic to endemic. But health officials in the city-state, which at 82% boasts one of the world's highest vaccination rates, have said the surge is a "rite of passage" on a path back to normality.

The government has so far refrained from reimposing sweeping lockdown restrictions but has hit the brakes on further reopening measures while signaling concern over ballooning infection rates. To ensure that the healthcare system can cope with the climbing caseload, authorities recently took the step of tightening social distancing rules.

Lawrence Wong, Singapore's finance minister and co-chair of a multi-ministry Covid-19 task force, conceded on September 24 that Singaporeans would be disappointed by the new curbs but said the city-state remains committed to its endemic strategy. Daily cases will eventually stabilize but remain "much higher" than previously, said the minister.

"We are not going back to a scenario of low daily cases anymore. It's not going to be possible, because we are moving forward to learn to live with the virus," said Wong. "That's part of the adjustment we all have to make to prepare ourselves for the time when Covid becomes an endemic disease and learn to live with more daily cases."
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 | 27.9.2021 10:38

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.
translate | 20.9.2021 09:35

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.
translate | 7.9.2021 12:03

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.
translate | 30.8.2021 16:00

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.
translate | 2.9.2021 09:57

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.
translate | 2.9.2021 09:57

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.
translate | 16.8.2021 17:10

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.
translate | 13.8.2021 06:59

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.
translate | 6.8.2021 06:16
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