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Najib clings to power despite renewed attacks by Mahathir – Nikkei Asian Review

Mahathir Mohamed poses with well-wishers at Pavilion mall in Kuala Lumpur on Aug. 31 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak looks secure in office, for now, despite massive weekend street protests calling for his removal. The prime minister, under pressure since July over $700 million deposited in bank accounts in his name prior to national elections two years ago, described the protests as immature and “not the proper channel to voice opinions in a democratic country.” However as Najib and government colleagues joined national day celebrations at Kuala Lumpur’s Merdeka Square, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed, Najib’s chief critic, continued a series of broadsides against the incumbent. “He has effectively removed all the laws and undermined the legal system,” Mahathir told the Nikkei Asian Review, discussing Najib’s efforts to retain office despite the allegations of financial impropriety.

In Malaysia, peaceful protest hints at growing ethnic divide – Nikkei Asian Review

Protestors wearing 'occupy' style masks in Kuala Lumpur on Aug. 29 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Tens of thousands of yellow-clad Malaysian protestors marched through Kuala Lumpur on Saturday to demand the resignation of scandal-mired Prime Minister Najib Razak. Joining the demonstrators at Malaysia’s national mosque, Lim Kit Siang of the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) told the Nikkei Asian Review that “we want to save Malaysia from political and economic crisis, where the country will end up as a failed state with no rule of law.” For Najib, the protests, which are scheduled to continue until Aug. 30, come after possibly the most exacting few weeks of his political career. In the weeks since the Wall Street Journal in July carried allegations that almost $700m had been deposited to bank accounts in his name — seemingly money diverted from companies linked to troubled state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) — Najib has faced mounting criticism and calls for his resignation.

Rohingya MP banned from contesting election – Nikkei Asian Review

Rohingya children play inside Dar Paing camp near Sittwe, Rakhine State (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

YANGON — One of five lawmakers from Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority who have sat in the country’s national and regional parliaments since 2010 has been barred from contesting the upcoming Nov. 8 national election. Shwe Maung, speaking to the Nikkei Asian Review on Sunday, said he had received an official notice from the government’s election commission that he was not eligible to run in the election – even though he holds a seat in national parliament. He said he would appeal the decision take by the district election sub-commission in Maungdaw, a Rohingya-majority district in northern Rakhine state, bordering Bangladesh. “I have seven days to appeal and perhaps tomorrow I will make the appeal at the Rakhine state regional electoral commission,” said Shwe Maung, who was elected in 2010 as a lawmaker in Myanmar’s lower house, representing the Union Solidarity and Development Party.

Southeast Asia grapples with resurgence of ‘traditional’ piracy – Nikkei Asian Review

Fishing boats moored at Banda Aceh (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – During the first six months of 2015, pirates launched an attack once every two weeks on average in Southeast Asian waters, according to the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau. “We have been busy, getting many calls, emails, even faxes,” Noel Choong, head of the IMB’s Piracy Reporting Center in Kuala Lumpur, told the Nikkei Asian Review. The center was set up in 1992 as “a 24-hour and free service for shipmasters to report any piracy, armed robbery or stowaway incidents,” according to the IMB website. The increase in the number of incidents marks a return to the period between the early 1990s and 2006 when Southeast Asia was the most “pirate infested” region in the world, according to the IMB. It was subsequently overtaken by an upsurge in deadly attacks and hijackings in the waters off Somalia and East Africa, where ship crews were sometimes held captive for years.

Indonesia’s foreign worker flip-flop – Nikkei Asian Review

Rachmat Gobel, who was recently fired as Indonesia's trade minister as part of a cabinet reshuffle (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – Indonesian President Joko Widodo has signaled a softening of his government’s increasingly stringent visa requirements for foreigners working in the country in an apparent response to strong concerns raised by overseas businesses. Widodo told the cabinet on Aug. 20 that the government would drop earlier plans to require foreign workers to learn the Indonesian language and apply for temporary stay permits of up to a year, known by their local acronym, Kitas. The president’s statement came six weeks after the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration introduced new rules requiring all companies to hire 10 Indonesians for every foreign employee. Ulf Backlund, chairman of the European Business Chamber of Commerce in Indonesia, known as EuroCham, said while the chamber is “upbeat on the economic prospects of Indonesia,” the hiring restrictions could be “counterproductive in the long run.”

Infrastructure controversies weigh on Widodo’s growth strategy – Nikkei Asian Review

The Jatigede dam on Aug. 1 2015 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

CIPAKU, Indonesia — It might have been just another arcadian Saturday morning on Aug. 1 in Cipaku, a farming village 240km east of Jakarta. The dawn euphony filled the air: a chorus of songbirds, crowing roosters and dogs offering up their first soft barks of the day. Shortly after, as the sun rose and as the first wan sunlight filtered a few beams through the tree-shaded village in West Java, drowsy parents swept doorways and ushered sprucely uniformed children out the gate ahead of the 7 a.m. start of school. That same day — if government plans had gone ahead — the newly completed 110-meter high Jatigede Dam, just 3km away, would have shut its floodgates, blocking the Cimanuk river and submerging Cipaku’s 1,200 homes under water 50 meters deep. But Aug. 1 came and went and the Cimanuk was left to flow as usual, marking yet another delay in the dam’s opening that Public Works and Housing Minister Basuki Hadimuljono attributed to “administrative glitches.”

Indonesia, increasingly protectionist, cracks down on foreign workers – Nikkei Asian Review

At Jakarta's Tanjung Priok port (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — A new government directive requiring companies to hire 10 Indonesians for every expatriate is raising alarm among businesses and compounding concerns about the Joko Widodo administration’s growing protectionism. New labour rules, announced on June 29 by the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration, were followed three weeks later by the introduction of higher import duties on a variety of consumer goods, such as clothes, carpets, cars, alcohol, tea and coffee. Boston University’s Emeritus Professor Gustav Papanek, who has studied the Indonesian economy for more than five decades, said the stiff new regulations are not the best way to go about reshaping employment conditions. F “Indonesia needs to attract three times as much foreign direct investment as it attracts now, not discourage people,” Papanek said.

Widodo’s first reshuffle targets trade, planning – Nikkei Asian Review

Indonesia President Joko Widodo listens as UK Prime Minister David Cameron speaks to media in Jakarta on July 27 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – Indonesian President Joko Widodo fired five ministers and transferred one in a long expected cabinet reshuffle announced Wednesday afternoon. Trade Minister Rachmat Gobel was replaced by Thomas Lembong, a Harvard graduate and former investment banker. Coordinating Economic Minister Sofyan Djalil was replaced by Darmin Nasution, the central bank governor from 2010 to 2013. Djalil’s new post is minister of national development planning. The appointment of Nasution and Lembong has been welcomed by those who feared party hacks might be appointed based on political connections. “As a former central bank governor, [Nasution] knows very well the fiscal and macroeconomic matters that need to be addressed,” said Djayadi Hanan, executive director at Saiful Mujani, a Jakarta political consultancy. Gobel’s decision to slash cattle imports led to beef prices surging and protests from consumers already struggling with a sliding rupiah and growing inflation.”It is no surprise that the trade minister was replaced,” said Yohanes Sulaiman, a lecturer at the Indonesian National Defense University. “Many business people said he was incompetent.”

In southeast Asia, Britain hedges against Eurozone troubles – Nikkei Asian Review

UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Indonesia President Joko Widodo outside the Presidential Palace in Jakarta on July 27 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – By choosing to visit Asia on his first major overseas trip after the May 2015 general elections returned him to office, British Prime Minister David Cameron signaled that the region’s dynamic economies will be a key focus of his new government. But the visit was neither to China, the world’s second-biggest economy, nor to India, the world’s most populous democracy and once the centerpiece of the massive British Empire, nor to Japan, the world’s third-biggest economy, which, like the U.K., is a close ally of the U.S. Instead, Cameron made a four-day, four-country swing through Southeast Asia, visiting Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia. Talking up the need for Britain to do more business outside Europe, Cameron evoked British merchants of yore, saying, “No territory was too far. No opportunity was left untapped. We need to employ some of that Elizabethan endeavor today — to tell the world: ‘We’ve got the supply, you’ve got the demand — let’s do business.'”

Britain seeks far-flung business opportunities – Nikkei Asian Review

UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Indonesia President Joko Widodo at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta on July 27 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – Meeting Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Monday to discuss mutual trade and investment prospects, UK Prime Minister David Cameron told media that “we [the U.K. and Indonesia] are natural business partners and there is much more we can do.” In return for considering British investments, Indonesia wants greater access to the U.K. and to the wider European market for its exports, which are mostly commodities such as palm oil, rubber, coal, coffee, copper, oil and natural gas. “The lower tariff [is] needed on Indonesian [primary] products like wood, clothing, coffee and fisheries,” Widodo said after meeting Cameron, adding that British applications for investment in Indonesian infrastructure would be considered.