KUALA LUMPUR — It must have been through gritted teeth, but Malaysia’s troubled Prime Minister Najib Razak affected a sanguine air when asked about his reaction to U.S. President Barack Obama’s comments on the recent crackdown on dissent during their meeting on Nov. 20. “Malaysia is committed to reforms,” Najib said.The Malaysian prime minster added that he is “taking into account some of the president’s views” on freedom of speech and the role of civil society in a democracy — a contribution Obama sees as significant given that while in Kuala Lumpur he also met with the organizer of a demonstration in August demanding Najib’s resignation. Since a narrow 2013 election win, Najib has overseen the charging of hundreds of journalists, activists, cartoonists and lawmakers with sedition, while opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has been sent back to jail for allegedly sodomizing a male colleague — a criminal offence in Malaysia. “Najib has been in a touchy mode since the May 5, 2013 general elections. He does not seem to take criticism very well, and so I imagine that Obama meeting opposition people upset Najib,” said James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania.
KUALA LUMPUR — Obama held a separate press conference at a plush hotel away from the summit venue, where he repeated his view that the war in Syria — the seedbed for IS — was the fault of the Assad government, against which the U.S. has funded opposition militia groups. “It is not conceivable that Mr. Assad can regain legitimacy in a country in which a large majority of that country despises Assad, and will not stop fighting so long as he’s in power,” Obama said, at around the same time a terror threat forced the diversion to Canada of a Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul to New York, while Belgian capital Brussels, the European Union headquarters, remained in lockdown due to “a serious and imminent threat,” according to Prime Minister Charles Michel.
KUALA LUMPUR — Pushing global terrorism into the background, the simmering South China Sea territorial dispute dominated discussions Sunday at the East Asia Summit that brought together world powers — including China, Japan and the U.S. — and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The 10th annual summit had been expected to focus on the threat of international terrorism following remarks made by President Barack Obama on Friday. However, many of the U.S. president’s counterparts turned out to be more concerned about the dispute with China. “The South China Sea was the central issue,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters afterward.
KUALA LUMPUR — Earlier this week Southeast Asia’s foreign ministers “reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace, stability, freedom of navigation in and overflight of the South China Sea,” according to an account given Friday by Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman. In comments possibly aimed at China, Anifah added that “the ministers remain seriously concerned over the ongoing developments and urged all parties to exercise self restraint.” He added that clearer rules over rights and responsibilities in the South China Sea are needed, including a long discussed but yet to be finalized code of conduct.
YANGON — Tin Oo is pushing 90, but much like another nonagenarian Southeast Asian politician, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, the one-time commander in chief of the Myanmar army and co-founder of the National League for Democracy shows no sign of flagging. Shoulders back, spine straight, and a booming delivery that makes a microphone superfluous, Tin Oo was phlegmatic about the NLD’s landslide victory in Myanmar’s Nov. 8 election. It was the first openly contested vote since the NLD won the 1990 elections, an outcome ignored by the ruling military. “This is progress for our side,” Tin Oo said, displaying a mastery of understatement, even as election results showed the NLD taking around 80% of the 1,150 contested seats. But for Nyan Win, another veteran NLD leader, the electoral sweep prompted some poignant reflection. “We are thinking about all the prisoners, all who worked for the NLD, all who suffered,” Nyan Win said. “We hope this election is vindication of all the years of struggle.”
YANGON — One of the tropes the National League for Democracy will have to address before it takes office next April is the view that the party is light on concrete policies and untested in government. The latter is unavoidable, given that the army did not allow the NLD to govern after it won 80% of seats in the country’s flawed 1990 elections. As for economic policy, the party has a few ideas. “We have a plan, and we presented it in the early stages of the campaign,” said Soe Win, a member of the NLD’s central executive committee, referring to the election manifesto the party published in September. The NLD said it will keep the budget deficit under 5% of gross domestic product, cut the number of ministries and attempt to curb corruption in the bureaucracy, crack down on tax evasion, increase the independence of the central bank and focus on boosting agricultural productivity — a particularly important step given that around 70% of the population lives in the countryside.
YANGON — For years, the political party was banned and its leading members jailed or placed under house arrest. But in an historic, once-unthinkable turnaround, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy will be able to form a single-party government early next year in Myanmar, formerly one of the world’s most durable military dictatorships. After a long, frustrating wait for the party, the latest set of results announced at noon on Nov. 12 by the country’s Union Election Commission showed the NLD had gained the two-thirds majority it needed to govern alone, with the party taking 348 national parliament seats, 19 more than it needed for a so-called “super majority.” The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party had won a mere 40 national parliament seats. Even as it waited for confirmation of its ruling party status, the NLD has been “moving on,” U Win Htein, a close aide to Suu Kyi and a retiring NLD parliamentarian, told the Nikkei Asian Review.
YANGON — With the National League for Democracy looking likely to gain enough seats in Myanmar’s Nov. 8 poll to form a government early next year, party leader Aung San Suu Kyi has signaled her intent to meet soon with President Thein Sein, military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and parliamentary Speaker Shwe Mann. Even as vote counting continued on Wednesday, Suu Kyi requested the meeting, clearly in order to discuss the handover of power to a government that she has indicated she will run. “We cannot say exactly when they will meet as the counting process is still going at the UEC [the government’s Union Election Commission],” Zaw Htay, a presidential aide, told the Nikkei Asian Review. “Perhaps it will be next week,” Zaw Htay added. Letters from Suu Kyi to each of the three leaders requesting meetings to discuss “national reconciliation,” dated Nov. 10, were posted on the NLD Facebook page on the morning of Nov. 11. Their publication prompted swift replies — also on Facebook — from Ye Htut, the president’s spokesman, and from Shwe Mann.
YANGON — Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy will focus on amending the country’s constitution if it takes power in 2016. Early results across Myanmar from the Nov. 8 national election indicate a sweeping victory for the NLD in the formerly military-ruled country. Suu Kyi, who spent a total of 15 years in detention under Myanmar’s former junta, claimed on Tuesday that her party had won around 75% of the vote, an assertion backed up by a wave of concessions from defeated candidates. A clear parliamentary majority for the main opposition party would enable Suu Kyi to form a government, even though she is prevented by the constitution from assuming the presidency. Tin Oo, an NLD founding member, told the Nikkei Asian Review that amending the 2008 constitution — which also provides the military a veto-wielding 25% bloc of seats in parliament — remains top of the NLD agenda. The constitution bans anyone with a spouse or children who are foreign citizens from becoming president. Suu Kyi had two children with her late husband, a British academic. “The constitution must be reformed in line with the universal principles of democracy,” said Tin Oo, who despite being nearly 90 has been mentioned as a possible NLD nominee for president.