YANGON – Ahead of what reform campaigners believe will be Malaysia’s “dirtiest ever elections,” the long-ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) has engineered something of a clean-up. In recent months, it has reformed some old and oft-derided laws, such as allowing indefinite detention without trial and forcing local newspapers to apply each year for a publication permit, a stipulation that encouraged self-censorship. UMNO and its allies have governed Malaysia consecutively since independence from colonial rule, a longevity not usually associated with electoral democracies. UMNO and its Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition survived the last election in 2008, though ceded its two-thirds parliamentary majority for the first time and lost five out of 13 federal states to the opposition, a coalition of three parties led by controversial former UMNO firebrand Anwar Ibrahim that includes the Islamic party PAS and the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP).
KUALA LUMPUR –- Speaking at the Asia-Pacific Ireland Business Forum in Malaysia Friday, Ireland’s ambassador based in Singapore said that the Irish Government needs to do more in Asia. Ambassador joe Hayes’ brief in Singapore covers the world’s 4th biggest country Indonesia, one of the world’s fastest growing economies but one where Ireland is not making an impact, he says. “All of the EU has a footprint in Indonesia except Ireland and Luxembourg,” Hayes told the APIBF, an annual gathering of Irish business executives covering a region from the Gulf to Japan. Hayes criticised the Irish Government for not sending top-level government rep. to an upcoming summit in Laos, the 9th Asia-Europe Meeting, or ASEM, which will take place Nov. 5-6 in Vientiane.
KUALA LUMPUR – On Saturday, tens of thousands of yellow and green-clad protestors seeking changes to Malaysia’s electoral system were driven back from the city’s Independence Square by volleys of water-cannon and teargas fired after protestors pushed through barricades sealing-off the plaza. Almost 400 demonstrators were subsequently arrested by police, including some seen being dragged away holding bloodied faces and bruised limbs.
Moments after Malaysia’s parliamentary opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim addressed the crowd at the front line, several protestors close to the police barricade suddenly shouted “back, back,” before pushing through the police lines around the Dataran Merdeka, or Independence Square, the iconic downtown location where the protestors sought to hold their sit-down demonstration seeking changes to how Malaysia holds elections.
KUALA LUMPUR – Almost 10 months after security forces forcibly broke-up an electoral reform protest in the national capital, a chaotic repeat looms as the Malaysian government and city authorities attempt to close off the city center square where activists hope 100,000 people will gather this weekend to seek sweeping changes to the country’s electoral system.
BANGKOK – With Western countries and Japan seeking to get around China’s domination of the crucial but mis-named “rare earths” sector, a potentially game-changing processing site slated for Malaysia looks set to become a major election issue as that country gears up to vote. Opposition politicians and local activists from Kuantan – where Australia’s Lynas Corp hopes to build a processing plant for rare earth minerals mined in Australia – are protesting against the project. The plant will provide “a crucial link in developing a non-Chinese supply of rare earth metals,” according to Yaron Voronas of the Technology and Rare Earths Center, an online forum for the industry. The 17 materials, which are not in fact “rare”, but difficult to mine in commercially viable amounts, are growing in economic and strategic importance because they are a key component in high-tech devices such as mobile phones and computers, as well as military hardware such as night-vision goggles and guided missiles. Despite having only around 35% of estimated global rare earth deposits, China currently supplies approximately 95% of the global market – as mining and processing in western countries has been largely mothballed over environmental worries. Green concerns have animated protests against the proposed Malaysian site, which awaits the granting of a Temporary Operating Licence from the Malaysian Atomic Energy Licensing Board, initially approved in February but postponed pending an appeal by locals and activists who have come out against the project
KUALA LUMPUR – A not-guilty verdict in a sex scandal case against Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim could prove a game-changer in the run-up to elections due by 2013 but thought by many analysts to be held this year. After months of railing against what he deemed trumped-up and politicized charges, Anwar cut an understandably cheerful and relieved dash on Monday morning when speaking to perhaps 3,000 supporters outside the Kuala Lumpur court where he was acquitted of charges of sodomizing a male party aide in 2008. Sodomy is a criminal offense punishable by 20 years in prison in Malaysia, where Muslim citizens are subject to sharia law. The case, which has hung over the country’s political scene for over three years, represented the second time Anwar faced such charges. He was acquitted due to a lack of evidence. Anwar thanked God for the not-guilty verdict, telling reporters, “We must focus on the next general elections and the reform agenda. We hope for an independent judiciary and free media.”
KUALA LUMPUR — Monday’s surprise acquittal of Malaysia’s opposition leader in a sodomy trial that many viewed as politically motivated eases the prospect of unrest in the multi-ethnic country, one of southeast Asia’s largest tourist draws The potential for trouble was highlighted by three small explosions near the courthouse on Monday morning, injuring several people, while a jubilant Anwar Ibrahim mingled with a raucous, fist-pumping crowd of several thousand supporters. Mr. Anwar, a former government insider who has been hounded by legal actions over alleged sodomy since he broke with Malaysia’s ruling party in the 1990s said, “I thank God for this great news, I am finally vindicated.” The ruling benefits not only Anwar, who’s planning to run for prime minister in upcoming elections, but it may also help the current government burnish democratic credentials dimmed by trials like Anwar’s and the detention of other political opponents.