Southeast Asia’s economic unity plans stalling – The Christian Science Monitor The region’s counties want to set up an economic bloc in two years time. But rich-poor divides...

Malaysia’s ruling coalition hangs on against winds of change – Christian Science Monitor

ALOR SETAR — Malaysia’s ruling coalition won a keenly-contested election Sunday, extending its 56-year run in charge of this Southeast Asian nation but with what looks to be its narrowest majority since independence from the UK in 1957. Ahead of the election, some analysts thought the ruling National Front was vulnerable to a challenge spearheaded by Anwar Ibrahim, a former government insider who broke with the ruling coalition in the 1990s and sought to rally anger against government corruption and a bulge of youth voters hungry for democratic change. But that effort, amid charges of electoral fraud from Anwar’s camp, came up short, with strong support among Malaysia’s ethnic-Chinese minority and from urban Malaysians, of all backgrounds, balanced against rural Malay constituencies that still heavily favor a government that has led the country through a period of unprecedented prosperity. Preliminary results show the National Front winning 133 seats, with the opposition Pakatan Rakyat, or People’s Alliance, getting 87. In 2008, the ruling coalition won 140 seats against the opposition coalition’s 82. That marks a gain for the opposition at national level, though it ceded control of one of the four regional administrations it held going into the poll.

Malaysia set for closest-ever election – The Christian Science Monitor

PENANG STATE — Malaysia’s ruling coalition has since 1957 steered the country between race riots, a brief and stormy marriage with Singapore and a communist insurgency, to the country’s position today as one of the great economic success stories of the developing world. But now its 56-year run in power since independence from Great Britain could be headed for the rocks. Malaysians will vote in a new parliament on May 5, and polls show a coalition led by former government insider Anwar Ibrahim has a shot at winning control of Southeast Asia’s third largest economy. “This election is the first one that is not a foregone conclusion,” says Clive Kessler of the University of New South Wales. Despite economic growth under the current government, perception of corruption and growing calls for more democracy and greater accountability have dogged it, giving the opposition a foothold from which to challenge the government.

In Lebanon, a doctor offers comfort and healing to refugees from neighboring wars – The Christian Science Monitor

BEIRUT – It takes him a good 20 seconds to get his bearings, but, sitting up in his bed, Matti Tourrani smiles, and, voice muffled by a drowsy cough, says hello. His right leg is swollen – so much that it is now twice as thick as his left. “It’s not so painful; I’m more concerned about my knee,” says the elderly man. Mr. Tourrani traveled with his wife Maysoun from their small village near Mosul in northern Iraq . He’s in Beirut for knee-replacement surgery, a procedure that will cost more than $23,000 and for which the family mortgaged their house. Their part of Iraq is still violent: Last week a bomb killed two people just a mile from their home. “We’re used to it by now,” Maysoun says. But the family is concerned that they might have traveled in vain. Before any knee surgery, the leg must heal more, says Irad Beldjebel, a doctor who works helping Beirut’s unknown thousands of refugees.

Is historical claim behind the mystery group of armed Filipinos in Malaysian Borneo? – The Christian Science Monitor

KUALA LUMPUR — It’s around an hour by speedboat from Sulu in the southern Philippines to Sabah in the Malaysian part of Borneo, a route often plied by fishermen, traders, and migrants. The maritime passage goes from what is the poorest part of the Philippines to eastern Malaysia, with many making the journey from the Philippines in search of work, joining the 10 million or so Philippine citizens that moved abroad to find jobs. But when on Tuesday around 100 men arrived in batches to – and depending on what account you read – camp out in, or occupy a village called Lahud Datu, it soon become clear these weren’t the usual fishermen or migrant workers. What exactly is going on is unclear, but it has both countries on high alert. Malaysian security forces have sealed off the village, which is 300 miles from Sabah’s regional capital Kota Kinabalu, a two-hour flight from Malaysia’s main city Kuala Lumpur.