KUALA LUMPUR — He remains Malaysia’s longest-ruling prime minister and was one of 20th Century Asia’s most outspoken political leaders. Now Mahathir Mohamad cannot even meet opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, a former colleague-turned-rival. The two are back on the same side, but prison authorities refused to allow the men to meet as planned on Wednesday, because “there was no official request,” according to Nurul Izzah Anwar, an opposition lawmaker and Anwar Ibrahim’s daughter.
KUALA LUMPUR — Denying Mahathir permission to meet Anwar was another reminder of what the opposition sees as a rigged status quo. “We have been governed by an autocratic and unfair system for many years,” said Nurul Izzah Anwar, who pointed out that Prime Minister Najib Razak was allowed meet her father. During the last elections held in 2013, the opposition coalition — then known as the Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Alliance) — won 52% of the popular vote but gerrymandered rural constituencies meant they finished with only 40% of seats. If Mahathir does somehow replace Najib, he will be world’s oldest head of government. Although he has no problem speaking at a podium or walking the streets meeting supporters – in age terms it would be like Americans electing George Bush Senior in 2016. It is not just Mahathir’s age that make him a surprise choice. An authoritarian prime minister from 1981 to 2003, he implemented many of the rules that will make it difficult for him to return to office.
DUBLIN — In 1987, at the height of the conflict in Northern Ireland, loyalist paramilitaries told Ireland’s Prime Minister Charles Haughey that British intelligence wanted him dead. Among the Irish government archives released today is a letter from the Protestant Ulster Volunteer Force in which they claimed to Haughey that “in 1985 we were approached by a MI5 officer attached to the NIO [Northern Ireland Office] and based in Lisburn, Alex Jones was his supposed name,” the UVF said. “He asked us to execute you.” The UVF said they turned down the request, telling the Taoiseach (prime minister) that “We refused to do it. We were asked would we accept responsibility if you were killed. We refused.”
SINGAPORE – Indonesia’s constitutional court today turned down a petition to have extra-marital sex banned, the latest culture war skirmish in the world’s biggest Muslim democracy. A narrow 5-4 majority of judges voted to reject the request made by a group called the Family Love Alliance which said it wants Indonesian law to categorise adultery to mean any relationship that involves sex outside marriage, not just married people having affairs. The group said it would appeal the decision and is hoping that like-minded MPs will resume the campaign in parliament to criminalise “sexual deviance,” including gay relationships as well as adultery.
SINGAPORE — Reacting to the U.S. move last week to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Muslim-majority countries in Asia have joined fresh calls for wider recognition of an independent Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital. Speaking in Istanbul on Wednesday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo told the 56 other members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation that the group “can serve as a motor” to persuade countries that have not recognized Palestine “to do so immediately.” The Palestinian mission to the United Nations lists 137 countries as recognizing Palestine. The level of recognition varies among those countries, as Palestine has not been granted full U.N. membership. Though some OIC members recognize Israel — including summit host Turkey — Asian countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Malaysia do not have diplomatic relations with Israel.
JAKARTA — With volcano Mt. Agung billowing ash into the sky above his home island, the majority-Hindu Bali, Khairy Susanto was unsure if he would be able to fly home on December 3, the day after he joined tens of thousands of fellow Indonesian Islamists at a rally held in the shadow of Monas, the national monument that towers over a huge plaza across the street from the presidential palace in Jakarta. “Inshallah, we can fly, but it doesn’t matter, we will be ok,” he said. “We are happy to be here today to celebrate our victory.” The event was organized to mark a year since an estimated half million people chanted in the rain for the arrest of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the Governor of Jakarta. Purnama, a Protestant of Chinese descent nicknamed “Ahok,” since lost the gubernatorial election and was jailed for two years in May on the same blasphemy charges that twice brought hundreds of thousands of people onto Jakarta’s streets late last year.
MANILA — A banner draped over the facade of Manila’s De La Salle University reads “Stop the killings. Start the healing.” But Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is adamant that the killings will go on precisely because the country needs healing — from drugs. Officially around 4,000 people have been killed in police counter-narcotics operations since Duterte took office in mid-2016. High as that is, over 2.000 more have died in drug-related killings, some attributed to gang turf wars, and several thousand more again have been shot in unsolved murders. The exact number of dead is unknown due to what the United Nations believes to be differences in terminology in official reports as well as the slow progress of investigations.
TANGERANG, Indonesia — Asian governments in countries with large Muslim populations condemned U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move its embassy to the city, with the leaders of Indonesia and Malaysia speaking out against it. “Indonesia strongly condemns the United States’ unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and asks the U.S. to reconsider the decision,” President Joko Widodo said at a news conference on Thursday. With parliamentary elections scheduled for next year, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak was more forceful. Speaking at a ruling party conference in Kuala Lumpur the same day, he said, “I call on all Muslims across the world to let your voices be heard. Make it clear that we strongly oppose any recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital for all time.”
MANILA — A din of giggles, whispers and squeals greeted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he strode into the hall where most journalists were confined during the recent Association of Southeast Asian Nations summits. With media garrisoned about 2km from the Philippine International Convention Center where the main summit action was taking place, the photogenic 45-year-old Trudeau’s entrance around noon on Tuesday was a rare chance for the reporters to hear from one of the summit leaders in the flesh. Around an hour later, after fielding questions mostly from Canadian news people, and delivering answers in English and French, Canada’s official languages, Trudeau made his way from the podium to the exit. Mobbed by a mix of officials and journalists, some yelling, “Justin, Justin,” as they jostled to intercept the prime minister as he left the hall, anyone listening outside might have thought the Justin in question was Bieber, and that the audience a crowd of star-struck teenagers rather than hard-bitten reporters.
MANILA — Cambodia’s Supreme Court has ordered the break-up of the main opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party over allegations that it aimed to topple the government. The ruling was widely expected, including by the CNRP, which did not send lawyers to contest the case. The court is headed by a judge who is a member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. The decision means that Prime Minister Hun Sen, in office since 1985, will face little opposition in national elections scheduled for July 2018. The CNRP came close to matching CPP in national elections in 2013, winning 44.46% of the popular vote. There was a similar outcome in local elections earlier this year.