PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia — In the end, it was left to former anti-graft activist Paul Low Seng Kuan to explain why Prime Minister Najib Razak, his current boss, was a no-show at a major anti-corruption conference organized by watchdog group Transparency International and co-hosted by the Malaysian government. Low, the former president of Transparency International in Malaysia and now the cabinet minister responsible for government integrity, claimed it was he who advised Najib to skip the International Anti-Corruption Conference, held in Putrajaya, near Kuala Lumpur, on Sept. 2-4. Responding to a question from the Nikkei Asian Review during the conference, Low said he advised Najib that the audience might prove “hostile … in view of the circumstances and some of the issues that are presently happening and involving him personally.”
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.
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.
GEORGE TOWN – Penang’s metamorphosis into a tech hub began when U.S. tech giant Intel set up its first base outside the homeland. Intel now employs 7,000 people in 12 buildings across the state; its total investment of $4 billion has resulted in the production of 4 billion microprocessors. “What drew Andy Grove and Intel to Penang in 1972 remains true today: an openness to investment and partnership, an avowal to innovation, and a long-term commitment to education,” Intel spokesperson John Mandeville told the Nikkei Asian Review. “One of the main drivers was the establishment of a Free Trade Zone in Penang in the early 1970s, which provided attractive incentives to foreign investors,” said Simon Song, managing director of Bosch Malaysia, which has three manufacturing facilities in Penang, making power tools, car multimedia systems and automotive steering units.
GEORGE TOWN – Haja Mohideen is the last of his kind, the sole fashioner of the traditional Malaysian hat called songkok melayu who is still working on Penang island. With that impending finality on his mind, the 69 year old milliner sits at his street-side desk for 11-12 hours a day, cutting and stitching the 5 or 6 hats that make up his daily output. “Most of the orders come when there are ceremonies, holidays,” Haja said.
KUALA LUMPUR – However despite Mahathir’s recent outbursts on social media about the 1MDB allegations and his criticism of Najib, the incumbent appears to have the backing of the United National Malays Organisation (UMNO), the main party in Malaysia’s ruling coalition. UMNO Secretary General Adnan Mansor said that the party was holding together, despite rumors of a split over Najib’s position. Mahathir, who celebrated his unofficial 90th birthday on Friday, remains an influential figure in party circles and continues to call for Najib’s ouster. “UMNO is intact. We are united behind the prime minister to protect his [party] presidency. For those who wish to see UMNO disintegrate, it will not happen,” Adnan said, speaking at the iftar event attended by Najib.
BANGKOK/KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak and troubled state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad have denied claims published in the Wall Street Journal that $700 million was funneled by 1MDB into Najib’s personal bank accounts – allegations that have heaped even more pressure on the already embattled prime minister. Nurul Izzah Anwar, an opposition MP and daughter of jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, told the Nikkei Asian Review that “in any democratic nation, any working democratic nation,” Najib would have had to resign already.
KUALA LUMPUR — Gulajan Binti Nur Hamad was only 9 years old when she saw her house set ablaze by rampaging Buddhist mobs. “There was fire and fighting,” she said, running her right hand across her throat in a hint that she had seen worse than the flames that left her family’s home in ashes. Gulajan was one of more than 140,000 Muslim Rohingya driven from their homes in 2012 during violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine, in her case left homeless when ethnic Rakhine mobs in October that year attacked the Rohingya Muslims living in the area of Kyaukphyu, an oil and gas port where a major pipeline comes ashore before traversing Myanmar to China’s Yunnan Province.
KUALA LUMPUR — When Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was sent to prison in February, controversially convicted on charges alleging sodomy with a political aide, the well-known cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Alhaque could not restrain his anger. Criticizing the verdict as politically motivated, the cartoonist, better known by his pen name Zunar, posted a series of messages on Twitter mocking Malaysia’s judges. He described the judges as “lackeys in black robes” who are guilty of “bowing to the dictates of the political masters.” The 53-year-old was quickly charged with nine counts of sedition, which could lead to 43 years in prison if he is found guilty. Asked if he is optimistic that he will win in court, Zunar told the Nikkei Asian Review: “I’m not, no. This is a political case.”
KUALA LUMPUR – After months of internecine fighting that highlighted some of Malaysia’s long-standing ethnic and religious divisions, the end for the three-party Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Alliance) coalition came after a blistering attack on June 15 by the largely ethnic-Chinese Democratic Action Party on the mainly-Malay Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (Malaysian Islamic Party). The Islamic party, commonly known as PAS, had on June 6 voted to sever links with the DAP, meaning the future of the alliance was in doubt before the DAP’s announcement. PAS MP Khalid Abdul Samad told the Nikkei Asian Review that the change in party leadership and the June 6 vote to cut ties with the DAP meant that “there is no longer a Pakatan Rakyat.”