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.
YANGON — Myanmar’s garment manufacturers have signaled their opposition to a proposed national minimum wage of just over $3 per day, saying the increase could force factories in the vital industry to close. “With that wage, businesses cannot survive,” said Khine Khine Nwe, secretary general of the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association, which represents 280 factories employing around 200,000 workers. The apparel industry’s resistance to the proposed minimum wage drew a sharp rebuke from local labor groups, as well as the International Trade Union Confederation. “The new minimum wage will still leave workers and their dependents just above the global severe poverty line of $1.25 per person, and many will still struggle to make ends meet,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.
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.
RANGOON – Aung San Suu Kyi’s chances of becoming president dimmed yesterday after she lost her struggle to break the dominance of Burma’s military establishment. Supporters of the democracy activist failed to muster enough votes, despite three days of debate in Naypyidaw, to pass an amendment that would remove a clause that is, in effect, a military veto on new legislation. The army will now almost certainly continue its dominance over politics into the next parliament. Ms Suu Kyi, 70, a Nobel peace prize winner who spent 15 years as a political prisoner, is by far Burma’s most popular politician, and can expect to win an overwhelming victory in this year’s general election.
YANGON — Ahead of national elections due later this year, Myanmar’s military-influenced parliament voted on Thursday to maintain the army’s veto over key legislative changes and to keep a law that prevents popular opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from standing for president. After three days of debate on proposed amendments to the country’s constitution, lawmakers opted against any substantive changes to the charter, which was imposed in 2008 by Myanmar’s former military government. Describing the outcome as “not a shock,” Han Tha Myint, a senior member of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, said the party would now decide whether to contest nationwide elections scheduled for November. “We have to meet to discuss this,” he told the Nikkei Asian Review.
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.”