KUALA LUMPUR — At an age when most people would either be dead or coming up on three decades’ retired, Mahathir Mohamad shows no signs of slowing down in his second coming as Malaysia’s prime minister. It has been a hectic year-and-a-bit back in office for the world’s oldest head of government, who turns 94 today. From renegotiating multi-billion-dollar railway construction deals with China to lambasting the European Union over proposed curbs on palm oil imports, he has arguably been as dynamic as any leader living. Making regular public appearances and often giving lengthy speeches – hands on podium and his back goalpost-straight throughout – Mahathir is, as he put it in March, “in a hurry”. “I realise I don’t have much time,” he explained. It’s not just Mahathir’s prodigious age that has the clock ticking. After he led the Pakatan Harapan (PH, Alliance of Hope) coalition to a historic first-ever opposition win in Malaysia’s parliamentary elections last year, the idea was that Mahathir – the country’s longest-ruling leader by dint of his first 1981-2003 tenure – would step down after a year or two in favour of former protégé-turned-nemesis-turned-ally Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR, People’s Justice Party), the biggest party in the PH alliance.
KUALA LUMPUR – The rally was a show of strength by Najib’s opponents but looked unlikely to shake his hold on power, which has weakened amid allegations that around $700 million in public money was deposited into bank accounts in his name. The scandal over a state development fund Najib set up in 2009 has drawn the attention of law enforcement agencies from around the world. The Justice Department alleged in July that “an international conspiracy” helped siphon $3.5 billion from the fund, known as 1MDB. Some of the money is alleged to have been used to set up a Hollywood production company led by Najib’s stepson that made, among other films, “The Wolf of Wall Street” – a story of financial corruption. Najib, who was in Peru on an official visit, has said he never took money “for personal gain” and called the deposits a donation from Saudi Arabia that he mostly repaid. The corruption scandal has gripped a country that has otherwise been a bulwark of political stability in Southeast Asia, long embraced by the West for its moderate brand of Islam. Stung by the criticism, Najib has recently played up Malaysia’s growing ties with China and castigated Western powers for interfering in former colonies. In recent months, as calls for his resignation have grown louder, several leading opposition politicians have been charged or jailed on a variety of offenses including sedition and breaches of communications laws. Among those facing prison was Rafizi Ramli, an opposition parliamentarian who joined the demonstration, saying Najib “will try to cling to power because [otherwise] he will go to jail.”
KUALA LUMPUR — It was a brief, sudden goodbye. With its website blocked by the government since late February, hard-hitting news service The Malaysian Insider announced on March 14 that it would cease to publish on the same day. “The Edge Media Group has decided to shut down The Malaysian Insider from midnight today, for commercial reasons,” wrote the editor, Jahabar Sadiq, in a notice posted on the publication’s website, which had been blocked because of its reports on corruption allegations against Prime Minister Najib Razak. The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission said The Malaysian Insider’s reporting broke the law as it amounted to “improper use of network facilities or network service.” Najib has fended off calls for his resignation over hundreds of millions of dollars credited to his personal bank accounts in 2013, saying the money was donated by the Saudi royal family. He has also brushed off recent allegations that the total sum in his accounts amounted to $1 billion and came from troubled state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, at which Najib is the chair of the advisory board.
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.
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 — 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 a disputed election, Malaysia’s opposition appears to be in something of a bind as to what comes next ahead of the opening of parliament on June 24. On May 5, the Barisan Nasional (BN, or National Front) coalition held onto office in Malaysia’s 13th general election, meaning that if it stays in government for the full five year term to 2018, it will—with its forerunner the Alliance Party—top six continuous decades in office. The Pakatan Rakyat (PKR, or People’s Alliance) opposition doesn’t think that the BN won a free and fair vote, however, and is filing official complaints against the outcome in 25 constituencies which it says were marred by cheating. If the opposition alliance won enough of the seats it is contesting, it would reverse the election outcome – a 133-89 seat win for the BN on a record 85 per cent turnout. In turn, the BN has filed complaints about 21 seats, which if it carried, would return the governing coalition’s two-thirds parliamentary majority lost in 2008 elections – an outcome that for the first time spurred opposition hopes that it could make history by beating the BN at the polls.
KAMPAR — He wouldn’t give his full name or his age — except to say that he had vivid childhood memories of Japan’s World War II occupation of Malaysia — but Lee, a Chinese-Malaysian shopkeeper in Kampar, a onetime tin-mining hub in the northwestern Malaysian state of Perak, didn’t hold back. “Politics in this country is about this: money politics,” he said, using the local shorthand for corruption. “The BN” — Barisan Nasional, or National Front — “is clever at it, and that means it is difficult for the opposition to win in this country,” he added. Sure enough, the parliamentary election held May 5 resulted in the BN coalition maintaining its nearly six-decade hold on power, which dates all the way back to Malaysia’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1957. The BN fended off a strong showing by Pakatan Rakyat (PKR, or People’s Alliance), the opposition coalition, which ran a campaign focusing on alleged government graft — the “money politics” — and the BN’s perceived ethnic favoritism toward the country’s 60 percent Malay majority.
GEORGE TOWN — Tens of thousands of black-garbed Malaysians gathered in a football stadium on Wednesday night to hear opposition leaders denounce the outcome of Sunday’s election, which extended the Barisan Nasional’s (BN, or National Front) 56-year run in office. The vote was marred by cheating, say supporters of the Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Alliance) opposition, clad in black as a protest against the result. Seeking a recount for 29 seats he contends were won by dubious means, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim told the crowd in the opposition stronghold of Selangor – a business and industry hub near Kuala Lumpur – that “I would not quit until we reach Putrajaya, until we expose all (fraud) and claim Putrajaya for the rakyat (people).”