Pandemic and lockdown sink Malaysia’s exports to lowest in a decade – dpa international

Social distancing rules applied on public transport in Kuala Lumpur (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s exports dropped 23.8 per cent year-on-year in April, the biggest fall for South-East Asia’s third richest economy since the height of the global financial crisis more than 10 years ago. The government’s chief statistician Mohd Uzir Mahidin said on Thursday that April exports tallied “the largest decline since September 2009,” a slump he put down to Malaysia’s economy largely closing from March 18 to May 4 during a strictly-enforced lockdown aimed at stemming a rise in new coronavirus cases. Malaysia’s total trade for April fell 16.4 per cent, which the Ministry for Trade and Industry said was due to “major disruptions to global supply chain” caused by the pandemic. Key sectors such as oil and liquefied natural gas shrank by over 20 per cent each as global demand receded and prices fell. Also down by a fifth were electrical and electronics exports, hit hard by disruptions to global supply chains.

Claims of Saudi donations resurface in ex-Malaysian PM’s graft trial – dpa international

Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak arriving at Kuala Lumpur High Court on February 10 2020 for one of his ongoing corruption trials (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Allegations of lavish contributions from Saudi Arabia re-emerged on Wednesday during one of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak’s ongoing trials over alleged theft of public money and related abuses of office. When lurid corruption claims were first levelled against Najib Razak in 2015, the then-prime minister said the largesse involved, said to be around 700 million dollars, was donated from the world’s biggest oil producer. In court in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, Najib’s defence team said that letters purportedly from Saudi royals meant Najib had no reasonable cause to question the source of money flowing into his bank account. The missives, the defence said, were shown to Malaysia’s central bank and anti-corruption commission before representatives of the latter travelled to Saudi Arabia to discuss the matter with several princes.”If the letters were not genuine, there would have been denial on the spot,” said defence lawyer Harvinderjit Singh, who added that he was not claiming the donations took place.

A month after lockdown ends, Malaysia slowly getting back to normal – dpa international

Not many people around in this central Kuala Lumpur mall, more than three weeks after the end of Malaysia's lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Business and consumer activity in South-East Asia’s third-wealthiest economy is inching back towards pre-pandemic levels, going by data published almost a month after the end of a strictly-enforced lockdown. Monday’s IHS Markit Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), a widely cited survey of businesses, showed manufacturing rising in May after a record low in April, when Malaysia was in lockdown. According to IHS Markit, the May rebound in business activity came “amid reports that some firms had restarted production following a partial lifting of lockdown rules.” However, the PMI survey showed the May bounce-back as “indicative of a further deterioration in manufacturing sector conditions” – as overall performance remained below the 50 mark, which Malaysia last hit in January. If the PMI reads below 50, it suggests businesses are cutting back.

Malaysia’s ex-leader Mahathir expelled from own political party – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — In the latest twist to a turbulent six-decade career in politics, Malaysia’s former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad was sacked on Thursday from the political party he co-founded in 2016. A statement from the United Indigenous Party of Malaysia, known by its Malay acronym Bersatu, said that 94-year-old Mahathir’s membership had been “revoked with immediate effect” Mahathir, who was party chairman, was fired along with four other parliamentarians for not supporting Malaysia’s government, which is headed by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, the Bersatu president. The five lawmakers took to the opposition benches during a brief May 18 parliamentary sitting. Mahathir, who was first elected to parliament in 1964, was the world’s oldest government leader before he unexpectedly quit in February.

Malaysian PM self-isolates after possible Covid-19 exposure – dpa international

Muhyiddin Yassin seen giving a speech at an anti-government rally in Kuala Lumpur in November 2016 (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin tested negative for Covid-19 on Friday but will spend the next two weeks in self-isolation after attending a meeting involving an official who later tested positive for the disease. A Friday statement by the Prime Minister’s Office said that Muhyiddin, who took office in March, “is required to undergo a quarantine at home for 14 days beginning this afternoon.” The meeting took place on Wednesday, the office stated, without identifying the attendees aside from Muhyiddin. Malaysia has confirmed 7,137 coronavirus cases and 115 related deaths. Over 80 per cent of those infected with the coronavirus have recovered.

Malaysian Catholics in the dark over reopening of churches – dpa international

Sanitiser and sign-in notebook at the entrance to a Kuala Lumpur Catholic church (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s Catholic bishops said on Friday that they have not been informed by the government about proposals to allow some non-Muslim places of worship to reopen for ceremonies from June 10. Defence minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said on Thursday that 174 churches and temples will be permitted from June 10 to allow up to 30 Malaysian worshippers attend services, as part of a relaxation of curbs imposed in March to stop the spread of Covid-19. A Friday statement by the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur said that it had “received no further news apart from what was released to the public” and that it did not know which churches could be reopened on June 10.

Malaysia to allow non-Muslim public worship to resume in June – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Muslim-majority Malaysia will allow minority faiths to reopen places of worship from June 10, a further relaxation of curbs imposed to stem the new coronavirus pandemic and one that has already been extended to Muslim ceremonies. After a meeting with leaders of minority religions, Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said on Thursday that attendance at such events will be limited to 30 people. “There must also be body temperature checks, hand sanitizer preparation, and devotees are required to wear face masks,” Ismail said. Church weddings will not be allowed until July 31. A total of 174 churches and temples will reopen with each permit limited to one or two days per week. “For example, Christians go to church on Sundays,” Ismail said.

Malaysia criticised over ‘crackdown’ on media, NGOs, undocumented migrants – dpa international

Billboard in Kuala Lumpur showing Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR – The United Nations has labelled recent round-ups of undocumented foreign workers as “alarming” and called on the Malaysian government “to refrain from raiding locked-down areas.” “The current crackdown and hate campaign are severely undermining the effort to fight the pandemic in the country,” said Felipe Gonzalez Morales, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants. According to Malaysia’s Health Ministry, several “clusters” of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, have been found in migrant worker communities, leading to the areas being cordoned off.  Around 200 migrants from countries such as Bangladesh and Indonesia were nabbed by police in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, the latest in a series of raids that have seen least 1,800 people detained in the month of May.

Malaysia’s parliament holds brief first sitting under new government – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s parliament convened briefly on Monday for its first session since Muhyiddin Yassin was sworn in as prime minister in March. Citing the new coronavirus pandemic, the government limited the sitting to a brief address by King Abdullah, who praised the country’s health workers and repeated his earlier assessment that Muhyiddin has the backing of a parliamentary majority. The ring-fenced session, during which neither motions nor debate were allowed, scuppered an attempt to regain power by Muhyiddin’s predecessor, 94-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, who last week proposed holding a no-confidence vote in Muhyiddin. Mahathir’s shock February 24 resignation was followed by a frenetic week-long power struggle, during which Mahathir re-entered the fray to return as leader after it became apparent that Anwar Ibrahim, another leading member of Mahathir’s alliance, did not have enough support among parliamentarians to lead the country.

Malaysia to allow some mosques to reopen for Friday prayers – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysian authorities will allow 88 mosques to hold Islamic Friday prayers this week in a relaxation of curbs imposed on places of worship due to the coronavirus pandemic. Up to 30 people will be allowed enter the mosques to pray as long as they “observe social distancing, practice sanitizing and get details [of those who enter] for record purposes,” said Zulkifli Mohamad, Malaysia’s Minister for Islamic Affairs. The reopening of some mosques comes ahead of the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, scheduled for May 24. Around 60 per cent of Malaysia’s 32 million residents are Muslim. A strictly policed lockdown was imposed in Malaysia on March 18 following a spike in cases of the novel coronavirus.