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 – 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.”
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).”
PENANG STATE — Malaysia’s ruling coalition has since 1957 steered the country between race riots, a brief and stormy marriage with Singapore and a communist insurgency, to the country’s position today as one of the great economic success stories of the developing world. But now its 56-year run in power since independence from Great Britain could be headed for the rocks. Malaysians will vote in a new parliament on May 5, and polls show a coalition led by former government insider Anwar Ibrahim has a shot at winning control of Southeast Asia’s third largest economy. “This election is the first one that is not a foregone conclusion,” says Clive Kessler of the University of New South Wales. Despite economic growth under the current government, perception of corruption and growing calls for more democracy and greater accountability have dogged it, giving the opposition a foothold from which to challenge the government.
KUALA LUMPUR — On Feb. 17, Malaysia’s still-influential former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad weighed in on an ongoing debate about freedom of the press in Malaysia, a rising Southeast Asian economy. Writing on his widely-read blog, he opined: “Frankly I would rather have the government censoring me … [I]f I don’t like what the government is doing, I can work for the rejection of the party which forms the government. But there is nothing I can do to stop people who may wish to deprive me of my freedom through the alternative media.” Mahathir, who was prime minister from 1981 to 2003, the longest such stint in Malaysia’s history, was reacting to videos posted online showing sections of the crowd mocking current Prime Minister Najib Razak at a Chinese New Year event in Penang, an electronics hub and tourist draw in Malaysia’s northwest.
GEORGE TOWN — Korean pop sensation Psy danced right into the middle of Malaysia’s increasingly fractious politics today, following the prime minister on to the stage at a government-held Chinese New Year celebration in opposition stronghold Penang. Psy’s two renditions of his hit “Gangnam Style” were the highlight of a scorching morning in the west coast city, where Malaysia’s governing coalition, known as the National Front, made a local and youth vote pitch ahead of elections expected to be the closest-fought in Malaysia’s history. “If you read most of the surveys, they show almost a neck and neck race, but most analysts think that the BN will win narrowly,” says James Chin, a professor of political science at Monash University.
GEORGE TOWN — Two years after canceling her last scheduled concert in the country, US pop star Beyoncé announced earlier this month that she would perform in the Malaysian capital in late October. Her 2007 gig was cancelled after PAS – an Islamist party that forms part of the opposition coalition – threatened protests. “We are against Western sexy performances. We don’t think our people need that,” said PAS spokesman Sabki Yusof. Beyoncé’s about-turn comes despite a raft of piety-tinged controversies in recent weeks, including the shariah law sentencing of a 32 year old woman and an Indonesian national to six lashes for drinking in public. The government did a u-turn of its own, rescinding a ban on Muslims – who make up around 60% of the population – from attending a Black Eyed Peas concert in Kuala Lumpur on September 26. That gig was part of a series of events held around the world to mark the 250 year anniversary of the founding of Irish beer giant Guinness.