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).”
KOTA BHARU — After Malaysia’s opposition coalition announced a reform-inclined election manifesto on Feb. 25, an opinion poll released the following day showed that Prime Minister Najib Razak’s popularity down two points to 61 percent, while his government had the approval of 45 percent of Malaysians, also a two point drop, according to findings by The Merdeka Center, a Kuala Lumpur-based research firm. What is expected to be Malaysia’s closest-ever election will take place sometime between now and the end of June this year. Opposition lawmaker Dzulkefly Ahmad is confident that the three-party opposition coalition can make history by winning the vote, an outcome that would end the governing National Front’s unbroken run in office, having governed since independence from Great Britain in 1957. “In a clean and fair context, we have a fighting chance of winning,” says Ahmad, a MP for the Pan Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), one of three parties in the opposition coalition led by Anwar Ibrahim, a former deputy prime minister
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.
BANGKOK – With Western countries and Japan seeking to get around China’s domination of the crucial but mis-named “rare earths” sector, a potentially game-changing processing site slated for Malaysia looks set to become a major election issue as that country gears up to vote. Opposition politicians and local activists from Kuantan – where Australia’s Lynas Corp hopes to build a processing plant for rare earth minerals mined in Australia – are protesting against the project. The plant will provide “a crucial link in developing a non-Chinese supply of rare earth metals,” according to Yaron Voronas of the Technology and Rare Earths Center, an online forum for the industry. The 17 materials, which are not in fact “rare”, but difficult to mine in commercially viable amounts, are growing in economic and strategic importance because they are a key component in high-tech devices such as mobile phones and computers, as well as military hardware such as night-vision goggles and guided missiles. Despite having only around 35% of estimated global rare earth deposits, China currently supplies approximately 95% of the global market – as mining and processing in western countries has been largely mothballed over environmental worries. Green concerns have animated protests against the proposed Malaysian site, which awaits the granting of a Temporary Operating Licence from the Malaysian Atomic Energy Licensing Board, initially approved in February but postponed pending an appeal by locals and activists who have come out against the project