Asian Correspondent » Yong Yen Nie http://asiancorrespondent.com Asian Correspondent Wed, 27 May 2015 15:00:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 Malaysia general election date predictions go on and on http://asiancorrespondent.com/83850/predictions-of-malaysias-general-elections-goes-on-and-on/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/83850/predictions-of-malaysias-general-elections-goes-on-and-on/#comments Thu, 07 Jun 2012 04:51:02 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=83850 Malaysia’s 13th general elections have been widely anticipated since last year, but so far the actual polling date is still largely a subject of speculation and rumor.

In the latest round of speculation, the general elections could be delayed until November this year, as the ruling coalition may want to wait until the annual Haj pilgrimage for Muslims to be over, while using a longer time to garner support from the youth and Chinese.

According to the Malaysian Insider, Prime Minister Najib Razak is still scrutinizing the candidates’ list to ensure that Barisan Nasional- the coalition that has formed the ruling government of Malaysia since becoming independent in 1957- has a bigger victory.

Citing officials familiar with the ruling coalition’s strategies, it reported that Najib wants to win back urban seats lost when the mainly urban Chinese voted for the Opposition in the 2008 elections.

“Najib wants support from the Chinese and the youth, so the next few months will be crucial for those efforts,” the local news website quoted a source as saying.

Earlier, there were predictions that the general elections would be held in September, but it was later ruled out after Najib announced that he would table the 2013 Budget in Parliament on September 28. Predictions of polling dates began grabbing news headlines since middle of last year, as it was widely believed that Najib would get a more secure mandate if the polls were called earlier.

There was talk that the general elections would be held in November last year, although the Barisan Nasional has until April 2012 before its mandate expires. Since then, various dates were speculated including in the month of March, May, June, July and November this year.

Since last year, Najib had given out several cash handouts that were seen to be pre-election sweeteners for voters. According to the Merdeka Center poll, Najib’s popularity was at a high of 69% before his approval rating fell to 65% after the Bersih 3.0 rally held in April. The rally in Kuala Lumpur was reported to have drawn some 200,000 suppoters calling for free and fair elections, organized by a coalition of non-governmental organizations in light of the imminence of the elections.

There were signs that the ruling coalition was on track to call the elections in July this year, following the listing of Felda Global Ventures that would give a one-off windfall profit to many Malay settlers, and materials such as flags and pamphlets were said to have already been in print for distribution.

However, with the fasting month approaching, the Muslim-majority nation is unlikely to have the polls in July, the Malaysian Insider reported, citing sources.

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Singapore’s Tiger Airways buys Southeast Asian Airlines http://asiancorrespondent.com/83723/singapores-tiger-airways-buys-southeast-asian-airlines/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/83723/singapores-tiger-airways-buys-southeast-asian-airlines/#comments Tue, 05 Jun 2012 06:26:38 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=83723 Singapore’s Tiger Airways is going all out in getting a bigger slice of the budget flight service pie in Southeast Asia, after it finalized a deal to buy 40% stake in Philippines-based Southeast Asian Airlines (SEAir), Inc for US$7 million.

Tiger Airways

Tiger Airways. Pic: AP.

According to Malaysian daily theSun, the acquisition will enable Tiger to tap into international and domestic destinations within a five-hour flying radius from the Philippines, including to cities such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Kota Kinabalu in East Malaysia.

“It is one that will enable us to leverage on the strength of our Singapore base and scale up the size of our business across the region,” Tiger’s chief executive officer Chin Yau Seng was quoted as saying.

Tiger’s acquisition in SEAir is its second within six months, after it snapped up a 33% stake in ailing Indonesian liner Mandala Airlines in January this year. “Asia is one of the fastest-growing areas in air travel and we intend to play a major role in driving that growth.

“The Philippines is a large country with more than 7,000 islands and a population of over 90 million, excluding the 11 million working and living abroad. There is enormous potential to develop the domestic and international air travel,” Chin said.

Earlier, the deal between Tiger and SEAir was cast in doubt after the deal was stuck in the due diligence phase since February 2011. SEAir, a smallish carrier, operates two Tiger A319s on regional international routes from Manila’s alternative airport, Clark.

With the acquisition of the carrier, Tiger is putting itself into head-on competition with Malaysia’s AirAsia, which also has a Philippines-based unit. Nevertheless, Tiger’s expansion plan is expected to give AirAsia a run for the money, especially after it acquired Mandala and resumed the highly competitive Jakarta-Kuala Lumpur route as well as beef up its Jakarta-Singapore route.

According to the Centre for Aviation website, AirAsia accounts for 35% of total capacity on the Jakarta-KL route. AirAsia‘s Indonesian unit may be among the smallest low cost carriers in the Indonesian aviation market, but it is the largest in the country’s international market.

The website further noted that international traffic in Indonesia grew 13% last yeat to 10.8 million passengers and was up by another 15% in January 2012.

“As Indonesia’s economy improves and its middle class grows, a larger portion of Indonesia’s 240 million people will have means to travel abroad. More short and quick trips within Southeast Asia, with low fares by airlines like AirAsia and Mandala/Tiger stimulating demand, could easily lead to Indonesia’s international market quickly doubling or tripling within the next few years,” the website said.

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Opinion: The red herring in Malaysian post-rally protests http://asiancorrespondent.com/83156/opinion-the-red-herring-in-malaysian-post-rally-protests/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/83156/opinion-the-red-herring-in-malaysian-post-rally-protests/#comments Sat, 26 May 2012 08:08:53 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=83156 In ancient Rome, gladiator arenas are of huge successes among its citizens because of its entertainment value. Never mind if people were watching lions tearing men’s flesh apart, or if prisoners of war were made to kill each other. These arenas, built in grandiosity, were designed to entertain, both royalty and the common.

Historians have suggested that by using these arenas to entertain people, Roman citizens would forget the troubles with the country’s politics, thus, enabling politicians to conveniently sweep important issues under the carpet.

In Malaysia, the ongoing protests by a group of petty traders- that claimed that the Bersih 3.0 rally on April 28, had caused them severe losses- have become increasingly entertaining. In order to gain back those losses claimed, the traders set up stalls and flip burgers in front of S Ambiga’s -the co-chairman of Bersih 3.0 steering committee- house.

Later, a group of anti-Bersih protestors that include petty traders, decided to step up the game by deciding that they should have night markets and a gathering in a stadium. To attract people to join in the protest, it announced that it would display some luxury cars, including a Lamborghini as prizes of “appreciation” for the people that would attend the protest.

One wonders if this group of petty traders would invite the group of former militia to repeat their performance of a butt exercise to draw in a bigger crowd.

Yet, even as such things were happening, the police force has been generally tolerant towards the idea that setting up burger stalls outside one’s home is legal.

Adding to the bizarre tolerance by authorities is the government’s reaction to this fiasco. Instead of disapproving of immature acts, the government filed a lawsuit against 10 steering Bersih 3.0 committee members, including its co-chairman, S Ambiga, for RM122,000 over damages to vehicles during the rally a month ago.

Two opposition leaders, including Anwar Ibrahim, were also charged for supposedly breaching a court order barring the public from entering the Independence Square during the rally on April 28.

At the end of the day, one wonders if all these were red herring jumping out of murky waters of politics. In the midst of all the noise about economic losses and attempts to topple the government, the real issues of this rally are sidelined.

A cleaner electoral roll before the anticipated general elections is swept aside. The Bar Council of Malaysia is deemed as “playing politics” for protesting against police violence during the rally. The independence of the Election Commission chairman, who is speculated to be a member of the United Malay National Organization, is now of little importance.

There are no gladiator arenas in Malaysia, yet it is not surprising how real issues could be overlooked by simply allowing some fanfare over comparatively petty issues to overshadow them.

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Lady Gaga’s Jakarta show may get green light after all http://asiancorrespondent.com/82986/lady-gagas-jakarta-show-may-get-green-light-after-all/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/82986/lady-gagas-jakarta-show-may-get-green-light-after-all/#comments Wed, 23 May 2012 01:42:03 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=82986 Despite persistent threats by hard-line Islamist groups to wreak havoc on Lady Gaga’s divisive scheduled June 3 concert in Jakarta, the national police force now say they just may let her show go on.

According to the Jakarta Globe, National Police spokesman Insp. Gen. Saud Usman Nasution said that if the promoter could get recommendations from the concert venue and the Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry, as well as prove it was a legal entity, the National Police would issue the permit.

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga arrives in Manila Saturday. Pic: AP.

“If they fulfill the requirements, National Police will handle the recommendation from the Home Affairs Ministry, Religious Affairs Ministry and MUI (Indonesian Council of Ulema),” he was quoted as saying by the English-language daily.

Lady Gaga’s concert promoter, Big Daddy, is reported to have two to three days left to obtain a permit for the sold-out concert.

The Jakarta Police said it is ready to despatch up to 4,000 officers, including plainclothes officers, to provide security for the concert if it is approved, in light of the angry threats by the hard-line groups.

“We’ll anticipate any possibilities. We’re even ready to smuggle some police officers into the middle of the crowd,” Jakarta Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Rikwantohe was quoted as saying here.

Last week, the National Police said it would not issue a permit to Lady Gaga’s Jakarta concert promoters based on the recommendations of the city police force that advised against it, due to calls by Indonesian hard-line groups to ban the concert. One of the hard-line groups, known as Islamic Defenders Front (FPI)had accused Lady Gaga of “worshipping the devil”.

On Monday, the FPI is reported to have purchased 150 tickets to Lady Gaga’s concert in Jakarta, in an attempt to put a stop to the show.

Another hard-line group, the Islamic People’s Forum, has claimed that the concert promoters wanted to bribe the group so that it will not interfere with the concert. However, the group’s spokesperson declined to name names and the amount of bribery offered.

Lady Gaga, who is known for her outrageous costumes, broke her silence on the Jakarta concert fiasco, by tweeting about it on Tuesday.

 

The Grammy-Award singer and songwriter is in Asia currently as part of her “The Born This Way Ball” world tour. The superstar performed in Manila yesterday, despite also facing opposition from religious groups in the city.

Religious intolerance and extremism in Indonesia is not a new phenomenon in the country. Over the years, several international artists have cancelled their scheduled concerts in Indonesia amidst pressure from hard-line groups that disapproved of either their dress or reputation.

Several weeks ago, the FPI in Indonesia is reported to have stormed a book discussion by Canadian author Irshad Manji, breaking windows and doors and beating up participants in protest of her book, “Allah, Liberty and Love” which it claimed to promote homosexuality and was blasphemous toward Islam.

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In Malaysia, post-Bersih rally protests turn bizarre http://asiancorrespondent.com/82774/in-malaysia-post-bersih-rally-protests-turn-bizarre/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/82774/in-malaysia-post-bersih-rally-protests-turn-bizarre/#comments Sat, 19 May 2012 02:57:18 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=82774 In Malaysia, smallish protests against the organizers of the BERSIH 3.0 rally have intensified in strange fashion, in the weeks after downtown Kuala Lumpur saw a massive turnout of supporters for free and fair elections in the country.

Instead of using pickets and chants to voice their dissatisfaction against the rally, these protestors, who claimed they were entrepeneurs whose businesses were affected by the rally, decided to open their stalls in front of the BERSIH 3.0 chairperson’s home instead.

A week earlier, some members of the Malaysia Small and Medium Entrepreneurs Alliance (Ikhlas) held a “burger” protest by flipping burger patties in front of Ambiga’s home. The protestors claimed they had lost RM200,000 (US$66,600) for being unable to operate their businesses and wanted compensation from the rally organizers.

“Our members have financial obligations to settle, such as bank and car loans. We want compensation from rally organizers for the losses our members suffered,” Ikhlas president Mohd Ridzuan Abdullah was quoted as saying to the local media.

Ambiga had told the traders to file their claims of losses in court instead of holding protests in front of her house, only to have an even more bizarre protest at her home a few days later.

A group of army veterans performed a “butt exercise” in front of Ambiga’s house, in protest of the BERSIH 3.0 rally, as they claimed it had given the country a bad name.

Reports said 15 ex-armymen from the Malay Armed Forces Veterans Associations, led by president Mohd Ali Baharom, stretched and shook their butts. Later, Ambiga came out of her house and told them: “I’m happy you had a good exercise” and offered them isotonic drinks.

The president of the veteran armymen association challenged Ambiga to take him to court, and threatened to bring a bigger crowd in front of her house if she failed to do so.

When approached by reporters, Ambiga said she viewed this as “invasion of privacy”. “To me, that is is highly irresponsible bcause it will open the doors to allow people to gather outside anybody’s house, including a minister’s,” she was quoted as saying, adding that the butt exercise was “crude”.

While a police report was lodged concerning the incidents, Deputy Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar was quoted as saying that the burger protest in front of Ambiga’s home was not an offence.

In response to Deputy IGP’s responses, a coalition of non-governmental organizarions wanted set up food stalls in front of his house, since “anyone can set up stalls outside the house of others as long as they do not disrupt traffic or cause inconvenience to neighbors”.

Khalid in turn, retorted in jest that he would “invite his friends” over if that were the case.

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Malaysian journos, lawyers pressure government http://asiancorrespondent.com/82770/malaysian-journalists-lawyers-put-pressure-on-government-over-police-brutality-at-bersih-rally/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/82770/malaysian-journalists-lawyers-put-pressure-on-government-over-police-brutality-at-bersih-rally/#comments Sat, 19 May 2012 02:49:16 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=82770 Malaysian journalists and lawyers are adding pressure to the government by taking turns to denounce police brutality during the BERSIH 3.0 rally, in the midst of the police’s denial that it went beyond the line of duty.

On Tuesday, a group of journalists submitted a petition containing some 4,000 signatures from practitioners and the public, demanding a public apology from the government and the police over the assault of journalists on duty during the rally.

Apart from a public apology, the petition, titled “Don’t beat up journalists,” called for the government to conduct an impartial inquiry into the allegations of violence, return or seized or damaged equipment and provide reasonable compensation to those affected.

BERSIH 3.0 rally was organized by a coalition of non-governmental organizations on April 28 calling for free and fair elections in Malaysia. The rally turned ugly as it was about to end, when some supporters tried to break down some barricades set up by the police force, prompting the police to fire tear gas at the public.

Several journalists covering the event were also beaten up and have their equipment seized from them, including cameras or memory devices purportedly containing images of police brutality.

Prime Minister Najib Razak was reported to have apologized to theSun journalist Mohd Radzi Abdul Razak in private, after the latter was hospitalized for injuries from police assault. Mohd Radzi said he was assaulted by seven to eight uniformed policemen while he was covering the demonstration in Kuala Lumpur last month.

Earlier, journalists in Malaysia had worn black on World Press Freedom Day on May 4, while several Chinese-language dailies had printed their front page stories in black ink, in solidarity with members of the media attacked by the police during the BERSIH 3.0 rally.

An independent panel was subsequently set up by the government to invetigate the allegations of violence at the BERSIH 3.0 rally. Two cops were charged for using criminal force on a journalist at the rally but they have pleaded not guilty.

Malaysian Bar Council, representing some 14,000 lawyers in the country, has also criticized the police force for exercising brutality against the public, and questioned the credibility of the independent panel.

The Bar Council, which held an extraordinary general meeting last week, approved a resolution condemning the police for using“excessive” and “indiscriminate” force to disperse BERSIH 3.0 prostestors.

The Bar Council president Lim Chee Wee claimed that findings showed that the estimated 100,000- strong crowd had not been allowed enough room to disperse when the tear gas canisters were fired at the public. The police was also said to have sealed escape routes, thus trapping protestors along one of the main roads leading toward the rally destination point.

However, the Bar Council’s resolution was in turn, slammed by government officials that claimed the law association had lost its credibility and acted like an political party.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nazri Aziz was quoted as saying that the Malaysian Bar should be dissolved, as it has “failed to take a neutral and professional stance on some issues that had embarassed the legal profession”.

Later, the minister said he was also studying the feasibility of registering another law association, given the Malaysian Bar Council’s ‘unruly conduct’.

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Lady Gaga Indonesia concert ban divides a nation http://asiancorrespondent.com/82681/lady-gaga-concert-ban-in-indonesia-divides-nation/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/82681/lady-gaga-concert-ban-in-indonesia-divides-nation/#comments Thu, 17 May 2012 04:30:33 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=82681 The Lady Gaga concert ban by Indonesian authorities has split the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation as various institutions have come out to support or denounce the move.

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga. Pic: AP.

The international artiste’s upcoming Jakarta concert on June 3 was cancelled by the National Police Tuesday, following strong protests from Indonesia’s hard-line Islamist groups. However, the concert’s promoters are still determined that the  show will go on.

Lady Gaga, known for her outrageous costumes, was lambasted by hardcore Islamist groups, as “dangerous influence” to Jakarta’s youth, and  that she “teaches fans to worship the devil”.

“We will stop her from setting foot on our land. She had better not dare spread her satanic faith in this country,” Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) Jakarta chairman Salim Alatas was quoted as saying by newswire agency Agence France Presse.

He added that FPI members would mobilize 30,000 supporters to forcibly prevent Lady Gaga from stepping off her plane.

However, the Indonesian Council of Churches has thrown its support behind Lady Gaga’s concert in Jakarta, saying that the diva should be allowed to perform because of freedom of expression.

“Don’t teach our young generation with pseudo-formality by wearing good outfits but being bad on the inside,” Gomar Gultom, secretary-general of the Indonesian Council of Churches, was quoted as saying in response to the complaints against Lady Gaga.

In the midst of rising pressure from Indonesia’s hardcore Islamist groups, the National Police said it accepted reccommendations by the Jakarta Police on not issuing a permit for the Lady Gaga concert. In the Jakarta Post, the Jakarta Police chief inspector Gen Untung S Rajab said the move to prevent the concert from being held is to “protect the nation’s culture”.

“The reasons behind the police’s refusal to issue a permit for the show not only include security issues but also the police’s duty to protect the nation’s culture,” he was quoted as saying.

Nevertheless, promoters of the concert said its permit application process was still ongoing, and that sales of tickets to the concert was brisk. Untung said if the promoters insisted on going on with the show, the police would have to forcefully close it down as it was deemed unlawful.

Over the years, several international artists have cancelled their scheduled concerts in Indonesia amidst pressure from hard-line groups that disapproved of either their dress or reputation, but Lady Gaga is the first to have been barred by the authorities.

Indonesia, which has a 200 million Muslim population, has also faced several incidents of extremism over issues concerning religions other than Islam and homosexuality.

Recently, hard-line Islamic organization members in Indonesia stormed a book discussion by Canadian author Irshad Manji, breaking windows and doors and beating up participants in protest of the book.

The hard-liners claimed Manji’s book “Allah, Liberty and Love” promoted homosexuality and was blasphemous toward Islam. News reports said the author herself was injured at the attack, but no police were seen at the venue until the incident was well over.

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Latest prediction for Malaysian polls is July http://asiancorrespondent.com/81959/latest-prediction-for-malaysian-polls-is-july/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/81959/latest-prediction-for-malaysian-polls-is-july/#comments Sun, 06 May 2012 02:23:10 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=81959 The 13th Malaysian general elections are now predicted to be held in early July this year, on beliefs that the federal government led by current Prime Minister Najib Razak had not faced severe public backlash from the massive rally in Kuala Lumpur a week ago.

According to the Malaysian Insider, it quoted sources as saying that the general elections was “on track” to be held in early July, before the Ramadhan fasting month begins, as the Bersih 3.0 rally had not affected support for the National Front ruling coalition.

The web-based news portal also said the elections are unlikely to be held in June, as Najib would be away from the country in May for a vacation.

“After the UMNO (United Malay National Organization) anniversary celebrations on May 11, the Prime Minister will go for an event in London, and then, attend his son’s graduation before going off to Spain for a vacation,” Malaysian Insider reported, citing sources.

It also quoted the source as saying that the month of July looked good as most of the National Front warlords would be ready for the general elections before the fasting month began on July 19.

Previously, there were predictions that Najib could call the elections in May or June. The term for the current ruling government ends next year.

Najib is seen to be making his rounds in the country to rally support in recent months. Nevertheless, some media has suggested that he might delay calling the polls, following the massive rally for free and fair elections held in downtown Kuala Lumpur last week. While no official figure of attendees were given, some media outlets estimated that the number of people that had taken to the streets were higher than the second rally held last year for a similar cause.

However, at a recent press conference, Najib was quoted as saying that
the date of the election was not contingent upon the rally. “Well, it’s up to the public to decide. We will decide on the basis of how the people viewed the government, you see,” he was quoted as saying.

Earlier, Najib had condemned the rally-organized by a coalition of non-governmental organizations- that it was a means to topple the government via undemocratic means.

Najib was quoted as saying that the protesters wanted to take over the capital’s independence square not “for two or three hours but for two or three days or even longer, to show that the government cannot control the situation.”

“They wanted to make (Merdeka Square) like the Tahrir Square in Egypt,” he said.

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Indonesia central bank puts DBS’ proposed Danamon acquistion on hold http://asiancorrespondent.com/81509/indonesias-central-bank-puts-dbs-proposed-buy-in-danamon-on-hold/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/81509/indonesias-central-bank-puts-dbs-proposed-buy-in-danamon-on-hold/#comments Mon, 30 Apr 2012 09:31:37 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=81509 Indonesia’s central bank has put a proposed acquisition of Bank Danamon Indonesia by Singapore’s DBS Bank on the back burner until new rules on foreign ownership in banks are in place.

According to Agence France-Presse (AFP), it said Bank Indonesia wanted to re-evaluate a rule that allows private investors – be it local or foreign – to own up to 99% stake in Indonesian lenders.

“It’s not that we are delaying approval for the DBS deal, we will just start evaluating DBS’ plan after we issue our new bank ownership rules. Hopefully, the regulation will be issued by the end of May or early June,” Bank Indonesia spokesman Difi A Johansyah told AFP.

DBS Bank is the latest regional bank to want a presence in Indonesia due to its fast-growing middle-class and economy.

In early April, DBS announced that it would buy a 67.4 percent stake in the Indonesian lender for $4.9 billion, from Temasek Holdings, a Singapore state investor, at a steep 52 percent premium. DBS will also launch a $2.3 billion mandatory offer for the remaining shares of Danamon it did not own to gain full control of the bank.

The deal is Southeast Asia’s largest banking deal so far this year, beating a previous record set by recent deals such as Malaysia’s Malayan Banking that acquired Indonesia’s Bank Internasional Indonesia—also from Temasek Holdings—back in 2009.

When both DBS and Danamon announced the proposed deal in early April, some lawmakers in Indonesia were against the deal for nationalistic reasons.

Lawmakers also argued that foreign entry into Indonesia should be given based on a principle of reciprocity, whereby Indonesian lenders should also be given opportunities to set up shop or acquire other lenders in the region.

Several of Indonesia’s banks are already owned by foreign institutions, such as Bank Internasional Indonesia and Bank Niaga by Malaysia’s Malayan Banking and CIMB Bank, respectively.

Last year, there was talk that these Malaysian banks could be forced to sell their majority stakes in the Indonesian lenders due to increasing pressure and disapproval by Indonesian lawmakers on heavy foreign presence in the country’s banking industry. Indonesia’s central bank also froze takeover plans on local banks, and announced the possibility of capping majority shareholders’ interests in these lenders.

A Malaysian bank, Affin Holdings, last year pulled out from buying a small Indonesian lender due to the uncertainties surrounding foreign ownership of banks.

However, the plan was scrapped in February this year, as it would also affect local majority shareholders’ ownership in these lenders.

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Analysis: What now for Malaysian PM after Bersih 3.0? http://asiancorrespondent.com/81453/larger-turnout-at-bersih-3-0-may-not-be-a-game-changer-in-upcoming-msian-elections/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/81453/larger-turnout-at-bersih-3-0-may-not-be-a-game-changer-in-upcoming-msian-elections/#comments Sun, 29 Apr 2012 17:33:56 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=81453 On Saturday thousands of Malaysians again converted some of Kuala Lumpur’s busiest roads into a sea of yellow. Clad in yellow shirts, these Malaysians flocked into the city to push for electoral reforms in a rally known as BERSIH 3.0 ahead of a widely-anticipated general elections.

And again the supporters who chanted “Bersih”, or “clean up” in Malay, throughout the rally came away teary-eyed and choking from several rounds of tear gas fired by the police force in attempts to disperse the crowd, after some protesters tried to storm into the Independence Square – the venue earmarked originally by rally organizers as the main gathering point.

Malaysia Bersih 3.0

Protesters on the streets of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Saturday. Pic: AP.

At first glance, the immediate outcome of the BERSIH 3.0 rally is not too different from its second rally held in July 2011.

The organizers of the rally still did not get permission to gather at the venue they wanted, the federal government still saw the rally for free and fair elections as defiant act against the ruling powers of the country and the mainstream local media still gave the rally bad press on Sunday morning, detailing how violent and shameful the rally supporters behaved the day before.

Nevertheless, the BERSIH 3.0 organizers could now claim some moral victory from the significantly larger turnout of supporters not just in the capital city of Malaysia, but also in other parts of the country as well as in the world.

A broad consensus among eyewitnesses put the attendance at the rally between 50,000 and 80,000 people – in what again appeared to be the largest protest in the country in recent history. The supporters have also evolved to be more multi-racial and cutting across social classes and age over the years – it is apparent that more middle-class Chinese had participated in this rally.

Over the years, Malaysians have come a long way from rallying for a particular political figure to rallying for a sophisticated political cause. It is also harder for people to tell whether the rally held was predominantly attended by only a specific race and creed.

For a nation that has been prominently divided according to race for more than 50 years, the demographics and turnout of the rally has set new benchmarks for the country’s political landscape. The sentiment of the rally is that there is now greater participation and political awareness seen among the nation than ever before.

The federal government, led by current Prime Minister Najib Razak, has some serious reputation issues to address. Depending on the severity of his popularity rating plunge, some say Najib may now have to reconsider the timing of the upcoming general elections, which has been widely anticipated to be held in the next one or two months.

Yet, it is likely that Najib and his administration is unperturbed by the massive rally, as it does not view the rally as a game-changer in the upcoming elections. At least, not yet.

After all, the National Front – the ruling party that forms the current federal government – has some fat carrots to dangle to other voters, including the expected windfall profit to rural Malay settlers following the listing of Felda Global Ventures Holdings. Earlier, Najib had also given out cash handouts to students and households in a move to woo voters.

Given that he could tap into the allocation of resources, the National Front – being the party that forms the ruling government today – would still have the upper hand in the upcoming elections and may hold out for several years more.

But, it will also gradually be harder for Najib to hold on to power as a reformed leader, if he keeps on failing to keep up with the times and listen to the voices of the people that came out to rally that Saturday in April.

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Gathering point for BERSIH 3.0 rally locked down for 48 hours, protests to go on http://asiancorrespondent.com/81333/gathering-point-for-bersih-3-0-rally-locked-down-for-48-hours-protests-to-go-on/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/81333/gathering-point-for-bersih-3-0-rally-locked-down-for-48-hours-protests-to-go-on/#comments Fri, 27 Apr 2012 03:35:39 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=81333 The Kuala Lumpur City Council has locked down the historic Independence Square for the next 48 hours, in its last-ditch attempt to prevent a rally to push for electoral reforms from gathering there.

Local media reported that the KL mayor, Ahmad Fuad Ismail had stressed that no gathering would be allowed at the square without his written consent, following a rejection of BERSIH 3.0’s application to gather there. The Independence Square, known in Malay as Dataran Merdeka, was heavily barricaded and would only be accessible on Apr 29, 6am onwards.

According to the Star, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the police have been instructed to handle the planned rally tomorrow “in the context of security” should the organisers be adamant in using Dataran Merdeka as its gathering point.

“I have asked them (the police) to look at the possibility of this thing not going to Stadium Merdeka and proceeding to Dataran Merdeka,” he was quoted as saying.

Ironically, Hishammuddin had once suggested that the organisers of BERSIH 3.0- a coalition of non-governmental organisations- used other stadiums, including another historic KL landmark, Stadium Merdeka- as the rally’s meeting point, and said the rally would be of no security threat to the country.

The organisers of BERSIH 3.0 had planned to organize a sit-down protest this April 28, following allegations of influx of phantom voters in various constituencies. NGOs on poll reformes also opined that the reforms recommended by the Parliamentary Select Committee were insufficient to clean up the electoral process in the country.

The organisers of BERSIH 2.0 were denied permit to gather at the Stadium Merdeka last year. In a similar fashion, the police barricaded the stadium and locked down the city before the rally took place.

The now-heavily barricaded Dataran Merdeka is leaving the organisers of BERSIH 3.0 unperturbed, with its steering committee member, Maria Chin Abdullah saying that the order to close the square “doesn’t make any difference”. “We will proceed,” she was quoted as saying by Bloomberg today.

Bloomberg reported that the planned to rally 100,000 people tomorrow without government permission is a test for Prime Minister Najib Razak’s pledge to allow greater freedom ahead of national vote.

It said Najib’s handling of any street clashes could affect plans for timing an election, following a drop of approval rate for the Prime Minister post-arrest of 1,600 march participants in a similar rally last year.

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Squabble between KL City Hall and rally organizers over venue continues http://asiancorrespondent.com/80999/squabble-between-kl-city-hall-and-rally-organizers-over-venue-continues/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/80999/squabble-between-kl-city-hall-and-rally-organizers-over-venue-continues/#comments Mon, 23 Apr 2012 09:06:44 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=80999 With just several days to go before a planned rally to push for free and fair elections, the organizers of the rally and the Kuala Lumpur city mayor are at loggerheads over its proposed venue.

The committee of the rally, known as BERSIH 3.0, is insistent that the rally should be held at the Independence Square in downtown Kuala Lumpur but its application was rejected by the City Hall, citing reasons that the venue is for major and national events such as the Independence Day Parade.

However, the BERSIH committee would have none of it and has challenged the Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s decision, by pointing out that companies, NGOs and political parties had used the square for seemingly minor events.

The BERSIH committee, made up of a coalition of NGOs, said companies such as McDonalds had also used the square for its events. “So, what is the basis to reject us? Our stand is that Dataran Merdeka belongs to the people,” steering committee member Maria Chin Abdullah was quoted as saying here.

BERSIH committee was responding to statements made by the Kuala Lumpur mayor Ahmad Fuad Ismail who said no gathering could be held at the square without the mayor’s consent, cited from a local government bylaw.

“We are consistent with our stand since the bylaw was put into effect. There are many events that we have rejected before. Generally we permit sports and cultural events as these events are beneficial to the public, but we reject events of a political nature,” he was quoted as saying here.

Mayor Ahmad Fuad also threatened to take action against the BERSIH 3.0 organizers if they proceeded with the rally at the square. “It is like they are running a red light, they may do it but it is against the law. We will have to wait until the 28 (April) to see what action, if any, would be taken.”

BERSIH 3.0 has planned a sit-down protest this April 28, to push for stronger reforms in the country’s electoral process, ahead of a widely-anticipated general elections that could be held within one or two months.

The coalition of NGOs organized a rally – known as BERSIH 2. 0- in July last year, and was denied a permit to make the Independence Stadium – another historic landmark in Kuala Lumpur – as its gathering point. Ironically, the Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein had recently said BERSIH 3.0 does not pose security threat to the country and suggested the rally gathered at the stadium instead of the square.

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Malaysia submarine scandal: Human rights group files civil case in France http://asiancorrespondent.com/80994/human-rights-group-filed-complaint-to-parisian-court-over-malaysias-submarine-deal/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/80994/human-rights-group-filed-complaint-to-parisian-court-over-malaysias-submarine-deal/#comments Mon, 23 Apr 2012 05:10:33 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=80994 Malaysian human rights group, Suaram, has filed a complaint with a civil court in Paris over a multi-million Scorpene submarine deal involving the Malaysian government. According to the Malaysian Insider, Suaram filed the complaint despite knowing that the French would have no power to act against Malaysians outside of Europe as it has no mutual legal assistance treaty.

“We are aware that the government may evade the court process, however, we believe that there is a still possibility for us to uncover the truth, as there are other witnesses who will come forward to testify,” Suaram activist and lawyer Fadiah Nadwa Fikri was quoted as saying.

In Suaram’s complaint to French officials, it accused the Malaysian government of failing to address serious allegations of multi-million ringgit kickbacks involving high-ranking government officials.

Suaram activist Fadiah said the human rights group chose to file a complaint in France as it was left with no redress with authorities here. “(It is) an opportunity for Suaram and Malaysian taxpayers to seek the truth based on the investigation done on both French and Malaysian side. Only through this inquiry all facts will be unravelled in the court of law for Malaysian taxpayers to answers as to what actually transpired,” Fadiah was quoted as saying.

In early April, Asia Sentinel reported that French investigating magistrates were probing the US$1.2 billion sale of submarines to the Malaysian Defense Ministry, with investigators believing that at least some of the money funneled through a Hong Kong-registered company, Terasasi (Hong Kong) Ltd, went into the pocket of Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The report said according to the Hong Kong Companies Registry, the company’s directors are Abdul Razak Baginda- Najib Razak’s former aide that was recently acquitted of the murder of a Mongolian actress named Altantuya Shaariibuu, believed to be Baginda’s former lover- and Baginda’s father, Abdul Malim Baginda.

Baginda was charged with abetting her murder, which is speculated to have occurred after she blackmailed him over the information she had from being a translator for him in France. However, French investigators were not linking her death to the submarine purchase scandal, Asia Sentinel said.

Opposition lawmaker Chua Tian Chang said Abdul Razak is believed to have been asked to testify in an ongoing French probe at the Tribunal Grande instance de Paris. According to him, the French court had asked for Abdul Razak’s address as it wants to subpoena him as a witness in the trial.

The Prime Minister had declined to comment when he was asked whether he would attend the enquiry by French courts if subpoenaed. “I don’t need to comment…I don’t want to comment, thank you,” he was quoted as saying recently.

Meanwhile, opposition lawmakers have also linked a letter allegedly penned by a prominent lawyer Dr Muhammad Shafee Abdullah to the Scorpene submarine case. Shafee has allegedly written a letter addressed to the Chief Justice requesting to adjourn his cases from Apr 1 to 25, due to a “sensitive legal assignment” abroad allegedly commissioned by Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor.

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Rally in Malaysia to go on despite rejection by City Hall for permit http://asiancorrespondent.com/80935/rally-in-malaysia-to-go-on-despite-rejection-by-city-hall-for-permit/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/80935/rally-in-malaysia-to-go-on-despite-rejection-by-city-hall-for-permit/#comments Sat, 21 Apr 2012 04:37:08 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=80935 The City Hall of Kuala Lumpur has rejected the request of a coalition of non-governmental organizations – known as BERSIH- to hold a sit-down protest to push for electoral reforms in a stadium in downtown Kuala Lumpur. But, BERSIH have said that the show would go on.

Bersih protesters

Bersih protesters at a 2007 rally Pic: AP

The BERSIH committee told the Malaysian Insider that the KL City Hall has rejected the NGOS’ application to hold a sit-down protest in the historic Independence Square, known as Dataran Merdeka, citing reasons that the venue is only for national events, such as National Day Parade and other events of similar nature.

However, BERSIH chairman Ambiga Sreenevasan said it is not surprised by the rejection letter and will proceed with the sit-in as “Dataran Merdeka belongs to the people.”

Ambiga said there were many events that had been held at the square that were not of national level, including concerts. “You can check that,” she was quoted as saying.

BERSIH had planned to organize a sit-down protest this April 28, following allegations of influx of phantom voters in various constituencies. NGOs on poll reformes also opined that the reforms recommended by the Parliamentary Select Committee were insufficient to clean up the electoral process in the country.

The Bar Council president Lim Chee Wee had said here that it is shocked that that the Election commission is still ‘studying’ the recommendations of the Parliamentary Select Committee for electoral reforms, which were a result of six months of careful consultation with stakeholders and the people.

“I am speechless that the EC is not able to start studying how to implement all the recommendations of the PSC which were arrived after six months of hard work, and instead, it is reported that it needs to study further what has already been studied,” he was quoted as saying.

The rally- a third since 2007- is organized by BERSIH with the anticipation that Malaysia’s 13th general elections could be called in May or June, given the preparation and submission of candidates’ names being prepared by political parties in recent weeks.

Its second rally was held in July 2011, whereby protestors had demanded for cleaner and fairer elections in the country including usage of indelible ink and longer duration for election campaign. The rally was clamped down by the government, which in turn faced a backlash from international communities and human rights groups.

This time, Home Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein said the sit-down protest is not a security threat and will not be the responsibility of the police to deal with it. “This won’t be a security issues. It is mainly political and we will deal with them the same way (politically). But if the protestors do more, don’t blame the police,” he was quoted as saying.

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In Malaysia, election fever has arrived http://asiancorrespondent.com/80682/in-malaysia-election-fever-has-arrived/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/80682/in-malaysia-election-fever-has-arrived/#comments Wed, 18 Apr 2012 03:54:35 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=80682 Even before formal announcements of the impending general elections are made, Malaysia is already facing election fever as political parties gather steam in wooing voters.

Najib Razak

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, left, gestures as he speaks at a radio station in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Pic: AP.

Political parties have been actively rallying their troops in the midst of strong indicators that Malaysia’s 13th general elections could be held in May or June. In some places, banners and flags of political parties are already put up, even though official campaigning is only allowed for seven days before the general elections.

According to local mainstream publication the Star, Barisan Nasional will begin finalizing its potential candidates for the general elections after April 30. “We will screen the potential candidates thoroughly to ensure that those chosen are not marred by perceptions of scandal or corruption,” Barisan Nasional secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor was quoted as saying.

He also said that the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) division had submitted their list of candidates. UMNO said two-thirds of the names submitted to contest in Penang would be new faces. The Star also reported that former Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is among those on the list to contest in Penang.

Penang has become a stronghold of the opposition parties following a landslide victory by Pakatan Rakyat coalition in the 2008 elections.

Meanwhile, opposition party DAP is also seen to be riding on the momentum of the general elections by launching its election theme, complete with election campaign songs and merchandize to raise the party’s profile.

The Malaysian Insider quoted DAP national publicity secretary Anthony Loke as saying that the election campaign song is available in three languages, to attract young Malaysians and educate them about the importance of voting.

For both the federal government and the Opposition, the stakes are exceptionally high, given an increasingly frustrated nation over the level of corruption in the country and race-based politics.

The Opposition has branded itself as the change that the nation wants, promising massive clean-ups in the country’s governance although it is also marred by internal factions and corruption allegations.

The Barisan Nasional – the coalition forming the country’s federal government – faced a heavy blow in the 2008 general elections, after it lost two-third majority for the first time since its first elections in 1959. Touted as Malaysia’s political tsunami the coalition lost several key states to the Opposition, including key manufacturing states Penang and Selangor, which in turn saw the exit of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as Prime Minister.

However, the Barisan Nasional is not about to allow a similar fate this time round and is said to have regained a sizeable amount of voters in certain constituencies.

Current Prime Minister Najib Razak – who is Oxford educated and holds an image of a reformed leader – has been actively making his rounds and building rapport with communities around the country recently, as well as giving generous cash handouts to students and households. He is also set to give FELDA – an agricultural scheme mainly for Malays – settlers a windfall profit upon the listing of its commercial arm Felda Global Ventures Holdings in May.

Political observers say it is better for Najib to call the elections within the first half of the year, given that he has the upper hand currently riding on the feel-good sentiment gained from several reforms made in the country’s policies such as the repeal of the Internal Security Act and goodies given to households.

It is also pertinent for Najib to secure his mandate in order to be able to hold the fort within UMNO, which is likely to call for a party election in the second half of the year.

The election fever has also prompted election watchdog BERSIH – consisting a coalition of non-governmental organizations – to push for electoral reforms ahead of the elections, following claims of an influx of phantom voters in several constituencies in the country.

The BERSIH committee will organize its third protest on April 28 in Malaysia, as well as in cities worldwide, to pressure the Election Commission (EC) to clean up the electoral process, despite denials by the EC that the electoral system is “dirty”.

Najib’s administration is not expected to clamp down on the protest this time, given the heavy backlash it received for its crackdown on the massive rally that BERSIH organized in July last year. Media reports said more than 1,600 people were arrested in the rally but were released on the same day.

Nevertheless, it is inevitable that the nation will once again brace for more dramas and action, as both camps will be expected to go out in full force to gain political mileage within the next few weeks.

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Malaysian educators receive comic books praising ruling coalition http://asiancorrespondent.com/80436/malaysian-educators-receive-comic-books-praising-ruling-coalition/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/80436/malaysian-educators-receive-comic-books-praising-ruling-coalition/#comments Sat, 14 Apr 2012 08:41:55 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=80436 In an move apparently to garner educators’ support for the ruling parties, copies of a comic book that praises the Barisan Nasional government were reported to be circulated among teachers in Malaysia.

The Malaysian Insider reported that a 50-page booklet featuring caricatures of figures resembling leading national political figures were distributed, that seemed to put those from the ruling coalition in positive light but while portraying the opposition negatively.

The online news portal quoted an unnamed teacher who said teachers had been briefed recently about the government’s achievements in the past few years. While there was no directive on who the teachers should vote for, the teachers that attended the recent briefing were given the comic book.

The Malaysian Insider reported that it managed to obtain a copy, with a caricature of the Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, on the cover with the words “I wouldn’t break your trust”.

It said the distribution of the comic books came at a time when the country’s 13th general elections are widely anticipated, and teachers who form a large population of the civil workforce are among the most significant target for support for the Barisan Nasional coalition.

Malaysia’s civil service comprises 1.4 million staff strength, which is considered to be large for its 28 million population.

Previously, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has admitted that it would be difficult for his party to win a two-thirds majority in the upcoming general elections.

“It’s a different environment now. (You have) social media at work, you don’t have a monopoly as you had. People are more educated, there is a free flow of information,” he was quoted as saying here.

Political observers have said Najib would face a tougher task winning in the upcoming elections if he delayed the polls to the second half of this year, given the uncertainties in the global economy that may impact Malaysia. By waiting, he would also be giving the Opposition more time to strengthen. He has until April 2013 to call the elections.

In March, Bloomberg reported that Malaysia could hold its 13th general elections in May or June. Bloomberg said that four officials told its newswire that Najib may dissolve the parliament soon and one of the dates suggested for the elections was June 3.

Nevertheless, the Prime Minister has also been making his rounds to meet voters in various states recently. A RM500 (US$163) cash handout to households earning below RM3,000 monthly that was announced during the Budget speech last October was also seen as a pre-election sweetener for voters.

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Malaysia: Residents’ suit against Lynas license thrown out of court http://asiancorrespondent.com/80430/residents-suit-against-aelb-for-granting-lynas-a-licence-was-thrown-out-by-malaysian-court/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/80430/residents-suit-against-aelb-for-granting-lynas-a-licence-was-thrown-out-by-malaysian-court/#comments Sat, 14 Apr 2012 02:59:31 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=80430 Ten residents living in Gebeng, Kuantan, that had challenged the Atomic Energy Licensing Board’s (AELB) authority for approving a temporary operating licence (TOL) to Lynas Corp’s rare earth mining plant there was rejected by the court as it claimed it was already looked into by governmental bodies.

According to the Malaysian Insider, Justice Rohana Yusuf said the case was thrown out as a parliamentary select committee (PSC) and the Science, Technology and Innovation Minister were already looking into the same issues raised by the residents.

“The House of Parliament are pursuing the same exercises through the PSC… they are the proper channel to look (into) and deliberate on complaints and grievances,” she was quoted in her ruling here.

The judge also said if the findings of the minister differ from the court’s, this would result in “confusion and embarrassment”.

The residents had filed a suit on February 17, seeking a court order to cancel AELB’s approval of a TOL on Jan 30. The lawyer representing the residents said his clients would file for appeal.

Despite persistent protests by residents living in Kuantan, Pahang, the AELB has granted Lynas Corp a TOL to operate its rare earth mining plant here, but said it could be suspended or withdrawn and further applications will not be considered if conditions stipulated by the board were broken.

Australian mining company Lynas Corp has said it is set to begin operations in a few weeks’ time, in the midst of increasing pressure on the company and the Malaysian government to close down its controversial rare earth mining plant.

The Star reported that the first phase of the plant is 97 percent complete, and all Lynas needs is the temporary operating licence (TOL) that the Malaysian Atomic Energy Licensing Board had approved but is yet to be issued.

“The licence has been approved but we have yet to receive it. Lynas has already fulfilled all the conditions stipulated for the licence to be issued and we are just waiting. We hope it can be issued very soon because we need to start operations,” Mashal Ahmad, the managing director of Lynas’ Malaysian chapter, was qouted as saying.

He also said that Lynas looked forward to be called up to give explanations to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) formed to investigate on the company’s operations in Kuantan, Pahang in West Malaysia. “The faster, the better,” Mashal said.

The PSC was formed following public pressure that Lynas’ rare earth mining plant could cause radioactive contamination to the residential areas nearby. Pressure groups had claimed that the synthetic gypsum that Lynas would produce from its plant in Kuantan would be an additional source of radiation to locals.

Lynas was supposed to start its operations last year, but it was delayed and the company was only granted a temporary operating licence in February of this year.

However, the AELB director-general said the board had decided to withhold the issuance of the TOL granted to Lynas until the hearing of an appeal by a group of residents to the Science, Technology and Innovation Minister is settled on April 17.

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Malaysia bans ballet performance by Singaporean dance troupe, local media claims tutus to be reason http://asiancorrespondent.com/79857/malaysia-bans-ballet-performance-by-singaporean-dance-troupe-local-media-claims-tutus-to-be-reason/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/79857/malaysia-bans-ballet-performance-by-singaporean-dance-troupe-local-media-claims-tutus-to-be-reason/#comments Thu, 05 Apr 2012 02:45:45 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=79857 The Malaysian government has denied a permit to a Singapore Dance Theatre days before they were slated to perform in the Malaysian capital city of Kuala Lumpur. While no official reason was given, local media has claimed that the denial of the permit was due to the troupe’s “indecent” costumes, including classical tutus that have been worn by dancers for centuries.

The permit was denied by the Central Agency for the Application for Filming and Performance by Foreign Artists, or PUSPAL, which is under the purview of the Information, Communication and Culture Ministry.

According to Singapore’s Straits Times, the Singapore Dance Theatre has denied that “indecent” costumes were the reason behind the cancellation of the performance in Malaysia. The dance company was supposed to present Ballet Illuminations, a mix of contemporary and classical works such as the Nutcracker, when it received news on Tuesday that the approval had not been granted.

Janek Schergen, the company’s artistic director said the news came as a shock as the licences for ballet performances in Malaysia for the past two years had been granted without a hitch.

MyDance Alliance president Bilqus Hijjas slammed the decision by the government agency as “deplorable” and “inconsistent,” as dances that featured classical tutus were allowed to be held even at government-run venue just earlier this year.

In an open letter published by the Malaysian Insider, she said the women’s costumes included long skirts and classical tutus that had been used by ballet dancers. “Ballet dancers in Baghdad are allowed to wear ballet costumes on stage. Are we to understand that the Malaysian public is less cosmopolitan, less morally resilient and less broad minded than the citizens of a Middle Eastern country that has been ripped to shreds by war and violence?”

Hijjas said the inconsistent judgment from PUSPAL has caused enormous doubt in the arts community, not to mention a huge loss of money.

“In light of recent similar occurences, Malaysia risks an international reputation as an unpredictable and unreliable host for cultural performances. Singapore, with its more predictable and reasonable procedures, will continue to eclipse Malaysia as the venue of choice for world-class performances,” she said.

Less than two months ago, the government also banned Erykah Badu’s concert just days before she was supposed to perform in Kuala Lumpur after a government committee decided that she had ‘offended religious sensitivities’ of Muslims by posing with tattoos of the word ‘Allah’ in Arabic.

Two editors of a prominent Malaysian English-language newspaper were also suspended for approving a photo of American singer Erykah Badu on the publication’s entertainment section. The image was supplied by Badu’s official record label, Universal Music, in the run-up to the concert.

In the past, several international musicians performing in the country – such as Beyonce Knowles, Gwen Stefani and Mariah Carey – have been asked to cover up if they wanted to perform.

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Another rally confirmed to be held in Malaysia for free and fair elections http://asiancorrespondent.com/79698/another-rally-confirmed-to-be-held-in-malaysia-for-free-and-fair-elections/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/79698/another-rally-confirmed-to-be-held-in-malaysia-for-free-and-fair-elections/#comments Wed, 04 Apr 2012 04:26:14 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=79698 A Malaysian coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has confirmed holding a rally for free and fair elections this April 28, in what is seen as an attempt to put higher pressure on the federal government ahead of a widely anticipated general election.

According to the Malaysian Insider, the coalition, known as Bersih 2.0, would be holding its third rally — this time a sit-in protest — demanding electoral reforms that would include postal voting, a longer campaigning period of 21 days and free and fair access to media.

The demonstration is also expected to be held simultaneously across the country, and also other parts of the world. During the previous rally in July last year, the elections watchdog group claimed that 50,000 people had turned up at the streets of Kuala Lumpur in support of the rally, while smaller ones were held in various parts of the world including Melbourne, Hong Kong and London.

The coming rally is seen to be a response to the recent release of a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) report to lawmakers outlining 22 recommendations for reforming the electoral process, as well as claims of electoral fraud in the country.

Among the key recommendations included were that the Election Commission should work toward automatically registering citizens who turn 21 as voters, a longer campaigning period of at least 10 days before general election instead of just seven days and allowing Malaysians residing overseas to vote earlier at Malaysian embassies or via postal voting.

Nevertheless, NGOs have expressed disappointment over the recommendations as there were no specific reccomendations to clean up the electoral process. The National Institute for Electoral Integrity said while key issues pertaining to the voter registration process and the electoral role have been noted, the report lacks specific short-term recommendations to address the key concerns that the very same committee has raised in the report.

After the rally in July last year, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and his administration suffered dents in image, following criticism from neighboring countries and international human rights groups over how the rally was handled.

Since then, Najib had attemped to reform several of the the country’s policies, including setting up a PSC on the electoral process and announced that the federal government would abolish the Internal Security Act, which allows for detention without trial.

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Lynas’ plant in Malaysia ready in three weeks, waiting for licence http://asiancorrespondent.com/79687/lynas-plant-in-malaysia-ready-in-three-weeks-waiting-for-licence/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/79687/lynas-plant-in-malaysia-ready-in-three-weeks-waiting-for-licence/#comments Wed, 04 Apr 2012 02:34:44 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=79687 Australian mining company, Lynas Corp, is set to operate in three weeks’ time, in the midst of increasing pressure on the company and the Malaysian government to close down its controversial rare earth mining plant.

The Star reported that the first phase of the plant is 97 percent complete, and all Lynas needs is the temporary operating licence (TOL) that the Malaysian Atomic Energy Licensing Board had approved but yet to be issued.

“The licence has been approved but we have yet to receive it. Lynas has already fulfilled all the conditions stipulated for the licence to be issued and we are just waiting.

“We hope it can be issued very soon because we need to start operations,” Mashal Ahmad, the managing director of Lynas’ Malaysian chapter was qouted as saying.

He also said that Lynas looked forward to be called up to give explanations to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) formed to investigate on the company’s operations in Kuantan, Pahang in West Malaysia. “The faster, the better,” Mashal said.

The PSC was formed following public pressure that Lynas’ rare earth mining plant could cause radioactive contamination to the residential areas nearby. Pressure groups had claimed that the synthetic gypsum that Lynas would produce from its plant in Kuantan would be an additional source of radiation to the locals.

Lynas was supposed to start its operations last year, but it was delayed and the company was only granted a temporary operating licence in February of this year.

Mounting public pressure on the issue had caused the government to act further, and the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak had told Lynas Corp to move its waste disposal site away from its rare earth refinery and residences in Gebeng, to reassure the local communities.

Lynas had also submitted a letter of undertaking to send the residue overseas if it cannot find a suitable waste disposal site in Malaysia.

However, last week, a new pressure point was added to the issue, following the death of a 29-year-old disabled man, Cheah Kok Leong, that was claimed by his mother and activists to be a consequence of radioactive poisoning in Bukit Merah, Perak, more than three decades ago.

His mother, Lai Kwan, had worked in Asia Rare Earth, a mining plant that is jointly owned by Japan-based conglomerate Mitsubishi and local investors before she was pregnant with Cheah. The rare earth mining plant has closed down for 15 years but a massive cleaning-up operations is still taking place in Papan, several kilometres away from Bukit Merah.

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Malaysian coalition of NGOs expected to rally for reform http://asiancorrespondent.com/79576/malaysian-coalition-of-ngos-speculated-to-hold-another-massive-rally-for-electoral-reforms/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/79576/malaysian-coalition-of-ngos-speculated-to-hold-another-massive-rally-for-electoral-reforms/#comments Tue, 03 Apr 2012 06:35:28 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=79576 A coalition of non-governmental organizations is expected to hold its third rally in Malaysia for free and fair elections, some nine months since a massive rally had taken place in the heart of its capital city Kuala Lumpur.

BERSIH protests in Malaysia

Malaysian activists from the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih) shout slogans during a 2011 rally calling for clean and fair elections in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Pic: AP

According to the Malaysian Insider, it said citing sources, the coalition of NGOs, known as BERSIH, would announce the date of its third rally tomorrow, while the demonstration could take place by end of this month.

It said the rally would be intended to push for BERSIH’s demands for greater electoral reforms, following claims of electoral fraud and the government’s failure to resolve key issues on the country’s electorate process.

Earlier, the chairman of BERSIH, Ambiga Sreenevasan had threatened to organize another rally if no significant poll reforms were seen. “We have not seen electoral reforms; instead we see more and more irresponsible acts taking place…If the government is not serious about electoral reform , the public will have to make itself heard,” she was quoted as having said.

Sreenevasan, a former Malaysian Bar Council president, said the BERSIH committee – a coalition of non-governmental organizations that were supportive of election reforms in the country – was concerned with the reports of alleged surge of voters in some constituencies and apparent altering of polling districts.

In July 2011, the BERSIH committee had claimed that more than 50,000 people participated in the rally calling for free and fair elections for the country. The rally, which was the second one held following a first in 2007, was well-publicized by international media and was condemned by human rights organizations.

Following criticism from neighboring countries as well as international groups, Malaysia’s federal government had formed a Parliamentary Select Committee to look into the demands made during the rally.

The committee had recently prepared a 22-point final report and distributed to members of Parliament, based on recommendations and suggestions obtained from public hearing sessions as well as feedback from committee members.

Among the key recommendations included were that the Election Commission should work towards automatically registering citizens who turn 21 as voters, longer campaigning period of at least 10 days before general election instead of just seven days and allowing Malaysians residing overseas to vote earlier at Malaysian embassies or via postal voting.

Nevertheless, NGOs have expressed disappointment over the recommendations as there were no specific reccomendations to clean up the electoral process. The National Institute for Electoral Integrity said while key issues pertaining to the voter registration process and the electoral roll have been noted, the report lacks specific short-term recommendations to address the key concerns that the very same committee has raised in the report.

“The current concern and development in addressing the allegations of irregularities in the electoral roll requires an urgent and more comprehensive reform with clear and specific recommendations,” it said via a statement.

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Singapore’s DBS banks on Indonesia http://asiancorrespondent.com/79572/singapores-largest-bank-buys-into-indonesia/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/79572/singapores-largest-bank-buys-into-indonesia/#comments Tue, 03 Apr 2012 03:51:43 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=79572 Southeast Asia’s largest bank, Singapore-based DBS Group, is acquiring Bank Danamon, making it the latest foreign bank to gain a significant foothold in Indonesia’s growing economy.

Yesterday, DBS announced that it would buy a 67.4 percent stake in the Indonesian lender for $4.9 billion, from Temasek Holdings, a Singapore state investor, at a steep 52 percent premium. DBS will also launch a $2.3 billion mandatory offer for the remaining shares of Danamon it did not own to gain full control of the bank.

The deal is Southeast Asia’s largest banking deal so far this year, beating a previous record set by recent deals such as Malaysia’s Malayan Banking that acquired Indonesia’s Bank Internasional Indonesia—also from Temasek Holdings—back in 2009.

DBS is known to have paid a steep price for its acquisition, notably its buy in Hong Kong-lender, Dao Heng Bank in 2001.

The Singaporean lender has long been speculated to make a move on Danamon after the Singaporean bank said it aspired gain foothold in other Asian countries, apart from Singapore and China, in 2010. Not surprisingly, DBS’s aggressive expansion mode is also extended to Malaysia, where it has yet to achieve a prominent presence.

DBS has also announced yesterday that it is also beginning to negotiate with Malaysia’s Alliance Financial Group to acquire Temasek’s 14 percent stake in the bank.

Indonesia’s booming economy and growing middle class are two factors that make DBS’ proposed acquisition in Danamon compelling, analysts said. While some analysts opined that the price that DBS has offered to pay is too high, others say the proposed acquisition represented a vote of confidence in Indonesia.

Nevertheless, the deal faces several hurdles, among which is the approval of Indonesia’s top banking regulator, in the midst of public wariness and backlash against heavy foreign presence in the country’s banking landscape.

In an article by Indonesian-language online publication Tribun Jakarta, it expressed unhappiness over Temasek’s sale of Danamon to DBS as it was seen as intentionally benefiting foreign investors rather than local investors. The article also quoted an economist as urging Bank Indonesia- the country’s central bank- to cap foreign shareholding and prioritize local ownership.

The legacy of foreign investors’ entry into the Indonesian financial industry started after the 1997/1998 Asian Financial Crisis that saw many local financial institutions crumble under the weight of the Rupiah devaluation and heavy debt. Similar to other neighboring countries such as Thailand, these banks needed foreign investors to come in and pump fresh capital into the banks.

This resulted in some of the cash-rich foreign investors such as Temasek, ending up with two major Indonesian lenders. Since then, foreign banks have expressed interest in owning Indonesian lenders with heavyweights such as HSBC Plc and China Construction Bank bidding for stakes in these banks.

But, as more Indonesian banks are being sold to foreign investors, lobbyists saw this trend as going against national interests. Last year, Bank Indonesia froze takeover plans on local banks, and announced possibilities of capping majority shareholders’ interests in these lenders.

However, the plan, which could have made some majority shareholders to sell down their stakes in local lenders, was scrapped in February this year, as it would also affect local majority shareholders’ ownership in these lenders.

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Rough landing for MAS-AirAsia alliance http://asiancorrespondent.com/78611/mas-airasia-alliance-going-through-rough-landing/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/78611/mas-airasia-alliance-going-through-rough-landing/#comments Wed, 21 Mar 2012 05:27:11 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=78611 After seven months since the major shareholders of Malaysia’s national carrier Malaysia Airlines (MAS) and AirAsia announced that it would undertake a share swap, the deal is apparently going through a rough landing.

Rumor has it that the deal is scrapped after unions representing MAS employees protested against the share swap agreement that would result in a large number of staff losing their jobs. The deal is also being investigated for running against anti-competition laws.

Much as one would like to think that this alliance was made for commercial reasons, political stakes run equally high if not higher in this deal as Malaysia’s 13th general elections are widely expected to be held within the next few months.

It was reported that the government had second thoughts on the alliance and even planned to take MAS private by taking over the stake of its investment arm Khazanah Nasional in MAS and make an offer for the remaining shares in the liner from budget carrier magnate Tony Fernandes.

Under the deal AirAsia’s major shareholder and boss, Fernandes, was supposed to take 20.5% shares in MAS, while Khazanah takes 10% of AirAsia. At first glance, analysts said Fernandes got the better deal. But Fernandes was also known for turning around ailing companies, in a similar fashion to how he bought AirAsia for RM1 and take over RM40 million of debt 11 years before he turned it into an a popular budget liner in Southeast Asia that is aggressive in growth expansion.

While there is still no confirmation that the deal is called off, there is mounting pressure for the Malaysian government to step in following protests from unions that represent about 20,000 MAS staff that are averse to the deal. The union has threatened to back the Opposition if the matter is not resolved.

On the other hand, there is also much to consider in terms of whether the alliance has actually made business sense for both airlines.

When the deal was first announced, it was received with mixed reviews with some saying that it would help reduce overlapping of flight routes between the two rivals and effectively increase cost savings. The deal also showed signs that the government was weary of MAS’ constant losses and in need of a maverick to turn it around. Others saw it as the dawn of a cartel in the country’s aviation industry.

Questions on how the alliance would really benefit the aviation industry as well as customers constantly arise when both airlines claimed that by not having overlapping routes, that would reduce competition between two carriers as they focus on each others’ niche. The alliance was also supposed to give way to a super-luxury business via a new brand.

Indeed, even before that happened the first result of that alliance were the cancellation of some routes. AirAsia X- the budget carrier’s long-haul flights unit – retreated from India and Europe, as well as most recently, Christchurch, New Zealand, to open routes to Australia.

Reduced competition between the two carriers, however, does not seem to bring value to customers, as some have complained that AirAsia also reduced number of flights between East and West Malaysia, causing travel costs within the country to balloon and eventually requiring the Transport Ministry to intervene in order to resume those flights.

Meanwhile, MAS posted yet another year of heavy losses, signalling that it needed more than a share swap deal to fix its legacy problems.

However, in an unprecedented move, MAS’ chairman MD Nor Yusof released a statement recently in what appears to be an appeal for the alliance to go on. “Malaysia Airlines must be allowed to focus on pulling itself out of its current financial crisis.”

“Malaysia Airlines is a very sick patient and its condition is quite critical. Indeed, there is a full range of prescriptions available. Judge us by the results, not by the choice of prescription,” he said.

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Survey: Malaysia no longer Indonesia’s favorite country http://asiancorrespondent.com/78479/survey-malaysia-not-high-regarded-by-indonesia/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/78479/survey-malaysia-not-high-regarded-by-indonesia/#comments Tue, 20 Mar 2012 05:19:27 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=78479 Malaysia is fast losing popularity from its neighbor Indonesia, which now prefers Singapore as a highly regarded nation.

According to a Straits Times article based on a survey  by Australia-based Lowy Institute – an international policy think tank – Malaysia, which was the most highly regarded nation by Indonesians surveyed in 2006, has dropped to the 11th spot out of 21 countries listed.

The poll was conducted based on 1,289 interviews in November and December with Indonesians aged 17 and above.

Excerpts of the survey results showed that 63% of respondents from Indonesia also believed Malaysia would pose a threat to the country over the next 10 years, higher than the US (49%), China (39%) and Australia (31%).

“There have been public controversies between Indonesia and Malaysia in recent years ranging from disputes over Malaysia’s ownership of songs or batik that Indonesians might regard as their own cultural products, to a regional soccer final where laser lights were shone on the Indonesians’ eyes to reports of mistreatment of Indonesian migrant workers,” Dave McRae, a research fellow at the Lowy Institute, was quoted as saying.

Indonesia, which is among the fastest-growing economies in Southeast Asia in recent years, now prefers Japan, followed by Singapore and the US in joint second place.

While Malaysia does not appear to be favorable to Indonesia, McRae said Singapore had improved “from an already warm result to a very warm result.”

Indonesians were also most supportive of foreign investments from Japan (65%), followed by Singapore (63%), and Australia (61%). However, the same could not be said about its former colonial master, the Netherlands, that only had 45% in favor, while 46% are opposed to its investments in Indonesia.

Apart from being among the most welcomed for foreign investments in Indonesia, 69% of Indonesians surveyed said they trusted Singapore to act responsibly, not too far behind Japan’s 80% and Australia’s 75%.

Nevertheless, about 42% of Indonesians surveyed believe Jakarta should join other countries in the region to try limit China’s influence, while 36% of Indonesians thought China aims to dominate Asia.

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Malaysia election: PM admits two-thirds majority will be tough http://asiancorrespondent.com/78478/malaysian-pm-admits-tough-to-win-two-third-majority-in-upcoming-elections/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/78478/malaysian-pm-admits-tough-to-win-two-third-majority-in-upcoming-elections/#comments Tue, 20 Mar 2012 02:50:05 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=78478 Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has admitted that it would be difficult for his party to win a two-thirds majority in the upcoming general elections.

Najib Razak

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. Pic: AP.

“It’s a different environment now. (You have) social media at work, you don’t have a monopoly as you had. People are more educated, there is a free flow of information,” he was quoted as saying here.

Najib, who had served for less than five years as the country’s Prime Minister, said the task was difficult, but the ruling coalition would work hard to get a super majority.

However, he had refused to divulge details of Malaysia’s 13th general elections, although speculation is rife that they will be held within the next two months.

In response to questions on when the elections would be held, Najib said here (translated from Bahasa Malaysia) that asking a prime minister to give away details of the general elections would be equivalent to asking the chief executive of Coca-Cola to disclose the secret recipe of the popular soft drink.

Political observers have said Najib would face a tougher task winning in the upcoming elections if he delayed the polls to the second half of this year, given the uncertainties in the global economy that may impact Malaysia. By waiting, he would also be giving the Opposition more time to strengthen. He has until April 2013 to call the elections.

While there were rumors that the elections could be held in March, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad stepped in, saying that Najib should delay calling the polls as it would be tough for him to secure a two-thirds majority then.

Last week, Bloomberg reported that Malaysia could hold its 13th general elections in May or June. Bloomberg said that four officials told its newswire that Najib may dissolve the parliament soon and one of the dates suggested for the elections was June 3.

The Prime Minister has also been making his rounds to meet voters in various states recently. A RM500 (US$163) cash handout to households earning below RM3,000 monthly that was announced during the Budget speech last October was also seen as a pre-election sweetener for voters.

Najib was also seen as wooing Indian voters recently, by announcing that 100 top Indian undergraduate students in public universities would receive scholarships. In a plea to Indian voters, he said to them: “Don’t let me walk alone.”

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