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Asia Unbound

CFR experts give their take on the cutting-edge issues emerging in Asia today.

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Showing posts for "Malaysia"

Najib Goes Back to the Internal Security Act (ISA)

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak celebrates with his other party leaders after winning the elections at his party headquarters in Kuala Lumpur on May 6, 2013. (Bazuki Muhammad/Courtesy Reuters) Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak celebrates with his other party leaders after winning the elections at his party headquarters in Kuala Lumpur on May 6, 2013. (Bazuki Muhammad/Courtesy Reuters)

In the four months that have elapsed since Malaysia’s national elections in May, Prime Minister Najib tun Razak frequently has offered two conflicting public messages. To the party faithful in United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which now utterly dominates the ruling coalition, Najib—a relative moderate by temperament—has offered hunks of red meat, proposing new legislation that would further entrench economic and political preferences for ethnic Malays. Some allies of the government now have proposed classifying all Muslim indigenous people in the country as ethnic Malays, according to a report in Asia Sentinel; doing so would make even more people in Malaysia eligible for Malays’ economic preferences, though it likely would also further undermine economic growth and drive Chinese and Indian businesspeople out of the country. In the short term, the red meat approach has been relatively successful for Najib, whose coalition won more parliamentary seats in the May elections than the opposition but actually lost the popular vote, and without gerrymandering and alleged fraud likely would have won less seats than the opposition too; the increasingly pro-Malay agenda has prevented hard-line politicians from challenging Najib and his allies at recent internal UMNO elections. Read more »

Obama’s October Trip to Asia

by Joshua Kurlantzick
U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama greet Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor as they arrive at the opening dinner of the APEC Leaders Summit in Honolulu, Hawaii on November 12, 2011. President Obama will be visiting Malaysia in October 2013. (Jim Young/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama greet Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor as they arrive at the opening dinner of the APEC Leaders Summit in Honolulu, Hawaii on November 12, 2011. President Obama will be visiting Malaysia in October 2013. (Jim Young/Courtesy Reuters)

The White House last week confirmed that President Obama will be traveling to Southeast Asia between October 6 and 12. He will visit Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines, and Malaysia. Read more »

Southeast Asia’s Purple Haze

by Elizabeth C. Economy
A worker stands as he looks on at fire from burning trees planted for palm oil, during haze in Indonesia's Riau province on June 24, 2013. A worker stands as he looks on at fire from burning trees planted for palm oil, during haze in Indonesia's Riau province on June 24, 2013. (Beawiharta/Courtesy Reuters)

Even before several of my CFR colleagues and I arrived in Indonesia earlier this week for discussions on regional security and governance, headlines in the region’s media were dominated by the haze that was blanketing Singapore and Malaysia—not to mention parts of Indonesia—as a result of the slash-and-burn practices in Sumatra. In an effort to clear land to plant new crops, farmers there burn crop residue, timber, and peat. The result is hundreds of “hotspots,” or fires that contribute to a thick, toxic haze that travels throughout the region. This is despite a government effort to promote “zero burning” and a moratorium on all deforestation in much of the country. Read more »

ASEAN’s Haze Shows the Organization’s Futility

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A tourist wearing a face mask passes the hazy skyline of the Marina Bay Sands casino and resort in Singapore on June 18, 2013. (Edgar Su/Courtesy Reuters) A tourist wearing a face mask passes the hazy skyline of the Marina Bay Sands casino and resort in Singapore on June 18, 2013. (Edgar Su/Courtesy Reuters)

Haze continues to spread across Southeast Asia, the result primarily of burn-offs from farming by individuals and agribusinesses in Indonesia, combined with the dry summer weather and urban pollution in the region’s largest cities. As Yanzhong Huang notes, air pollution levels in some parts of penisular Southeast Asia have reached record highs this past week; the more proactive governments in the region, like Singapore, have taken health precautions like pushing nearly all residents to wear masks while outdoors and setting up centers across the city-state for low-income and elderly residents to get free face masks they can use. As Yanzhong notes, Singapore also is vowing to pursue companies that use polluting practices and cause this haze. Overall, countries in the region, like Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia, appear to be pointing fingers at each other and engaging in diplomatic recriminations rather than collaborating to address the haze crisis and its causes. Read more »

Haze Crisis in Southeast Asia (and China)

by Yanzhong Huang
An aerial view of burning lands in Palalawan district in Riau province June 21, 2013. An aerial view of burning lands in Palalawan district in Riau province June 21, 2013. Indonesia deployed military planes to fight raging forest fires on Friday that blanketed neighbouring Singapore in record levels of hazardous smog for a third straight day in one of Southeast Asia's worst air-pollution crises. (Fikih Nauli//Courtesy Reuters)

Having just arrived in Jakarta for a joint CSIS-CFR workshop on emerging Indonesia and rising regionalism, I was greeted by hot and humid weather conditions and horrible traffic. However, this is nothing compared to the severe haze that has blanketed Indonesia’s Sumatra Island, Malaysia, and Singapore, sending air pollution there to record high levels. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of May 24, 2013

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (L) shakes hands with India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ahead of their meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on May 20, 2013. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (L) shakes hands with India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ahead of their meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on May 20, 2013. (Adnan Adibi/Courtesy Reuters)

Sharone Tobias and Will Piekos look at the top five stories in Asia this week.

1. Li wraps up first foreign trip to India and Pakistan. Li Keqiang finished his first foreign trip as Chinese premier, where he visited India and Pakistan. The trip came only weeks after tensions had mounted between China and India over a Chinese military incursion into an Indian-controlled disputed border region in the Himalayas. Li was eager to focus on economic talks, but the governments continue to be wary of each other. Read more »

The U.S. Response to Malaysia’s Election

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak speaks during the announcement of his new cabinet ministers lineup at his office in Putrajaya outside Kuala Lumpur on May 15, 2013. Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak speaks during the announcement of his new cabinet ministers lineup at his office in Putrajaya outside Kuala Lumpur on May 15, 2013. (Bazuki Muhammad/Courtesy Reuters)

On May 5, Malaysia held its closest national election in modern history. Although the long-ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition won the largest number of seats, the opposition actually won the popular vote, and only gerrymandering, massive handouts to voters to vote for the BN, and many election irregularities ensured the BN’s victory. This was the first time in history the BN had lost the popular vote. The irregularities allegedly included flying and busing voters from one district to another, where they did not actually live, inflating voter rolls, using pre-election postal voting to help BN supporters vote twice, and many other irregularities. Independent and accredited observers who witnessed the election deemed it “partially free but not fair.” An excellent summary of all the problems with the election has been written up by Bridget Welsh and is available here. Read more »

Meredith Weiss: What More Do Malaysian Voters Want?

by Guest Blogger for Joshua Kurlantzick
A billboard encourages Malaysian citizens to vote for the opposition Pakatan Rakyat party in state of Sarawak. A billboard encourages Malaysian citizens to vote for the opposition Pakatan Rakyat party in the state of Sarawak. (Courtesy Meredith Weiss)

Meredith Weiss is an associate professor in the department of political science at the University of Albany.

Adamantly pro-government newspaper Utusan Malaysia raised hackles among opposition Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Alliance) supporters two days after Malaysia’s May 5 election with its blaring headline, Apa Lagi Orang Cina Mahu? (What more do the Chinese want?) The barb refers to what incumbent Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has called a “Chinese tsunami:” his Barisan Nasional (National Front, BN) coalition’s unprecedented failure to secure a majority of the popular vote—even if a highly disproportionate electoral system has left the BN still with 60 percent of parliamentary seats. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of May 10, 2013

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) talks to China's Premier Li Keqiang during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on May 8, 2013. (Courtesy Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon) Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) talks to China's Premier Li Keqiang during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on May 8, 2013. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Courtesy Reuters)

Sharone Tobias and Will Piekos look at the top five stories in Asia this week.

1. China offers to play peacemaker, but Bibi and Abbas don’t bite. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas both visited China this week. The Chinese media enthusiastically reported on the possibility that the country could serve as neutral territory for the two leaders to negotiate a peace settlement. However, the Chinese government made sure the leaders stayed far apart throughout the trip and were never in the same city at the same time. Read more »

Malaysia’s Disastrous National Election

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A voter shows her inked finger after casting her vote during the general elections in Malaysia on May 5, 2013. A voter shows her inked finger after casting her vote during the general elections in Malaysia on May 5, 2013. (Samsul Said/Courtesy Reuters)

On May 5, Malaysians went to the polls in what was expected to be the closest national election since independence. Massive turnout was reported, particularly in urban areas, with many districts reporting that over 80 percent of eligible voters came to the polls. In the early part of the vote counting, opposition supporters seemed jubilant, and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim even announced that he believed his three-party opposition alliance had taken down the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, which has dominated the country since independence, never losing an election. Of course, BN has used massive gerrymandering, enormous handouts from state coffers, thuggish election day tactics, and outright vote-buying in the past to secure its victories. Still, the May 5 vote seemed to be a potential watershed, putting the opposition into power and putting Malaysia onto the path of a real, consolidated two-party democracy. Read more »