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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"

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 »

Situating Malaysia’s Thirteenth General Election: Not All About the Outcome

by Guest Blogger for Joshua Kurlantzick
Malaysians listen to speeches during an election campaign in Kajang outside Kuala Lumpur on April 17, 2013. Malaysians listen to speeches during an election campaign in Kajang outside Kuala Lumpur on April 17, 2013. (Bazuki Muhammad/Courtesy Reuters)

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

If all goes according to plan, election-watchers of all sorts will be thick on the ground for Malaysia’s upcoming thirteenth general elections. Admittedly, that plan is dependent upon rounding up and training an extraordinary number of volunteers, and doubtless will be forced to exclude the least accessible, but purportedly most watch-worthy districts. But what tends to get lost in the tea leaf-reading and data-crunching of this long-awaited showdown is the why behind such widespread interest in process and participation, which extends well beyond the polls themselves. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of April 5, 2013

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
A man walks past an electronic board showing the graphs of exchange rates between the Japanese yen, the U.S. dollar and Euro outside a brokerage in Tokyo on April 4, 2013. (Courtesy Reuters/Yuya Shino) A man walks past an electronic board showing the graphs of exchange rates between the Japanese yen, the U.S. dollar and Euro outside a brokerage in Tokyo on April 4, 2013. (Courtesy Reuters/Yuya Shino)

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

1. Japan gets aggressive on deflation. The Bank of Japan surprised investors Thursday by unveiling aggressive easy-money policies to stimulate the Japanese economy, under newly installed central bank chief Haruhiko Kuroda. This is a huge change for the historically conservative bank, which will double its holdings of government bonds—a program 60 percent larger than the Federal Reserve’s QE4 bond-buying program, relative to GDP. Read more »

Does Bangkok Have a Real Negotiating Partner in the South?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
The secretary-general of Thailand's National Security Council and the chief of Thailand's National Revolution Front (BRN) attend the signing ceremony of the general consensus document to launch a dialogue process for peace in the border provinces of southern Thailand, in Kuala Lumpur February 28, 2013 (Bazuki Muhammad/Courtesy Reuters). The secretary-general of Thailand's National Security Council and the chief of Thailand's National Revolution Front (BRN) attend the signing ceremony of the general consensus document to launch a dialogue process for peace in the border provinces of southern Thailand, in Kuala Lumpur February 28, 2013 (Bazuki Muhammad/Courtesy Reuters).

This past week, Thailand’s government made the surprising announcement that it would launch talks with the insurgent organization National Revolution Front (BRN) in the south, with the discussions focused on achieving peace in the south. This marked the first time Bangkok had opened talks with any insurgent organization in the south since the violence flared up again more than a decade ago. Previously, many Thai leaders had insisted that even opening formal talks with an insurgent organization would be providing the insurgents with the kind of status they did not deserve, and possibly would open the door to significant autonomy for the three southern provinces. Read more »

Malaysian Politics Get Hotter With Bersih 3.0 Protest

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A protester with a message taped over his mouth takes part in the Bersih (Clean) rally near Independence Square in Kuala Lumpur April 28, 2012. A protester with a message taped over his mouth takes part in the Bersih (Clean) rally near Independence Square in Kuala Lumpur April 28, 2012. (Bazuki Muhammad/Courtesy Reuters)

Today Asia Times has an excellent overview of the political fallout from this past weekend’s large protest in Kuala Lumpur, which focused on reforming election laws. The turnout, as Asia Times noted, was far higher than the government expected (though figures of size were of course debated). What’s more, the fact that it was largely peaceful, and then resulted at the end of the protest in the use of excessive force by police against demonstrators, will cut into the image of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak as a reformer, an image he has worked hard to cultivate in the past two years, and which is critical to his election prospects as the prime minister is far more popular personally than his party is. Read more »