Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

Acronym soup swamps Malaysia reform drive

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Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak says he has embarked on a series of radical economic reforms. In reality it feels as if he has unleashed a barrage of incomprehensible acronyms on the unsuspecting public of this Southeast Asian nation.

The charge for economic reform is being led by the snappily named PEMANDU. As well as being the Malay word for “driver” it stands for the government’s Performance Management and Delivery Unit.

PEMANDU is in charge of formulating and implementing NKRAs (National Key Result Areas), MKRAs (Ministerial Key Result Areas) and getting “Big Results Fast”, according to its website, although it singularly failed to win political backing for a radical revamp of Malaysia’s costly subsidy regime.

It is also helping to formulate the 10th Malaysia Plan, 10MP for those in the know, a communist-era sounding 5-year plan that aims to help lift this middle income country to developed nation status by 2020.

The Fire Next Time in Thailand

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(Thai firefighters douse the Central World shopping mall building that was set on fire by anti-government “red shirt” protesters in Bangkok May 19, 2010.  REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis)

THAILAND/We were walking down Sukhumvit road in downtown Bangkok just after the 9 p.m. curfew  –  down the MIDDLE of a road that on any other Friday night would have been filled with honking vehicles,  hawkers, tourists and touts. We were escorting a colleague home from the temporary newsroom in that Reuters had set up at the Westin Hotel after we were chased out of our office near the red shirt encampment in central Bangkok. Not a creature was stirring. But what was that sound we kept hearing? Squeak, squeak, squeak.Then we saw them. Rats. Thousands of them.  Scurrying along in packs on the sidewalks, the streets, the closed-down Skytrain overhead, at the entrances to shuttered shops, around piles of garbage that had mounted in the Thai capital since the May 19th riots. It was like a movie about an urban apocalyptic event where humans are wiped out and the vermin are triumphant.

In line of fire at Bangkok protests

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A man is dragged to safety after being shot on Rama IV Road during clashes between army soldiers and anti-government ‘red shirt’ supporters in Bangkok on Sunday. (Reuters/Jerry Lampen)

may 16 7It was 2 a.m. on a Friday morning and we were stuck in the Reuters office on the 35th floor of the U Chu Liang Building. Thai anti-government protesters had begun rioting after their military strategist, a flamboyant major-general known as  “Commander Red” was shot in the head as he was being interviewed by the New York Times at the “red shirt” protest encampment that occupies a huge chunk of expensive real estate in the Thai capital.

The protesters had swarmed into our parking lot, troops hot on their heels. One red shirt was shot dead, taking a bullet through his eye, outside our office.  Our managers  had ordered us to evacuate, but we had to wait until the violence died down outside.  I strapped on a 10 kg flak jacket and helmet emblazoned with “press stickers”, took a ride down the cargo elevator in a building under emergency power, and stepped carefully into the parking lot, looking around to see if it was safe for the remaining people in the newsroom to leave. It was quiet, as I crept around the parking lot, dodging from car to car, feeling slightly ridiculous. A taxi was parked just outside. I was beginning to understand what gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson meant when he said in his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:  ”When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

Thai red shirts defy crackdown with carnival-like protest

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(“Red shirt” protesters dancing in the main shopping district in Bangkok. Reuters/Eric Gaillard )

THAILAND/ I saw Chewbacca last night at the red shirts barricades in Bangkok.

    The hairy Star Wars character was  standing with a couple of red shirt protesters who were directing traffic in front of their wall of truck tyres, chunks of paving stone and bamboo poles at the entrance to the business district, and the Patpong go-go bars. I was in a taxi and didn’t have a chance to ask the guy in the Wookie suit what he was doing at midnight standing between the red shirts and lines of riot police, shield and batons at ready, under a bank of spotlights shedding garish light on an other-wordly scene. The gentle hairy character doesn’t speak in the movies so maybe no explanation would have been forthcoming.

‘Stop me before I bet again in Singapore’

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A performer holds over-sized deck cards in front of the Resorts World Sentosa casino Feb. 14 (REUTERS/Pablo Sanchez)

SINGAPORE-CASINO/At least 264 people in Singapore have asked to be put on a list that would prevent them from entering the city state’s newly opened casino. Except for nine housewives and 19 unemployed people, the rest had jobs and probably families that they did not want to hurt with a gambling problem. Family members who think a relative might have a gambling problem can also apply to have them banned.

Southeast Asia’s Islamists try the domino theory

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Photo: Jihad book collection in Jakarta Sept.21, 2009. REUTERS/Supr

A half-century ago, Washington worried about Southeast Asian nations falling like dominoes to an international communist movement backed by Maoist China, and became bogged down in the Vietnam War.

Noordin Top, believed to be the mastermind behind most of the suicide bombings in Indonesia — including the July 17 attacks on two luxury Jakarta hotels — pronounced himself to be al Qaeda’s franchise in Southeast Asia.

Indonesia: To hell and back

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By Dean Yates

(The author lived in Indonesia from 1992-1995 and 2000-2005, with various assignments in between)

It was not that long ago that Indonesia was lurching from crisis to crisis, even drawing some (misplaced) predictions it could go the way of the former Yugoslavia and break apart. These days it rarely makes the front page. It has a steady president in Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, probably the freest press in Southeast Asia and political violence appears to be a thing of the past. The last major bomb attack blamed on Islamic militants was in 2005.

Giving in to Ali Baba

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I once paid a cop 30 ringgit (about $10 then) for making an apparently illegal left-hand turn in Kuala Lumpur. Scores of drivers in front of me were also handing over their “instant fines”, discreetly enclosed within the policeman’s ticketing folder. It was days ahead of a major holiday and the cops were collecting their holiday bonus from the public.

Malaysia opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim holds a disc he says contains evidence of judge-fixing in Malaysia 

Australia and its neighbours

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With the Rudd Labor government now in power for just over a year, it’s worth looking what at has changed in the country’s foreign policy and its security implications for the region. Is the region, particularly Southeast Asia, ready for Australia’s new advances?

 

Howard’s pragmatism and ‘forward defence’ doctrine over the previous dozen years was unashamedly aimed at garnering an image of being a “considerable power and significant country” (Downer, 2006). Howard’s loyalty to the United States, no-matter-what, was also aimed at banking up some credit with Washington on the security front. Given the concerns of the time over terrorism (in particular the attack on Bali which killed dozens of Australians), one could argue his staunchly pro-American policy was well founded. Moreover, Downer was quite dismissive of past Labor policy on developing a closer relationship with its immediate neighbours. In 2006, he said of Labor: “In effect, they argue for a retreat to regionalism.”

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