KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysian police broke up a protest by Islamists on Friday against U.S. rapper Pitbull’s concert and the government award of a sports betting license, underscoring a deepening tide of Islam in the country.
About 300 Malay Muslims representing several groups led by the opposition Pan Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) gathered in the compound of a mosque in the capital’s Malay enclave after Friday prayers to denounce gambling and pop concerts.
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – A former aide to Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim told a Kuala Lumpur court on Thursday that he had been sodomised by the former deputy prime minister on more than one occasion.
Anwar, 63, has been charged with one count of consensual sodomy with Saiful Bukhari Azlan, now aged 25, relating to an incident in June 2008 in a Kuala Lumpur condominium and denies the charge which he says is politically motivated.
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – The lawyer for Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim said on Tuesday he will seek to have Anwar’s accuser disqualified for perjury, a move aimed at casting doubts on a sodomy trial that could end the opposition leader’s career.
Anwar has been charged with consensual sodomy but his former aide, Saiful Bukhari Azlan, insisted under cross-examination by the defence on Tuesday that he was sodomised against his will.
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Lawyers for Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on Monday sought to implicate the country’s prime minister in a conspiracy to frame Anwar on charges that he sodomised a former male aide.
Prime Minister Najib Razak has admitted meeting Anwar’s accuser, Saiful Bukhari Azlan, after he said he was sodomised by Anwar but before a complaint was made to the police in March 2008. Najib has also denied interfering in the case.
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Campaigning began on Saturday for a Malaysian by-election in a government stronghold state whose outcome could boost Prime Minister Najib Razak’s confidence to call snap national polls as early as next year.
The race for the mainly urban and ethnic Chinese parliament seat of Sibu in the timber and resource rich Borneo state of Sarawak pits a party in Najib’s National Front coalition against the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP).
Malaysia’s highest court has begun proceedings on a landmark inter-religious child custody dispute whose outcome could further raise political tension in this mainly Muslim country. The Federal Court heard objections by lawyers for an ethnic Indian couple fighting each other for custody of their two children and adjourned for two weeks before hearing the case.
A Hindu woman, Shamala Sathiyaseelan, won temporary custody of her two children in 2004 following her husband’s conversion to Islam. She is seeking full custody and a declaration that it is illegal under Malaysia’s constitution for a parent to convert a minor to Islam without the other’s consent.
KUALA LUMPUR, May 3 (Reuters) – Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is trying to revive an ailing coalition which suffered record losses in the last general election in 2008, and is wary of upsetting the critical ethnic Malay votebank.
Poorer Malays could be hit initially by Najib’s pledge to reduce subsidies and roll back a controversial racial affirmative action policy. Many analysts believe the promised economic reforms, aimed at winning back foreign investment, will be delayed, watered down or abandoned to avoid losing votes.
Malaysian bonds have rallied strongly this year, returning 7.63 percent for dollar-based investors in the past three months, according to the industry benchmark JPMorgan Government Bond Index-Emerging Markets, outperforming the wider Asia index which rose 4 percent. Malaysia’s outperformance is largely due to rate hikes and the ringgit’s proxy as a China revaluation play.
By contrast, Thailand is up 5.2 percent and high-flying Indonesia scored a 10.9 percent return in U.S. dollars.
Following is a summary of key Malaysia risks to watch:
* POLITICAL CONFLICT
Political tensions in Malaysia spiked after the 2008 general election when unprecedented opposition gains transformed the political landscape. The National Front coalition’s dominance through 52 years in power was dented as it lost control in five states and its once iron-clad two-thirds control of parliament.
The government’s recent win in a key parliamentary by-election and the resolution of a leadership crisis in the coalition’s ethnic Chinese party has helped its confidence but political uncertainty has weighed on foreign investment.
Net portfolio and direct investment outflows <MYFLO=ECI> reached $61 billion in 2008 and 2009 according to official data. While money has flowed into the bond market recently, according to central bank statistics, little has flowed into equities.
What to watch:
— Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy trial, which ends in late August. Anwar says the case is a political conspiracy, and a contentious verdict would anger his supporters. Any marked increase in political tensions could see more foreign money pulled from Malaysia’s markets, pulling down stocks <.KLSE>, bonds and the ringgit <MYR=>. But with limited foreign portfolio investment still in the country, the impact will be muted. [ID:nSGE60I0BQ]
— Elections in the Borneo state of Sarawak. A strong win by the ruling coalition at a parliamentary by-election in the coalition’s bastion state on May 16 followed by a state-wide election expected late this year would boost Najib’s confidence to call national elections as early as next year.
* ECONOMIC REFORM
The government’s commitment to economic reform is being put to the test with the New Economic Model (NEM) plan for boosting growth and winning back foreign investment. Key to investor confidence will be whether the government has the courage to risk a voter backlash by cutting fuel, food and energy subsidies.
The NEM is an economic blueprint meant as a replacement for a four-decades-old Malay affirmative policy known as the New Economic Policy (NEP), which was adopted after race riots in 1969 and gave a wide array of economic benefits to ethnic Malays who make up 55 percent of the population. [ID:nSGE62U04W]
Investors complain that abuse of the NEP has led to a patronage-ridden economy, causing foreign investment to increasingly move to Indonesia and Thailand. [ID:nSGE62E002]
Since taking office in April last year, Najib has rolled back elements of the NEP, and axed the rule that companies must offer stakes to indigenous ethnic Malays.
What to watch:
— The phased rollout of the NEM. The NEM’s broad outline was released on March 30 and public reaction will be sought before the final measures are announced on June 10. Markets barely shifted when it was announced, reflecting scepticism over implementation after some key reforms were put on hold.
"Given Malaysia’s uneven track record for reform, we think market participants would need to see more tangible and orchestrated change before believing that a real structural turnaround is coming," Morgan Stanley said in a research note.
— Moves to reduce crippling fuel and food subsidies. Past fuel price hikes have drawn an intense public backlash which Najib appears wary of attracting. Malaysia was supposed to cut its fuel subsidy bill from May this year as part of the 2010 budget to tackle its budget deficit which hit a more than 20-year high of 7.4 percent of GDP in 2009, but the measure was withdrawn as it was unpopular with voters. Similarly, plans to debate a goods and services tax (GST) in the current parliamentary session were withdrawn due to the risk of hurting the government’s popularity, as were proposals for electricity price hikes.
* RACE AND RELIGION
Race and religion have always been explosive issues in Malaysian politics. Najib took power pledging a more inclusive approach to ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities, but his United Malay National Organisation (UMNO), lynchpin of the ruling coalition, is beginning to cast this approach aside in a bid to woo conservative Malays. The caning of three women under strict Islamic laws in February for having illicit sex signalled the government’s increasing adoption of a stronger Islamic agenda, and this has worried some investors. [ID:nSGE61I07S]
A heated row over the use of the word "Allah" by Catholics, which sparked attacks on religious establishments, is also threatening to prolong minority unhappiness with the government.
What to watch:
— Efforts to resolve religious disputes. The government has set up an interfaith committee to promote religious harmony and is trying to reach an out of court settlement with the Borneo Evangelical Church, which went to court over the right to use the Arabic word "Allah" to denote God.
— If the government tries to woo Muslim voters with more conservative policies based on Islam, investors may be spooked.
— A severe worsening of tensions could raise the spectre of sectarian unrest, but this is not regarded as likely for now.
Malaysia used to be regarded as one of the region’s more reliable countries, but worsening corruption and a perceived lack of judicial independence have damaged investment.
What to watch:
— Government efforts to deal with a scandal over a port trade zone close to Kuala Lumpur that exposed links between politics and business. False government guarantees given when the bonds were sold have triggered concerns among holders of $1 billion of bonds that they might not be repaid.
(Editing by Andrew Marshall)
PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia (Reuters) – Malaysia’s highest court began proceedings on Monday on a landmark inter-religious child custody dispute whose outcome could further raise political tension in this mainly Muslim country.
The Federal Court heard objections by lawyers representing an ethnic Indian couple fighting each other for custody of their two children and adjourned for two weeks before hearing the case.
KUALA LUMPUR, March 30 (Reuters) – Malaysia’s prime
minister unveiled long-promised economic reforms on Tuesday,
with plans to reduce race-based programmes, in what he
described as a “bold transformation” but the lack of detail
Najib Razak told a business conference his “New Economic
Model” would reform a race-based economic system that has
favoured the majority Malay population for four decades but
which critics say has hurt investment and fostered graft.
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia is considering proposals to end its subsidy regime and phase in a new goods and services tax as it begins dismantling a four-decade race-based economic system that has deterred foreign investment.
The economic regime adopted after race riots in 1969 has given a wide array of economic benefits to the 55 percent Malay population, but investors complain it has led to a patronage-ridden economy that has resulted in foreign investment increasingly moving to Indonesia and Thailand.