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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

Week of September 27, 1996

Without public bidding, the government agreed to sell KTM, the national railway, to a consortium composed of construction giant Renong, carmaker Diversified Resources and Bolton Properties. KTM, which owns 12,656 ha of land, is said to be worth $800 million.


Week of September 27, 1996

Without public bidding, the government agreed to sell KTM, the national railway, to a consortium composed of construction giant Renong, carmaker Diversified Resources and Bolton Properties. KTM, which owns 12,656 ha of land, is said to be worth $800 million.


Week of September 13, 1996

A massive landslide buried a native settlement in the northern state of Perak on Aug. 29, killing at least 30 people. Twelve are still missing. Observers say the disaster, which was triggered by heavy rains, was due to soil erosion caused by illegal logging in the vicinity.


Week of August 30, 1996

Return of UMNO's 'Vision Team'?

Even in a non-election year, politics in Malaysia is a highly competitive game conducted at a fast pace. So when any sort of ballot beckons, the atmosphere becomes positively feverish. Partly to cool the ongoing speculation on who is ahead or behind, the country's dominant party, UMNO, has decreed that at the October par-ty polls, no challenges will be allowed for the top two posts - held by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Deputy PM Anwar Ibrahim. Moreover, all pre-poll campaigning is forbidden. The reality, however, is that the hard lobbying persists, but in the shadow-play manner beloved of Malays. Mahathir gets trusted aides to convey quietly his list of preferred candidates for various party posts. Anwar does the same, but he also uses other means to indicate his choices, whether they overlap with the PM's or not.

One method: last week's 25th anniversary of ABIM (the Malay acronym for the Muslim Youth Movement), Anwar's vehicle to fame in the 1970s. The birthday bash, which included a sumptuous dinner at a suburban Kuala Lumpur hotel, was the stage for an intri-guing public reunion.

Seated at the head table, with Anwar (pictured), were the three incumbent UMNO veeps - Youth and Sports Minister Muh-yiddin Yassin, Education Minister Najib Tun Razak and Selangor state chief minister Muhammad Taib - who were swept in as part of Anwar's so-called "Vision Team" in the last party polls three years ago. The trio have little to do with ABIM, yet they were virtually guests of honor. In contrast, a conspicuous no-show was invited ABIM co-founder and close Mahathir ally Sanusi Junid, annihilated in 1993 by the Vision Team. Anwar's aides were anxious to stress that the get-together was another C-word - coincidental - and not campaigning. Either way, the upshot may be V - for victory.


Week of August 23, 1996

One week after a nationwide blackout, state power company Tenaga Nasional has replaced its chief executive. During four years at the helm, Ani Arope failed to turn around Tenaga's reputation as an unreliable supplier. Now Ahmad Tajuddin Ali, 48, who heads a national research institute, will take over. His first promise is "to keep the lights on."


Week of August 16, 1996

Malaysia's Rising Star?

Everybody loves a winner. That certainly applies to Sanusi Junid, Malaysia's former agriculture minister who, after over a year in the political wilderness, is now the chief minister of northwestern Kedah state. Since Sanusi, 53, got the job a couple of months ago, he has become a media icon. His beaming moon-face brightens the pages as he cuts a cake or greets his chum, PM Mahathir Mohamad, a fellow Kedahan. Editors explain they are making up for the past when they gave Sanusi short shrift - partly due to his brusque nature and partly because the media then favored Sanusi's bte noire, deputy PM Anwar Ibrahim, whose fortunes seem to have dipped. The other reason for the saturation coverage has to do, of course, with Mahathir. Many in the PM's party, UMNO, think the Kedah chief is now one of Mahathir's main voices in the hush-hush campaigning for October's party polls. Sanusi himself is not contesting a post, but what about the next election in three years? If his profile continues to get boosted like this, he could run for any job - except prime minister, of course.


Week of July 26, 1996

Awaiting a Power Shift in Kelantan

Nearly 10 years ago, Malaysia's then finance minister, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, challenged PM Mahathir Mohamad for the leadership of the United Malays National Organization, the country's dominant political party. He failed and, as a result, formed the Spirit of '46 group. But recently, Razaleigh said he in-tended to rejoin UMNO. That created an odd situation in northeastern Kelantan state, where '46 helps govern in alliance with the opposition Islamic Party (PAS, by its Malay initials). It seemed only a matter of time before PAS split with Razaleigh's men - and so it happened last week. Yet even if all the '46ers switch to UMNO, the Islamists will still have 24 of the state assembly's 43 seats - a comfortable margin of five.

But how comfortable is it really? Insiders say up to seven PAS men had been primed to jump to UMNO until federal minister Anuar Musa prematurely blurted out news of the imminent defections. This allowed party leaders to identify the waverers and talk them round.

Still, PAS will find it tough to hang on to power much longer. The state's sultan may call for an election on the basis that the PAS-'46 alliance has collapsed. That is one scenario if defections do not occur. Another is that, given the acrimony now between PAS and '46, various altercations could cause the federal government to step in and impose rule from the center, prior to calling for polls. Either way, even some PAS men concede that UMNO is likely to prove victorious, with one of the '46ers, possibly Razaleigh, becoming chief minister before the year is out. Ironically, if this occurs, the ex-'46ers will have to play second fiddle to the UMNO boys, just as they did to PAS. Sometimes, you just cannot win.


Week of July 19, 1996

All the News That's Printed to Fit

When Malaysia's High Court ruled that the multi-billion-dollar Bakun hydroelectric dam project did not comply with local environmental laws, the New Straits Times decided to editorialize on the subject. In language mild by international standards but not often seen in the nation's flagship daily, the NST lauded the judgment and robustly criticized the authorities for riding roughshod over proper procedures. The editorial went to press, but local journalists report that around midnight the paper's top brass had second thoughts, knowing Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is adamant the country needs Bakun. So the presses were stopped and the piece hastily rewritten.

It took a much more conciliatory line. But by this time, the northern and southern editions, especially those bound for East Malaysia, had already been printed. Out they went with the tough editorial, while Kuala Lumpur and most of peninsular Malaysia got the sensitized version.

The original said in part: "This is not an issue of victory or loss, but [the court judgment] stands as an indictment of the administrative system. It reveals that the authorities have not paid attention to rule-making where [federal and state] jurisdictions overlap... Whether they heed the lessons to be drawn or continue to believe in their own invincibility is a choice only they can make."

The revised: "This is not an issue of victory or loss, but of the right of the aggrieved party or parties to be heard, and for actions that affect the people to be examined at the highest level when deemed necessary. . .This, in essence, is the true meaning of power-sharing and the check and balance in our democratic system."

MALAYSIA Attorney-General Mohtar Abdullah said July 9 that a pamphlet alleging corruption in the judiciary was penned by a high court judge. Though Mohtar would not specify who the writer was, his statement came a week after justice Syed Ahmad Idid resigned. The AG said the allegations were found to be untrue and no action would be taken.

TELECOMS The Malaysian government has given new meaning to the word "callback." It reversed its earlier decision requiring the country's six telecom companies - five private, one state - to consolidate into three operators. Officials say they will now let the marketplace decide if it can support so many competitors.


Week of July 5, 1996

Reopening a Sensitive Case

In Malaysia, sex with an underaged girl is statutory rape and punishable by a mandatory five-year jail term. Two years ago, a schoolgirl told police that 14 men, including Malacca state Chief Minister Rahim Tamby Chik, had sex with her. Rahim, an ally of PM Mahathir Mohamad, denied the accusation and was freed because - said the attorney-general - there was insufficient evidence against him. The others admitted guilt but were released on condition they behaved. The decision sparked disquiet in legal circles because imprisonment was mandatory.

Now the controversy is flaring again. Chief Judge Anuar Zainal has ordered a review of the case involving the 13 who pleaded guilty. This raises intriguing questions. Will a jail sentence be imposed? Might there be further revelations? Will Rahim be affected? In October he is defending his post as head of the youth wing of UMNO, the dominant political party. There is more. It is no secret that Anuar does not get along with his senior, Chief Justice Eusoff Chin. Normally, personal or professional differences would cause little excitement. But the judiciary is riven by allegations of corruption which the police and the attorney-general are probing. As Anuar is retiring soon, he has little to lose. Which is why many Malaysians wonder what next might emerge.

The last batch of Vietnamese boat people flew to Hanoi, ending a 21-year saga in which more than 255,000 refugees sought shelter in Malaysia after the fall of Saigon in 1975. More than 96% of the refugees who came to Malay-sia were settled in third countries. Almost 10,000 were repatriated back to Vietnam - in-cluding 22 in the final group.


Week of June 28, 1996

DAM BLOCKED?

In what appeared to be a serious setback for the Malaysian government, the High Court declared the $5.4 billion Bakun dam project null and void. The court ruled that the scheme did not comply with the Environmental Quality Act of 1974. Justice James Foong issued the ruling after hearing a lawsuit against the developer by local residents.


Week of June 7, 1996

PICK SIDES OR ELSE?

Why have 31 Taiwanese firms, many of them with more than 20 years invested in Malaysia, pulled out of the country since last year? Are they motivated by practical business reasons like rising labor costs? Or, has Taipei become so disgruntled with Kuala Lumpur's lack of support in the dispute with Beijing that it is using its financial clout to coax Malaysia into line?


Week of May 31, 1996

STEELY ADMISSION

"Perwaja's situation is critical. A rescue plan must be carried out immediately," Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim told Malaysia's Parliament. He stopped short of blaming the state-owned steel company's plight (it has accumulated losses of $1.19 billion) on former managing director Eric Chia, hand-picked by PM Mahathir Mohamad to head the firm.


Week of May 24, 1996

CHOLERA REACTION

After 65 people were hospitalized with cholera, health authorities in Penang, a major Malaysian tourist destination, closed down 11 food stalls.They also increased the level of chlorine in the drinking water and warned against using commercially produced ice. Lying off Malaysia's northwestern coast, the island is also a center for electronics manufacturers.


Week of May 10, 1996

LEND A HAND

With success comes responsibility: the Asian Development Bank has asked Malaysia to make its first contribution to the ADB's soft-loan facility, the Asian Development Fund. The Malaysians say they'll consider the request, but haven't made a commitment. The ADF makes no-interest loans to poorer Asian countries with up to 40-year repayment terms.


Week of April 5, 1996

PEACEFUL BASE

Malaysia has been identified as the most probable base for a regional U.N. peacekeeping force. The issue will come up at ASEAN's next Regional Forum in Jakarta later this year. The plan was discussed at the recent 22-nation Asia-Pacific security meeting in Thailand. Malaysia wants the base: its troops have taken part in many U.N. peacekeeping efforts.


Week of March 29, 1996

KNOTTY WOOD DEAL

PM Maxime Carlot, hosting Malaysian Primary Industry Minister Lim Keng Yaik at an official dinner, told him that Vanuatu will keep its two-year-old ban on exporting unprocessed trees. Lim is concerned a Code of Logging to be signed by several South Pacific countries will restrict the flow of lumber to Malaysian companies.


Week of March 22, 1996

TOPPED OUT

Malaysia's twin Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur are now the tallest buildings in the world. At 451.9 meters, they are 8.9 meters taller than the Sears Tower in Chicago in the U.S. They won the record when crowning 73.5-meter-tall stainless steel pinnacles were put in place. The buildings should be completed by the end of this year.


Week of Feburary 23, 1996

DRUG DISPUTE

The day after Deputy Home Affairs Minister Megat Junid called for more after-care centers, admitting that Malaysia's efforts to stop drug abuse had failed, 131 inmates rioted and escaped from a drug rehabilitation center. Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim says the effort to rehabilitate the country's 200,000 addicts "is not worth the expense incurred."


Week of Feburary 16, 1996

SHORTENED TIME

The Internal Security Act that Malaysia uses to detain, without trial, those judged a threat to public order, might be amended to give the government more flexibility: "If the detainee has repented, he will undergo a shorter detention period," says Deputy Home Affairs Minister Megat Junid. Human rights groups say the changes are only cosmetic.


Week of Feburary 2, 1996

TOKEN SENTENCES

A Malaysian judge has given 18-month sentences to two policemen responsible for beating a robbery suspect to death while trying to extort a confession. But nine more senior officers also involved will not be charged. The 42-year-old victim had no criminal record. Police admitted that at one stage they questioned him continuously for 96 hours.


Week of January 26, 1996

OPENING TO ISRAEL

Israel used to be a pariah state in Malaysian eyes. But in a sign of better rapport with the Jewish nation, Malaysia will broaden trade ties first loosened in 1994. Full diplomatic links could come soon. Premier Mahathir Mohamad said that if Palestine and Islamic states could have relations with Israel, why not Malaysia?


Week of January 19, 1996

DEVELOPMENT SLIPS

When a landslide 150 km north of Kuala Lumpur cut the new four-lane North-South Highway, possibly for weeks, it was seen as another failure to maintain Malaysia's highly touted infrastructure. Five meters of mud and stone covered the road, killing one person. The damaged section was the last to be completed in the 848-km road link.


Week of January 12, 1996

EDITOR ATTACKED

The editor of a Tamil-language newspaper, campaigning against alleged abuse in a share allocation to the Malaysian Indian Congress, was slashed by an assailant in front of a gathering of fifty people. His family says it was the fifth threat on P. Veeraswamy since August. The targets of his criticism, MIC leaders, deny involvement in the attack.


Week of January 5, 1996

FAIR TEST?

The Malaysian AIDS Council says it is not sure the government plans to require Muslim couples intending to get married to undergo tests for HIV is a good idea. Other groups say the regulation, to go into effect in 1997, is a breach of individual rights. The rules require couples to produce a doctor's certificate before marriage licenses are issued.


News from Malaysia in 1995


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