Asian Insider May 9: A year after a shocking election, Malaysia still waits for change

Asian Insider brings you insights into a fast-changing region from our network of correspondents.


Exactly one year ago, the world was stunned when the ruling Barisan Nasional in Malaysia - a party that had governed the country continuously for its entire six-decade post-independence history - was unceremoniously dumped out of office. The 93-year-old former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad became the world’s oldest head of government in his second coming and pledged to root out the corruption that had driven voters to oust his predecessor.

How has that been working out?  Let’s just say that when Tun Dr Mahathir gave a televised interview last night, he was celebrating a year of unparallelled achievement. Much of it was instead focused on explaining why his Pakatan Harapan government needed more time to deliver on expectations.

What Malaysians think:  The honeymoon period seems to be over. According to one pollster, public satisfaction with the government’s management of the economy has dropped from 60 per cent in August last year to 40 per cent in March. The Barisan Nasional, after getting trounced in the general election, has now won three consecutive by-elections.

Where to from here?  Elections will not need to be held for another four years so the new government does still have time to regain the trust of the voters. The big question is whether the world’s oldest head of government will be steering the ship then? He hinted today he will step aside and hand over the reigns to ally-turned-nemesis-turned ally Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in two year’s time.

Go deeper on all that has happened in Malaysia in the one year

Special reports from our Malaysia bureau:

When will Mahathir hand over to Anwar?

Less hope in New Malaysia, but PH has time to fix things

Political patronage continues under Pakatan Harapan

Fractured opposition finding its feet

Analysis: Patience wearing thin over the economy

Analysis: A year on, impatient Malaysia expects miracles from Mahathir

Interactive: A year of Malaysia’s Pakatan Harapan: Promises fulfilled?

Interactive: Malaysia's shifting political alliances


Trade negotiators from the US and China are meeting in Washington today with the unenviable task of averting an escalation of a trade war by midnight, even as the two sides continue to launch barbs at each other. At a rally, US President Donald Trump accused China of backtracking on its promises and vowed not to back down on imposing new tariffs.

What are the new tariffs?  The US Trade Representative announced that existing tariffs on US$200 billion worth of Chinese goods would increase from 10 per cent to 25 per cent at 12.01am on Friday.

The fallout:  Going by how global markets have tanked this week after the US issued the ultimatum, no one seems to expect both sides will reach any type of deal. And while the immediate impact will be felt by consumers in both China and the US forced to absorb higher costs, the anticipated decrease in trade between the two global economic powers will have deep repercussions on the world economy.

Full story: Trump says China 'broke the deal' in trade talks, will pay through tariffs


A US guided missile destroyer conducted drills with a Japanese aircraft carrier, two Indian naval ships and a Philippine patrol vessel in the South China Sea, in what is seen as a fresh challenge for China.

The big picture:  China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam all have overlapping claims in the geopolitically critical waterway and the issue has been a significant point of contention in the region. There appeared to be a small period of calm in the wake of Trump’s election in the US as Beijing and Washington appeared to be preoccupied with other aspects of their relationship. Of late, activity in the South China Sea has increased once again, US ships appearing to more regularly conduct naval operations in the seas.


A visit by Indonesian President Joko Widodo to Kalimantan on the island of Borneo is now affirming talk that the president is taking his declared intention to relocate the country’s administrative capital from Jakarta very seriously, as he approaches getting confirmed as the winner of the general election.

Why does he want to move it?  Jakarta - a packed city of 10 million people - faces a whole host of serious urban issues. Apart from overcrowding, the city has for decades had to grapple with traffic congestion, widespread pollution and regular flooding. It is also sinking some 10cm a year, in part because of the deep weels residents have been digging to draw out water.

Why Kalimantan:  Founding President Sukarno had planned to base the central government there in the early years of Indonesia’s independence but it never happened. Apart from being able to start afresh, Kalimantan is one of the few places in the archipelago that does not suffer earthquakes.

More background:

President Joko visits Kalimantan in search of new Indonesian administrative capital

Study on new Indonesian capital revives old debate


It is not visible to the naked eye in this photo, but the latest Australian $50 note has a typo. The note includes a microprint of a speech by Australia’s first female parliamentarian Edith Cowan that contains several occurrences of the word “responsiblty”. Since nobody typically reads their money, this error went unnoticed for seven months. There is so far, no plans to recall the notes, no talk of any impact on its monetary value nor any suggestion of anyone raising their hand to take responsibility.

Other developments:

A Chinese court adjourned a hearing on a Canadian man's appeal against his death sentence for drug smuggling without a decision, in a case that has deepened a diplomatic spat between Beijing and Ottawa.

Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak has denied taking selfies during court proceedings. "I used it (mobile phone) as a mirror to check my personal appearance," he said when asked by High Court Justice Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has made a blistering attack against China as he stepped up pressure on Britain, warning that United States intelligence-sharing could be risked by the involvement of a Chinese company in a new British telecommunications network.

That’s it for today, thanks for reading and see you tomorrow