29 March 2016

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Malaysiakini- 28 Mac 2016

Oleh Hafiz Yatim

Bekas pemimpin pembangkang dan Ketua Umum PKR Anwar Ibrahim mahu rakyat memberi tumpuan kepada pembaharuan institusi dan bukan sekadar pertukaran perdana menteri.

Anwar ketika dibawa keluar dari mahkamah oleh pengawal Jabatan Penjara ditanya sama ada perubahan dalam kepimpinan negara dengan menukar Datuk Seri Najib Razak sebagai perdana menteri adalah memadai.

“Saya harap rakyat Malaysia akan terus mendesak pembaharuan institusi, perubahan dalam sistem kehakiman dan perubahan lain yang sebenarnya.

“Bukan sahaja perubahan personaliti,” katanya sambil pegawai penjara pula menjerit, “tiada sidang akhbar”.

Semalam, bekas seteru politik Anwar, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Timbalan Presiden PKR Azmin Ali dan pemimpin supremo DAP Lim Kit Siang bergandingan bahu menuntut peletakan jawatan Najib berhubung keadaan semasa negara dan implikasi Najib terpalit dalam skandal derma RM2.6 bilion.

22 March 2016

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Anadolu Agency (21/3/2016)

Jailed former opposition leader permitted to receive medical treatment from George Washington University, but only at Malaysian hospitals

By P Prem Kumar-

KUALA LUMPUR

Malaysia’s government announced Monday that it would allow imprisoned former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to seek medical treatment from overseas experts, so long as they conduct the procedures in the Southeast Asian country.

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told parliament that the government would permit experts from the medical faculty of George Washington University in the United States to bring any expertise, equipment and medicine into Malaysian government-run hospitals.

“The government has decided that Anwar can be treated by the team from the university’s medical faculty,” said Hamidi, who also serves as home minister.

“He can choose any government hospital in Malaysia to bring the entire team and equipment from there to,” he added, underlining that the country’s current prison laws do not allow convicts to undergo medical treatment overseas.

For months, Ibrahim’s family members — including his wife Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who currently serves as opposition leader — and rights groups have expressed concern that he is not receiving appropriate treatment while serving a five-year term for sodomizing a former aide.

His daughter Nurul Izzah Anwar, also a member of parliament, had earlier told Anadolu Agency that Ibrahim was being denied his civil rights, while his lawyer Sivarasa Rasiah said Ibrahim’s condition had declined to “a worrying stage”.

Minister Hamidi said Monday that the Malaysian government had received three letters — sent by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice and the president of George Washington University — requesting immediate medical treatment for Ibrahim.

Hamidi added that U.S. President Barack Obama had also expressed concern over Ibrahim’s health during a meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on the sidelines of a summit in Kuala Lumpur last November.

Ibrahim’s family had been verbally informed two weeks ago of the government’s decision — also conveyed to Kerry, Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nationals Samantha Power and British Home Secretary Theresa May during recent official meetings with Hamidi.

Hamidi insisted Monday that the government would not neglect any important medical treatment of any prisoners, and would act swiftly based on recommendations by local doctors.

Last January, lawyer Sivarasa Rasiah — who is also a senior opposition figure — had accused the government of not fulfilling its promise to Obama to ensure Ibrahim received proper medical care for his shoulder muscle tear.

“Instead of allowing him to go to a hospital to seek immediate intensive physiotherapy treatment three times a week, the government has limited his access to only once in two weeks,” said Rasiah, who serves as vice president of the People’s Justice Party Ibrahim founded.

“Even then, the doctors visit him in the prison as he is not allowed to go to a hospital.”

Ibrahim has enjoyed huge support among Malaysians since his entrenchment as deputy prime minister in former premier Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s government in 1998.

The opposition leader and Ibrahim’s supporters claim that the case against him for sodomizing Saiful Bukhari Azlan is politically motivated and aimed at stopping him standing in the 2018 general election.

Ibrahim has been the main opponent of the ruling party — which has been in power from the time of independence in 1957 — since falling out with the government in the late 1990s.

The 2013 election saw his opposition coalition come close to unseating the government in what Ibrahim dubbed the “worst electoral fraud in our history”.

19 March 2016

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Free Malaysia Today (March 18, 2016)

KUALA LUMPUR: The PKR Youth Wing launched its roadshow for the Save Malaysia Programme and 402 Anti-GST Assembly at Masjid Negara today.

The Save Malaysia Programme will take place on March 28 and the 402 Anti-GST Assembly on April 2.

Speaking to FMT, PKR Youth Organising Secretary Ahmad Syukri Razak said the roadshow was a promotional tool to gather as many supporters as possible for the two programmes.

He explained the Save Malaysia programme was an effort to get Prime Minister Najib Razak to resign from his post, introduce institutional reforms and free PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim from prison.

The Anti-GST Assembly meanwhile was an effort to abolish the tax introduced by the government in April last year.

“We will be inviting several politicians and NGOs who share our aspiration for reform for the two programmes,” Syukri told FMT.

PKR Youth Chief Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad said there would be a series of dialogues and campaigns throughout the country and the two programmes were only the beginning.

“We want to get the message across to Najib that he has lost favour and that he should back off. That’s why we’re holding programmes like these.”

14 March 2016

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CHANNEL NEWS ASIA (14 Mar 2016)

CANBERRA: Australia is deeply concerned over the arrest of two Australian journalists in Malaysia after they attempted to question Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak over corruption allegations, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on Monday.

The journalists from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) flagship investigative journalism programme, Four Corners, were arrested in the Borneo state of Sarawak on Saturday night after approaching Najib outside a mosque.

Malaysian police said in a statement the pair had been arrested for failing to comply with police instructions not to cross a security line. They were released on bail on Sunday and charged with “obstructing a public servant in the discharge of his public functions”.

Bishop told ABC radio Australia was “deeply concerned”.

“We are providing consular support to the ABC crew and certainly raising this issue at the appropriate level with the Malaysian government,” she said.

Najib has faced sustained pressure to resign since the middle of last year over allegations of corruption linked to the debt-laden state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), and deposits into his private accounts worth around US$680 million.

He has denied any wrongdoing and maintains he did not use the funds for personal gain. He was cleared earlier this year of any criminal offence or corruption.

Sally Neighbour, the programme’s executive producer, wrote on Twitter that the journalists had been in Malaysia reporting on the corruption scandal and denied any allegations of wrongdoing on their behalf.

“Our journalists were doing what journalists do in countries with a free press,” she wrote.

Reporter Linton Besser and camera operator Louie Eroglu have had their passports returned, Neighbour said, but have been barred from leaving the country.

Former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad cranked up pressure on Najib to quit earlier this month, marking a seismic political shift by joining hands with long-standing foes, including the party of the jailed Anwar Ibrahim.

11 March 2016

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UN HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS ZEID HIGHLIGHTS ARBITRARY DETENTION OF MALAYSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER ANWAR IBRAHIM IN ANNUAL REPORT TO HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL

 

Anwar only prisoner of conscience anywhere in the world mentioned by High Commissioner

 

Geneva – In remarks to the Human Rights Council earlier today presenting his annual report, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad focused on shrinking democratic space in Malaysia. He highlighted the ongoing imprisonment of Anwar Ibrahim, which he described as arbitrary, as emblematic of the country’s retreat from democratic principles.  His remarks, in full, were as follows:

“In Malaysia, democratic space continues to be limited, with the Government applying “sedition” and other charges to an ever-widening circle of journalists, human rights defenders, political opponents and critical voices. The enactment of the Prevention of Terrorist Act and the National Security Council Act, without proper human rights safeguards, and without transparent and consultative process, is also a matter of concern. The imprisonment of a former opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim – whose detention has been ruled arbitrary by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention – is emblematic of a broader democratic malaise.”

Anwar is a Malaysian opposition leader and a former Deputy Prime Minister.  He led a diverse opposition coalition, cutting across race and religion, to win 52 percent of the popular vote among Malaysians in the country’s 2013 parliamentary elections. He is now imprisoned on fabricated charges because he is a democratic threat to Prime Minister Najib Razak.  Amnesty International designated him a prisoner of conscience; the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined his detention is arbitrary in an October 2015 opinion.

Since his imprisonment in February 2015, Anwar has suffered numerous human rights and due process violations.  These include the consistent denial of access to adequate medical care and treatment for his existing injuries as well as new conditions that arose from his detention.  Over the last months, Anwar had been denied effective access to his lawyers as visits with them were restricted to only one hour per week, despite the fact that there are 16 ongoing civil and criminal cases. As such, Anwar has had no choice but to discharge his counsel and to represent himself in several of his cases. Psychological pressure is maintained by denying contact visits with family members who speak to him only once in 3 weeks via telephone across a glass partition.

High Commissioner Zeid’s strong statement of support joins others in condemning Anwar’s imprisonment.  US Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Samantha Powers, called it an “unjust jailing,” and Human Rights Watch referred to it as a “travesty of justice.” The Governing Council of the Inter-Parliamentary Union called in a Resolution for “the authorities to do everything possible to address this situation,” and the European Parliament issued a Resolution on Malaysia urging the immediate release “of all political prisoners, including … Anwar Ibrahim.”

9 March 2016

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Kenyataan Akhbar Anwar Ibrahim
9 Mac 2016

Kita sudah sampai ke peringkat di mana terdapat kesedaran meluas menuntut perubahan. Pimpinan Perdana Menteri Najib Razak dan sistem pemerintahan yang gagal mengendali permasalahan kritikal ekonomi Negara.

Terakhir kita perhatikan kedudukan ekonomi tambah gawat dan buktinya adalah dengan keperitan hidup rakyat.

Harga barang keperluan asas meningkat dan perlaksanaan GST bercelaru dan membebankan.

Kerajaan BN-UMNO tidak sanggup melakukan sebarang tindakan berkesan untuk mengurangkan beban rakyat. Umpamanya dengan penurunan harga minyak, kadar letrik milik IPP-kroni tidak diturunkan. Untung mereka meningkat ratusan juta ringgit setahun. Tetapi rakyat terpaksa membayar kadar yang tinggi.

Justeru itu saya menggesa rakan-rakan dalam Keadilan, Pakatan Harapan dan NGO-NGO untuk terus gigih menuntut reformasi sepertimana kita perjuangkan selama ini.

Press Statement by Anwar Ibrahim
9th March 2016

We have reached a point where there is widespread awareness of the need for change. The leadership of Prime Minister
Najib Razak and the system of governance has failed to resolve the country’s critical economic troubles. Lately we see that the economic situation has worsened, the undeniable proof of which is the increasing difficulties and challenges faced by the rakyat.

The price of essential goods are increasing and the implementation of GST is confused and burdensome.

The UMNO-BN government is not interested to take any effective action to reduce the burden of the rakyat. For example, with the reduction of petrol prices, the electricity rates charged by IPP-owned by cronies were not reduced. Their profits have increased by millions of ringgit annually, but the rakyat still pay high rates for electricity.

Therefore I urge my friends in Keadilan, Pakatan Harapan and NGOs to push on with the demand for the reforms which we have struggled for all this while.

3 March 2016

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Saya menyokong pendirian rakan-rakan dari masyarakat sivil, parti politik dan individu-individu termasuk Tun Dr Mahathir, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yasin dan lain-lain untuk menggembleng kekuatan dan persefahaman bersama seperti disuarakan oleh Ketua Pembangkang baru-baru ini.

Persefahaman bersama ini akan menumpukan untuk menuntut perletakan jawatan Dato’ Sri Najib selaku Perdana Menteri yang telah nyata gagal mentadbir negara. Beliau bertanggungjawab meneruskan tindakan-tindakan politik rakus, merosakkan institusi pemerintahan dan membebankan rakyat dengan kegawatan ekonomi yang berterusan.

?Pada masa yang sama, tuntutan perubahan ini semestinya akan melibatkan reformasi institusi utama dalam negara yang sudahpun retak dan parah di bawah pentadbiran Dato’ Sri Najib.

Selama ini kita mewakili suara nurani hati rakyat  telah berikrar untuk memperjuangkan pengembalian hak rakyat di sebuah negara merdeka dan berdaulat. Tuntas dengan kesedaran ini maka hak rakyat harus dikembalikan melalui sistem pilihanraya yang bersih serta badan kehakiman dan media yang bebas. Dasar ekonomi harus diubah untuk mengutamakan semula usaha ke arah pertumbuhan yang segar dan pengagihan kekayaan yang saksama.

Skandal 1MDB yang melibatkan Perdana Menteri adalah skandal terparah dalam sejarah dan turut menjejaskan imej negara. Ini hanya mungkin berlaku apabila terdapat pemusatan kuasa kepada seorang Perdana Menteri serta kegagalan institusi kewangan, keadilan dan penguatkuasaan menjalankan tugas dengan bebas.

Kita juga telah belajar dari pengalaman sejarah bahawa peralihan kuasa yang bermakna bukanlah peralihan tokoh semata tetapi perubahan sistem.

Justeru itu saya tegas menggesa rakan-rakan dan rakyat bersama dalam usaha ini tanpa membataskan ia sebagai agenda peribadi mahupun permusuhan peribadi. Kita harus merangka halatuju baru bagi menyelamatkan negara.

Anwar Ibrahim

3 Mac 2016

MEDIA STATEMENT

I support the position of friends in civil society, political parties and individuals including Tun Dr Mahathir, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yasin and others to build up strength and common understanding together as articulated by the Leader of the Opposition recently.

This understanding will focus on the demand for Dato’ Sri Najib to resign as Prime Minister as he has clearly failed to lead this nation. He is responsible for continuing to engage in selfish political acts, wreaking havoc upon administrative institutions, and burdening the Rakyat with continued economic crisis.

At the same time, the call for change must also necessarily  involve reform at key institutions in this nation, which have been badly damaged under the administration of Dato’ Sri Najib.

All this while, we, in representing the voice and conscience of the rakyat, have sworn to fight to return the rights of the rakyat in an independent and sovereign nation. Thus in line with this commitment, the rights of the Rakyat must be returned through a free and fair elections as well as an independent judiciary and free media. Economic policies must be reformed to refocus on fresh economic growth combined with equitable distribution of wealth.

The 1MDB scandal involving the Prime Minister is the most severe scandal in our history and has badly damaged our nation’s image. This can only happen when power is centered in one individual such as the Prime Minister, as well as the failure of key financial, judicial and enforcement institutis to perform their tasks independently  without fear or favour.

We have also learned from history that meaningful transition of power cannot happen only with a change of leadership but it also demands a systemic change.

Therefore I urge my friends and the rakyat to stand together in this effort without limiting it with personal agendas or personal vendettas. We must together chart a new way forward to save our beloved nation.

Anwar Ibrahim

3 March 2016

3 March 2016

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Sneha Shankar-International Business Times

2 March 2016-    The daughter of imprisoned Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim said that the link between the pilot of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 and her father was just coincidental, Xinhua reported Tuesday after an exclusive interview. The comments from Nurul Izzah Anwar came in response to speculation that the flight’s pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, hijacked the plane to protest against the upholding of Anwar’s conviction sentencing him to five years in jail on sodomy charges, a day before March 8, 2014, the day the plane went missing.

Zaharie had reportedly attended some political meetings and it was later established that he was a member of Anwar’s party. It was also revealed that Zaharie was a distant relative of Anwar’s daughter-in-law, CNN reported two years ago. Though it was not clear if Zaharie attended Anwar’s court hearing on March 7, his friends said the MH370 pilot was “upset and disgusted” with the court sentencing, according to CNN.

“The problem we have is we have no way of knowing what the government has done to investigate, to find the actual causes for the crash,” Nurul told Xinhua in an exclusive interview. She also said: “I understand the anger because a lot of the families did not get adequate explanation from the event. We were pushing for more disclosure in parliament because it’s disastrous.”

Flight MH370 had left from Kuala Lumpur and was headed to Beijing with 239 people on board — 154 of whom were Chinese — when it disappeared. Since then, while the people on board have been declared dead, efforts have been going on to find the plane and its wreckage. The only piece of wreckage that has been found so far is a flaperon found last July on the shores of France’s Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean, which lies about 2,300 miles away from the current search area. However, the multimillion dollar search for the plane has no concrete theory about where the plane could be.

If the plane is not found by June, a decision to call off the search or to continue it would be made in a tripartite meeting between Malaysia, China and Australia. About 32,818 square miles has been searched so far and Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau that is supervising the search for the missing plane, reportedly said Monday that only an area of about 17,500 square miles remained to be searched.

“We are still confident that we will find the aircraft between now and the completion of searching the search area of 120,000 square kilometers (about 46,000 square miles),” Dolan reportedly told Stuff news, adding: “The more we search, the more likely the aircraft is to be in the area we are still looking at.”

He also said: “The only level of uncertainty is the behavior of the aircraft at the very end of its flight. The weight of the evidence indicates that there were no control inputs to the aircraft at the end of its flight and that’s the basis on which we have calculated the search area.”

The authorities currently believe that the plane was on autopilot mode as one or both the pilots were dead, and that it may have crashed into the southern part of Indian Ocean, where the search operations are focused upon. However, if the plane is not found, then the possibility of someone else being in control of the plane would be a plausibility that authorities would have to consider

25 February 2016

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By Shazwan Mustafa Kamal- The Malaymail Online

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 25 ? Political parties and Malaysians fighting for reform must understand that the only way to implement true change is to address the crisis of confidence that the country is facing, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has said, and that mere fixation on an individual will not achieve this purpose. The jailed former opposition leader pointed out that that the crisis Malaysia is facing today is an issue of a lack of confidence and trust in the judiciary, the media as well as the state of the country’s democratic institutions.

“The crisis isn’t merely afflicted by a prime minister or an individual. “The overt focus on one person or role; focusing on (the) corruption of one man misses the point,” Anwar said in a recent interview in response to queries by Malay Mail Online. His replies were narrated to Malay Mail Online by his daughters Nurul Izzah Anwar and Nurul Nuha Anwar, who spoke to him recently. “It is a failure not only of a department but of an entire system. We require systemic change,” Anwar added, saying that true reforms will not be achieved just by removing a leader from power.

He was commenting on the opposition parties and its supporters’ fixation on issues involving Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and 1Malaysia Development Berhad. “Our task is to remain consistent with the economic program to uplift society, not on individuals; focusing on economic hardship, increasing costs inflicted on the rakyat,” the former Permatang Pauh MP stressed. When asked Pakatan Harapan’s prospect in defeating Barisan Nasional at the next general election, Anwar said the only way the federal opposition stood a fighting chance was to form a bigger coalition of like-minded people.

“Pakatan Harapan must be based on a broader coalition of forces,” the PKR de facto leader said. Despite having been imprisoned for over a year now, Anwar says he is doing fine and that his “incorrigible” optimism keeps him going. “After one year, Alhamdulillah, I am doing my best. We have to endure for what we believe in, especially in facing the statecraft of authoritarian rule,” he added. According to Nurul Izzah, Anwar keeps himself busy in prison in immersing himself with his books. “He is an avid reader. That’s how he occupies his time. “The ophthalmologist who saw him in early February suggested a reading light due to worsening power but well it is prison life,” she told Malay Mail Online. On February 10, 2015, the Federal Court upheld the Court of Appeal’s conviction of Anwar for sodomising his former political aide Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan in 2008. The conviction meant Anwar was disqualified as MP and will be barred from contesting in an election for five years after his release. Anwar, a former deputy prime minister and also former Permatang Pauh MP who previously spent six years in prison between 1999 and 2004, is currently serving the five-year jail term.

24 February 2016

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Sevan Doraisamy is executive director of Suaram (Aliran)

23 Feb –

Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) condemns the continued detention of Anwar Ibrahim and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

The arrest and detention of Anwar Ibrahim has been condemned globally by all quarters for a myriad of reasons that threaten to undermine the legal institution and human rights in Malaysia. The government of Malaysia cannot in good conscience remain apathetic and deny all responsibility for the arrest and detention of Anwar Ibrahim.

The manner in which state controlled-media have publicised and spun the case against Anwar Ibrahim and the judiciary’s decision to accept evidence that had been tampered with in manners non-compliant with recognised standard operating procedures have cast a shadow of doubt on the legitimacy of the case against Anwar Ibrahim and reaffirmed the sentiment that his case was politically motivated and that the whole prosecution and detention was designed to weaken the opposition coalition in Malaysia.

The conclusion drawn by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) in November 2015 with regard to the arrest and detention of Anwar Ibrahim clearly affirms this sentiment. Despite the conclusion by UNWGAD, the government has wilfully chosen to deny the findings and refused to take actions to address the injustice done to Anwar Ibrahim.

The callous manner in which the government has responded to the UNWGAD findings can only be interpreted as an act of denial and an effort to maintain the government’s façade of compliance with international human rights norms and principles.

Once again, Suaram reiterate its strongest condemnation of the arrest, prosecution and detention of Anwar Ibrahim and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

 

22 February 2016

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The Diplomat- Luke Hunt (21.2.2016)

There is growing evidence that the region’s economic prospects are dimming.

Regional economic prospects are dimming in Southeast Asia, with unemployment expected to rise and increasing concerns over job security preoccupying many – with Malaysians in particular being the hardest hit – a survey by the Financial Times has found.

The survey of jobseekers by the FT Confidential Research found that unemployment was expected to rise in ASEAN after significant job losses were recorded last year as the economy turned.

It surveyed 5,000 people — one thousand each from Indonesia, Malaysia, The Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam — ASEAN’s five major economies in terms of population and financial clout.

It also found that more than half of respondents were “finding it either hard or very hard to land a new job”.

About two-thirds of the people surveyed in Malaysia, where the oil and gas sector and the aviation industry have been prominent in shedding jobs, described the employment market as tough.

Despite this and a major contraction in lending, Prime Minister Najib Razak has insisted that Malaysia still performs “pretty well.”

His tenure has been blighted by corruption scandals amid calls for his resignation and the release of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim who won the popular vote at the last election in 2013 but lost on a seat count. He was subsequently jailed.

Like most regional leaders, Najib has a tendency to blame China for the economic issues at home as opposed to focusing on the fiscal and monetary policies initiated by his own government that underpins his country’s economic future.

As an indicator for what might happen next, the FT findings were not good given that the crisis in China is still unfolding. There is always a lag between an economic event and its full impact on the broader economy.

As a rule of thumb, it can take anywhere up to 18 months for a simple interest rate hike to make its way through an entire economy. The impact of increased government spending or spending cuts can take just as long to take effect.

That’s a major headache for central bankers when weighing-up the short, medium and long term prospects for an economy in its decision-making process.

The Chinese economy began its descent on August 11, with a two percent devaluation of its currency, the renminbi, which astonished the world. Like an interest rate hike, that decision, along with all the monetary and fiscal policy adjustments made since then, are still to work their way through the regional and global economies.

Other countries were also forced to follow suit and devalue their currencies. Then, resources prices collapsed as the Chinese stock market began an uncontrollable slide which has gone global and spread from mining companies and commodities to banks and finance houses.

Importantly, another survey by The Economist found about $1 trillion, at an annualized rate, had been taken out of China in the last six months of last year. That’s an enormous figure and one Beijing can ill-afford to let continue.

Chinese debt stands at about $27 trillion, and it’s GDP at about $10 trillion. Do the math. Add a recent interest rate hike in the United States and a fall into negative interest rate territory in Japan to the mix and the economic landscape that emerges is as unique as it is telling.

ASEAN governments have spent decades crafting their reliance on the Chinese economy, with a strategic relationship shaped by geography and exports into China that achieved double digit growth for the last two decades.

That growth has ended, the outlook for Southeast Asia is intimidating and the latest surveys contain just a hint of what’s probably to come.

18 February 2016

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Myanmar TIMES by Roger Mitton

18 February- The sages said the Year of the Monkey would be lively, unpredictable and even mischievous, but few expected the fantasyland funny business to start so quickly.

Rarely, if ever, has this region witnessed so many surprising and often downright quirky developments as it has in the past couple of weeks.

In hindsight, the signs were evident last month, when the leadership conventions in Laos and Vietnam, normally so staid and predictable, stunned everyone.

When Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung made a much-anticipated bid to become boss of the ruling Vietnam Communist Party, he was brutally cut down by disaffected party cadres who voted en masse against him.

Dung was so shamed that he initially cancelled his scheduled trip to attend this week’s Sunnylands Summit of ASEAN leaders in the United States and was ready to send his deputy instead, until party elders ordered him to go.

There were equally startling changes in Laos, where the party chief and prime minister were both dumped and replaced by reformist figures who are more open and internationalist in outlook.

That cheered those who hope Laos, as this year’s ASEAN chair, will curb its usual pro-Beijing slant and perhaps help mediate some middle-ground accord with China to regulate conduct in the South China Sea.

Sure, it’s unlikely. As Stanford University’s Asian expert Don Emmerson said, “That goal has become an institutionalised mirage, invoked hopefully year after year in ASEAN communiqués to no meaningful avail.”

It was invoked again on February 16 at the strange Sunnylands shindig hosted by President Barack Obama.

The event was where this year’s real monkey business began, and to understand why, it pays to peruse some of the bizarrely disparate opinions expressed about the value of the leadership conclave.

To begin with, many struggled to comprehend why Obama, who is keen to make his last year in office a productive one, took time to host a bunch of guys he’d just met three months ago in Kuala Lumpur and Manila.

What was the purpose? A nice photo op for posterity? Actually, even the photos were diminished, given that President U Thein Sein did not attend.

Still, purpose or not, the event was touted as the greatest thing for regional relations since Washington avoided repeating then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s infamous snub of ASEAN in 2005.

Back then, Rice decided she had more important things to do than fly halfway round the world to take part in photo ops and song-and-dance routines with foreign ministers from small Southeast Asian nations.

She was right. But the region’s leaders took the snub badly and Obama has spent the past seven years trying to make amends.

Sunnylands was supposed to prove he has succeeded, although the gathering merely reiterated superficial expressions of chumminess and did not embellish either side.

One trenchant analysis of the event was written by Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington, who called his artlcle “Obama’s Sunnylands Summit: Does ASEAN Really Matter?”He appears to think it does not.

And it was hard to disagree with him when he sliced apart the old wishful thinking of other ASEAN-centric analysts who had tried to argue that Sunnylands was a reaffirmation of a regional strategic partnership.

It was not. And Manning was right when he said it was delusional to portray ASEAN as a viable collective body that has more than a marginal role in the region’s political and security setup. It does not.

If the group’s key bodies like the ASEAN Regional Forum and East Asia Summit were eliminated tomorrow, no one would notice and the region would remain just as safe.

As Manning said, to view ASEAN as anything more than “a loose coalition of disparate nations, economies and cultures is to buy into its own fantasyland narcissism”.

Talking of fantasyland: The much touted ASEAN Economic Community, launched on January 1, has changed our lives, right?

Wrong. They said it would consolidate trading rules, allow free movement of workers and introduce a single market for goods and services. All a pipe dream. Nothing has happened and nothing will for years to come.

If you think this is unduly pessimistic just check out another analysis by Joshua Kurlantzick of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, who also skewered this week’s fantasyland summit.

His article, “The Dark Heart of ASEAN”, was even more devastating than those by Manning and others, for he argued that by hosting the ASEAN leaders, Washington allowed its interests to overwhelm its principles.

He noted that since the US pivot to Asia in 2011, the region’s political systems have regressed significantly, as best shown by Thailand’s sad slide “from flawed democracy to military rule”.

Just as poignant has been the way Malaysian democracy has been stunted by the jailing of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, the repression of critics and the financial shenanigans of Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Cambodia was headed toward a two-party democracy after the 2013 general election, but since then Prime Minister Hun Sen has forced opposition leader Sam Rainsy into exile and cracked down on other critics.

As for Brunei, Laos and Vietnam, Kurlantzick calls them “among the most repressive states in the world, with no evidence of political opening at all”.

Only in Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines has democracy and civic society advanced in any way; the rest of the region is going backward.

It is no exaggeration to say that this anti-democratic regression lies at the dark heart of ASEAN.

Until this changes, the grouping really will not matter – and nor will any silly Sunnylands summits held in the future.

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