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Nile Bowie

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Hear no evil, see no evil in Singapore


A last-minute decision to cancel a black metal gig has irked fans and sparked debate about the limits of expression in the city-state


Southeast Asian metalheads descended on Singapore last week for an event they hoped would be infernal and enthralling: a live concert performance by the acclaimed Swedish black metal band Watain.

Known for their abrasive sound and unhallowed imagery, the group had been given official approval to play their first-ever show in the wealthy city-state on March 7. Fans, however, were left disappointed when a media regulator announced the show’s cancellation just three hours before it was set to blast.

The state’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), a regulatory agency, announced the show could not go on due to its “potential to cause enmity and disrupt Singapore’s social harmony.”

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) raised “security concerns” about the event, while Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam acknowledged a public outcry against the group, though he denied that an online petition calling for the concert’s cancellation had forced the government’s hand.

The petition, which had gathered more than 16,000 signatures before the show, called on lawmakers to ban Watain and Soilwork, a comparatively anodyne Swedish heavy metal band scheduled to perform in Singapore in October.

Read the full story at Asia Times.
Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.
translate | 16.3.2019 07:43

Vietnamese woman now lone suspect in Kim Jong-nam killing


Malaysian prosecutors deny defendant’s appeal despite Hanoi’s protestations and evidence of North Korean state complicity in the assassination


Prosecutors in Malaysia have rejected an appeal to drop a murder charge against Doan Thi Huong, a 30-year-old Vietnamese woman accused of assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s estranged half-brother Kim Jong-nam.

The decision to proceed with the trial comes after a surprise court decision on Monday (March 11) allowed her Indonesian co-defendant Siti Aisyah, 27, to walk free. A High Court judge discharged the Indonesian suspect without an acquittal after prosecutors said they had been instructed to withdraw the charge against her without offering a reason.

The Indonesian embassy flew Aisyah to Jakarta the same day while lobbying efforts by President Joko Widodo’s administration are thought to have played a key role in securing her release.

Doan is now the only suspect in the case still behind bars. Her lawyer, Hisham Teh Poh Teik, slammed Malaysian Attorney General Tommy Thomas’s decision to reject the appeal.

“The decision not to withdraw does not sit well with our criminal justice system. There is discrimination as the prosecution favors one party to the other,” he told reporters.

Both women were charged on the same evidence and ordered by the court in August to enter their defense on the same grounds after a judge ruled the prosecution had proven a prima facie case against the accused.

Read the full story at Asia Times.
Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.
translate | 14.3.2019 11:01

Woman accused of killing Kim Jong-un’s half-brother walks free


Malaysian court’s surprise and unexplained decision resurrects suspicion of North Korean state complicity in the cloak-and-dagger crime


An Indonesian woman accused of assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s estranged half-brother Kim Jong-nam with a liquid VX nerve agent in 2017 has walked free after a Malaysian court dropped a murder charge against her.

“I am surprised and very happy. I did not expect that today I would be released,” Siti Aisyah, 27, told reporters before being ushered out of the courtroom and escorted to an Indonesian embassy car waiting for outside, according to media reports.

Upon hearing the court’s decision, the Indonesian broke out in tears and hugged her co-accused, Doan Thi Huong, a 30-year-old Vietnamese woman who is still being held in the case and is soon expected to testify.

The pair, who have been in custody for two years, are the only suspects detained in connection with the killing of Kim Jong-nam. Police quickly apprehended both women shortly after closed-circuit television cameras captured them accosting the 45-year-old North Korean in an airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur on February 13, 2017.
The two women, both from rural Southeast Asian villages who lived precariously as undocumented migrant workers in the Malaysian capital, say they were duped by North Korean agents into believing they were participating in a prank for a hidden camera TV show that saw them smearing lotion on the faces of strangers in exchange for cash.
Read the full story at Asia Times.
Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.
translate | 11.3.2019 15:08

Eye on China, Singapore splurges on top-line arms


Big-ticket procurements will enable the island state to operate with the US in any South China Sea conflict


For global arms companies looking to ply their wares in Southeast Asia, Singapore is a sought-after client. And American and German hardware suppliers are poised for windfall profits as the island nation moves to shore up its defenses.

Last month, the wealthy city-state passed its biggest ever defense budget worth US$16.7 billion, or around 30% of the government’s total planned expenditure for 2019, with rich earmarks for defense, security and related diplomacy.

Singapore allocates between 3% and 5% of its gross domestic product on defense, well above the global average, while most regional states spend closer to 1-2% or lower, according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute data.

That spending is set to climb in the years ahead as the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) moves to enhance its conventional capabilities through the procurement of more modern military hardware and equipment, including new generation fighter jets and submarines.

Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen recently told Parliament that defense spending over the next decade was expected to rise by 3% or 4% a year, mostly to strengthen and modernize the SAF’s aging hardware.
This month, Ng announced that Singapore would order four new F-35 fighter jets from US defense contractor Lockheed Martin and that it may purchase an additional eight of the advanced fighters after a technical evaluation.
Read the full story at Asia Times.
Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.
translate | 10.3.2019 02:48

New politics dawning in pre-election Singapore


Opposition politician Chee Soon Juan says he senses unprecedented weakness in the ruling Peoples Action Party ahead of anticipated snap polls


Will elections come early in Singapore? Singaporeans have wondered ever since Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hinted last year that the wealthy city-state might go to the polls earlier than they must be held by April 2021.

The opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), for one, isn’t wasting any time waiting for an official announcement. At a campaign launch event on February 23, party leader Chee Soon Juan made his case for political change in the form of a “freer and more democratic” Singapore. 
He said his party aims to deny the long-ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) a two-thirds majority of seats in Parliament at the next election.
If they succeed, the PAP – the longest-governing incumbent party in Southeast Asia – would lose its ability to make constitutional amendments and be put in check by a parliamentary opposition in a way that’s never before been seen in the island-nation’s history.

Realizing this electoral goal will be a herculean task, Chee openly admits. The PAP has maintained overwhelming parliamentary supermajorities since achieving independence in 1965, making Singapore one of Asia’s most asymmetrical democracies.
Read the full story at Asia Times.
Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.
translate | 27.2.2019 13:44

Pork barrel politics hint at early polls in Singapore


Expansionary spending plan includes billions of dollars worth of voter-friendly hand-outs and subsidies, including special earmarks for the elderly


Singaporean Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat delivered a closely watched budget statement earlier this week, unveiling an expansionary spending plan for 2019. Widely viewed as one of the key events of the city-state’s political calendar, the latest budget points towards the probability of a snap election later this year.

Speculation has been rife since Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hinted last year that early elections could be called in 2019, more than a year before his government’s mandate ends. As external uncertainties weigh against the island nation's trade-reliant growth, some analysts see early polls as a hedge against a dimmer, less-predictable economic forecast.

Data released ahead of the latest budget proposal showed that Singapore’s economy grew at its slowest pace in more than two years in the fourth quarter of 2018. As such, all eyes were on Heng for signals on how the long-ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) plans to stave off economic headwinds in the financial year ahead.

The budget statement was the first major policy speech given by Heng since he was designated to succeed Lee as Singapore’s next prime minister, following a protracted selection process that saw the city-state abuzz with political guesswork. Some wondered whether the finance minister might now showcase a more campaign-oriented persona.
Read the full story at Asia Times.
Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.
translate | 20.2.2019 12:42

Conscript deaths making political waves in Singapore


Death of a heartthrob actor at defense training drill sparks an uproar over military accountability amid a rash of similar casualties


When actor Aloysius Pang died last month after sustaining serious injuries during a military training exercise, Singaporeans responded with an outpouring of grief. Family, friends and fans mourned the loss of the 28-year-old Chinese-language film and television star, whose passing is the latest in a recent spate of military training fatalities for the island nation.

Tragedy struck when Pang, an armament technician with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), was crushed while carrying out repair works inside the cabin of a self-propelled howitzer, a self-propelled artillery gun. Despite a number of surgeries to treat his injuries, the young conscript died four days later in hospital on January 23.

The incident dominated local headlines and struck a chord with the Mandarin-speaking community, an important voting bloc for the long-ruling People’s Action Party (PAP). Chief of Defense Force Melvyn Ong addressed the tragedy at a press conference and promised things would not be “business as usual” after Pang’s death.

Aiming to reassure the public, he announced a halt to all high-risk training activities as well as measures to reduce the pace and duration of training across the SAF for safety reviews. Singapore’s Ministry of Defense (Mindef) also said it would convene an independent Committee of Inquiry (COI) to investigate the incident.

Read the full story at Asia Times.
Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.
translate | 18.2.2019 11:02

Ukraine faces crowded and combative elections


There is no clear frontrunner ahead of next month’s presidential election and huge challenges face the eventual winner


An uphill battle awaits incumbent President Petro Poroshenko in Ukraine’s March 31 presidential election as, despite his lagging popularity, he aims to rally nationalist-leaning voters in a bid to secure a second mandate.

With a modest 10.8% approval rating, victory looks distant. Yet Poroshenko is still among the front-runners in a presidential race tallying a record 44 candidates, none of whom are expected to secure more than 20% support.

Elected in the aftermath of the 2014 “Maidan Revolution” that overturned pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych’s corruption-plagued rule, Poroshenko – a billionaire businessman before entering politics – was entrusted with the difficult task of guiding Ukraine toward a new western-oriented, democratic path and away from Moscow’s orbit.

Five years have passed since tumultuous scenes of revolution unfolded in Kiev’s main square. While certain democratic, social and civic gains have been realized, the revolution’s outcomes are for many decidedly mixed.

Read the full story at Asia Times.
Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.
translate | 16.2.2019 10:45

Malaysia’s trial of the century put on hold


Ex-premier Najib Razak has said an impartial trial is his “best chance” to clear his name of massive corruption charges but his lawyers are pulling all stops to delay hearings


Former Malaysian leader Najib Razak’s highly anticipated corruption case, scheduled to begin hearings today (February 12), was postponed after his lawyers filed a last-ditch bid to stay what is being likened to the nation’s trial of the century.

Harvinderjit Singh, one of Najib’s lawyers, told reporters on February 11 that the Court of Appeal had agreed to postpone the trial until an appeal is heard on a court jurisdiction issue. No new date for the trial or the appeal has been set.

Attorney General Tommy Thomas had earlier argued that the stay application should be rejected because Najib’s case is of public interest. Justice Ahmadi Haji Asnawi nonetheless granted the stay application, but called for the appeal process to be expedited.

When the trial finally begins, it will be the first of several criminal proceedings against the former premier over various corruption charges linked to a globe-spanning financial scandal that saw billions of dollars stolen from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state development fund, some of which was traced to his bank accounts.
Read the full story at Asia Times.
Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.
translate | 12.2.2019 10:38

Najib plays comeback kid as 1MDB trial looms


Scandal-plagued ex-premier is weaponizing social media to reinvent himself as a man of the people


Malaysia’s scandal-plagued former premier Najib Razak is down but clearly not out. At least that’s the message he apparently hoped to send by aggressively campaigning in a by-election held late last month that saw the former ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition clinch a rousing victory after being toppled in last May’s general election.

Ramli Mohd Nor, a 61-year-old former police officer and BN candidate, became the first candidate from the indigenous Orang Asli community ever elected to Parliament after a January 26 vote in the Cameron Highlands constituency. It was Najib, however, who stole the limelight in a race widely seen as a testing ground for his political comeback.

Since his electoral ouster, Najib has leveraged social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram to relentlessly criticize the ruling Pakatan Harapan government’s policies and leaders. It’s a bid to reinvent himself as a champion of the working class, all while facing trial for his alleged involvement in the biggest corruption case in Malaysia’s history.

Najib, 65, has been charged with 42 counts of graft, money laundering, abuse of power and criminal breach of trust, mostly tied to a sprawling corruption scandal that saw an estimated US$4.5 billion stolen from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a now-defunct state fund he established in 2009 and oversaw as advisory board chairman.
Read the full story at Asia Times.
Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.
translate | 5.2.2019 13:15

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