Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Singapore’s Leftward Shift Behind Ruling Party’s Stunning Electoral Comeback

In the run-up to Singapore’s recent general elections, the victory of the People’s Action Party (PAP) – which has presided over transformational social and economic development throughout its continuous five-decade rule – was a forgone conclusion. The question on people’s minds was rather, to what extent could opposition parties dent the ruling party’s dominance and gain a foothold in Parliament?

Tens of thousands attended rallies organized by opposition parties during the campaign period, leading many to believe that opposition candidates would steadily gain more ground after the ruling PAP suffered its worst electoral performance in history during the last election cycle in 2011. Contrary to predictions of a watershed election, the PAP secured huge margins, claiming nearly 70 percent of the popular vote in a spectacular rebound.

2015’s elections were presented as an “unprecedented” challenge to Singapore’s ruling party in the international media. On the ground, the sense of a growing momentum for left-leaning opposition parties like the Worker’s Party (WP) and the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and other largely untested parties could be felt. Even government-friendly state media devoted front page coverage to well-attended opposition rallies.

Despite projections and popular sentiments that suggested a real possibility for opposition parties to capture a larger share of the vote, opposition parties instead saw their share of the vote plummet in 2015 by as much as 16 percent from 2011, with no headway made. How then, in the current political landscape, should the PAP’s stunning resurgence be accounted for?

Read the full story on New Eastern Outlook

Nile Bowie is a Singapore-based political commentator and columnist for the Malaysian Reserve newspaper. He can be reached at

Sunday, 6 September 2015

As Scandal Mounts, Largesse Keeps Malaysia’s PM in Power

Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak – a British-educated technocrat with a reputation for opulence – is at the center of an unprecedented scandal. A sovereign wealth fund established to develop lucrative industries and boost economic growth in Malaysia, the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), has incurred more than $11 billion in debts and is at the center of a political and financial controversy.

In July, an exposé in the Wall Street Journal published documents sourced from an ongoing government probe into 1MDB that traced nearly $700 million being channeled into Najib’s personal bank accounts from entities linked to the indebted fund. The fund paid inflated prices for assets and laundered money that Najib used to fund his campaign in the 2013 general elections, according to the source.

The allegations against the prime minister caused an uproar in Malaysia on both sides of the political divide. Najib denied wrong-doing and dismissed the report as political sabotage. In the days that followed, special task forces raided the offices of 1MDB and three linked companies, freezing bank accounts and seizing documents that could have paved the way for possible criminal charges against Najib and others.

Read the full story on New Eastern Outlook

Nile Bowie is a Singapore-based political commentator and columnist for the Malaysian Reserve newspaper. He can be reached at

Friday, 10 July 2015

Obama’s Pacific Trade Deal Trails Behind China’s Development Vision

Often touted as the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s re-engagement with Asia, a close vote in the US Senate has brought the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) a major step closer to becoming law. Facing significant opposition within his own party, the US president has secured fast-track negotiating authority, limiting Congress’s constitutional authority to regulate the contents of the trade accord.

Though the US Congress and American public will have an opportunity to review the deal before it is voted on, fast-track passage procedure reduces time for debate and prohibits amendments to the proposed legislation, limiting Congress to passing an up-or-down vote on the deal. Negotiated behind closed doors and drafted under tremendous secrecy for nearly a decade, elected representatives have thus far had limited access to the draft text.

The negotiations, intended to eventually create a multilateral trade and foreign investment agreement, involve Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam. Comprising some 40 percent of the world’s economy, the trade pact represents Washington’s response to the rising influence of China, which is not a participant, despite being the region’s largest economy and the largest trading partner of Asia-Pacific economies.

Bringing together a diverse grouping of culturally and economically disparate countries, the pact aims to enforce a common regulatory framework that governs rules for tariffs and trade disputes, patents and intellectual property, banking, foreign investment and more. The deal is widely seen as being representative of Washington’s long-term commitment to the Asia-Pacific region.

Read the full story on New Eastern Outlook

Nile Bowie is a Singapore-based political commentator and columnist for the Malaysian Reserve newspaper. He can be reached at

Friday, 5 June 2015

Facing the Rohingya Crisis, Myanmar’s Elite Speak With One Voice

The dire plight of refugees, asylum-seekers and economic migrants fleeing Myanmar and Bangladesh has captured global attention in recent weeks, as Southeast Asian nations struggle to cope with the influx of thousands who have languished in unimaginable conditions on rickety boats in the Andaman Sea, often for months at a time without adequate food and water supplies.

Facing a perilous journey in hope of finding relief from persecution and poverty, the tragic predicament facing these migrants has forced regional policymakers into an ethical quandary. Moreover, the grim discovery of mass gravesites and people-smuggling camps deep in the jungles of northern Malaysia underscore the seriousness and scale of the region’s human trafficking problem.

At the root of the ongoing crisis is Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya community, a Muslim ethnic minority group whose citizenship was rescinded in a 1982 law passed by the then-ruling military junta. Although records of Rohingya settlements date back centuries, Myanmar has asserted that they are illegal immigrants with no right to citizenship, subjecting the community to institutionalized discrimination with limited access to education, healthcare and freedom of movement.

Read the full story on New Eastern Outlook

Nile Bowie is a Singapore-based political commentator and columnist for the Malaysian Reserve newspaper. He can be reached at

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Saudi Aggression in Yemen Pulls Kingdom Toward Protracted Quagmire

After nearly seven weeks of airstrikes launched by Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Arab allies, a fragile temporary ceasefire appears to have taken hold over most of Yemen. The bombing campaign was launched in late March with the goal of reinstalling ousted president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, now exiled in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. It also aims to thwart the advance of the Houthi rebels, who control the capital and large swathes of territory, and are now the country’s dominant political force.

The military strikes have had a calamitous effect on the already desperate humanitarian situation facing the country, resulting in more than 1,500 civilian deaths, including scores of children. The Saudi-led coalition has blockaded ports and bombed runways, preventing the delivery of food shipments, aid and humanitarian supplies, which have exacerbated the severe shortages in a country that imports more than 90 percent of its food and water supplies. A lack of fuel and medicines has compounded the suffering of civilians, many of whom face malnourishment and dire poverty.

Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, must now cope with tens of thousands of internally displaced civilians who have been made refugees by the Saudi offensive, a seemingly impossible task for a country under siege and without an effect leadership. The Saudi-led “Operation Decisive Storm,” launched just two months into the reign of King Salman ibn Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, marks a shift away from a foreign policy that heavily leveraged the use of proxies and toward a far more assertive interventionist posture.

Read the full story on New Eastern Outlook

Nile Bowie is a Singapore-based political commentator and columnist for the Malaysian Reserve newspaper. He can be reached at

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

US Strategic Impotence Driving Iran Détente

The deal reached in early April between Iran and major world powers represents a high point in negotiations aimed at outlining the future of Iran’s nuclear programme. Both sides have made considerable concessions, while Hassan Rouhani’s government in Tehran has moved a step closer to freeing Iran from almost all economic and financial sanctions, a key goal of his administration.

Though the full details of a comprehensive deal will not be finalized until late June and differences remain on various technical and legal dimensions of the programme, a successful settlement of the nuclear issue could open the door to a new stage in the US-Iran relationship, the effects of which have already begun to slowly reshape the region’s existing strategic order.

Considering the Obama administration’s position toward Iran throughout most of his presidency – characterized by non-engagement and a preference for regime change – the reversal of US policy since the election of Hassan Rouhani begs the question of whether Washington’s moves signal a genuine desire to overcome historical animosities and forge a new kind of relationship.

Read the full story on New Eastern Outlook

Nile Bowie is a Singapore-based political commentator and columnist for the Malaysian Reserve newspaper. He can be reached

Monday, 6 April 2015

German Intransigence Raises Spectre for ‘Grexit’

Greece’s newly elected government, led by the leftist Syriza coalition that swept into power in January on an anti-austerity platform, finds itself in a highly unenviable position. Athens is burdened by colossal debt, imminent liquidity problems and a looming banking collapse. What is at stake for Greece now is its very ability to survive economically within the euro-zone.

The Syriza coalition emerged from various offshoots of the Greek radical left, which set itself apart from the political mainstream by taking an anti-capitalist position emphasizing wealth redistribution and class struggle, while allying itself with alter-globalization movements and trade unions. The ascension of Syriza represents the most leftward shift in European politics in decades.

Once a negligible force at the ballot box, Syriza has gradually succeeded in commanding support among the wage-earning class and the urban unemployed, who view the coalition as the only political force capable of pulling the country off the trajectory of austerity, imposed by Greece’s creditors – primarily Germany.

The new government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has captured the broad popular support of Greek society as the country faces an asymmetric struggle to negotiate a restructuring of Athens’ debts and a reversal of austerity policies attached to a previous €240 billion bailout agreement, which Germany and the European Central Bank (ECB) remain inflexibly opposed to.

Read the full story on New Eastern Outlook

Nile Bowie is a columnist with Russia Today, and a research affiliate with the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), an NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at

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