26 April, 2007

Malaysia lodges protest with BBC ?

Malaysia has complained to the BBC for giving air time to failed opposition leaders, state news agency Bernama said on Wednesday, in an apparent reference to former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim.

"It would be appropriate if the air time was given to the opposition political parties that had a place in politics in Malaysia, but why focus on people who have been rejected?" Bernama quoted Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin as saying.

"What is the objective of the BBC in doing so?" Zainuddin, a former journalist, told reporters when asked about a recent working visit to London, where he had lodged a protest with BBC World Service editors.

Bernama added: "He (Zainuddin) said the BBC move did not help to enhance relations between Britain and Malaysia and did not accord respect to the democratic decision of the Malaysian people in their rejection of the opposition political parties."

Zainuddin did not name Anwar, but an aide to the opposition figure, who is attempting a political comeback after his release from jail in 2004, said the minister was clearly targeting him.

- The Peninsular

"Of course he's referring to Anwar. Anwar is much sought after by the BBC," the aide said, adding that Anwar had recorded an interview with the BBC in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.

Anwar, 59, seen as potentially the most potent opposition force in Malaysia, is trying to resurrect his political career as the nation heads toward a possible early general election.

Anwar's party, Keadilan, is currently fighting a by-election campaign that promises to be the first real test of grass-roots support for a man who rocked the political establishment in 1998.

Anwar, then deputy premier, had been on the threshold of gaining the leadership when he fell out with then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and took to the streets at the head of a large anti-government street protest. He was quickly arrested and later charged and jailed on charges of corruption and sodomy.

He was acquitted of the sodomy charge in 2004 and released, but his remaining criminal record for corruption bars him from standing for political office until April 2008. Instead, he has begun to campaign heavily for candidates of his party, Keadilan, amid expectation of a general election in the next 12 months.

Keadilan has just one seat in national parliament, held by his wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, but Anwar is seen even in government circles as a charismatic speaker who can strike a chord among the country's ethnic Malay majority.

He is also seen as the only politician with a chance of uniting Malaysia's divided opposition factions, which include an Islamist party backed by mainly rural Malays and the Democratic Action Party, which is backed by mostly urban ethnic Chinese.

Earlier on Wednesday, Anwar suffered a legal setback in a battle to prove that his 1998 sacking as deputy prime minister was unconstitutional, but he vowed to fight on undaunted.

Three appeals court judges unanimously held that Anwar's dismissal from his cabinet posts by then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad was lawful, since the latter had the power to appoint or dismiss ministers, Bernama reported. "In short, no minister can remain as a member of the cabinet if the prime minister decided that he should be dismissed," the agency quoted the judges as saying in their ruling.

Anwar told reporters he would go to Malaysia's highest court to prove his removal was unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, Malaysian government is said to sets up an Internet spin team, to cast an eagle eye on whatever is being said about Malaysia online.

MALAYSIA'S INFORMATION ministry is so miffed that people are going on the web and telling porkies about its glorious government that it has hired a team of spinners just to deal with it.

If it sees something that the government will not like it will swoop. Deputy Information Minister Chia Kwang Chye said the team will be in and out with a press release in seconds in a bid to tackle what he said was "abuse" of the Internet and online technology.

Chia told the Bernama news agency the spinners will be purely working to disseminate information, explain correct information and counter the misinformation on government policies.

There is currently a bit of a barny going on online, between the Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Malaysian bloggers and other Internet users. He says they are spreading slander and gossip, they say he is... not a very good PM. Miffing a Malaysian PM is apparently enough for the entire government to talk about punishment and tighter controls on Internet use in response.

Already two bloggers are also being sued for defamation by the government-linked New Straits Times Press group in an action identified as a government crack-down on freedom of expression.

Fortunately, the new unit will not have the power to arrest bloggers the PR people don't like. There is nothing more evil than a PR who has the power to lock up a reporter who fails to print their press release. Well, other than a reporter who never questions what a company says.

And today, Malaysia proclaimed a new king, its second-youngest ever, in a glittering ceremony.

Forty-five-year-old Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin, of oil-rich Terengganu state, will rule for five years under Malaysia's unique system of rotating constitutional monarchy.

Malaysia has nine sultans and each takes turn to rule for five years as king, but this time marks the coming of age of a younger generation of royals who are devout Muslims and much less interesting than their often eccentric, more liberal forebears.

A symbolic role, the king embodies Malaysia's heritage as a collection of Muslim kingdoms and also serves as titular head of the armed forces and keeper of the official religion, Islam.

Malaysia, where Muslims make up just over half its 26 million people, is a modern, moderate Muslim country. But since the 1980s, Islamic conservatism has steadily gained influence.

Malaysia has changed from a country where Muslim women generally did not wear headscarves into a nation where religious officials make police-style raids on nightclubs and hotel rooms.

Mizan's wife wears a headscarf, unlike previous queens.

The new king has also been more outspoken than many of his predecessors, publicly urging the government to wipe out corruption, seen by many Muslims as an affront against Islam.

Other young rulers have also begun to speak out on issues of governance. The Sultan of Selangor state recently reprimanded an errant town councilor for building his house without permits.

A far less colorful figure than some of his predecessors as king or his fellow sultans, Mizan attended Britain's Sandhurst Royal Military Academy and served as a land administrator before succeeding to the throne of Terengganu.

The royal family of southern Johor state has captured the most headlines over the years. Mahmood Iskandar, now the sultan of Johor and a former king, was once convicted of manslaughter but was pardoned by his father who was then the sultan.

Mizan is Malaysia's 13th king, or Yang di-Pertuan Agong, since the country gained independence from Britain in 1957. He replaced Syed Sirajuddin Syed Putra Jamalullail, ruler of Perlis state.

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