11 February, 2008

'Reform Princess' may contest polls ?

While Malaysia's leader refused to confirm speculation that Parliament would be dissolved Feb. 13 to pave the way for general elections, Anwar's 27-year-old daughter Nurul Izzah Anwar,the eldest daughter of Malaysian opposition icon Anwar Ibrahim, has no intention of letting motherhood stand in the way of her political debut at the general election.

Speaking to Today in an exclusive interview, her mother, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who heads Keadilan, confirmed that members of the opposition party were backing Ms Nurul to contest the polls.

Dubbed "Puteri Reformasi" or "Reform Princess" by the Malaysian media, Ms Nurul who has a Master's degree in international relations from the Washington-based Johns Hopkins University, was just 18 when her father, then Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, was imprisoned for sodomy and corruption.

"She was very young at the time tragedy befell her family with the arrest of her father. A lot of people sympathised with her," said Mr Sim Tze Tin, Mr Anwar's political secretary.

Describing Ms Nurul as "courageous" for her relentless campaign across Malaysia to have her father freed from prison, Mr Sim added: "The time has now come for her to emerge as a political force."

Like her father, Ms Nurul runs a blog. In her latest posting, the electronic engineer by training wrote about the alleged abuse of detainees imprisoned under Malaysia's Internal Security Act.

Meanwhile, Malaysia announced on Monday a $103.4 billion plan to develop its eastern Sarawak state, a move some critics saw as a government ploy to shore up flagging public support ahead of expected snap polls.

The blueprint, which sees 334 billion ringgit in investments until 2030, aims to transform the sprawling timber- and energy-rich state on Borneo island into an oil and gas, aluminium, marine engineering and fisheries hub.

"Our estimate is that by 2030, the investments are not going to be less than 300 billion ringgit," Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi told a crowd of about 5,000 people under a tent at the launch of the plan in Sarawak's coastal town of Bintulu.

"This is going to be a huge amount. But this is a big development plan. This will help generate strong economic growth for Sarawak, God willing." He said most of the investments would come from the private sector but did not give any details.

The Sarawak blueprint -- which covers the central part of the state -- is the latest in a series of government-led plans totalling about $325 billion to create farming, energy and tourism hubs in various parts of the country.

The government wants to find new growth drivers for the export-led economy but some critics say the plans may be concerned more with rallying public support ahead of a general election expected in the coming weeks than economic development in the next two decades or so.

"I don't know how much of this is going to be a reality," said Pankaj Kumar, chief investment officer at Malaysian insurance firm Kurnia Insurans.

"These corridors are competing not only among themselves but also internationally. You've got to be something really different from everybody else to attract the big multinational companies."

Yet more good news ahead of general election, from Wall Street Journal :"Investors Turn to Malaysia As Haven From Asia's Storm".

Asia's stock-market volatility led investors to yank huge sums out of Asian stock funds, with seven consecutive weeks of net redemptions. Though stockholders seem worried that selloffs will ripple through much of Asia if the U.S. economy slides into recession, they are treating Malaysia as a haven among emerging markets.

Stock funds focusing on Malaysia took in $28.4 million in the week ending Jan. 23, according to EPFR Global, a Boston firm tracking stock-fund flows. That is a tiny amount, yet stock funds that invest in the rest of the Asia-Pacific region, excluding Japan, saw net outflows of $1.6 billion the same week.

Malaysian shares aren't immune to ailing global markets, but as a group, they have held up better than shares on any other exchange in Asia. The country's benchmark, the Kuala Lumpur Composite, is 0.01% off last year's high of 1447.04 -- a hiccup compared with the double-digit losses in Singapore and South Korea, and far steeper declines in Hong Kong and Shanghai, where indexes are more than 20% below their 12-month highs.

"Malaysia is always countercyclical. When things go down, it's a place to hide," says Bhaskar Laxminarayan, chief investment officer for Asia at Swiss bank Pictet & Cie.

So what makes the country so resilient? read here....

And a General Election Special: "Ignore The SoPo-Blogs, Does Jeff Ooi Knows What He’s Doing?"

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