Wednesday, April 3, 2013

In Malaysia's election, a focus on rainforest graft

Niluksi Koswanage in AlertNet via Reuters: The island of Borneo may be all that stands between Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and an unprecedented election defeat within weeks for his ruling coalition. Borneo's two Malaysian states -- Sabah and Sarawak -- have been a bastion of votes for the National Front coalition headed by Najib's party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

The two states, among Malaysia's poorest despite vast natural resources, kept the National Front in power in 2008 even as a groundswell of support for the opposition deprived the government of its iron-clad two-thirds parliamentary majority.

That could start to change. Allegations of corruption in recent months have dogged the chief ministers of both Sabah and Sarawak, long-time rulers who hold vast sway over some of the world's largest tracts of tropical forests.

The National Front is favoured to win the election expected on April 27 after Najib dissolved parliament on Wednesday. But it could be the closest his ruling coalition has faced in its 56-year rule. Corruption scandals threaten to undermine one of Najib's central messages -- that he is making Southeast Asia's third-largest economy more transparent and competitive.

Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman, who is also the state's top UMNO official, has been under scrutiny the past year after whistleblower website Sarawak Report published documents from the Hong Kong and Malaysian anti-corruption agencies.

The two agencies started investigating Musa in late 2008. The probe was based on a tip-off that the chief minister was extracting money from businessmen seeking timber concessions and funnelling it to UBS bank accounts in Hong Kong and Singapore, sources close to the investigations said. They declined to say who gave the tip-off....

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