04/09/2018, 15.41
MALAYSIA
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Elections: Mahathir slams selling the country to the Beijing

China is Malaysia’s main source of foreign direct investment, contributing 7 per cent of the total US$ 14 billion it received last year. Mahathir plans to challenge frontrunner and former protégé Prime Minister Najib Razak in what analysts believe will be the most competitive election since independence in 1957. Election day will be set in the coming days. Meanwhile, the opposition is already accusing the government of rigging the election.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Chinese-funded projects will be subject to closer scrutiny by Malaysian authorities if opposition leader Mahathir Mohamad and the coalition backing him win Malaysia’s upcoming elections.

“Lots of people don’t like Chinese investments,” Mahathir said. “We don’t want to sell chunks of this country to foreign companies who will develop whole towns.”

Mahathir will challenge Prime Minister Najib Razak, his own former protégé, in what analysts believe could be the most competitive election since the country's independence in 1957.

The Election Commission will meet this week to pick the date of the election, which is expected to be in late April or early May, a month before Ramadan.

The country of 32 million people has 15 million registered voters who will choose 222 parliamentary seats, as well as 505 seats in the various states assemblies.

The 92-year-old Mahathir was prime minister from 1981 to 2003 and the longest-serving head of government in the country’s history.

Last Friday, he said in an interview that Chinese investment was welcome if companies set up operations in Malaysia, employed locals, and brought in capital and technology to the country.

However, this wasn’t the case now. “Here we gain nothing from the investment,” he explained. “We don’t welcome that.”

Mahathir leads a four-party coalition, Pakatan Harapan (Pact of Hope). His remarks reflect growing concerns about Chinese investments in Asia, fuelling political tensions from Australia to Sri Lanka.

Although many countries are eager to benefit from President Xi Jinping's plan to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure development around the world, they fear becoming too dependent on Beijing.

In Malaysia, Chinese investments have raised concerns over sovereignty and economic inequality.

As an example, Mahathir pointed to plans by Country Garden Holdings Co. Ltd. to invest US$ 100 billion in Johor state to build flats that cost upwards of 1 million ringgits (US8,000).

The median annual income in Malaysia was 62,736 ringgits (US$ 16,170) in 2016.

“We don’t have enough people with wealth to buy all those very expensive flats, so you’re bringing in foreigners,” Mahathir said. “No country wants to have an influx of huge numbers of foreign people into their country.”

Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is seeking to extend his premiership for a third term, has dismissed the opposition’s concerns on Chinese investment as “irresponsible politicians scaremongering.”

China is Malaysia’s top source of foreign direct investment, contributing 7 per cent of the total 54.7 billion ringgits (US$ 14 billion) it received last year.

Beijing is involved in several projects like the 55 billion-ringgit, 688-kilometre East Coast Rail Link.

Two days ago, Najib, head of the Barisan Nasional (National Front), unveiled his party’s electoral manifesto.

The prime minister promised in his manifesto to almost double the maximum annual cash handouts to 7 million poor people, mostly Malays, from 1,200 ringgits (US$ 310) to 2,000 ringgits (US$ 517). He also pledged to scrap debts of Malay farmers and landowners linked to a state plantation company and create 3 million new jobs to relieve concerns over rising unemployment among youths.

For its part, the opposition has accused the Barisan Nasional of rigging the vote even before the start of the campaign.

Fuelling these accusations is the recent passage of new legislation that introduces sweeping pro-ruling coalition changes to the country’s constituency boundaries, and a controversial new law to fight so-called “fake news”.

On Thursday, the country’s Registry of Societies temporarily dissolved Mahathir’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) – a constituent of the Pakatan Harapan opposition bloc – over discrepancies in its paperwork.

Mahathir late on Thursday said the party will continue to function as normal and accused the premier of “cheating in order to paralyse his opponents” before the election.

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