At least six people have died and nearly 50,000 evacuated in Malaysia after monsoon rains pounded the country’s east coast, authorities said Friday, causing what residents described as the worst flooding in half a century.
Authorities have stepped up rescue operations after locals complained they had to fend for themselves earlier this week.
Heavy rains continued to batter the region on Friday, swelling the number of people abandoning their homes to more than 47,000, officials said.
“I have lost everything. The water has covered my roof,” 59-year-old factory worker Tan Kong Leng told AFP, tears filling his eyes.
Floods hit the region during the rainy season every year and regularly result in mass evacuations; but those in the affected areas say this year’s are the worst in decades.
Many roads, including the main expressway that links the east coast states, have been closed.
The worst-hit state is Pahang, where around 27,000 people have been evacuated in recent days, according to the social welfare department.
In one village in the state cut off by floods, residents were evacuated in an excavator on Wednesday, while others were forced to swim through deep waters.
Tan, the factory worker, and his wife took shelter at his plywood factory. They had just minutes to put their clothes in their car and flee to higher ground before the fast-rising waters engulfed their home.
“I am sad. All my fittings and fixtures are destroyed. My biggest fear is that more rain will pour in the coming days. Look! There are dark clouds moving in fast,” he said.
In one of the worst-hit districts in Pahang, residents complained that narrow and rubbish-filled drains contributed to the deluge.
Mentakab resident Muhammad Fadzil Wahab said he and other locals have formed their own patrol units to prevent house break-ins.
“We scout the entire flooded village at night with our small boats and torch lights,” he told AFP.
“My family members are safe at the evacuation centres.”
Adding to the complexity of rescue efforts, Malaysia is seeing a surge in coronavirus cases, reporting its biggest daily rise on Thursday.
But Fadzil said government help has started to intensify, including boats and military trucks.
“Thank Allah food, boats and medical assistance is now available,” he said.
A Rohingya migrant is feared to be the only survivor from a boat carrying at least two dozen asylum seekers that are believed to have run into difficulty off the Malaysian coast near Thailand, a coastguard official said Sunday.
Mohamad Zawawi Abdullah, coastguard chief for the northern states of Kedah and Perlis, said the 27-year-old named Nor Hossain was detained by police after he swam to shore on the resort island of Langkawi.
“Based on the information from the police, the illegal Rohingya migrant had jumped off the boat that had 24 other people and that he was the only one who managed to swim to the shore safely,” Zawawi said.
A search and rescue operation had been launched, but another official told AFP that no bodies or survivors have been found.
It is not clear what happened to the boat.
Muslim-majority Malaysia is a favoured destination for Rohingya, who face persecution in their mostly Buddhist homeland of Myanmar, but authorities have in recent months been trying to stop them entering over coronavirus fears.
Many of the 700,000-plus Rohingya Muslims who fled a military crackdown in Myanmar three years ago have attempted to leave overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district on boats headed for Malaysia and neighbouring Indonesia.
Zawawi said two coastguard aircraft and two boats have been deployed to search the suspected area.
Malaysia has stepped up maritime patrols since the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic in a bid to stop Rohingya boats from landing.
Although some have made it ashore many boats have been turned back, sparking anger from rights groups.
An Air Peace aircraft is in the process of evacuating stranded Nigerians in Malaysia and Thailand, the Nigerians In Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) has said.
The Commission revealed this in a tweet on Saturday.
“Chartered @airpeace flight APK-7813 conveying Stranded Nigerians from Malaysia and Thailand departing Kaula Lumpur to Abuja and Lagos today with Evacuees from Malaysia and Thailand onboard,” the tweet said.
BREAKING NEWS EVACUATION UPDATE.
Chartered @airpeace flight APK-7813 conveying Stranded Nigerians from Malaysia and Thailand depating Kaula Lumpur to Abuja and Lagos today with Evacuees from Malaysia and Thiland onboard. 1/2 pic.twitter.com/wUHngFLKzD
Malaysia’s central bank on Tuesday slashed interest rates to a record low to fight the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and warned that the pace of economic recovery was uncertain.
The Southeast Asian nation has joined other countries worldwide in aggressively easing monetary policy, after the virus brought the economy to a standstill for weeks.
Bank Negara Malaysia slashed its key rate by 25 basis points to 1.75 percent, its fourth straight reduction, and warned that the economy had contracted sharply in the second quarter because of the strict lockdown.
Most businesses were closed and people were confined to their homes in mid-March as the outbreak accelerated, although authorities have been easing curbs since early May and life is gradually returning to normal.
The country’s outbreak has been small — it has recorded about 8,600 cases and 121 deaths — but the lockdown is nevertheless believed to have cost the economy billions of dollars.
The bank said in a statement that business activity was recovering and that government stimulus packages “will continue to underpin the improving economic outlook”.
It added that “the pace and strength of the recovery, however, remain subject to downside risks”, including future outbreaks and a weaker-than-expected rebound in global growth.
Southeast Asia’s third-biggest economy is highly dependent on trade, and its key exports include palm oil, crude oil and natural gas.
OCBC Bank economist Wellian Wiranto said “the bar for another cut later this year has gotten lower”, with the prospect of new virus outbreaks knocking the global economic recovery off course.
He added that “1.75 percent may not be a historic low for long… especially if global conditions suffer a relapse”.
Malaysian police said Tuesday they are investigating an Al Jazeera documentary about the arrests of undocumented migrants during the coronavirus lockdown after officials denounced it for damaging the country’s image.
The move comes after several activists, journalists and opposition figures have been put under investigation recently in what critics say is a bid to silence dissent.
The documentary by the Qatar-based broadcaster, “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown”, focused on the detention of hundreds of migrants found without valid documents in areas under strict lockdowns.
Authorities defended the May arrests as necessary to protect public health, but rights groups warned that putting the foreigners in detention centres could increase the risk of infection.
National police chief Abdul Hamid Bador said an investigation had been launched after complaints were lodged about the 25-minute documentary.
Officials would examine whether the report “contains elements of sedition, or any other offences, under the laws of the country”, he told a press conference.
“We will be calling them soon for questioning… We will decide on the charges after we question them.”
Al Jazeera, which broadcast the documentary last week, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The programme sparked a backlash online, and ministers have lined up to criticise it — with Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob on Monday demanding an apology from Al Jazeera.
He said the broadcaster had “reported incorrect things, accusing us of being racist”.
Concerns about worsening freedom of expression have been growing in Malaysia since the collapse of a reformist government in February and the return of a scandal-plagued party to power.
One of the country’s leading independent news portals, Malaysiakini, faces contempt of court proceedings next week over reader comments on its site that were critical of the judiciary.
Malaysia is home to large numbers of migrants from poorer countries — including Indonesia, Bangladesh and Myanmar — who work in industries ranging from manufacturing to agriculture.
Malaysia will ban its citizens from travelling overseas and foreigners from entering the country in drastic measures announced by the prime minister Monday aimed at curbing the spread of the deadly new coronavirus.
Schools will also be closed under the rules that will be in place for two weeks from Wednesday, Muhyiddin Yassin said.
Large gatherings will be banned while shops and places of worship will be shuttered in the country, which has 566 virus cases according to a Johns Hopkins University tally, the highest number in Southeast Asia.
Essential services such as supermarkets and banks will remain open.
“I am aware that you may feel that this action taken by the government will create difficulties in running your daily lives,” Muhyiddin said in a late-night television address.
“However, this action must be taken by the government to curb the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak which is likely to take the lives of people in this country.”
Malaysia has so far recorded no fatalities from the virus.
A staunch Muslim nationalist backed by a scandal-mired party was sworn in as Malaysia’s premier Sunday after a reformist government’s collapse, but ex-leader Mahathir Mohamad, 94, slammed the move as illegal.
The Southeast Asian nation was plunged into turmoil after Mahathir’s “Pact of Hope” alliance, which stormed to a historic victory in 2018, collapsed amid bitter infighting.
Mahathir, who was the world’s oldest leader, initially quit as premier but then sought to return.
He lost in a power struggle however to little-known Muhyiddin Yassin, who heads a coalition dominated by the multi-ethnic country’s Muslim majority and has faced criticism for controversial remarks about race.
The king’s decision Saturday to pick Muhyiddin as premier was greeted with shock as Mahathir’s allies claimed to have enough support, and it sparked widespread anger that the democratically elected government had been ejected.
Muhyiddin’s coalition includes the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the party of disgraced ex-leader Najib Razak, as well as a hardline group that wants tougher Islamic laws.
UMNO was the corruption-riddled lynchpin of a coalition thrown out at the 2018 elections as allegations swirled that Najib and his cronies looted billions of dollars from state fund 1MDB. Najib is now on trial for corruption.
Just before Muhyiddin’s inauguration, Mahathir accused him of betrayal and said he would seek a parliament vote challenging the new premier’s support — signalling the political crisis is far from over.
“This is a very strange thing … losers will form the government, the winners will be in the opposition,” he said.
“The rule of law no longer applies.”
A candidate for prime minister must prove to the king, who appoints the position, that he has the backing of at least 112 MPs. Mahathir claims to have that number and believes Muhyiddin does not.
Mahathir’s alliance said parliament should be allowed to re-convene on March 9, as it is scheduled to do, as speculation grows the new government might seek a delay.
Muhyiddin’s inauguration went ahead Sunday morning at the national palace, although Mahathir’s alliance boycotted it.
– ‘Betrayal’ –
Meanwhile public anger is growing at the ejection of the reformist alliance, with the hashtag “NotMyPM” trending on Twitter and more than 130,000 people signing a petition that said the move is a “betrayal” of voters’ choice at the 2018 poll.
Mahathir — who served a first stint as premier from 1981 to 2003 before staging a comeback two years ago — also raised concerns that ongoing court cases against Najib related to the 1MDB scandal could be affected by the change of government.
Mahathir came out of retirement aged 92 to take on his one-time protege Najib over the controversy, and has pledged to bring him to justice.
Analysts said Muhyiddin’s government was in a weak position as it was not clear whether he had a parliamentary majority, and he was a member of a tiny party without a strong support base.
He was a senior UMNO figure for decades before being sacked from the party by Najib in 2015 after criticising the handling of the 1MDB scandal, and then allied with Mahathir to oust them at the last elections.
In a volte-face, he joined hands last week with UMNO in his quest for the premiership — although he is not a member.
In addition, he lacks “the domestic legitimacy or the international legitimacy the previous government had”, Bridget Welsh, an analyst from the University of Nottingham, told AFP.
Muhyiddin once controversially described himself as “Malay first” and Malaysian second, and there are concerns race and religious relations could worsen under his Muslim-dominated coalition.
About 60 percent of Malaysia’s population are ethnic Malay Muslims and the country is also home to substantial ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indian minorities.
The “Pact of Hope” alliance had been riven by infighting between factions over who should succeed Mahathir, who had designated Anwar Ibrahim as his successor.
The political crisis began a week ago when a group of ruling coalition lawmakers joined forces with opposition parties in a bid to form a new government and push out Anwar.
In a week of fast-moving twists and turns, Mahathir and Anwar — who have a long and stormy history — briefly locked horns in a fight for the leadership.
They then joined forces again in an 11th-hour bid to stop Muhyiddin, but it proved too little, too late.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad resigned Monday in a move analysts said appeared to be an effort to form a new coalition and block the succession of leader-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim.
The shock move followed weekend political drama that saw an attempt by Anwar’s rivals within his own “Pact of Hope” coalition — which stormed to a historic election victory in 2018 — and opposition politicians to form a new government.
That coalition would reportedly have excluded Anwar, Mahathir’s presumptive successor and a former opposition icon who was jailed for years on questionable sodomy charges, blocking his ascent to the premiership.
Anwar and Mahathir — the world’s oldest leader, aged 94 — have a notoriously stormy relationship but joined forces to oust a corruption-plagued government at the 2018 polls.
Mahathir, who previously served as premier from 1981 to 2003, had made a pre-election pledge to hand power to Anwar but has repeatedly refused to fix a date.
The weekend push to form a new government appeared to have fizzled out by early Monday, but then Mahathir’s office made the surprise announcement that he had “sent a resignation letter as prime minister of Malaysia” to the king at 1:00 pm (0500 GMT).
Shortly before, Mahathir’s Bersatu party announced it was leaving the ruling coalition and 11 lawmakers resigned from Anwar’s party, leaving the Pact of Hope in tatters and fuelling speculation efforts could be under way to form a new alliance.
Anwar was due to see the king Monday, with speculation mounting that he would try to convince him that he had the backing of enough MPs to form a government. While his role is largely ceremonial, the monarch approves the appointment of the prime minister, who must have the backing of most MPs in parliament.
“If he has the majority then Anwar is the next prime minister,” Azmi Hassan, political analyst with University Technology Malaysia, told AFP.
But he added that “with Bersatu out of (the ruling coalition)… most probably Anwar won’t have the numbers”.
Mahathir’s party may now join hands with the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) — the lynchpin of the forming ruling coalition, and party of scandal-tainted ex-leader Najib Razak — and other groups to try to form a government, he said.
Anwar had teamed up with former nemesis Mahathir ahead of the 2018 elections to oust the government of Najib, who had become embroiled in the massive 1MDB graft scandal, and they led their alliance to victory against a coalition that had ruled Malaysia for six decades.
The pair’s difficult relationship has dominated Malaysia’s political landscape for over two decades.
As finance minister and a powerful UMNO figure in the 1990s, Anwar had been tipped as Mahathir’s successor for the premiership, but his boss sacked him after they fell out over how to respond to a financial crisis.
Anwar was arrested and thrown in jail after being convicted of sodomy and corruption in a case critics said was trumped up, but he emerged from prison to unify a ragtag political opposition into a potent force against the long-ruling government.
Tensions had risen in the Pact of Hope coalition after Mahathir refused to fix a date to hand power to Anwar.
The government’s popularity had also been falling and they lost a string of local polls, as they faced accusations of failing to protect the country’s ethnic Malay Muslim majority and not moving fast enough on reforms.
Their opponents also argued the party was becoming dominated by ethnic Chinese politicians. Race is a highly sensitive issue in Malaysia, which is about 60 percent Muslim but also home to substantial ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.
Many were angry, however, that the democratically elected government, which came to power partly on a pledge to push through much-needed reforms, could be replaced without an election.
The people “will not agree to or cooperate with any ‘backdoor’ government formed out of the selfish, self-preservation agenda of certain MPs”, said a statement from a group of leading activists and academics.
Malaysia’s former first lady, who allegedly bankrolled a luxurious lifestyle with kickbacks and stolen public money, went on trial Wednesday for corruption for the first time since her husband lost power.
Rosmah Mansor, notorious for making overseas shopping trips and owning vast collections of handbags and jewellery, became a lightning rod for public anger as the government of prime minister Najib Razak was engulfed by corruption allegations.
Her husband’s long-ruling coalition suffered a shock election defeat in 2018 in large part due to claims he and his officials plundered billions of dollars from sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.
Both Najib and his wife have since been hit with multiple charges over the looting of the investment vehicle, but Rosmah’s first trial centres on allegations she received bribes linked to a government project.
Prosecutors allege she pocketed 6.5 million ringgit ($1.6 million) for helping a company secure the project to provide solar power generators to schools on the Malaysian part of Borneo island.
The 68-year-old is also accused of soliciting a further 187.5 million ringgit. Rosmah faces three counts of corruption for the offences, which allegedly took place in 2016 and 2017.
– ‘Overbearing nature’
Rosmah, known for her imperious manner and enormous mane of hair, denied all the charges as proceedings began at the Kuala Lumpur High Court.
The former prime minister’s wife “occupied no official position. However, she wielded considerable influence by her own overbearing nature”, said prosecutor Gopal Sri Ram in his opening statement.
“She placed herself in a position where she was able to influence decisions in the public sector.”
The trial was supposed to start Monday but was delayed after Rosmah was admitted to a hospital complaining of neck pain. On Wednesday she arrived in a car followed by an ambulance and limped into the courtroom.
Najib, who is on trial at the High Court over the looting of 1MDB, made an appearance in the courtroom as the trial got underway.
The former leader and his wife’s lavish lifestyles came to symbolise the perceived rot in Malaysia’s ruling elite.
Following the 2018 election, police discovered valuables — including cash, jewellery and luxury handbags — worth up to $273 million in properties linked to the couple.
Malaysian ex-leader swore in a packed mosque on Friday saying he did not order the killing of a Mongolian woman linked to a major defence deal, rejecting an allegation from his ex-bodyguard.
Altantuya Shaariibuu was shot dead and her body blown up with military-grade plastic explosives in 2006.
Her death was linked to a scandal which allegedly saw kickbacks doled out during a 2002 deal to purchase French submarines, on which Altantuya worked as a translator.
This week, a government bodyguard convicted of her murder made the explosive claim that it was ordered by Najib, defence minister at the time — prompting the veteran politician to head to a Kuala Lumpur mosque to proclaim his innocence.
In front of a cheering, 1,000-strong crowd, the 66-year-old swore an Islamic oath in which he denied that he gave the order and pumped his fist in the air.
“I stand with the truth, I only fear Allah,” said Najib, dressed in a traditional Islamic outfit and alongside his wife.
The former prime minister — whose government lost power last year amid claims of massive graft — has been charged with looting state coffers, but he still commands substantial support among the country’s Muslim majority.
Malaysian authorities reopened the investigation into Altantuya’s murder last year after Najib lost power.
Two bodyguards were sentenced to hang over the killing. One of them, ex-police officer Azilah Hadri, claimed that Najib ordered him to “shoot to kill” Altantuya in a statement that is part of a legal appeal.
The second, Sirul Azhar Umar, fled to Australia and has said he is willing to assist the new investigation but Canberra is unlikely to extradite him as he is facing the death penalty.
Altantuya’s lover Abdul Razak Baginda, a close aide to Najib, is a central figure in the scandal and was accused of arranging the kickbacks. He was also tried over the case but was acquitted.
Former Malaysian leader Najib Razak took the stand to defend his conduct in the 1MDB scandal Tuesday, as the first of several trials linked to the multi-billion-dollar fraud entered a crucial stage.
Huge sums were stolen from sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, allegedly by the ex-prime minister and his cronies, and spent on everything from high-end real estate to artwork.
His coalition was ousted at the polls last year after six decades in power, largely due to public anger over the scandal, and he has since been arrested and hit with dozens of charges linked to the looting of the investment vehicle.
The 66-year-old went on trial in April over the controversy, in a case centring on the transfer of 42 million ringgit ($10.1 million) from a former 1MDB unit into his bank accounts. Najib denies any wrongdoing.
The High Court ruled the trial should proceed on the strength of the prosecution case, with Najib’s team now set to present his side of the story.
Defence proceedings began with the former leader giving testimony under oath. His performance may be key in determining whether he can persuade the judge of his innocence.
He will also face cross-examination from prosecutors and is expected to be on the witness stand for around four days.
Najib arrived at the court in a blue suit and held a brief Muslim prayer with supporters at the building’s steps.
“I am as prepared as I can be,” he told AFP.
He began his testimony reading from a 243-page statement, recalling his long career in politics and ministerial posts he held since 1978, including the post of finance minister.
Answering questions from his lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, Najib said he was not the architect of 1MDB, which was formed in 2009 after the government took over the Terengganu Investment Agency and renamed it.
Najib had said in a Facebook post last month that his testimony “will enable me to give a true picture of events and prove that I am not guilty” and “an opportunity to clear my name in court”.
He is facing four charges of corruption and three counts of money-laundering in the trial over former 1MDB subsidiary SRC International.
Prosecutors have argued that Najib wielded huge influence over the unit and knew that stolen money was being funnelled from it into his accounts.
But in an opening statement in court before Najib took the stand, his lawyer Shafee said they will prove that Najib “did not misappropriate funds… either directly or indirectly” and “did not act dishonestly”.
The amount transferred to his account “was done without his knowledge or involvement” as the transactions “were being manipulated by third parties without his knowledge and approval,” Shafee said.
“Ultimately, we will pray for an order that (Najib) be acquitted and discharged of all seven charges,” he said.
The case is one of several 1MDB-linked trials investigating Najib’s conduct. The biggest opened in August, centring on allegations he illicitly obtained over $500 million from the fund.
US authorities, who are also investigating the fraud as money was allegedly laundered through the American financial system, believe $4.5 billion was looted from the fund.