As expected, the National Front (BN) coalition won Malaysia’s May 5 election, but not without widespread allegations of electoral fraud, including the use of Bangladeshi migrants as illegal voters and other gerrymandering tactics. The opposition People’s Pact (PR) coalition leader Anwar Ibrahim refused to concede defeat and held a protest rally on May 8, attended by about 100,000.
The election’s outcome and the immediate responses by BN leadership threaten to undermine the powerful example of Malaysia as an Islamic country with parliamentary democracy and a parallel legal system of civil and Islamic laws. Even though the US has recognized the BN win, the White House has called on the Malaysian authorities to investigate the claims of election irregularities. It is imperative that the United States spoke out on this issue as it still plays a huge role in promoting democracy through fair elections.
Don’t defeat Iran. Shi’ism is not America’s enemy. It is not in the long-term interest of the United States to side with the Sunni Arab states against Iran or vice versa. Doing so produces an imbalance of power in the region as we learned with the collapse of the Iraqi state in the aftermath of the American invasion of 2003. Iran was then able to establish a contiguous sphere of influence stretching from western Afghanistan to the Mediterranean — something that was only averted by the Arab Spring reaching Syria.
The two-year-old Syrian crisis has now come to a point where Iran is on the defensive, as its positions in Lebanon and Iraq come under threat. But Washington’s talks with Moscow in an effort to reach a negotiated settlement on the Syria crisis may indicate that the United States is not interested in allowing the pendulum to swing in the other direction this time around.
Former rebel fighter Lahpai Hkam has been in pain every day since a landmine destroyed his lower right leg during a battle with government soldiers 18 months ago in Myanmar’s northern Kachin State.
“The artificial leg that I was given last year doesn’t fit properly and it rubs on my stump causing a lot of pain,” he said in a hospital in Laiza, the de facto capital of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the political wing of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which has been fighting for greater autonomy from the Burmese government for the past six decades.
According to rebel Kachin surgeon Brang Sawng, such stories are common and the number of landmine injuries is on the rise.
Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representative’s Foreign Affairs Committee, has long taken a close interest in Balkan affairs and offered strong praise for the agreement Serbia and Kosovo reached in April. RFE/RL Balkan Service’s Pristina bureau chief, Arbana Vidishiqi, spoke to Engel about the agreement and the prospects for reconciliation between Serbia and Kosovo.
RFE/RL: Congressman Engel, Kosovo and Serbia reached an agreement on April 19 on the normalization of their relations but both parties have now missed the deadline in drafting the implementation plan. Do you think the process of normalization is at risk?
Eliot Engel: No, I don’t. I think when you have a process of normalization like this, there is always going to be things that get in the way, there is always going to be obstacles; but I think if both parties are determined to reach an agreement, which they have, and carry out the agreement, I think, things will be fine. This is obviously a serious situation. Both sides have a lot of trepidation or doubt about whether this is a good thing, but I think that this is a necessary step that has to be taken and I believe will work out. The EU, of course, is right there and the United States will always stand by the people of Kosovo every step of the way.
RFE/RL: The agreement seems to allow for the possibility for the establishment of a so-called mini-state — similar to Republika Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina — in northern Kosovo. Does it?
Engel: No, it doesn’t. These are very difficult negotiations. There are a lot of opinions in so many different ways. There has been hostility for so many years. 1999, obviously, is still fresh in everybody’s mind — at least on Kosovo’s side — and I think that this agreement is a necessary agreement. I think that, in an agreement, no side gets everything they want. And an agreement is a compromise. And a compromise is one side gets some of what they want and the other side gets some of what they want. And as a result, neither side is totally satisfied, but both sides feel this is in the best interest because they can move on from here, they can put the past behind them or attempt to put the past behind them and look forward to the future.
On 11 May the first direct railway connection in history between Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan was opened in the presence of the Kazakh and Turkmen presidents. The inaugurated railway line is part of the North-South project which links Central Asia (and China and Russia) with the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. The last section of the line will be completed by the end of this year and will ensure Iran and Turkmenistan are connected. The current capacity of the railway line is 3-5 million tonnes annually and estimations predict that in the medium term this figure will increase to 10 million tonnes annually. The construction of the new railway line has been financed by the countries involved in this project and the Asian Development Bank (as part of the CAREC programme). This route will be used above all for exports of Kazakh wheat and oil as well as for the transit of goods to and from Afghanistan, including oil products which are now transported mainly through Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.