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China teaches children its own version of the climate change story

China teaches children its own version of the climate change story

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For most of her young life, 9-year-old Gao Ximan dreamed of becoming a policewoman. But after attending an eight-week online workshop about climate change this summer, she decided being a conservationist was a more important ambition.

“Siberian tigers and snow leopards are so cute, but they are dying out,” said Gao, a fourth-grade student at one of the top public schools in Beijing. She stopped using the air conditioner in her bedroom and insisted her family use public transport instead of their car for weekend outings.

Gao’s interest in the environment is something the Chinese government is trying to cultivate in young students as it pursues wide-ranging reforms to eliminate its net emissions of carbon dioxide by 2060. But the nation’s state-led approach to climate change is less tolerant of public debate over how it’s going to get there. In other words, the authorities want children like Gao to support its green campaigns, but would prefer their activism stop at lowering their own carbon footprints.

In school, Gao learned the basic facts: human activities have damaged the environment and greenhouse gas emissions are harmful because they trap heat and accelerate global warming. The lessons revolved around President Xi Jinping’s campaign to make China an “eco-civilization,” a concept that’s led to a range of policies including mandated recycling sorting, building green cities, and banning single-use plastic straws. But the conversation stops there. There’s no discussion of China’s net-zero goal, or the outsize influence the world’s biggest polluter has on the planet’s climate trajectory.

“China’s climate education emphasizes that responsibility lies with the individual and they can make a difference by living a low-carbon life, but they are not the ones that should influence policy making,” said Yao Zhe, who specializes in climate communications and has worked with various green organizations in China.

Yet individual action isn’t what will keep the Earth from warming less than 1.5 degrees Celsius, the level scientists say is needed to prevent the worst effects of climate change. Getting there will require governments and companies to undertake large-scale changes. In China’s case, it will have to completely reorient its coal-dominated economy at the cost of trillions of dollars. There are huge questions about how best to do this, and how to mitigate further pollution, yet none of those are covered in the classroom.

“We basically just read prepared notes, often about air pollution and what China has done to make the air better,” said Wang, a third-grade teacher at an elementary school in the northeastern city of Tianjin, who asked to be identified only by her last name. The environmental lessons, which are incorporated into the curriculum for China’s nine years of compulsory education, don’t include any debate or research assignments, even for the older students.

Wang said her school encouraged teachers to take lots of photos to show engagement. “It’s kind of a decoration to show that we care about the environment,” she said. “There are no exams to test kids about what climate change is and why it matters; it’s too complicated to explain.” The education ministry did not respond to a fax seeking comment on its policies.

On the face of it, support for climate action is strong. An annual survey conducted by the European Investment Bank in late 2019 showed 73% of Chinese citizens consider climate change a major threat, compared with 47% in Europe and 39% in the U.S. But to many Chinese there’s a difference between cleaning up the environment at home and implementing policies that could hurt their economic interests-for example, by drastically shrinking the coal industry-even as they help lower China’s emissions. That’s especially true when those measures are perceived to be taken at the behest of other countries.

In school, teachers explain that China has a “right to develop,” reinforcing a stance the country’s political leaders have used to push back against international demands for them to cut emissions more quickly. The argument goes that developing countries shouldn’t have to bear the burden of reducing emissions when so much of the greenhouse gases trapped in the atmosphere were generated by countries such as the U.S. that industrialized first.

Now that China’s economic might has grown, students are told, the country has become a “responsible major power,” though textbooks are scant about what that responsibility actually entails when it comes to slowing global warming. The phrase is another slogan introduced by Xi, who has sought to position himself as a global leader on the issue. Part of that includes framing China’s authoritarian governance as an effective model-especially compared with sometimes chaotic liberal democracies-for tackling global problems like climate change and the coronavirus pandemic.

A banner featuring a portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping on the grounds of the Xinyuan Coal Mine in Jinzhong, Shanxi province, China, in October last year | BLOOMBERG
A banner featuring a portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping on the grounds of the Xinyuan Coal Mine in Jinzhong, Shanxi province, China, in October last year | BLOOMBERG

Alternate narratives are hard to find. Room for civil society has shrunk further under Xi, who has become increasingly intolerant toward dissent of any kind. A state-media journalist who asked not to be identified said reporters have been discouraged, if not banned, from writing about topics like the threat of rising sea levels to coastal cities such as Shanghai. Investigative pieces on environmental damage are limited to malfeasance by local government officials who are later punished, and even those have become less frequent.

Nongovernmental organizations that would typically push officials to take stronger climate action are in China mostly focused on raising awareness and building support for government campaigns. A 2017 law requires all foreign NGOs to partner with a local group, leading to increased self-censorship. Activists and academics who have privately criticized China’s climate policies are reluctant to express those views publicly for fear of being targeted.

And sometimes, talking about climate change can just be awkward. It’s difficult to drive home the immediate risks of global warming-such as more frequent and extreme weather-because Chinese culture considers it taboo to discuss impending disasters when there are no easy solutions. “It feels like a dead end,” said Yao, the climate communications expert. “It’s not welcome when we warn about future risks, and sometimes it is even banned by the authorities because it spreads a negative message.”

For China’s youth, the scripted lessons and strict censorship mean there’s broad acceptance of the dangers of climate change, but little impetus to push for more aggressive policies.

The global school strike movement inspired by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has faced strong backlash on social media, spurred on by false reports and conspiracy theories in state media that frame her as a puppet of Western powers seeking to halt China’s economic rise. Beijing News, a local newspaper run by the government, published a profile of Thunberg in 2019 that described the rallies as “performative” and “radical.” Is it possible, the author asked, that her calls for countries to cut emissions more quickly are merely a tactic by the West to “deprive” emerging economies like China of the same progress they enjoyed?

It’s a theory that resonates strongly with a growing chorus of young nationalist voices online. As China has become more isolated on the international stage, Xi’s administration has responded by stoking hostility and suspicion toward Western nations. That’s resulted in growing resistance to “Western” ideas such as fighting climate change, according to Fang Kecheng, an assistant professor at the school of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The Xinyuan Coal Mine | BLOOMBERG
The Xinyuan Coal Mine | BLOOMBERG

“China’s propaganda in recent years keeps telling people to be wary of the infiltration of so-called foreign thoughts and influences,” he said. “The government is afraid of street activism, and tries to convince people that China needs development instead of protests or expressions of different opinions.”

The rare student who tried to emulate Thunberg was derided by her peers. Two years ago, Howey Ou took to the streets to advocate for climate action in her hometown of Guilin. “China has had environmental policies and nongovernmental organizations for decades, but they don’t work,” said Ou. “Companies are still polluting our environment in the name of GDP growth. Students should learn that protesting for climate change works, it has created a lot of space for public debate.” Instead of inspiring others to join her, she was given a warning by local authorities and barred from school.

For most young people, activism is more likely to take the form of volunteering with government-linked groups. “I just don’t think street protesting works the best with Chinese culture and society,” said 25-year-old Hu Jingwei, a communications officer at China Youth Climate Action Network, which works with university student groups to raise awareness about the environment. “Young people are not used to expressing their opinions and chanting the slogans in the public.”

Young environmentalists like Hu see their mission as facilitating government policy, rather than challenging it. Their hope is that getting kids to understand the risks of unchecked global warming will bear fruit when they are in positions to take action, however piecemeal.

That’s what 35-year-old Li Yedan was betting on when she started 3 Herissons (French for “three hedgehogs”), the nonprofit that conducted the climate workshop which inspired nine-year-old Gao. She said several elementary schools have expressed interest in boosting climate education resources in their classrooms after Xi announced the 2060 pledge.

“The hope is in the next generation,” she said. “I can’t stop all factories from polluting, but maybe one or two who learn from our projects would take over their parents’ businesses one day and make a difference.”

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Indonesian president’s approval hit by handling of pandemic: Survey

Indonesian president’s approval hit by handling of pandemic: Survey
Indonesia's President Joko Widodo attends an ASEAN leaders summit with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in Bangkok, Thailand November 3, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s approval rating has fallen to the lowest level in five years on the back of a devastating second wave of coronavirus infections, a survey released on Wednesday (Aug 25) showed.

Conducted by pollster Indikator Politik Indonesia, the survey showed that 59 per cent of respondents were satisfied with the president, the lowest ranking since March 2016.

The survey, which involved 1,220 respondents, was conducted between Jul 30 to Aug 4, while the country was in the throes of a virulent virus wave that led to overflowing hospitals and oxygen shortages on the densely populated island of Java.

Indonesia has recorded more than 4 million cases of the coronavirus, and more than 129,000 deaths, among the highest tallies in Asia.

“While the lower approval rating for Widodo is mainly caused by the pandemic and the government’s largely inconsistent and confusing responses to the health crisis, it is unlikely the only factor,” said Todd Elliot, a senior analyst at Concord Consulting.

“Trust in a government in Indonesia normally decreases if the economy is perceived as underperforming and the latest round of coronavirus curbs have hit businesses particularly hard.”

The president said last week in his annual state of the nation speech that there was a need to strike a balance between health and economic interests during the pandemic.

Overall, 54.3 per cent of respondents surveyed said they trusted the president to properly manage the health crisis, while perceptions of the country’s economic situation were the worst since 2004.

The survey indicated widespread dissatisfaction with social restrictions intended to stem the spread of the virus that have been in place since early July.

Restrictions were eased on Monday in certain regions, including in Jakarta, to allow for limited capacity at malls, restaurants and places of worship after a recent drop in cases.

Only 42 per cent of respondents agreed with the curbs, the survey showed.

With more than 50 per cent of Indonesians employed in the informal sector, the curbs have impacted people’s livelihoods hard with 79.2 per cent of respondents saying their income had declined during the pandemic, and 53.3 per cent describing their household economic situation as worse, or much worse. REUTERS

 

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What is the Islamic State threat in Afghanistan?

What is the Islamic State threat in Afghanistan?
The Islamic State's chapter in Afghanistan and Pakistan has claimed some of the most shocking attacks in the region. AFP

As desperate Afghans crowd Kabul airport trying to get on any evacuation flights to flee the Taliban, officials have warned of another jihadist threat: The Islamic State group.

President Joe Biden said there is “an acute and growing risk” of an attack at the airport by the group’s regional chapter, called Islamic State-Khorasan or ISIS-K.

The United States, Britain and Australia have told people to leave the area for safer locations.

When asked directly about the threat, a Taliban spokesman acknowledged a risk of “nuisances” causing trouble in a chaotic situation they blamed entirely on the US-led evacuation.

What is Islamic State-Khorasan?

Months after the Islamic State declared a caliphate in Iraq and Syria in 2014, breakaway fighters from the Pakistani Taliban joined militants in Afghanistan to form a regional chapter, pledging allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The group was formally acknowledged by the central Islamic State leadership the next year as it sunk roots in northeastern Afghanistan, particularly Kunar, Nangarhar and Nuristan provinces.

It also managed to set up sleeper cells in other parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, including Kabul, according to United Nations monitors.

Latest estimates of its strength vary from several thousand active fighters to as low as 500, according to a UN Security Council report released last month.

“Khorasan” is a historical name for the region, taking in parts of what is today Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia.

What kind of attacks has it carried out?

The Islamic State’s Afghanistan-Pakistan chapter has been responsible for some of the deadliest attacks of recent years.

It has massacred civilians in both countries, at mosques, shrines, public squares and even hospitals.

The group has especially targeted Muslims from sects it considers heretical, including Shiites.

Last year, it was blamed for an attack that shocked the world – gunmen went on a bloody rampage at a maternity ward in a predominantly Shiite neighbourhood of Kabul, killing 16 mothers and mothers-to-be.

Beyond bombings and massacres, IS-Khorasan has failed to hold any territory in the region, suffering huge losses because of Taliban and US-led military operations.

According to UN and US military assessments, after the phase of heavy defeats IS-Khorasan now operates largely through covert cells based in or near cities to carry out high-profile attacks.

What is IS-Khorasan’s relationship with the Taliban?

While both groups are hardline Sunni militants, there is no love lost between them.

They have differed on the minutiae of religion and strategy, while claiming to be the true flag-bearers of jihad.

That tussle has led to bloody fighting between the two, with the Taliban emerging largely victorious after 2019 when IS-Khorasan failed to secure territory as its parent group did in the Middle East.

In a sign of the enmity between the two jihadist groups, Islamic State statements have referred to the Taliban as apostates.

How has the Islamic State reacted to the Taliban victory in Afghanistan?

Not well.

Islamic State had been highly critical of the deal last year between Washington and the Taliban that led to the agreement for withdrawing foreign troops, accusing the latter of abandoning the jihadist cause.

Following the Taliban’s lightning takeover of Afghanistan, a number of jihadist groups around the world congratulated them – but not Islamic State.

One Islamic State commentary published after the fall of Kabul accused the Taliban of betraying jihadists with the US withdrawal deal and vowed to continue its fight, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant communications.

What is the threat at Kabul airport?

US officials say Kabul airport, with thousands of US-led foreign troops surrounded by huge crowds of desperate Afghans, is under high threat from IS-Khorasan.

A flurry of near-identical travel warnings from London, Canberra and Washington late Wednesday urged people gathered in the area to move to safer locations.

They have not provided any specific details about the threat.

“ISIS-K is a sworn enemy of the Taliban, and they have a history of fighting one another,” Biden said Sunday.

“But every day we have troops on the ground, these troops and innocent civilians at the airport face the risk of attack from ISIS-K.”

Some military transports taking off from Kabul airport in recent days have been seen launching flares, which are normally used to attract heat-seeking missiles. AFP

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Taliban show conciliatory face at first Kabul news conference

Taliban show conciliatory face at first Kabul news conference

The Afghan Taliban said on Tuesday (Aug 17) they wanted peaceful relations with other countries and would respect the rights of women within the framework of Islamic law, as they held their first official news briefing since their shock seizure of Kabul.

The Taliban announcements, short on details but suggesting a softer line than during their rule 20 years ago, came as the United States and Western allies resumed evacuating diplomats and civilians the day after scenes of chaos at Kabul airport as Afghans thronged the runway.

“We don’t want any internal or external enemies,” the movement’s main spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said.

Women would be allowed to work and study and “will be very active in society but within the framework of Islam,” he added.

As they rushed to evacuate, foreign powers assessed how to respond to the transformed situation on the ground after Afghan forces melted away in just days, with what many had predicted as the likely fast unraveling of women’s rights.

US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said they had agreed to hold a virtual meeting of Group of Seven leaders next week to discuss a common strategy and approach to Afghanistan.

During their 1996-2001 rule, also guided by Islamic sharia law, the Taliban stopped women from working and meted out punishments including public stoning. Girls were not allowed to go to school and women had to wear all-enveloping burqas to go out and then only when accompanied by a male relative.

The UN Human Rights Council will hold a special session in Geneva next week to address “serious human rights concerns” after the Taliban takeover, a UN statement said.

Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan, told Reuters in an interview the Taliban had assured the United Nations it can pursue humanitarian work in Afghanistan, which is suffering from a drought.

‘WALK THE TALK’

The European Union said it would only cooperate with the Afghan government following the Taliban’s return to power if they respected fundamental rights, including those of women.

Within Afghanistan, women expressed scepticism.

Afghan girls’ education activist Pashtana Durrani, 23, was wary of Taliban promises. “They have to walk the talk. Right now they are not doing that,” she told Reuters.

Several women were ordered to leave their jobs during the Taliban’s rapid advance across Afghanistan.

Mujahid said private media could continue to be free and independent in Afghanistan and that the Taliban were committed to the media within their cultural framework.

He also said families trying to flee the country at the airport should return home and nothing would happen to them.

RESISTANCE AND CRITICISM

Mujahid’s conciliatory tone contrasted with comments by Afghan First Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who declared himself the “legitimate caretaker president” and vowed not to bow to Kabul’s new rulers.

It was not immediately clear how much support Saleh enjoys in a country wearied by decades of conflict.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the Taliban should allow all those who wanted to leave the country, adding that NATO’s aim was to help build a viable state in Afghanistan and warning that the alliance could strike if the country again becomes a breeding ground for terrorism.

Taliban forces keep watch inside Kabul, Afghanistan August 16, 2021. (Photo: REUTERS/Stringer)


The decision by Biden, a Democrat, to stick to the withdrawal deal struck last year by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, has stirred widespread criticism at home and among US allies.

Biden’s approval rating dropped by 7 percentage points to 46 per cent, the lowest level of his seven-month-long presidency, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted on Monday. It also found that less than half of Americans liked how he has handled Afghanistan.

US forces took charge of the airport – the only way to fly out of Afghanistan – on Sunday as the militants wound up a week of rapid advances by taking over Kabul without a fight.

US General Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, was at Kabul’s airport on Tuesday to evaluate security.

The State Department said on Tuesday that Washington had completed a drawdown of embassy personnel from Kabul and remaining diplomats were assisting in the evacuation.

US military flights evacuating diplomats and civilians restarted after having been suspended on Monday due to chaos at Kabul airport.

Asked how Washington would hold the Taliban to their pledge to respect women’s rights, Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, signalled that options included sanctions and marshalling international condemnation and isolation.

Washington was blocking the Taliban from accessing any Afghan government funds held in the United States, including about US$1.3 billion of gold reserves held at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, a Biden administration official said.

Biden said he had had to decide between asking US forces to fight endlessly or follow through on the withdrawal deal.

He blamed the Taliban takeover on Afghan political leaders who fled and the army’s unwillingness to fight. REUTERS

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More than 600 fleeing Afghans cram into dramatic US military flight

More than 600 fleeing Afghans cram into dramatic US military flight
Afghan people climb atop a plane as they wait at the Kabul airport on Aug. 16, 2021. WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images

A striking new photograph shows 640 Afghans packed tightly into a U.S. plane leaving Kabul in a desperate bid to escape the Taliban.

The photo, from national security publication Defense One, captures the Air Force evacuation from Kabul to Qatar.

The Afghans were all evacuated safely, even though the crowd nearly topped the record for the most people ever flown in the Boeing aircraft, a military cargo plane which has been in service for nearly three decades.

The plane, C-17, belongs to the 436th Air Wing and is normally based in Delaware.

Its crew had not intended to take so many passengers but panicked Afghans had pulled themselves on the aircraft’s half-open ramp, according to one official.

The official said “the crew made the decision to go” rather than attempt to force off the excess passengers, and was only able to count the travelers when they all disembarked.

The Afghans sat on the floor of the plane’s hold, hanging onto cargo straps on the walls as makeshift seatbelts.

It was just one of several planes which took off with hundreds of passengers from Kabul – the anonymous official told Defense One that some may have carried a load even larger than 640 people.

Disturbing videos also circulated online on Monday showing people clinging to the outside of departing aircrafts in Kabul airport, with some still holding on even after takeoff and ultimately falling to their deaths. At least seven people died in the chaos.

Kabul airport is one of the few places in the country which is still controlled by U.S. troops meaning it has become a key escape route.

The Taliban have torn through Afghanistan in a matter of days, filling the power vacuum left by the U.S. troops who pulled out of the country after spending 20 years fighting the so-called “war on terror.”

More than 600 Afghans – women, men, children and the elderly – sitting packed on the floor of a cavernous United States military plane, part of a dramatic airlift hours after Kabul fell to the Taliban.

The now-viral image, obtained and posted by the respected military news site Defense One, was taken inside a US Air Force C-17 transport.

The Afghans crammed in the giant cargo hold on the Sunday (Aug 15) night flight were among those approved for evacuation by US authorities, according to the site.

Evacuees crowd the interior of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft

The interior of a United States Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft, carrying some 640 Afghans to Qatar from Kabul, on Aug 15, 2021. (File photo: Reuters/Defense One handout)

The US military said that about 640 Afghans were on board.

But such a large number on one flight was not planned, a US official told Defense One – many climbed onto the half-open ramp at the back of the plane in desperation.

“The crew made the decision to go” rather than force them out, the official said.

It came as Taliban fighters flooded the streets of Kabul, with panicked citizens rushing to the airport to try and find a flight out of Afghanistan.

“The unusually high number of passengers aboard this aircraft … was the result of a dynamic security environment that necessitated quick decision-making by the crew,” US Central Command spokesperson Karen Roxberry said in a statement.

It “ultimately ensured that these passengers were safely taken outside the country”.

Among the people visible in the photo is a small child holding a feeding bottle in the lap of a woman. Several other people are seen holding small children.

Hardly any belongings are visible among the passengers, except a small suitcase and a backpack in the foreground.

The flight – which Defense One said had the call sign Reach 871 – landed in Qatar in the early hours of Monday, according to the tracking website FlightAware.

The US military did not specify the destination.

This C-17 was not the only one to take so many Afghans out of the country – Defense One cited the US official as saying that several planes took off from Kabul with similar numbers.

It is also not the first time Boeing C-17s – workhorses of the US Air Force transport fleet – have been used for such a large evacuation.

In 2013, a US C-17 flew out more than 670 people from the eastern Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan.

In its usual configuration, a C-17 carries about 100 troops with equipment.

CHAOS, DESPERATION

There have been desperate and chaotic scenes at Kabul airport, where the apron and runway were flooded on Monday by thousands of people hoping to get a flight out of the country.

Many were not eligible for evacuation flights and did not have tickets on commercial flights or even visas.

In harrowing videos shared on social media, hundreds of people are seen running next to a C-17 as it appears to gather speed, some clinging to the sides of the plane.

In another, attack helicopters are seen flying low near the crowds in an apparent attempt to clear the runway for an aircraft.

Afghan media reported that several people died after falling from planes as they took off.

One person died in the landing gear well of a C-17 that took off from Kabul, the Washington Post and Politico reported. AFP

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Indonesia president says need to balance health and economy in pandemic

Indonesia president says need to balance health and economy in pandemic
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, wearing traditional Baduy outfit, delivers his annual State of the Nation Address ahead of the country's Independence Day, at the parliament building in Jakarta, Indonesia, August 16, 2021. Achmad Ibrahim/Pool via REUTERS

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Monday in his annual state of the nation speech that there was a need to strike a balance between health and economic interests amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia’s biggest country.

“The pandemic has indeed significantly slowed down our economic growth, but it must not hinder the process of structural reforms of our economy,” the president said in the annual speech to parliament.

Struggling with a jump in infections driven by the Delta variant, Indonesia has become Asia’s epicentre for COVID-19, with hospitals overwhelmed at times and the daily death toll the highest globally and total fatalities topping 100,000.

Jokowi, as the president is known, cited the introduction last month of tighter social restrictions, which require staff in non-essential sectors to work from home and limit the operations of malls or restaurants, as examples of the balance.

“What we need to do is find the best combination between public health and economic interests,” said Jokowi, who wore a traditional outfit of Indonesia’s Baduy people during his speech.

Southeast Asia’s biggest economy pulled out of recession in the second quarter with 7% annual gross domestic product growth, but the rise in coronavirus cases and the mobility restrictions threaten the recovery momentum in the third quarter.

The restrictions are due to be in place until Monday on Java and Aug. 23 on the other four main islands.

Though infections have started to plateau in the most populous island of Java, cases have been spreading to other parts of the archipelago, authorities have said.

In a video released on Sunday, Jokowi said that COVID-19 hospital bed occupancy across Java had declined, adding that the level in the capital Jakarta had fallen to 29.4% from about 90% at its peak in late June.

The government has faced criticism over its handling of the pandemic, with some health experts citing a resistance from authorities to harder lockdowns in order to protect the economy.

Jokowi acknowledged criticism directed at his government and said constructive criticism was important, “particularly on matters that we have not been able to resolve.” REUTERS

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Malaysian PM Muhyiddin Yassin resigns after failing to garner majority support

Malaysian PM Muhyiddin Yassin resigns after failing to garner majority support
Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin arrives at the National Palace for a meeting with the king, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia August 16, 2021. Reuters/Lim Huey Teng

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has sent his resignation to the king, becoming the country’s shortest-ruling leader after failing to garner majority support, according to reports.

Mr Yassin failed to get majority support less than 18 months after taking office. The resignation has spurred a fresh political crisis in the country amid a worsening pandemic situation.

Several political leaders had started to haggle over clinching the top post, with deputy prime minister Ismail Sabri attempting to rally support, reported news agency Associated Press (AP).

Mr Yassin will, however, tell the king that his alliance still has the biggest bloc of support despite losing the majority, cabinet minister Mohamad Redzuan Mohamad Yusof told AP on Sunday.

Any prime minister who does not have majority support must resign under Malaysia’s constitution. The king can then appoint another leader who he believes will have the confidence of the parliament.

Over a dozen lawmakers from the biggest party in the alliance withdrew support for Mr Yassin’s government. Two ministers from the United Malays National Organisation (UNMO) also resigned from the Cabinet before the prime minister submitted his resignation.

Some media reports pointed to mounting public anger against the government for its handling of the pandemic situation in the country, which has one of the world’s highest infection rates.

Daily Covid cases surged to the 20,000-mark this month despite a seven-month state of emergency and a lockdown since June, reported AP.

“Muhyiddin has been ruling on borrowed time. His poor governance, focus on survival politics and unwillingness to acknowledge his failings have led to his undoing,” Bridget Welsh, an expert in Malaysian politics from Malaysia’s University of Nottingham, was quoted as saying by AP.

“The focus now is on Malaysia having a peaceful transition to a new government that can manage the crisis,” she added.

No one coalition can, however, claim a majority. The largest opposition bloc has 90 lawmakers, 21 short of a simple majority needed to form the government. This is also less than 100 lawmakers who back Mr Yassin.

Apart from the opposition’s Anwar Ibrahim as a candidate, other contenders include Mr Sabri and Razaleigh Hamzah from UNMO. Mr Hamzah is an 84-year-old prince who served as a finance minister and is perceived to be a neutral candidate who could unite UNMO’s several warring factions.

Mr Yassin initiated the collapse of the government of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad that won a national election in 2018 and seized power after forming a coalition with UNMO, a party that has led Malaysia since its independence from Britain in 1957.

The government was ousted in 2018 after a multi-billion-dollar corruption scandal rocked the country. Mr Mohamad had resigned to protest Mr Yassin’s party Beratsu’s plan to form a government with UNMO. AP (With inputs from agencies)

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