Updated Apr 18, 2018

Malaysia PM stokes ethnic tensions in re-election bid

Razak waves his party's flag at a rally. Photo: Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty Images

Malaysia, the advertisement croons softly, it’s truly Asia. The southeast Asian nation’s tourism board has long sold its ethnic mix as one of its most alluring traits.

Between the lines: As the country heads for national elections next month, that diversity has taken on a more divisive quality.

Prime Minister Najib Razak is seeking re-election despite his implication in a billion-dollar graft scandal involving the country’s state development fund.

  • He faces an increasingly firm opposition led by jailed former Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and 92-year old former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed, the authoritarian “father of modern Malaysia” who was once Najib’s mentor.
  • Only gerrymandering helped Najib’s UMNO party stay in power in 2013, despite losing the popular vote.
  • This time around he’s taking fewer chances. He chose an election date that trims the campaign season to barely a month, giving him maximal advantages. The government has also ordered Mahathir’s party to dissolve, citing a registration technicality.

But most worryingly, Najib has played up the country’s ethnic divisions, pledging to extend affirmative action benefits for the country’s disproportionately poor ethnic Malay majority, and implicitly stoking tensions with a relatively well-off Chinese minority. He has also courted a once-hostile hardline Islamist party in order to profit from the growing appeal of conservative Islam in some parts of the country.

What to watch for: Malaysia’s economic prosperity and relative peace have always been something of an example to its neighbors in Southeast Asia. But as nationalist and sectarian politics begin to stir elsewhere in the region — Indonesia in particular — Najib’s victory may be a bellwether for a different sort of (truly) Asia.

Go deeper: The Economist on "Why South Asia’s majorities act like persecuted minorities"

Sign up for Signal, a twice-weekly newsletter from GZERO Media, a Eurasia Group company, and follow @saosasha on Twitter.

Go deeper

The growing coronavirus recession threat

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

In just a matter of weeks, top economists and investment bank analysts have gone from expecting the coronavirus outbreak to have minimal impact on the U.S. economy to warning that an outright recession may be on the horizon.

What's happening: The spread of confirmed coronavirus cases in Europe, the Middle East and the U.S., and the speed at which they are being discovered has set the table for the outbreak to have a larger and much costlier impact.

Mass shooting in Milwaukee: What we know

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in 2012. Photo: John Gress/Corbis via Getty Images

Six people died in a shooting at the Molson Coors Brewing Company in Milwaukee on Wednesday, including the gunman, Mayor Tom Barrett told reporters at a Wednesday evening press conference with local police.

Details: All of the victims worked at the brewery complex, as did the shooter who died of "an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound," police confirmed in a statement late Wednesday.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus updates: South Korea case count tops 2,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

33 people in California have tested positive for the coronavirus, and health officials are monitoring 8,400 people who have recently returned from "points of concern," Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday.

The big picture: COVID-19 has killed more than 2,850 people and infected over 83,000 others in some 50 countries and territories. The novel coronavirus is now affecting every continent but Antarctica, and the WHO said Wednesday the number of new cases reported outside China has exceeded those inside the country for the first time.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 8 hours ago - Health