LANDSLIDE WIN: (March 22) Barisan Nasional won a massive victory in the general election and in the process recaptured Terengganu. The victory is a personal triumph for Prime Minister and Barisan chairman Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who now has a clear mandate from Malaysian voters for his campaign for reforms. Abdullah, in his victory speech at the PWTC after the 14-party coalition secured its two-thirds parliamentary majority, said the big win meant the rakyat accepted and supported the Barisan.
EC APOLOGISES: (March 22) The Election Commission (EC), reeling from heavy criticism over blunders in the verification and voting process, offered its apologies, saying that it “deeply regretted” what happened on polling day. Its chairman, Tan Sri Rashid Abdul Rahman, accepted responsibility for the fiasco in Selangor on polling day that prevented many from casting their vote. However, he refused to accede to demands by opposition parties, particularly the DAP, Parti Keadilan Nasional and Parti Rakyat Malaysia, that he resign.
PAS RETAINS KELANTAN: (March 22) PAS retained Kelantan with a simple majority, after a nail-biting finish in a recount of six state seats. The Election Commission made an announcement in Kuala Lumpur at 9pm on Monday that PAS had obtained a simple majority of 24 seats to enable it to form the state Government. The Barisan Nasional made a strong comeback by winning 21 seats in the 45-member state legislative assembly. In the 1999 general election, Barisan managed to win only two state seats.
WAR ON POVERTY: (March 24) Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said his priority was now to fight poverty. He hoped to reduce the poverty rate in the country significantly, especially among the hardcore poor, he said in an interview with BBC News, which also touched on his plans to develop the education system, deal with corruption and renew confidence among Muslims in their religion. Abdullah said if there were areas where the Malays must be helped, they must be helped because this was a strategy that had been recognised and agreed to by all, including the non-Malay leaders of Barisan Nasional component parties.
HIGHER GROWTH FORECAST: (March 27) The Malaysian economy is expected to grow by between 6% and 6.5% this year, substantially above the 5.2% gross domestic product (GDP) growth attained last year. The Government's buoyant estimate puts Malaysia's economy on track to becoming one of the fastest growing in the Asia-Pacific region this year, expected to be surpassed by only China, India and Thailand, Bank Negara governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz said at the release of the bank's Annual Report 2003.
FINANCIAL MEDIATION BUREAU: (March 27) Consumers can soon refer complaints on banking and insurance services to a new mechanism under the central bank - the Financial Mediation Bureau (FMB), which will commence operations in the first half of this year. The Bank Negara Annual Report 2003 reveals that the structure and operating framework of the bureau has been finalised and regional offices will be set up to enhance access to its services nationwide. According to the report, retail-banking complaints, including those related to personal and housing loans, automatic teller machines, credit cards, hire purchase, savings accounts, current accounts, fixed deposits and remittances as well as all disputes between policy holders/claimants and their own or third-party insurers, can be referred to the FMB.
ONUS ON TAXPAYERS: (March 27) The onus is on taxpayers to file their own annual returns accurately when the Self-Assessment System (SAS) begins next year, participants of a recent workshop on taxation were told. The Personal Taxation Simplified workshop, organised by The Star's Learning Skills programme, attracted 163 participants including housewives, company directors and pensioners. Held in collaboration with the Malaysian Institute of Taxation (MIT), the workshop gave participants an overview of tax assessment and returns, tax computation and different types of taxable incomes, offences and penalties.
VICE CRACKDOWN: (March 25) Operators of illegal vice dens and illegal gambling outlets will have their assets seized if investigations reveal that they are ill-gotten gains from their criminal activities. CID Director Comm Datuk Musa Hassan said police would use the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) to go after these people. He said Inspector-General of Police Datuk Seri Mohd Bakri Omar had agreed to the setting up of the CID's own Forfeiture of Property team. The Narcotics Division already has the power under the Forfeiture of Property Act to seize the ill-gotten gains of drug pushers.
PROTESTS IN TAIWAN: (March 20) Taiwan's High Court ordered ballot boxes to be sealed after the opposition disputed President Chen Shu-bian's election victory after a mystery assassination attempt and spoiled ballots. Protests erupted across the island after Chen 's victory by less than 30,000 votes over challenger Lien Chan in Saturday's polls. Chen later called for a vote recount.
HAMAS CHIEF KILLED: (March 22) Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was killed on Monday, in an Israeli helicopter strike in Gaza, prompting the Palestinian radical Islamist movement he founded to declare an all-out war on Israel. While condemnation of the assassination poured in from around the world, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon congratulated his armed forces for their deadly dawn strike outside a Gaza City mosque.
POPULATION GROWTH SLOWING: (March 24) The world's population growth is slowing because women are having fewer children and more people are dying from AIDS, especially in Africa, according to a Census Bureau report. The report released on Monday forecast that there will be nearly 9.1 billion people by 2050, a nearly 50% increase from the 6.2 billion in 2002. However, the growth rate is slowing significantly. The global population grew 1.2% or about 74 million people from 2001 to 2002 but the growth will slow to 0.42% by 2050.
LANDMARK VISIT: (March 25) Britain's Tony Blair sealed Libya's return to the international fold with a historic handshake for Muammar Gaddafi and an agreement to fight al-Qaeda together. After more than an hour of talks, the British prime minister said Libya's rejection of banned weapons and rapprochement with the West could act as a template for other Arab nations to turn their back on Islamic extremism.
CIRCUMCISION BLOCK: (March 27) Circumcised men are less likely to be infected with the virus that causes AIDS because of biological reasons and not less risky behaviour, researchers at Johns Hopkins University Medical School in Baltimore said. Studies have shown that men whose foreskin have been removed are six to eight times less likely to become HIV positive but there has been some debate about the reason for the lower infection rate.
CORRUPTION LIST: (March 27) A global watchdog on Thursday identified what it called the world's most corrupt former leaders and Indonesia, the Philippines and Zaire topped the list. Berlin-based Transparency International (TI) said that Suharto, Indonesian President from 1967 to 1998, embezzled about US$35bil (RM133bil) while in power. The others were former Philippines leader Ferdinand Marcos (US$5bil to US$10bil or RM19bil to RM38bil) and former Zaire President Mobutu Sese Seko (US$5bil or RM19bil) on the top 10 list of political leaders drawn from the past two decades.