Today Malaysians head to the polls in the nation’s general election. Voters will be choosing between prime minister Najib Razak’s National Front coalition – which has led the country since 1957 – and the opposition Alliance of Hope, steered by Razak’s former mentor, 92-year-old Mahathir Mohamad. In the run-up to the election it appeared that a victory for Razak was assured, until his campaign was derailed by Mohamad’s strategy of calling out his protégé’s shady record. The aged politician focused on the 1MDB scandal, where $2.6bn (€2.2bn) of government funds were reportedly embezzled, with around $681m (€574m) rumoured to have been transferred to Razak’s own bank account. While it is likely that Razak will win, having re-jigged the electoral boundaries to favour the ruling party, key considerations for any leader of Malaysia must be to redress the layers of corruption in its political class and to reverse the alarming restrictions on free speech recently introduced in the country.
The University of Toronto has announced it will open a new School of Cities on 1 July. The new institution, which will run courses and conduct research on urban issues, has been welcomed by many in the city: Toronto has form as a home to urban discourse (it’s here that the writer Jane Jacobs launched her most significant urban campaigns in the late 20th century). The focus of the new facility will be the city itself and, as one of North America’s fastest growing cities, there will be plenty to fill the curriculum. The syllabus will examine the disconnect between the downtown core and surrounding suburbs, to conversations around transport infrastructure, public spaces and liveability. Given that Toronto has led the way, historically, in many areas of urban thought, the new School of Cities is a welcome addition to its pedigree.
Cambodia’s free press suffered another blow this week with the announcement that the country’s last independent newspaper had been sold to an investor with government ties. The Phnom Penh Post was sold by Bill Clough to Sivakumar Ganapathy, a Malaysian businessman whose PR company, Asia PR, lists one of its projects as: “Cambodia and Hun Sen’s entry into the Government seat”. Ganapathy quickly caused uproar at the Post by firing its editor in chief after the paper ran a story on links between its new owner and the government. In the space of a year Cambodia has gone from having perhaps the freest press in Southeast Asia to becoming a country in which journalists are bullied, intimidated and regularly followed by secret police. Yet as the nation heads into a round of elections this July, where the only candidate is the aforementioned current prime minister Hun Sen, the presence of an uninhibited media has never been more vital.
Just because we can 3D-print a vase or design an entire virtual world, doesn’t mean that we necessarily want to. All too often technology robs us of the tactility we used to associate with making. It’s a subject that former Monocle staffer Tom Morris has rolled up his sleeves to shape into a pleasingly pretty new book called New Wave Clay; published by Frame, it’s out this week. “Clay is the muddiest, most primitive and valueless material out there – but once you've mastered the basics it can be used to create incredibly beautiful and surprisingly durable things,” says Morris. He’s profiled 55 international potters from disciplines spanning design, furniture, interiors and sculpture. “In the digital age, when everything can be produced at the swipe of a screen, this form of craft has enormous power for younger people. It's the very opposite of instant gratification.”
From traditional calligraphy to rare gold-leaf techniques, hand-worked lettering is back in demand. Monocle Films meets three sign-painters whose eye-catching signs lend character to cities – and help businesses stand out.