Thursday. 8/9/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Noor Amylia Hilda

Tipping point

After years of eluding the law, Malaysia’s former prime minister Najib Razak (pictured) was sentenced to 12 years in prison last month. The Federal Court dismissed his final appeal in a corruption trial linked to the billions stolen from the nation’s sovereign wealth fund. Chief justice Tengku Maimun, delivering the verdict, called it “a simple and straightforward case of abuse of power”. One week later, Razak’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, widely speculated to be the brains behind her husband’s misdeeds, was found guilty of soliciting bribes in a separate case involving a government-linked project. She faces a 10-year jail sentence.

But that’s not necessarily the end of it. Less than 24 hours after Razak was escorted by motorcade to Kajang prison, about 300 of his ultra-loyal supporters gathered in front of the national palace, calling on Malaysia’s king to pardon their beloved Bossku. A royal pardon could pave the way for a return to politics and even allow the 69-year-old to contest the next general election, much to the exasperation of his opponents. Meanwhile, in a bid to reclaim power, Razak’s Umno party is pushing the current prime minister, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, to call an earlier general election than the expected polling date of September 2023.

While there is no guarantee of a royal pardon or an early election just yet, what’s happening now is a major test for Malaysia, its people and its institutions. The rulings against Razak and his wife have brought a revival of trust in the judicial system and served as a wake-up call to those in high seats of power that no one is above the law. More than 100,000 citizens have already signed an online petition opposing a royal pardon. If there is any hope for a fundamental change in Malaysia’s fight against corruption, holding the line on Razak could very well be the turning point.

Noor Amylia Hilda is a regular Monocle contributor based in Kuala Lumpur.

Image: Getty Images

Energy / Europe

First aid

Western Europe’s leaders are finally getting serious about addressing soaring inflation and energy prices. Fresh off German chancellor Olaf Scholz’s announcement of a €65bn plan to cushion citizens from rising costs, UK prime minister Liz Truss is set to announce an even larger spending package today; reports suggest that the plans will include a freeze on energy bills and additional help for businesses. Despite insisting on the campaign trail that she was against “hand-outs” and positioning herself on the right of the Conservative party, fears of inflation becoming out of control have left her with little choice. Economist Vicky Pryce told The Briefing on Monocle 24 that Truss’s solution, estimated to cost more than €100bn, and others like it could “reduce the peak that is forecast for inflation over the next few months, which would make a huge difference.” The millions of Europeans who face being plunged into poverty this winter will be hoping she’s right.

Image: Getty Images

Society / Japan

Burying the truth

The assassination of former prime minister Shinzo Abe might have shocked Japan but the nation’s public is balking over plans for a costly state funeral. Last month the government approved a ¥250m (€1.74m) budget for the venue, leaving some suspicious about other fees that went unmentioned. Current prime minister Fumio Kishida’s administration wanted to disclose the full costs after the funeral, which takes place on 27 September, but an outcry prompted the government to relent this week, admitting an additional ¥1.4bn (€9.7m) in spending on security, including for foreign dignitaries.

Hiding the real costs from taxpayers has backfired and made Kishida (pictured) look dishonest. As a result, the latest polls in newspapers Yomiuri Shimbun and Asahi Shimbun, as well as broadcaster NHK, show that most of the public now opposes the state-funded ceremony. The furore is less a reflection on Abe or his legacy than a lesson in the importance of open and honest communication for Kishida’s embattled government.

Image: Uniqlo

Retail / UK

Beyond repair

Casualwear manufacturer Uniqlo has always believed in making clothes that last but now it is taking that mission one step further. Today marks the UK launch of Re.Uniqlo Studio, a new initiative in its London flagship on Regent Street. Located on the lower-ground floor, it has several recycling and repair stations, where trained staff can mend older Uniqlo pieces, from re-sewing buttons to making more specialised alterations such as resizing and tailoring. Experts are on hand to help customers get creative and repair clothing with patchwork and embroidery, using Japanese-made Sashiko sewing machines.

The studio also pays homage to the building’s history: in the middle of the new space, below an art deco lighting feature, there’s a non-functioning barbershop, honouring British tailor Austin Reed, who operated a barbershop in the space for more than 100 years. While this doesn’t mean that Uniqlo will enter the grooming sector any time soon, we can expect more Re.Uniqlo studios to be rolled out at the company’s retail locations across the UK later this year.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / India

Rocky road

Yesterday opposition leader Rahul Gandhi of the Indian National Congress (INC) began a 3,570km, five-month trek across the country in a bid to bolster his party’s flagging support. The tradition of the political march in India is a rich one. Perhaps the most famous was the Salt March, undertaken in 1930 by independence leader Mahatma Gandhi (no relation) against British colonial rule.

A more recent example is Bharatiya Janata Party chief LK Advani’s 10,000km roadtrip in 1990. Like him, Rahul Gandhi (pictured) is planning to greet supporters in the day and sleep by the roadside at night. However, most commentators are sceptical about his chances of success. A recent poll by India Today found that his rival, Narendra Modi, was favoured by 53 per cent of respondents, against just 9 per cent who preferred Gandhi. With the next election in less than two years, those popularity figures might mean that there’s too long a road back to contention for the INC.

Monocle 24 / Monocle On Design

Sacred Heart church and ‘50 Queens’

We visit a church in Canada whose redesign is fit for the Pope and meet the landscape architect behind an installation highlighting key women in Danish history.

Monocle Films / Paris

Swimming in the Seine

As Paris embarks on a project to clean up the Seine ahead of the 2024 Olympic Games, we look at the process of readying the city’s river for its water-seeking dwellers, explore how it could affect the city and meet the guerilla urban swimmers who welcome the move.

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