JAKARTA — Malaysia’s environment minister is sure that 2017 will not see a repeat of the choking, eye-watering smog that covered parts of his country, as well as Singapore and areas in Indonesia, for around two months in 2015. “We are very likely to be haze-free this year. Even if it comes, it will not be as serious as before,” said Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, Minister for Natural Resources and Environment, on March 2. Mostly caused by the burning of peatland and forests to clear land for plantations in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s haze has for three decades been a near-annual blight that makes air in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, two of Asia’s most dynamic cities, almost unbreathable and in turn, diminishes economic output. Prolonged bouts of the haze, such as in 1997 and in 2015, caused diplomatic ructions as Singapore railed against neighboring Indonesia over the impact of the pollution on its citizens and their livelihoods. But a new Indonesian government-backed alliance of farmers, businesses, environmentalists and concerned citizens aims to prevent more debilitating blazes in southern Kalimantan and western Sumatra, home to much of Indonesia’s lucrative palm oil and pulpwood sectors. “The Indonesian government is very serious on tackling the forest fires,” said Prabianto Wibowo, assistant deputy minister for forestry at Indonesia’s economic co-ordination ministry, speaking at the Responsible Business Forum in Jakarta on March 15.
JAKARTA — If Claudio Ranieri was in front of a television when English Premier League soccer champions Leicester City hosted five-times European club champions Liverpool on Feb. 27, the mild-mannered Italian might have been tempted into an uncharacteristic show of anger. The 65-year-old had been sacked as team manager three days previously by Leicester City’s billionaire Thai owner and chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, founder of the King Power Group chain of duty-free shops. After a series of tepid losses, the team had been dragged into a struggle with a half dozen rivals desperate to stave off relegation from the premier league to the less high-profile English Championship, where Leicester City had languished for a decade prior to 2014. But with Ranieri gone, the team rediscovered the verve that brought them success the previous year. Ranieri’s ex-charges followed their comfortable 3-1 win over Liverpool with a March 4 victory over Hull City by the same margin.
JAKARTA — One of the world’s leading university ranking systems has found significant improvement in Asia’s tertiary education institutions over the past year, although long-established Western bodies continue to dominate the field in most key academic subjects. QS Quacquarelli Symonds, a London-based group, published its 2017 rankings covering 1,127 universities from 74 countries across 46 subjects. Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, described as “perennial rivals” by QS, led all universities in the field in 15 and 12 subjects, respectively. But the prominence of Asian universities has been increasing in recent years. While elite U.S. and European institutions are likely to remain at the top of the rankings in the near future, more Asian universities nonetheless are moving up the list, as regional economies grow and education spending increases. “It seems certain that Asia’s leading institutions will continue to strongly displace the second tier of North American and European institutions,” said QS research director Ben Sowter.
JAKARTA — Two neighbors with a fractious history sought to put recent disputes behind them as Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull agreed at the weekend to restore military cooperation and reduce restrictions on some exports ahead of a possible free trade deal later this year. “Great result for Australian farmers. It will now be easier to export more sugar and beef to Indonesia,” Turnbull tweeted on Sunday, referring to Indonesia’s agreement to reduce tariffs on Australian sugar to 5% and allow more live cattle exports from Australia to the country of 250 million people. Widodo’s Feb. 25-26 visit to Sydney was his second trip to Australia since he took office in 2014, and the first since he personally showed Turnbull around Jakarta in November 2015. That meeting came shortly after the Australian prime minister took power in Canberra, on the back of an internal Liberal Party coup against incumbent Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
JAKARTA — After a tense campaign marred by religious protests and phone-tapping allegations made by a former president, Indonesia’s capital will have to wait two more months to learn who will run the city of 10 million people. Incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as “Ahok,” will face a runoff election in April against a former education minister who was backed by Islamist protesters, turning the election into a test of religious tolerance in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country. Purnama, a Christian of Chinese descent and an ally of President Joko Widodo, won around 40% of the votes cast Wednesday according to preliminary counts. That was roughly the same as his rival, Anies Basdewan, a Muslim whose reformist credentials came under scrutiny when Islamist supporters sought to have the sitting governor jailed over a speech in which he allegedly insulted Islam.
JAKARTA — After Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s succession of tirades against the country’s Catholic Church leaders, bishops hardly expected a presidential climb down, even after their entreaty asking the government to ease up on a violent anti-drugs campaign. In less than eight months, more than 7,600 people, mostly drug traffickers and drug users, have been executed extrajudicially, often by a gunshot to the head, their bodies left on the blood-strewn street as a warning. Some have been killed in police operations and some have been murdered by unidentified paramilitary squads. The bloodshed prompted a February pastoral letter signed by Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, which said, “This traffic in illegal drugs needs to be stopped and overcome. But the solution does not lie in the killing of suspected drug users and pushers.”
JAKARTA — A tumultuous election campaign for the job of running one of the world’s biggest, most traffic-clogged and flood-prone cities drew to a relatively placid close over the final weekend before the Feb. 15 vote. Candidates in the race for the Jakarta governorship ended a last televised debate by grinning cheek-to-cheek in a group selfie photograph. As staged as it was, it was a rare cordial moment in a combative campaign. It came the day before Islamist groups held a last-ditch rally against the sitting governor, who they accuse of blasphemy. The rally drew a much smaller turnout than the hundreds of thousands of people who flocked to two similar protests in late 2016 against the incumbent governor, adding to the sense that the contentious election campaign had left participants drained. “It has been divisive but I am happy that the debate in the end is focusing on policies and programs, it takes the tensions down a bit,” said Sandiaga Uno, a candidate for vice governor and running mate of Anies Basdewan, one of two challengers seeking to oust the embattled incumbent, Bakuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as “Ahok.”
DOONBEG — Every time President Trump rails against big “pharma” over the jobs that have been shipped overseas, his pledges to streamline regulations and lower taxes to lure them home prompt grimaces 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean. More than 50,000 people are employed with pharmaceutical and medical device companies here in Ireland, with most of the companies refugees from America. Baxter, a medical equipment manufacturer based in Deerfield, Illinois, employs a thousand people in Ireland. Pfizer, Boston Scientific and Johnson & Johnson all have substantial Irish operations. Dublin’s Silicon Docks neighborhood earned its nickname after Facebook, Google, Twitter and other U.S. tech companies set up in glossy offices, often mammoth European headquarters, close to the River Liffey. They are among an estimated 700 U.S. companies which, attracted by Ireland’s low corporate tax rate and English-speaking work force, have helped drive a multinational invasion on the Emerald Isle that once turned it into the “Celtic Tiger” of Europe, employing around 170,000 people in all.
YANGON — Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy government are gearing up for their first electoral test since taking power last year, with April 1 by-elections looming for a small number of parliamentary seats. “Many of the vacant seats are in the NLD’s stronghold areas,” noted Nay Yan Oo, a Myanmar analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. The seats being contested were vacated when their occupants were appointed to various roles in the NLD government. Regulations require that lawmakers who join the administration must give up their parliamentary seats. There are 18 seats at stake, with 95 candidates from 24 parties seeking the support of 2 million voters.
YANGON — Numbering around 1 million people living in western Myanmar, along with several hundred thousand refugees and migrants in neighboring countries, there are few peoples in the world as marooned as the Muslim Rohingya. Most are stateless, denied citizenship by Myanmar due to a 1982 law dictated while the country, then known as Burma, was run by the army. But the end of dictatorship in 2011 and the rise to power of an elected government last year — headed by one of the world’s best-known former political prisoners Aung San Suu Kyi — has done little to help the Rohingya. “They have been suffering, they are being tortured and killed, simply because they uphold their Muslim faith,” said Pope Francis in his latest weekly audience Feb. 8.