HANOI – China’s rise has altered the dynamics within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and across Asia, as was on display at recently concluded summits meetings in Hanoi. Chinese naval expansion and increasingly assertive claims to disputed maritime areas in the East and South China Seas has prompted Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and others to reaffirm their enthusiasm for America’s security umbrella after some ambivalence in recent years. Japan and India, China’s main Asian rivals, are increasingly looking to each other, and to Southeast Asia, as a hedge against China’s rise, which has taken a hard turn in recent months. Prime Ministers Naoto Kan and Manmohan Singh met after the Hanoi summits, which were overshadowed by the mud-slinging coming from the Chinese and Japanese delegations. “Prime Minister Kan was keen to understand how India engages China,” India’s foreign secretary, Nirupama Rao said after that meeting. As well as increasing ties with Japan, India’s slow-to-action ‘Look East’ policy, which has brought the self-proclaimed world’s largest democracy into disrepute over its feting of the Myanmar junta, is likely to be enhanced in coming years, as highlighted in the statement issued after the India-ASEAN summit.
MANILA — Prison inmates in the Philippines got a taste of life outside of jail today, when in a landmark event for the Southeast Asian island nation, prisoners voted in the country’s national elections. Final results for the overall election are still forthcoming, but unofficial tallies of 57 percent of votes cast showed presidental favorite Beningo “Noynoy” Aquino well in front with 40.6 percent, ahead of former President Joseph Estrada in second place. First up to cast her ballot this morning at Makati City Jail in Manila was a 27-year-old who gave her name as Janet. Appearing non-plussed, she told GlobalPost that her voting experience “felt OK.” “I knew who I wanted to vote for, so it was no big deal,” she said.
MANILA — By April 14, the latest date for which figures are available, 38 election candidates had been killed during the January to mid-April campaign period, according to Felix Vargas, spokesman for the government’s task force on elected government officials. The figure does not include campaign workers and candidates’ assistants who were killed. Professor Rommel C Banlaoi, the director of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research (PIPVTR), told Asia Times Online that “cases of election related killings from the use of illegally armed groups have been recorded and to date numbers more than 100” The Maguindanao atrocity was the largest recorded mass killing of journalists in a single incident. The massacre was carried out to deter an opposition clan, the Mangudadatu family, from running in the elections against the government-backed Ampatuan clan. This case and other, less well-known clashes in the southern Philippines and elsewhere illustrate how elections raise the stakes for volatile local bigwig rivalries
MANILA — In a first for The Philippines – a country with intermittent electricity supply and a history of electoral fraud – a computerised system is being used instead of the manual count used in most other countries. Despite 11th-hour glitches that meant the recall and re-programming of 76000 flash cards used to scan votes, the election commission (Comelec) remains confident that “the elections will go through”, according to Comelec chair Jose Melo. It is still not clear, however, whether the equipment will be ready and distributed across the whole archipelago in time. The election commission nonetheless is resisting calls from candidates and media to conduct a manual count in parallel and as a back-up to the computerised alternative, as Filipinos prepare to vote for a successor to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, choosing from 3 main contenders have been described as a saint, a CEO and a movie star. The ‘saint’ in question is Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino, son of former President and democracy icon Cory, who died in August 2009.
BANGKOK — Most of Southeast Asia has experienced military rule at some stage since the colonial era ended, and the political role of the region’s military institutions has shaped and influenced politics right up to the present day. The often-decisive interventions of the military in national politics have restricted the development of democracy, freedom of speech and human rights in many countries. In 2008, of the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), only Indonesia was deemed a fully free country by the US-based Freedom House, an NGO that monitors democracy and human rights. Implicitly, a behind-the-scenes power-brokering process played by powerful military elites in Southeast Asian countries is a key factor in inhibiting democratic development across the region. At a September conference at the Institute for Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, these issues were discussed by scholars examining civil-military relations in Burma, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. In Southeast Asia, Burma stands out, however, due to the longevity of military rule and the entrenchment of the army in all sectors of society and the economy. ISIS Director Thitinan Pongsudhirak remarked that in 1960, Burma was a democracy, having the highest GDP per capita in the region and with a relatively-advanced economy and noted education sector. However, these days, the entrenchment of military rule is so thorough, it is more appropriate to use the term “military-civil relations,” according to Win Min, a Thailand-based Burmese scholar.