DILI – Cornelio Gama, aka “Elle Sette” (L7), a former member of parliament in East Timor and leader of a murky clandestine group called Sagrada Familia, had just come home from a peacemaking mission at the University of Dili in the country’s capital. “There is a dispute between the rector and the students,” he says, “so I went there to try and resolve.” Peacemaker for a morning, Gama and his brother Paulino, better known as “Mauk Moruk,” are in fact at odds with the East Timor government, which they see as illegitimate.
BALI, INDONESIA — Pointing to the blue, purple, and yellow scarf wrapped ornately around her forehead and temples, Aleta Baun says that her vivid garb will be a regular sight inside the East Nusa Tenggara regional parliament in eastern Indonesia. The first-time lawmaker won a seat in elections last April.
Indigahadoowa, Sri Lanka – Tea-grower D.M. Sudumenink is nearly 70 years old and has won prizes for her produce. All the same, the retired schoolteacher is keen to know more about how she can improve her tea-growing and keep her cropland clean.
PHUN PHIN, THAILAND – The politician’s house is hidden behind two giant billboards, one of Thailand’s revered monarch and the other of the crown prince. “Long Live the King. May it please Your Majesty the King, on behalf of Thaugsuban family,” read the signs. In this corner of southern Thailand’s rubber-growing heartland, respect for the royal family is strong. But so too is respect – some might say fear – of the family of Suthep Thaugsuban, a veteran politician and dealmaker who is the face of antigovernment protests in Bangkok. He is a key player in a complex drama that, at its core, pits a conservative elite against an arriviste billionaire. Last weekend’s parliamentary elections saw Mr. Suthep’s movement in full throttle: Protesters blocked polling stations in the capital in a bid to defeat Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s formidable political machine. In the south, an opposition stronghold, many districts had no candidates and hence no ballot.
BAGAN, MYANMAR – Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said today that Australia’s recent incursions into Indonesian waters were “disturbing” and said that Canberra’s apologies for the recent incidents were not enough. “We find it unacceptable for them to simply say that it is something that had taken place without their knowledge,” says Mr. Natalegawa, speaking to the Monitor today after a meeting of southeast Asian foreign ministers in the northern Myanmar town of Bagan. Australia apologized to its northern neighbor earlier today, saying that Australian naval operations to stop so-called “boat people” from entering Australian waters had “inadvertently” crossed into Indonesian domain. Australia said that the navy’s moves were due to technical errors and happened without the government’s knowledge.
TACLOBAN, LEYTE PROVINCE, THE PHILIPPINES –Dotted around the storm-wrecked city of Tacloban in the central Philippines are notices thanking not the government, the United Nations, or the Roman Catholic Church. They give gratitude to the Tzu Chi Foundation, a Taiwanese Buddhist charity that made its presence felt in the weeks after a devastating November typhoon. “Maraming Salamat Po [thank you very much] Tzu Chi Foundation,” reads one such cloth banner draped over a ruined shopfront on Tacloban’s smashed-up waterfront, a half mile or so from the town’s main Catholic church, Santo Niño. The Philippines’ 82 million Catholics comprise the third-biggest such population, behind Brazil and Mexico. It is a country known for public displays of devotion, taking in such elemental pageantry as annual voluntary and nonlethal crucifixions in memory of the death of Jesus.
VIENTIANE — Every Wednesday, Sengphachan Phommaxay wakes at 4 a.m. and heads across town to the That Luang market in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. There she meets a truckload of papaya, onions and pumpkins dispatched that morning from her family’s 32 acre farm, which sits 20 miles outside Vientiane in green, sun-dappled countryside close to the Mekong River. As the sun comes up and orange-clad monks plod barefoot around the funereal Vientiane streets seeking alms, the 23-year-old business student gets in some hands-on practice for life after graduation — selling the family’s produce at Vientiane’s main organic market. “10,000 kip for one kilo,” or $1.25 for just over two pounds, says Ms. Sengphachan, a student at the Lao American College, when asked how much the papaya costs.
KUALA LUMPUR — In the latest round of a divisive political and religious saga, a Malaysian court ruled Monday that the word “Allah” can only be used by the country’s Muslim majority, overturning a previous decision that allowed other faiths using the term to denote “God” in their local-language services and scriptures. This morning, Malaysia’s Court of Appeals issued an expansive ruling that sparked surprise and anger throughout the country. At the court in Malaysia’s administrative capital Putrajaya, Justice Mohamed Apandi read a brief summary of the 100+ page judgment. “Our common finding is that the usage of Allah is not an integral part of the Christian faith. We cannot find why the parties are so adamant on the usage of the word,” he said.