Christian governor of Jakarta ousted after tense election in world’s biggest Muslim country – Los Angeles Times

The winner of Jakarta's gubernatorial election Anies Baswedan (left) embraces running-mate Sandiaga Uno at their campaign headquarters in central Jakarta on April 19 (Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — In a campaign laced with religious and ethnic tensions, the minority Christian governor of Indonesia’s sprawling capital was unseated by a former education minister backed by conservative Islamists, unofficial results showed Wednesday. With nearly all the votes counted, Indonesian polling companies said Anies Baswedan won around 60% of the vote in a runoff election to lead the city of 10 million people, soundly defeating incumbent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian of Chinese descent. The bitter campaign evolved into a test of ethnic and religious tolerance in the world’s most populous Muslim nation, long seen as a bastion of moderate Islam. Purnama, better known as “Ahok,” is facing blasphemy charges over remarks that allegedly insulted Islam’s holy book, the Koran. Hundreds of thousands of Islamist demonstrators took to the streets during the campaign, demanding that Purnama be jailed.

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Debt and corruption muddy US-Cambodia relations

Hun Sen, Cambodia's PM , at the ASEAN summit in Hanoi in late 2010 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

SINGAPORE — In contrast to the anguish and astonishment expressed in many national capitals, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen welcomed Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president in November. While the warm response augured well for Phnom Penh’s often troubled relations with Washington, prospects for improved bilateral ties have since faded. In January, the month of Trump’s inauguration, Cambodia pulled out of the “Angkor Sentinel” joint military exercises with the U.S. In early April Phnom Penh followed up that snub to Washington by halting a nine-year-old humanitarian program run by the U.S. military that involved building schools and maternity facilities in rural areas of Cambodia. These affronts were punctuated by testy exchanges between the U.S. embassy in Phnom Penh and the Cambodian government, notably over a political parties law passed in February that will make it easier for the Cambodian courts to suspend or even dissolve opposition parties. “Any government action to ban or restrict parties under the new amendments would constitute a significant setback for Cambodia’s political development, and would seriously call into question the legitimacy of the upcoming elections,” the embassy said, referring to local elections scheduled for June and a national poll due in 2018. The law has been widely criticized in Cambodia, too. Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, described it as “an affront to the principles of liberal democracy, [which] effectively gives the ruling party a delete button which can be arbitrarily applied to their political opponents at any time.”

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Suu Kyi’s NLD has a growth problem – Nikkei Asian Review

Yangon's traffic has grown heavy since the country's economy began growing (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

YANGON — Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, made a rare admission of fallibility in a televised address to the nation on March 30. “We did what we could for the sake of our country and the people in the first year,” she said in a speech marking the first anniversary of her civilian-dominated government. “We know that we haven’t been able to make as much progress as people had hoped.” That seemed an uncharacteristic acknowledgement of a sputtering economy under her National League for Democracy-led administration. Key economic data suggest that “progress,” as Suu Kyi herself conceded, has slowed. Approved foreign direct investment is estimated to have fallen by a third in fiscal 2016, which ended on March 31, from the record $9.4 billion achieved in fiscal 2015, the last year under the government of former President Thein Sein. Annual growth in gross domestic product is expected to slow to 6.5% in fiscal year 2016, from 7.3% the previous year, according to the World Bank.

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Low turnout mars lackluster Myanmar by-elections – Nikkei Asian Review

A voter pictured after casting her ballot in Yangon's Chinatown on ​Saturday morning (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

YANGON — The governing National League for Democracy looks set to win most of the 12 national parliament seats contested in Saturday’s by-elections — Myanmar’s first vote since the 2015 poll when the NLD romped to a historic landslide victory over the army-backed incumbent Union Solidarity and Development Party. Ahead of a full official results announcement for all 19 by-election seats, possibly by late Sunday evening, ethnic parties looked the likely winners in the minority-dominated Rakhine and Shan states, while the now-opposition USDP won a seat in Mon state, an ethnic minority region south of Yangon. Than Chaung, a voter in the Yangon 6 constituency, said he voted “for Aung San Suu Kyi, for NLD.” Asked if he was happy with the progress made under the NLD government, he replied: “she will make changes, but slowly, we know that.”

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One year on, first poll test looms for Myanmar government – Nikkei Asian Review

Aung San Suu Kyi speaks to media at her Yangon villa in Nov. 5 2015 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

SINGAPORE — On April 1, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy faces its first electoral test since taking power in Myanmar on the back of a landslide election win in 2015. The governing party will compete for a total of 2 million votes in all bar one of 19 by-election contests — seven of which are for regional parliaments — for seats vacated mostly by incumbents who joined the NLD-led government as ministers. With most of the contested seats lying in NLD strongholds in central Myanmar, the governing party is unlikely to face any major electoral setback for what are just 12 national legislature seats out of a total 664 in the country’s upper and lower houses of parliament. But with economic growth and foreign investment down slightly on previous years, sectarian violence in Rakhine State in the west and conflict between military forces and ethnic rebels in Kachin and Shan states in the east and north of the country, Aung San Suu Kyi has had a difficult first year as de facto leader of Myanmar.

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Australia and Indonesia try to mend fences – Nikkei Asian Review

Indonesians protesting in Jakarta in Feb. 2015 against Australian government efforts to prevent the execution of  2 Australian citizens on drug trafficking charges (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

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.

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Jakarta’s municipal election, a test of Muslim-Christian relations, goes to a runoff – Los Angeles Times

Woman voting at polling station in central Jakarta in the city's Feb. 15 gubernatorial elections (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

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.

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Philippines’ Catholic leaders grapple with Duterte presidency – National Catholic Register

Rodrigo Duterte (red shirt) speaking at Manila’s Rizal Park on May 7, 2016 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

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.”

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Tepid end to Jakarta election campaign – Nikkei Asian Review

Governor of Jakarta Basuki Tjahaja Purnama and running mate Djarot Saiful Hidayat meet supporters after a televised Feb. 10 candidate debate (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

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 Baswedan, one of two challengers seeking to oust the embattled incumbent, Bakuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as “Ahok.”

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Ireland has become a mecca for U.S. tech companies. Can Trump lure them home? – Los Angeles Times

The Trump golf resort at Doonbeg, Co. Clare, Ireland (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

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.

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