RANGOON – More than a year after Aung San Suu Kyi won a landslide victory in Burma’s first valid national election in a quarter century, the former political prisoner is looking increasingly aloof from her own history as a victim of human rights abuses. The plight of the Muslim Rohingya minority in the west of Burma, or Myanmar as it is officially called, is well known. Denied citizenship and regarded as Bengali immigrants, the Rohingya not only have been subject to decades of official discrimination but have been largely scorned and ostracized by most Burmese people. Aung San Suu Kyi’s personal opinion on the Rohingya is unknown, she says little to the press these days, but since taking up her role as Burma’s de facto leader last year, she has done little to alleviate their plight — bar ask officials not to refer to them as “Bengali,” a term the Rohingya do not accept as it implies that they are immigrants from Bangladesh.
KUALA LUMPUR — For fifth time in less than a decade, thousands of yellow-clad supporters of an electoral reform movement called Bersih (Malay for ‘clean’) jammed streets in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday in their latest demonstration seeking change. But for the last year and a half, the group, which is backed by Malaysia’s opposition parties, have been seeking change at the top – the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Razak over lurid corruption allegations involving a state development fund called 1MDB. Najib is accused of trousering around $US700 billion allegedly siphoned off from 1MDB, public money that was supposed to help Malaysia meet its target of becoming a developed country by 2020 but which allegedly ended up in the prime minister’s personal bank accounts. Najib claimed the money was a Saudi Arabian donation, most of which was repaid. As well as being cleared of wrong-doing by the attorney-general, the prime minister has parried all comers so far, including his own deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who was fired after criticizing the boss over the allegations of financial impropriety.
BANGKOK — On October 13, shortly after 6pm, came the news that millions of Thais had long expected but prayed would not come. After 70 years on the throne, the king was dead. Aged 88, Bhumibol Adulyadej was the world’s longest reigning monarch. Éamon de Valera was Taoiseach when the young king was crowned in 1946, Harry Truman was in the White House, and it would be another 7 years before Queen Elizabeth II, the second longest serving monarch, was crowned. Scenes of mass grief followed the announcement of the death — both outside the Bangkok hospital where the ailing king had spent the past 7 years — and then the following day when hundreds of thousands black clad mourners lined the streets as the king’s body was taken to the palace where he will lie in state for up to a year before cremation. And then on into the following week, as tens of thousands of people visited the king’s resting place each day, and hundreds took days off work to hand out snacks and drinks and to help clean up around the palace. One volunteer, giving her name as Nittaya, was part of a group scraping a footpath clean — trowel in hand. “Our king served for 70 years, he was like a father, so we can do this small thing for him,” she said.
JAKARTA – Since taking office in October, Joko Widodo’s promises of reform have faltered in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy. Widodo’s supporters say he has had to balance the demands of powerful politicians who backed his candidacy, particularly former President Megawati Sukarnoputri and wealthy businessman Surya Paloh, one of whose allies Widodo appointed as attorney general. Abdee Negara, a popular Indonesian guitarist who campaigned for Widodo, said, “He has a baby-step approach to getting things done. There is a lot of politics between the president and his parties.” Still, Negara said, “I was glad I was part of the wind of change.”
DILI – Gusmao’s administration was tarnished with corruption allegations against two of his highest-profile ministers. And despite eye-popping growth, oil and gas extraction have not generated jobs for the hundreds of thousands of Timorese who eke out a living as subsistence farmers or are jobless. Moreover, the oil and gas revenue that comprises around three-quarters of GDP will run out in around a decade, meaning there is an urgent need to develop other sectors of the economy. But Araujo does not have long to implement his policies, as elections are due in 2017. Tourism and agriculture will be two priority areas, he said: “At least we could set some foundation for the next government to follow on these.”
YANGON – A little over six years ago, after holding a rigged referendum to adopt a disputed constitution, Myanmar’s junta announced, with almost comic certainty, that “the population of the country is 57,504,368,” despite not having held a census since 1983. Six years on, Myanmar’s nominally-civilian government can claim a better grasp on how many people actually live in the country.
BANDA ACEH – Almost a decade on from the ruinous, deadly 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Banda Aceh is back on its feet.
Last Wednesday, people in the province were on their feet, voting, along with almost 200 million other Indonesians, in the third presidential election held since ousting of dictator Suharto back amid economic collapse back in 1998.