BANGKOK — Even though the afternoon temperature soared into the high 30s, the lines of black clad mourners stretched hundreds of yards in two directions around the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Old and young alike, some snoozing in the afternoon heat, towels over their faces, the crowds were waiting to pay their respects to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. He died on October 13 last year and has since been lying in state since, a year long mourning period ahead of a lavish Buddhist and Hindu rite state funeral that will start on the 25th of this month. These last few days have been the final chance for Thais to honour to the late monarch, whose death at the age of 88 marked the end of a reign that lasted 70 years.
JAKARTA — Marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Association of Southeast Nations, or ASEAN for short, Indonesian President Joko Widodo told a gathering of Jakarta-based diplomats that “together with Indonesia, ASEAN is strong.” There is no doubt the region is on the up economically. The ten ASEAN member countries have a combined GDP of $2.6 trillion, bigger than any European country bar Germany, and if growth rates hold up, ASEAN as a whole will be behind only the European Union, China and the United States by 2030. ASEAN countries have committed to increased economic integration, and like the EU, to which ASEAN is often compared, the group has forged free trade agreements — with neighbours such as Australia, China and India. But did the Indonesian president really mean what he said about “strong,” beyond the reference to his own country, which with a population of 260 million is by far the biggest in ASEAN and has an economy more than twice the size of Thailand’s, the second biggest in the region?
SINGAPORE – A swimming pool maintenance company van was parked on the street outside No. 38, and, over the next twenty minutes or so, a couple more cars rolled by, along with two pairs of pedestrians, one mother imploring her four or five year old to keep off the road. The mundane comings and goings on Oxley Road gave scant indication that on the street sits a bungalow that has caused a rare and unprecedented public feud among Singapore’s first family 38 Oxley Road, a prime location close to Singapore’s financial and shopping centre, was the home of the late Lee Kuan Yew, the city-state’s founding father and one of 20th century Asia’s most influential political leaders. Lee Kuan Yew’s son, Lee Hsien Loong, is the current Prime Minister. He has been attacked by his siblings for allegedly refusing to honour the father’s wish that 38 Oxley Road be leveled after his death
Last Sunday Cambodia’s held local elections saw a narrow win for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party led by Prime Minister Hun Sen. But while the CPP won the popular vote, the opposition saw its share of council seats increase ten-fold from the last local elections held in 2012. The campaign had all the colour and tension of a national election, which Cambodia will stage in a year’s time, with huge final rallies by the CPP and the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party on the Friday before the vote.
TANJUNG GUSTO — Coming from all over Indonesia, vividly-garbed traditional dancers yelled ‘horas’, which means hello in the Batak language of north Sumatra. But the pageantry could not mask their disappointment at being snubbed by the country’s president. Hundreds of Indonesia’s tribal leaders had traveled to Tanjung Gusto, a small village on Sumatra, the biggest of Indonesia’s 17,000 islands. They arrived with high expectations that the government was about to grant at least some of their demands for control of what they claim as their ancestral lands.
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.