Opposition concedes defeat in Australian poll – Nikkei Asian Review

Lining up to vote in Strathfield in western Sydney on July 2  (Photo: Simon Roughneen)​

MELBOURNE/SYDNEY — Malcolm Turnbull is set to continue as Australia’s prime minister after opposition leader Bill Shorten on Sunday conceded defeat in the national election — eight days after voters went to the polls. Shorten’s announcement came as Turnbull’s conservative Liberal-National party coalition inched closer to the minimum seats required — 76 out of 150 — to govern in its own right. However, the coalition may still need the support of independents and minor party members if votes yet to be counted contribute to it falling short of that majority. “I respect that Mr Turnbull has won government — be it a minority government or a majority of one or two seats,” Shorten said on Sunday. That was still the question as Turnbull declared victory about an hour later. With votes still to be counted, it remained unclear whether the coalition would secure a majority. With around 80% of the votes counted on Sunday, the Australian Electoral Commission had the coalition ahead in 76 seats. Turnbull had used the days prior to shore up support from crossbenchers. Three out of the five elected had agreed to back the coalition when it came to supply and confidence matters, a move that effectively ended talk of Shorten leading a minority government or Australians being forced back to the polls. “It looks like he [Turnbull] will cross the 76 seat threshold and, even if not, he has support from a couple of independents,” said John Warhurst, emeritus professor of politics at Australian National University.

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Annual trafficking report spreads dismay and relief in Asia – Nikkei Asian Review

Protesting at the US embassy in Yangon on April 28, monk asks the new Myanmar government to say that Rohingya are not citizens of the country (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

SYDNEY — The U.S. government’s latest annual Trafficking in Persons report, published on June 30, generated the usual mix of dismay and relief among countries named. In Asia, countries including Myanmar responded angrily to their downgrading in the influential rankings, which can affect their standing as U.S. trade partners among other aspects of their ties with Washington. The Philippines — despite, as the report noted, having a “significant problem” of sex trafficking — was upgraded to the top tier of countries for its efforts to counteract trafficking. The list, which this year rated 190 countries — two more than last year — includes countries which the state department says “fully meet the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA) minimum standards,” a level attained by only two other Asian countries, South Korea and Taiwan. The Obama administration’s “Asia pivot,” an attempt to enhance diplomatic and commercial ties with the world’s most economically dynamic region and to counter the growing sway of China, saw a thawing of ties with Myanmar. As well as relaxing most of its economic sanctions on the country, the U.S. quickly lifted Myanmar out of the bottom tier of its trafficking rankings under the quasi civilian government of former President Thein Sein. But the 2016 report saw Myanmar demoted to Tier 3, the bottom rank, alongside countries such as North Korea and Sudan.

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Australia waits on election outcome – Nikkei Asian Review

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaks to members of the Liberal Party in central Sydney in the early hours of July 3. (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

SYDNEY and MELBOURNE — Australians may not know for a few days the results of their July 2 national election, following one of the tightest polls in the country’s history. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull expressed confidence early on Sunday morning — hours after voting ended — that he would be returned as leader after a closely fought campaign that saw a swing away from his Liberal Party-led coalition toward the opposition Labor Party. But analysts warned of the prospect of a hung parliament, in which no single party or alliance would hold an absolute majority. It was unclear by the time vote-counting was halted early on Sunday morning whether the ruling Liberal-National coalition could win the minimum 76 lower house seats it requires to form a ruling majority. Even so, Turnbull told a gathering of his party faithful in Sydney that he had “every confidence that we will be able to form a coalition majority government,” and said that despite gains for the opposition Labor Party, the opposition “has no capacity in the parliament” to lead the next administration. Turnbull’s speech came soon after rival Bill Shorten, the Labor leader, told his party in Melbourne that final results may not be known “for some days to come.” Even if Labor could not regain control of government, which it last held in 2013 before being trounced by the Liberal-National party coalition “there is one thing for sure: the Labor Party is back,” he added.

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Australia on edge after close election – Nikkei Asian Review

Voting inside Crown St. school in downtown Sydney

MELBOURNE and SYDNEY — Australians were closely watching for results of their national election on Saturday night. Counting in the eastern states suggested a swing toward the opposition Labor Party after polls closed at 6 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. But as voting continued in the country’s west, results remained unclear, raising the prospect of a hung parliament in which no party would have an absolute majority. By 11:45 p.m. Sydney time, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had not arrived at a governing party post-election event held at a posh Sydney hotel. Former Liberal Party Prime Minister John Howard spoke to media at the event, saying he was disappointed at seat losses in the election, but said “it is for the prime minister to speak on behalf of the coalition” regarding the overall election outcome. For much of the protracted, 55-day election campaign, Turnbull’s Liberal-National party coalition — which stormed to power at the 2013 election — was tipped to enjoy a narrow victory. But a late surge of support for Labor in opinion polls in the final days gave opposition leader Bill Shorten, a former trade union boss, reason to be optimistic.

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Tight Australia poll may give minnows balance of power – Nikkei Asian Review

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SYDNEY – On the eve of voting Australia’s July 2 national elections looks set to produce a hung parliament, raising the prospect of a raft of smaller parties and independents winning seats, and precipitating lengthy horse-trading before a government can be formed. By June 30, almost 2.5 million people had taken part in the early voting system set up for people unable to vote on July 2. One of those early voters, David Le, a 34-year-old banker, said that “in a time when the country is stable but the main political parties are not, people are going to look for alternatives.” “In common with much of the rest of the western world, there is a general skepticism about the ethics and morality of politics, and in Australia in particular the frequent deposing of prime ministers,” said John Warhurst. “What we are seeing in the opinion polls is increased votes for the minor parties, but often that’s used to cast a protest,” Albanese, told the Nikkei Asian Review. But Albanese, the shadow minister for infrastructure, transport, cities and tourism, conceded that possible gains for smaller parties remained “one of the great unknowns” of the July 2 election. He would not be drawn on whether a strong showing for the Greens and other independents could help Labor form a coalition. “We’re aiming to govern in our own right, 76 seats, that’s the aim.” Asked if he thought smaller parties would fare as well as opinion polls suggest, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said: “Tomorrow the Australian people will tell us emphatically and decisively.”

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Brexit could affect result of Australian election – Nikkei Asian Review

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen of the Australian Labor Party speaking at press conference in Sydney on June 27 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

SYDNEY — Most of Australia’s politicians believe that Britain’s June 23 vote to leave the European Union will have little direct impact on Australia’s resource-rich economy, but that does not mean Brexit is being ignored, less than a week before what looks set to be closely-fought national elections. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made a clear effort to play down any potential fallout from the Brexit controversy on Australia’s election and the country’s ties with the U.K. Speaking immediately after the U.K. referendum result, he said the U.K.’s departure from the EU would “have little direct economic impact in the short term as 3% of our trade is with the U.K. and our financial system is not reliant upon the pound sterling. What we see, though, is some short-term volatility on our share market and in the currency market.” Speaking in Sydney on June 27, shadow treasurer Chris Bowen of the opposition Australian Labor Party said that although Brexit could see sharp swings in global financial markets, the consequences would be for the short term and relatively mild. “I would regard the impact of Britain leaving the EU as much less intensive [than] the events of 2008,” Bowen said, referring to the global financial crisis.

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Proposal to expand sharia alarms Malaysia’s Christians – National Catholic Register

St John's Cathedral in Kuala Lumpur (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Like its bigger neighbor Indonesia, Malaysia has mostly had the reputation of a Muslim-majority country that does not oppress its religious minorities. Its live-and-let-live disposition is far removed from the rigors faced by Christians in countries such as Saudi Arabia, where churches cannot be built nor Mass said; or Pakistan, where Christians are expected to adhere to a strict anti-blasphemy law that critics say favors Islam over other faiths; or Iraq and Syria, where hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled war and ensuing attacks by Islamist militias. At St. John’s Cathedral and other churches in Kuala Lumpur, a modern and lively city of around 2 million people, worshippers gather every Sunday for Masses in English and in Tamil, the main language of Malaysia’s 7% minority descended from South-Asian settlers who migrated during British colonial rule, as well as in Tagalog, the language of many of the tens of thousands of Filipino migrant workers living in wealthier-neighbor Malaysia. But despite U.S. President Barack Obama’s praise for Malaysia in late 2015, during an official visit to the country, describing it as “a majority-Muslim country that represents tolerance and peace,” there are signs of a growing Islamization in politics in this country of 30 million people, where around 60% of the population is Muslim. Non-Muslims have been barred from using the Arabic term “Allah” to denote God, with authorities confiscating Bibles containing the proscribed word, after the local Catholic Church lost a legal challenge to allow non-Muslims to keep using the word, which was a long-established linguistic practice.

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Despite tarnished image, coal remains key to Asia’s energy plans – Nikkei Asian Review

Abdul Hakim, a Batang fisherman who opposes the coal plant due to be built in the area, speaks in July 2016 after he returning from lobbying Japanese lawmakers in Tokyo. (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — For environmentalists, coal is a bad word. But for some of Asia’s biggest economies, the same fuel that was the bedrock of the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain in the 19th century is key to economic development plans two centuries later. While China, the world’s biggest coal producer and consumer, is slowly cutting back on its use of coal for fuel, both Japan, a coal importer, and Indonesia, the world’s biggest coal exporter by weight, plan to expand their coal-fired supplies in the coming years. Other developing economies are turning to coal as they expand their electricity grids. Vietnam is likely to double coal consumption in the coming years, as will India — which recently overtook Japan as the world’s third-biggest oil importer and where roughly 250-300 million people do not have electricity. “China’s expected energy mix points to decreased use of coal, with the share of coal-fired power generation expected to fall to 61% by 2020 from the current 72%,” said Deepak Kannan, S&P Global Platts editor for thermal coal in Asia.

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Despite retraction row, Asean tests waters with strong South China Sea statement – Nikkei Asian Review

Rodrigo Duterte (red shirt) the newly elected president of the Philippines, speaking at Manila’s Rizal Park on May 7, 2016 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — It was a meeting to mark the 25th anniversary of relations between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China, held in the the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming, in a region known for historically close trading links with the Southeast Asian countries to the south, including Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. Surprisingly, given the location and the commemoration, ASEAN member state Malaysia issued a statement on behalf of the bloc criticizing China over its territorial claims in the contested South China Sea. The statement noted that recent developments in the disputed sea — where China has been building artificial islands and constructing what it calls “defensive facilities” while the U.S., an ally of the Philippines, has been conducting naval patrols and reconnaissance flights in the name of freedom of navigation — had raised concerns about a spillover clash with China. Those fears, the statement added, had “the potential to undermine peace”. “We stressed the importance of maintaining peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea,” the ASEAN foreign ministers said. But in an about-turn more startling than the earlier statement, Malaysia, which chaired the bloc in 2015 before passing the leadership to Laos, a Communist-ruled country with close ties to China, led the way in issuing a sudden retraction, saying there were “urgent amendments to be made.”

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Ramadan brings change of rhythm to Malaysia and Singapore – Nikkei Asian Review

Reading Islamic verse at the national mosque in Kuala Lumpur (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

SINGAPORE — Every day by sundown during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the cooks and serving staff at the Singapore Islamic Restaurant are swamped. On a recent evening, there was barely a seat to be found as hungry diners settled in for iftar, the post-fast evening supper, with the aroma of the house special, biryani — a mixed rice dish — wafting through the crowded restaurant and onto the muggy street outside. “This is the busiest time for us,” said owner Kalil, leaning back against a railing outside the restaurant, which sits almost opposite the Sultan Mosque and around the corner from Arab Street, an area known as Kampong Glam that is a hub for Islamic life in the city-state. For Muslims, almost a quarter of the world’s population, Ramadan means a month each year of waking before dawn to eat suhour, the pre-fast meal, and working, hungry, through the day until nightfall, when eating is allowed once again. As the setting sun beats a tawny glow off the Sultan Mosque’s golden minaret, people queue at stalls for kebabs, rice, and fruit such as dates, the latter a popular snack to break the daylong fast.

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