SINGAPORE — Candidates running in a slew of elections across Asia this year are taking to Twitter and other social media platforms to share slogans, pitch policies, rankle rivals and rouse crowds ahead of campaign rallies. For the last decade or so, elections have typically been depicted as social media-driven contests where the hashtag outranks the hustings when it comes to canvassing votes, particularly from smartphone-dependent millennials. While social media environments differ depending on the country, the importance of Twitter and Facebook might be overstated. Although some Asian candidates boast a huge social media presence, many of their followers appear to be fake or dormant, and the proportion of those who engage with posts is relatively low. Thailand, Indonesia, India are all holding general or presidential elections in the first half of this year, Australia is likely to vote in May, around the time the Philippines holds midterm polls. The three Southeast Asian countries are among the world’s five most internet-addicted, according to We Are Social’s 2019 global survey. Using the online Twitter analysis tool Sparktoro, which works by taking a representative sample of followers — along the lines of an opinion survey — it appears Indonesian President Joko Widodo has over 5.1 million fake followers. That equates to more than 47% of his total follower base.
SINGAPORE — “Yes, hello, fruits?” Shouting above the din, vendor Sini Mohamad leans forward into a conga line of office workers edging between dozens of lavishly provisioned stalls in Singapore’s Tekka Market. It is lunchtime, and crowds throng the market as dozens of hawker stalls dish out noodles, rice and curries. Most ignore Mohamad’s appeals. But he keeps at it, alongside stallholders selling meat, fish, vegetables and spices. The lunchtime crowd offers a fleeting chance for butchers and grocers to persuade passers-by to do a bit of grocery shopping before they head back to work, their palettes whetted by the aromas of spices and herbs clinging to the steamy market air.
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.
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.
BANGKOK – Since the king’s death Thursday at age 88, Thais have lined up by the hundreds of thousands to pay their respects at Bangkok’s Grand Palace. “I want to come here to give something for the father,” said Nattapsorn Juijuyen, a volunteer who helped distribute food and water to the swelling crowd Monday. Thousands of Thais lined up outside banks overnight to pick up commemorative currency notes in honor of Bhumibol. Across Bangkok, shops are running out of black clothing as well as photographs and paintings of the late monarch. Books about him also are in short supply. “We have nothing left,” said a staff member at the Kinokuniya bookstore in one of the city’s many glossy malls. “We only have books about the other kings from the past.”
BANGKOK – An afternoon downpour did not deter tens of thousands of black-clad Thais from converging on the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha on Sunday as they continued to mourn the loss of their late king, Bhumibol Adulyadej. They could have a long time to grieve before Bhumibol’s eldest son and heir, 64-year-old Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, becomes king. In a surprise announcement, Vajiralongkorn said he will remain as crown prince until he has had time to mourn. Just how long that will take is not clear. But it could be as long as a year before Bhumibol is cremated, and there has been speculation that his son will wait until then to take the throne.
JAKARTA — Concern is growing in Asia about the spread of the Zika virus, with a recent outbreak in Singapore followed by cases in Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. There is no vaccine or treatment for the virus, which usually causes only mild fever, rashes and red eyes in infected adults but can lead to a birth defect called microcephaly if a pregnant woman is infected. The spread of Zika in Latin America has led to about 1,800 cases of microcephaly and resulted in several prominent athletes refusing to participate in the recent Olympic Games held in Brazil. In February, the World Health Organization declared Zika, which can be spread sexually but is mostly mosquito-borne, a global public health emergency. In Asia, the threat of the virus spreading around the region is causing concern for hundreds of millions of people already on guard against dengue, malaria and other conditions spread by the same mosquitoes that carry Zika. With almost 300 Zika cases reported in recent weeks in Singapore, a trade hub and city-state that is home to significant migrant worker populations from across Asia, the fear is that Zika will spread rapidly throughout the densely populated region.
JAKARTA – Unlike the imposing and often inaccessible buildings of the European Union in Brussels, ASEAN’s low-rise offices sit in the shadow of a partly constructed overhead railway in the southern part of Indonesia’s traffic-clogged capital. Nine months after the group’s 10 members established the ASEAN Economic Community, which aims to promote the free movement of goods, services, capital and labor, the headquarters symbolizes both ASEAN’s aspirations and its limitations. The EU was previously known as the European Economic Community, but ASEAN’s adoption of the “community” moniker does not mean it will emulate Europe’s radical, sovereignty-pooling measures, such as a common currency, central bank and free movement of labor. “The appetite to surrender sovereignty simply is not there,” said Jayant Menon, lead economist at the Asian Development Bank in Manila. “I don’t see a single currency coming into play in ASEAN, and I don’t see that as a bad thing.”
BANGKOK – In Aceh on the northern tip of Indonesia’s Sumatra Island, the refugees were in bad shape when they landed in early and mid-May after a long ordeal at sea. “They only had the clothes on their backs. Many had wounds from the fighting that had broken out at sea over food,” Nasruddin, a coordinator for the Geutanyoe Foundation, an Acehnese nongovernmental organization that has been working with the survivors, told the Nikkei Asian Review.
BANGKOK – For Rohingya, it surely seemed as if the Myanmar government was not taking the meeting seriously, much less committing to addressing the decades of discrimination and bias that prompt thousands of Rohingya to risk kidnapping and destitution overseas. “The [Myanmar] government just sent a low-level delegation. There was not even a Rohingya representative speaking at the meeting,” said Aung Win ,a Rohingya community leader speaking by telephone from a Muslim ghetto on the outskirts of Sittwe, the regional capital of Rakhine state.