KUALA LUMPUR — After a disputed election, Malaysia’s opposition appears to be in something of a bind as to what comes next ahead of the opening of parliament on June 24. On May 5, the Barisan Nasional (BN, or National Front) coalition held onto office in Malaysia’s 13th general election, meaning that if it stays in government for the full five year term to 2018, it will—with its forerunner the Alliance Party—top six continuous decades in office. The Pakatan Rakyat (PKR, or People’s Alliance) opposition doesn’t think that the BN won a free and fair vote, however, and is filing official complaints against the outcome in 25 constituencies which it says were marred by cheating. If the opposition alliance won enough of the seats it is contesting, it would reverse the election outcome – a 133-89 seat win for the BN on a record 85 per cent turnout. In turn, the BN has filed complaints about 21 seats, which if it carried, would return the governing coalition’s two-thirds parliamentary majority lost in 2008 elections – an outcome that for the first time spurred opposition hopes that it could make history by beating the BN at the polls.
ROME – The day after former Archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Bergoglio was elected head of the world’s estimated 1.2 billion Catholics, Ariadna Estetania Cabello Rendace was among a group of Argentinians standing in the evening cold in St Peter’s Square, watching on video screens in the vast cobble-stoned piazza as the new Pope said Mass under the blue-background splendour of Michelangelo’s Biblical frescoes inside the Sistine Chapel. “Last night, when they announced the new papa, we were standing over there, near the fountain,” she said, pointing across the square. “When he said ‘Argentina’, I said ‘What? Who? I cannot believe’.”
DANANG – Nguyen Nguc Phuong is 33 years of age and a confident, articulate public speaker – comfortable on a podium in front of an audience. He is resourceful and self-motivated, as seen in his decision to leave school at 16 and relocate to Vietnam’s largest city, Ho Chi Minh City, to learn to be a mechanic and an electrician. Nguyen later returned to his hometown of Danang, one of Vietnam’s more touristy cities, and opened his own repair shop. However, after seeing the impact of Agent Orange – a defoliant sprayed by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War to destroy the crops and jungle upon which the Viet Cong relied for food and cover – he decided he wanted to volunteer his time to help the children born mentally or physically handicapped due to the herbicide’s tragic and grotesque effects. “I wanted to become a teacher to do something for them,” he says, pointing out to over 40 children and teenagers at the Danang Peace Village – a center run by the Danang Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin to care for children and teenagers affected by Agent Orange.
KUALA LUMPUR – On Saturday, tens of thousands of yellow and green-clad protestors seeking changes to Malaysia’s electoral system were driven back from the city’s Independence Square by volleys of water-cannon and teargas fired after protestors pushed through barricades sealing-off the plaza. Almost 400 demonstrators were subsequently arrested by police, including some seen being dragged away holding bloodied faces and bruised limbs.
Moments after Malaysia’s parliamentary opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim addressed the crowd at the front line, several protestors close to the police barricade suddenly shouted “back, back,” before pushing through the police lines around the Dataran Merdeka, or Independence Square, the iconic downtown location where the protestors sought to hold their sit-down demonstration seeking changes to how Malaysia holds elections.
HO CHI MINH CITY – With the streetlights warming to a low glow outside as dusk turns to dark, Trang Hoang Yen is still running t-shirts through a sewing machine as most of her staff leave for home. “Normally we have a lot more workers, but the past year has been very hard for our sector,” she says, stopping work for a few minutes to talk.