New Mandala associate editor Mish Khan wades through the week that was in this crazy, chaotic corner of the globe.
This week she runs her eye over Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, the Philippines and Malaysia.
Haze havoc heats up tensions
As haze continues to shroud Southeast Asia, the patience of Indonesia’s neighbours grows thin.
Annual forest fires, lit illegally during Indonesia’s dry season to clear land plantations, are the cause of the thick smog. Due to a prolonged dry spell, this year’s haze is set to be the worst on record.
Amid school closures, flight delays, respiratory issues and the cancellation of major sporting events, fumbling statements from Indonesian officials have severely irritated its neighbours.
These vignettes of diplomacy include the claim that “for 11 months, they enjoyed nice air from Indonesia and they never thanked us,” and “it is understandable if other countries are upset, but we Indonesians are more upset.”
A sarcastic website created by a Singaporean netizen, Thank you for the clean air, allows you to click a red button to “thank” Indonesia and has already archived over 220,000 clicks.
Beating Thailand’s racket with racquets
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, two of the world’s most iconic tennis stars, played a sold-out match in Bangkok last Friday for US $4.1 million dollars.
Spending more time in scripted engagements than on the tennis court, the pair’s trip was crafted to boost military-ruled Thailand’s image, particularly with the nation’s reputation for tourism suffering from August’s deadly Erawan shrine bombing.
Donning traditional silk jackets, yellow to represent the King and blue in respect of the Queen, the pair visited the Grand Palace and later met with General Prayuth Chan-ocha where they each gifted him a tennis racquet. Under pelting rain, the pair laid wreaths and posed for photos at Erawan shrine.
Signing shirts and taking selfies could pay off, as the Thailand Tourism Authority boasted it’s now back to “business as usual.”
Rohingya abuse? Sue me!
Muslim rights coalition Burma Task Force has filed a civil lawsuit in the United States against Myanmar president Thein Sein and government ministers for “crimes against humanity, extra-judicial killings, torture, mental and physical trauma” against the Rohingya.
The suit has been filed under the Alien Tort Claims Act. A 2013 US Supreme Court ruling which decided that lawsuits under the Act must concern US territory with sufficient force suggests that the suit is unviable.
A representative for President Thein Sein brushed off the issue, stating “Myanmar is not a vassal to America. There’s no reason why Myanmar would go and face the lawsuit of a federal court in America.”
Despite the suit’s lack of viability, it has successfully attracted global media attention; likely the activists’ real goal ahead of Myanmar’s landmark election from which Rohingya have been barred from voting.
Keeping up with the Marcos: former dictator’s son announces Vice Presidency bid
Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jnr, son of widely detested late Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos Snr, has announced he will run for the Vice Presidency in 2016. The move is seen as a stepping stone towards an eventual presidential bid.
The Marcos family has long faced accusations that the former dictator oversaw massive human rights abuses and plundered billions of dollars from the state during his two decades of rule, until being forced into exile in the US by a people powered revolution in 1986.
Bongbong’s mother, congresswoman Imelda Marcos, has vehemently denied the family’s corruption. She is infamously known for leaving thousands of pairs of shoes behind when fleeing the Philippines with her husband, and for her luxurious art collection, which included pieces from Michelangelo, Gaugin, and Goya.
Bongbong has been an unapologetic defender of the regime.
There is speculation that a successful VP bid could “crown the Marcos family’s return to power in a country that has been ruled by political dynasties for decades.”
Malaysia: truly Asia, minus the British-enacted sedition laws
On Tuesday, Universiti Malaya law lecturer Dr Azmi Sharom lost a constitutional challenge against Malaysia’s notorious Sedition Act. He will now stand trial for allegedly seditious remarks made in an article on the Malay Mail Online.
Azmi challenged the court on the validity of the 1948 act, which criminalises “hatred or contempt… to excite disaffection against any ruler or against any government” and was originally introduced by Britain to quell opposition during its colonial rule of the country.
Azmi asserted that Parliament had the sole authority to make laws restricting freedom of speech and as the Sedition Act is a pre-parliament law, it is invalid. The Federal Court dismissed these arguments.
The ruling has raised fears that the Government now has even wider powers to crackdown on dissent and curtail free speech among its critics.
Mish Khan is a second-year law/Asian studies student at the Australian National University and associate editor at New Mandala.