Maria Ressa, the head of a Philippine news website that has been at odds with President Rodrigo Duterte, has been granted bail just a day after her highly controversial arrest on libel charges that have been widely perceived as an effort by the government to bully journalists.Read More
On Wednesday, February 13th, Thailand’s Election Commission announced that it will put forward a recommendation to disqualify the Thai Raksa Chart Party, which nominated Princess Ubolratana as their Prime Ministerial candidate, from participating in the general election on March 24. In a previous report, the Election Commission barred Princess Ubolratana from running as a candidate, stating that she cannot “hold any political office” due to her royal heritage.
In a public statement, the Election Commission denounced Princess Ubolratana’s nomination as “hostile to the constitutional monarchy” and cited it as justification for seeking the party’s removal from the 2018 elections.
The recommendation will now move to the Constitutional Court, which has agreed to take up the case. In a foreboding sign for the opposition party, the decision to accept the case was passed unanimously. Thai Raksa would now have seven days to present a written statement to the court which scheduled a hearing for Feb 27.
On March 24th, Thailand will hold its first general election since 2011. The 2011 election resulted in a sweeping victory by Yingluck Shinawatra and the Pheu Thai Party who remained in power until a military coup in 2014 ousted the former Prime Minister. The previous election was viewed as a chance for Thailand to return to a functioning democracy after years of military junta rule, but the country has yet to meet such expectations.
Although the current government has promised a fair and open election, critics have commented that the ex-general and incumbent Prime Minister Prayut Chan-Ocha, has bent the rules in favor of his pro-military coalition to maintain power.
However, since Princess Ubolratana’s decision to enter the election, she has remained one of the most outspoken and visible members of the Thai royal family. A graduate of MIT in mathematics and biochemistry in 1973, in 1972, Princess Ubolratana relinquished her royal title and married a fellow American classmate. The marriage lasted for 26 years until the couple divorced in 1998. She returned to Thailand in 2001 and has since been very active in the Thai entertainment industry, starring in movies and singing on stage with Thai-pop groups. The Thai media portrayed her as down-to-earth and accessible for a public figure of her stature.
The nomination of Princess Ubolratana by a political party with close ties to the Shinawatras has multiple layers of significance. The military junta and other opponents of the Shinawatras have tried to paint the political dynasty as anti-monarchist to justify the military coup. Having the King’s older sister allying with the opposition has clearly shattered the military junta’s narrative. Moreover, the well-educated and popular princess is viewed as a formidable challenger with sufficient name recognition to defeat the current Mr. Prayut, despite the rigged setting.
But most importantly, the princess’s entrance into politics defy Thailand’s long tradition of having an apolitical royal family. In response to the criticism, on her now private Instagram account, Princess Ubolratana insisted that she is a commoner and stated that her nomination showed that she has “no privileges over the Thai public.”
However, on an Instagram post late Tuesday after her disqualification, the princess apologized for the inconvenience that she has caused due to her “sincere intention” to work for the Thai people.
After 24 hours of drama and uncertainty, the Election Commission of Thailand has disqualified the princess of Thailand from running for Prime Minister.Read More
Huang Xiangmo, a prominent Chinese political donor suspected of making campaign contributions to further the Chinese Communist Party’s agenda in Australia, has been stripped of his permanent residency in the country. On top of that, Mr. Huang’s application for Australian citizenship has also been denied by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection on “character grounds.” Officials accused Mr. Huang of making false claims during his interviews and had deep concerns about the “reliability” of the information that he provided.
Under Australian immigration laws, Mr. Huang will have 28 days to ask the Department of Home Affairs to restore his visa. Alternatively, he could request the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for a review of his case within nine days of receiving his visa cancellation notice. Mr. Huang’s son and wife currently resides in the Sydney mansion purchased by Mr. Huang in 2012 for $12.8 million.
Mr. Huang migrated to Australia in 2011 after building his real estate empire through launching the Yuhu Group in Guangdong, China in the early 2000s. The billionaire has cultivated close ties with Beijing and associated himself with various organizations connected to the United Front Work Department, a division of the Chinese government that seeks to assert Beijing’s influence by working with the overseas Chinese community.
In 2015, Mr. Huang published an article on the Chinese state-run tabloid Global Times, which provided advice for Chinese immigrants seeking to gain influence in representative democracies.
“In a democratic society, politics is based on strength, from hard power such as votes (population) and banknotes (financial power), as well as soft power including language and political operations,” he wrote in the piece posted on the council’s website.
“Enhancing political enthusiasm and increasing participation in politics has always been the long-cherished wish of the Chinese community, and it is the only way to unite the strength of the Chinese community, enhance the status of the Chinese, promote Australia-China relations, participate in the formation of Australian public policies, and serve the country and society.”
From 2013 to 2016, Mr. Huang has donated more than two million dollars to the major political parties in Australia as well as the campaigns of individual MPs. According to the Australian Electoral Commission, Mr. Huang gave $200,000 to the Labor Party in 2013 and $450,000 to the coalition government in 2014. In a major scandal, Senator Dastyari from New South Wales was forced to resign after local media organizations revealed that Mr. Huang’s company paid for the senator’s personal legal bills in exchange for him supporting Beijing’s position on the South China Sea which deviated from the official policies championed by the Labor Party.
The expulsion of Mr. Huang is another example of former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his administration’s determination to root out foreign, namely Chinese influence, in Australian politics. Mr. Turnbull has personally slammed Beijing on multiple occasions, claiming that “the Australian people will stand up” against Chinese influence.
In January, a law passed under the Turnbull administration officially put an end to foreign donations. According to analysts, the new government, headed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, will be as tough on the Chinese as the Turnbull administration. When asked, Mr Morrison demurred from commenting on the specifics of Mr. Huang’s immigration case.
It is important to note that Mr. Huang has denied any links with the Chinese Communist Party.
Following the deadly church bombing that took place in the southern region of the Philippines over the weekend, the nation’s interior minister claimed that the attack was perpetrated by an Indonesian couple with assistance from an Islamic State-linked group known as Abu Sayyaf.Read More
Malaysia and Singapore are once again at loggerheads: this time over an airspace and maritime dispute as Malaysia pushes for more control over its air and sea territorial borders in the south.Read More
Singapore’s ruling party, the People’s Action Party (PAP), has named Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat as the party’s next first assistant secretary-general, a position which is often seen as a stepping stone to becoming the party’s Prime Ministerial candidate.Read More
The never-ending saga of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) financial scandal took yet another surprising twist when the Auditor-General of Malaysia, Tan Sri Dr. Madinah Mohamad, revealed that all paragraphs mentioning the presence of businessman Low Taek Jho, who is better known as Jho Low, at a 1MDB board of directors meeting were removed from the company’s final audit report.Read More
The former First Lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos, has been arrested after being found guilty of seven counts of graft. However, legal experts believe that she could successfully appeal the conviction and not receive any jail time due to her advanced age. If the appeals court upholds the lower court’s ruling, Mrs. Marcos could potentially challenge that decision at the Supreme Court.Read More
The recent by-election in Myanmar saw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) lose six constituencies - a sign that local support for the first democratically elected leader of Myanmar is dwindling.Read More
In what could be the worst aviation disaster of 2018, Lion Air Flight JT610 crashed into the Java Sea just minutes after taking off from Jakarta, Indonesia, leaving authorities in a desperate scramble to search for survivors.Read More
ASEAN Defense Ministers Step Up Efforts to Combat Terrorism With New Intelligence-Sharing Initiative
All 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have agreed to share intelligence in order to combat the rising threat of Islamist militancy in the region, announced Dr Ng Eng Hen, the Defense Minister of Singapore, on Saturday.Read More
In the aftermath of the deadly earthquake and tsunami that wreaked havoc on Sulawesi island and effectively wiped out the city of Palu, the World Bank has announced that it will provide a loan of up to US$1 billion to the Southeast Asian nation. Current estimates have recorded the total physical cost of the earthquake at US$531 million.Read More
Prolonged trade war between the United States and China may pose profound threats to ASEAN and the global economy, warned Singapore’s Minister of Trade and Industry, Chan Chun Sing, during an interview with Bloomberg on Thursday, Oct. 7.Read More
With the European Union (EU) voting overwhelmingly to ban the use of palm oil in transport fuels, the future of Malaysian and Indonesian palm oil farmers is looking increasingly bleak.Read More
While the U.S. is currently battling Hurricane Florence, Southeast Asia faces a natural threat of its own: Super Typhoon Mangkhut, which stormed through the Philippines over the weekend and claimed dozens of lives in its deadly path.Read More
On Sept. 3, 2018, two Malaysian women were caned for having sexual intercourse in a car, placing Malaysia’s ultraconservative anti-LGBTQ laws in the global spotlight. The harsh sentence passed down by the Islamic courts was roundly condemned by many human rights groups such as Amnesty International, who called it “a terrible day for human rights”. In the remarks, the judge added that the caning was “a lesson and reminder … [to] the members of society”.Read More
The leader of the now-defunct Cambodian opposition party, Kem Sokha, has been released from prison on Monday, Sept. 10, after being detained for nearly a year on charges of treason.
Mr. Sokha is the head of the outlawed Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and has been placed in solitary confinement since his arrest in September last year, following a complete crackdown on opposition groups and the media by the Cambodian government.
However, his release is highly conditional - almost resembling a house arrest. The 65-year old is only permitted to travel within a few blocks from his house and is not allowed to meet his party’s former leaders, nor his supporters, or participate in any rallies organized by his party. Sokha is also banned from meeting with any foreign nationals.
According to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, Mr. Sokha was granted bail due to his health conditions. Mr. Sokha suffers from a myriad of health problems including high blood pressure and diabetes. His family also claimed that jail time has caused his health to deteriorate, resulting in him requiring shoulder surgery.
The Municipal Court emphasized that the case against him would not be dropped. If convicted of treason, Mr. Sokha could face up to 30 years of jail time.
His arrest was widely regarded as a political move by the incumbent Prime Minister of Cambodia, Hun Sen, to stifle opposition.
In Sept. 2017, Mr. Sohka was accused of treason after the emergence of a video clip of him speaking at a seminar in 2013 about receiving advice from U.S. pro-democracy groups. The CNRP has vehemently denied those allegations.
Shortly after his arrest, the CNRP was dissolved by the Supreme Court of Cambodia, on the grounds that it was plotting with the U.S. to overthrow Prime Minister Hun Sen, a strongman who has led the Southeast Asian country since 1985.
The CNRP was Cambodia’s largest opposition party, winning three million votes, or roughly 44% of the popular vote, in Cambodia’s 2013 general election. Its abolishment paved the way for Hun Sen’s governing Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to romp to victory in Cambodia’s general elections earlier this year. The CPP ran largely unopposed and won all 125 parliament seats with 77.5% of the vote, turning Cambodia into a one-party state.
On Sunday, April 28, over 1,000 people in the Northern Thai city of Chiang Mai publicly protested against a luxury housing development on forested land.Read More