Election shock in Malaysia and the fall of a Chief Justice in the Philippines: A week in politics

Photo: Gunawan Kartapranata/CC BY-SA 3.0

The general election gripped headlines in a landmark week for Malaysia. Elsewhere in ASEAN, state visits took place and the Philippines removed its chief justice.


GE14 upset

Pakatan Harapan (PH), Malaysia’s opposition coalition, scored a historic victory in GE14. Opposition leader, Mahathir Mohamed, swept to victory. His coalition won 112 of the 222 seats in Parliament. It ended Barisan Nasional’s (BN) 61-year rule over Malaysia.

Mahathir achieved victory despite the odds stacked against him. Last minute gerrymandering redrew voting boundaries in favour of BN. The timing of the election, a midweek election, also favoured the incumbent. Overseas voters also received their postal votes late. In spite of this, PH inflicted heavy losses on BN for the first time in the country’s history.

As Malaysia emerges from BN’s shadow, Mahathir will need to curb Malaysia’s spiralling debt. He will likely reassess his predecessor’s expensive infrastructure projects. Goods and services tax could also be abolished. Regardless of what comes, this week represents a new dawn for Malaysian politics.

Chinese Premier visited Indonesia

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited Indonesia as his first port of call on an overseas trip. He held talks with President Joko Widodo and Vice President Jusuf Kalla. He also attended a joint Chinese-Indonesian business summit.

Li said the purpose of his visit was “aimed at cementing mutual political trust, deepening mutually beneficial cooperation and enhancing the friendship of our peoples”. The visit will likely mean progress for the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail project. Deeper cooperation could also see an increase in Indonesian exports to China. Palm oil, coffee and fruit are three industries tipped for export expansion.

Singapore will host Trump-Kim summit

On June 12th, Singapore will host the upcoming summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. Singapore’s location represents a compromise for both parties. The island state is politically neutral. It also offers both parties security as both nations hold embassies in the city.

The summit will be the first time the US leadership and North Korean leadership have met face to face. Singapore is becoming a destination of choice for historic talks. In 2015, the island state hosted talks between Xi Jinping and Taiwan’s former leader, Ma Ying-jeou. This track record of successful summit hosting makes Singapore the perfect venue. It is a reminder that the small island state holds a magnanimous global presence.

The Philippines Supreme court removed the Chief Justice after she attacked the war on drugs

Maria Lourdes Sereno, the nation’s chief justice, has long been a critic of President Duterte. She has spoken out in opposition to his violent war on drugs and decision to implement martial law. In April, Duterte called her his “enemy” and publicly declared he would oust her.

Duterte finally got his opportunity. The Supreme Court found her guilty of unlawfully holding her position. It voted 8-6 in favour of nullifying her appointment. Sereno’s lawyers have said they will appeal the decision.

Sereno’s removal signifies the loss of another voice of dissent in the top tier of government. Her removal leaves one less mechanism to protect against the government’s abuse of power. Duterte has already purged the Senate of critics to his war on drugs. Now he is creating a supreme court of yes-men and women too.

The Vietnamese government jailed a Facebook user for dissent

The People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City convicted a Facebook user that posted anti-state propaganda online. The accused, 56-year old Bui Hieu Vo, received a four-and-a-half-year sentence.

Police found 57 posts on his social media accounts that expressed anti-government opinions. Vo pleaded guilty to the charges and submitted a letter asking for leniency.

The Vietnamese government found an unlikely ally in its campaign to silence critics. Facebook closed the profiles of high-profile government critics. It also removed content criticising the Vietnamese government.

The Vietnamese government set up a direct communication channel with Facebook last year. It claimed it would use the channel to flag “toxic” content. The arrest and profile closures indicate the collaboration is far deeper. The safe space Facebook once offered in Vietnam is rapidly diminishing.

The UN Security Council urged Myanmar to find those responsible for violence

Myanmar has a responsibility to find the perpetrators of violence against Rohingya. The UN Security Council reminded Myanmar of its responsibilities on Wednesday. Violence against the Muslim population caused 700,000 Rohingya to flee the country.

Four human rights groups have appealed for Myanmar’s referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC). They believe the government will not bring justice against those responsible. The UN Special Envoy will visit the country next week. It will work with the Burmese government to explore a resolution to the crisis.

Prayut met Brazilian foreign minister to discuss increased cooperation

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha met with Brazilian Foreign Minister Aloysio Filho. It was the first time a Brazilian foreign minister had visited Government House in 21-years. Prayut discussed Brazilian contribution to Thailand’s Eastern Economic Corridor.