It’s been a very good year here in our neighbourhood

It’s been a very good year here in our neighbourhood

POLITICALLY speaking, it has been a refreshing and uplifting year for this region. Indeed, it is hard to know where to start when recapping the good tidings that have come our way over the past 12 months.

The standout has been Myanmar, which, at the start of the year, continued to cause hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing in places like Washington, Paris and London, where leaders are always honest and incorruptible.

They were chagrined because the multi-party polls, held in Myanmar the previous November, had resulted in the election of a government dominated by former military officers and their allies.

So, led by Britain and the United States, they concluded – and their conclusion is always definitive and sacrosanct – that little had changed and that Myanmar must continue to be ostracised and vilified.

But wait! Suddenly something stirred on the watchtower. There was movement. Slow and cautious at first, it suddenly accelerated and became so broad and substantive that no one, not even the hypocritical miquetoasts in the US and Europe, could fail to applaud and make reciprocal gestures.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether the West’s belatedly grovelling overtures to Myanmar are genuine, or whether, as so often in the past, they will be aborted for domestic political reasons.

For the moment, however, let us rejoice that Myanmar now hosts a vibrant political opposition, a relatively free press that shames sycophantic editors elsewhere in the region, and is already a powerful magnet for investors.

There were also other, almost equally uplifting, revelations over the past year.

In Singapore, that bastion of disciplined democracy, that clockwork isle set in a sea of laxity, that demi-paradise growing upon Cambodian sand, there was another revolution of sorts.

In the May general election, the previously unassailable People’s Action Party lost 40 per cent of the vote, and the opposition grabbed a key five-member seat and the hairless scalp of Foreign Minister George Yeo.

In the aftermath, the geriatric warhorse Lee Kuan Yew and the former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong both quit the cabinet, while several other heavyweight ministers were dropped.

Callooh callay, it was a frabjous day, except perhaps in the elite, cloistered corridors of the PAP and its cronies and pyramid club acolytes.

Now, at last, democracy threatens to engulf Singapore and that is a reason to celebrate.

So, too, was the mid-year election result in Thailand, where a regime of dubious legitimacy, helmed by the misnamed Democrat Party, was booted from office.

In came a new government led by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the younger sister of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a shameful military coup in 2006.

Thus far, Yingluck’s team, despite a predictable barrage of often misogynistic criticism from the local English-language media, has performed credibly.

In Malaysia, while Prime Minister Najib Razak has solidified his position in the ruling National Front coalition, he has faced heavy criticism, most recently over a new law curbing the scope of public demonstrations.

As well, the protracted shenanigans involved in the court case against former DPM Anwar Ibrahim has bruised Najib’s reformist image, but they are unlikely to dent his re-election prospects later next year.

Another notable highlight of 2011 was Philippine President Benigno Aquino finally biting the bullet and arresting his venal, but powerfully-connected predecessor, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The major blot on the past year occurred in January when the dictatorial Vietnam Communist Party held its latest five-yearly congress and elected another typically ageing and brutal crop of gargoyles to its top posts.

Vietnam now has the most repressive regime in this region, and until it starts to open the door Myanmar-style, it will remain economically shackled and socially and culturally backward.

But let us not allow the Vietnamese thugs to lessen the justifiably warm glow resulting from the momentous achievements across the rest of the region in 2011. It’s been a very good year.


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