Farewell to the old world order

From the bloodshed in Syria to Brexit to Trump's victory, 2016 was a year of disruption

The year 2016 will be remembered for many things, not least of which for how the old world order got tossed out and a new world order got established. It will be remembered for Syria constantly hogging the headlines for bombardments, destruction and the death of thousands of civilians, while the world continued to go about its business.

It will be remembered for how climate change fuelled one of the longest-lasting, strongest hurricanes of its kind - Hurricane Matthew that battered the United States and Haiti - and how reckless human activities continued to perpetuate the vicious circle, with 460 million in northern China breathing in toxic smog.

It will be remembered for a controversial figure who won a landslide presidential victory, and it is not Mr Donald Trump.

It will be remembered for small-headed babies as the Zika virus continued to take hold of the world, from the Americas to Asia.

Elsewhere in Asia, it will be remembered for political and economic crises that saw the downfall of a country's first female president and a cash crunch in the second-most-populous country in the world.

It, too, will be remembered for what could be a low in race relations in the US, as at least four high-profile shootings by the police of black men sent protesters onto the streets across the country.

Top on most people's minds, 2016 will be remembered as the year populism won - when citizens defiantly eschewed globalisation and what it has to offer, in favour of greater sovereignty of their country.

The world watched in shock as Mr Trump defied all polls and predictions to beat political old hand Hillary Clinton to the White House.

Months before, more than half of Britons chose in a referendum to leave the European Union after 43 years of membership.

Political turmoil also swept South Korea, as millions protested to force their president, Ms Park Geun Hye, to resign over a corruption scandal.

India's troubles were over money - literally - after its citizens realised the 500-rupee (S$10.70) and 1,000-rupee notes that were most prevalent in the cash-dominant nation had become useless when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced last month that he was scrapping them to stem corruption.

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte rode to worldwide fame after Filipinos voted for him based on his campaign promise of tackling crime, specifically the illegal drug trade in the Philippines. He has shocked human rights activists, the United Nations and long-time ally the US, with thousands of extrajudicial killings in his anti-drug crusade.

Thailand was sent into mourning after its revered monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, lost his battle to a long bout of ill health.

As these events continue to play out in the new year, the hope at least is that 2017 will be a better year for humankind.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 27, 2016, with the headline 'Farewell to the old world order'. Print Edition | Subscribe