Asian Insider Jan 13: Discontent in India, Thailand, political stirrings in Singapore

Asian Insider brings you insights into a fast-changing region from our network of correspondents.

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In today’s bulletin, we look at anti-government protests in India and Thailand, political stirrings in Singapore and flight disruptions as a Philippine volcano disgorges into the atmosphere.

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PHILIPPINE VOLCANO

While the Philippines is periodically visited by Nature’s fury, it usually takes the form of cyclones that lash the islands, sometimes with catastrophic results. This week, though, it is about red-hot lava gushing out of the Taal volcano after a sudden eruption of ash and steam that forced villagers to flee and shut down Manila's international airport, as well as offices and schools.

According to airport authorities, flight operations at the Philippines’ main international airport partially resumed on Monday, after the airport was closed from Sunday due to volcanic ash fall that blew ash clouds up to 100km north. An alternative airport north of Manila at Clark Freeport remained open but the authorities would shut it down too if ashfall threatens flights, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines said.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or major damage from Taal's eruption south of the capital. About 8,000 villagers have moved to at least 38 evacuation centres in the hard-hit province of Batangas and nearby Cavite province, but officials expect the number to swell, with hundreds of thousands more being brought out of harm's way.

SINGAPORE STIRRINGS

Singapore’s parliamentary polls have been fairly predictable over the decades. Despite the occasional excitement triggered by opposition rallies, Singaporeans have not been ones to rock the boat; the ruling People’s Action Party comes in with a strong mandate every time. So, post poll interest generally focuses on the margins of victory and whether the opposition made any significant scores, or got additional seats. 

This time around, with speculation that a snap election may be called in the first half of 2020,  there has been much interest in the activities of former PAP stalwart Dr Tan Cheng Bock, who, not long ago, unsuccessfully contested the presidency. On Sunday morning, The Straits Times caught up with Dr Tan for his Progressive Singapore Party's (PSP) first door-to-door visits in the West Coast Group Reserved Constituency. "The reception has been warm. Tell them: I'm coming home,” he told us.

Tee Zhuo says barring major changes to electoral boundaries, PSP is widely expected to contest in West Coast at the next general election, as the constituency includes the area formerly under single-seat Ayer Rajah. Dr Tan had served as the People's Action Party (PAP) MP for six terms until the seat was absorbed into West Coast GRC in 2006. Sunday's home visits were the party's first major grassroots event of the year, involving 22 teams covering about 50 blocks in the GRC's Teban Gardens and Pandan Loop areas.

INDIA’S MILLION MUTINIES

Protests against a controversial citizenship law enacted by the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi have flared across India over the past few weeks, taking the sheen off a government that only a few months ago held on to power by a handsome margin. The wave of protests have been largely propelled by students, prompting references to previous mass youth movements that have left an imprint on the country, says India Correspondent Debarshi Dasgupta. More than 25 have died in police crackdowns.

In the early 1970s, widespread student protests in different parts of the country coalesced into a wider political campaign against the Congress government led by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. She responded by imposing a state of emergency across the country, citing a prevailing "internal disturbance". A dark chapter in India's democracy, the emergency was accompanied by severe crackdowns on civil liberties and lasted from June 1975 to March 1977.

Meanwhile, more than 13,000 people gathered at Suan Rot Fai park in Bangkok in their running gear even before sunrise on Sunday -- but not for a marathon, says Thailand Correspondent Hathai Techakkiteranum. 

They were taking part in a 4km run to "chase out the uncle", referring to Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who is commonly known as "Uncle Tu". Titled "Run Against Dictatorship" in English, this was Thailand's first anti-government protest in the form of a running event.

RICH DAD, POOR DAD

Rich people have money work for them while the poor work for money. Since 1977, when Robert Kiyosaki’s classic Rich Dad Poor Dad was published, it has spawned a business that includes seminars and other titles from the author. 

The Hawaii-born Japanese American believes that you can choose four paths - employee (like his father), self-employed (small business owner), businessman (bigger business) or investor (rich dad). The investor has the best deal because he gets a flow of income without having to work for it. In the book, he laments how schools are not teaching financial literacy and sets out lessons on cash flow, assets and liabilities.

Over a steak lunch, executive editor Sumiko Tan caught up with the acclaimed writer on a recent visit to Singapore. Kiyosaki, 72, had just been accosted by a man who came up to him saying he had S$35 million in the bank and what should he do? His response: “Don’t tell anybody.”

Besides the Rich Dad business, the Kiyosakis have a real estate portfolio of 7,000 apartment units, four golf courses, two resorts and other commercial property. They also enjoy their money; first class air travel and Panerai watches included.

WARREN’S WISHING LAMP

Earlier this month, my editor Warren Fernandez asked a bunch of his senior staff to gaze into the decade ahead and provide insights on what to expect by way of challenges. We were told to also voice our top hopes and wishes. 

For Warren, and for me, the US-China decoupling will be a central challenge for most Asians.

Climate change and technological disruption follow as major challenges for him as well as associate editor Vikram Khanna. 

Not surprisingly for a journalist who currently is President of the World Editors Forum, his big hopes include more time to read and gather information and insights. 

As for his wishes, here is one: To be alive, fit and healthy for the celebrations to mark the 200th anniversary of The Straits Times on July 15, 2045. 

Shouldn’t be too difficult for him seeing that Singapore tops global life expectancy indices with a score of 84.8 years and he is himself just into his fifties.

You can read Warren’s predictions and wishes here.

For executive editor Sumiko Tan’s top predictions and hopes, see here.

For my predictions, hopes and wishes, look here.

For my fellow associate editor Vikram Khanna’s, see here.

IN OTHER NEWS

Imran Kassim, a 35-year-old logistics professional who is the first Singaporean to be charged with terror financing, admitted in his trial on Monday that he had transferred funds overseas to support the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Imran, representing himself,  argued that while he made the fund transfer to ISIS, he had not broken the law as he did not recognise Singapore law and only recognised Syariah law.

According to a closely watched poll on Monday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison's approval rating has declined sharply in the face of horrendous bush fires that have killed 28 people and destroyed 2,000 homes. His approval rating was overtaken by opposition Labor leader Anthony Albanese in the poll, which surveyed 1,505 voters.

Police in Indian-controlled Kashmir are rattled after they arrested a long-serving counterinsurgency officer for allegedly having ties with rebels fighting against Indian rule in the disputed region. Police deputy superintendent Davinder Singh, along with two militants and their civilian aide were nabbed in a fast-moving car, Inspector General Vijay Kumar told reporters in Srinagar, the region's main city.

The United Arab Emirates will invest US$22.8 billion in Indonesia, through a sovereign wealth fund set up by President Joko Widodo. The South-east Asian nation seeks to finance billions of dollars of infrastructure and energy projects, while the UAE plans to invest in building Indonesia's new capital and also develop properties in Aceh province.

Track us on www.straitstimes.com for the latest from Asia, and around the world.

Meanwhile, seize the day!

 - Ravi Velloor