The View From Asia

3 Asian leaders in the spotlight

In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has three more years at the helm of his party. Indonesian President Joko Widodo looks strong after two years in office and Myanmar Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi is credited with her role in the US decision to lift sanctions after nearly two decades. Here are excerpts from commentaries in Asia News Network papers on what else these leaders need to do:

Abe may get more time as party head

The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan

Under a new Liberal Democratic Party rule, a prime minister with strong public support will be able to continue managing its administration stably, without being swayed by intra-party logic.

The LDP's Headquarters for Party and Political System Reform Implementation approved at its meeting a proposal to extend the maximum tenure for a party president from the current two consecutive terms for a total of six years, to three consecutive terms for a total of nine years. The ruling party will formally revise party rules at a convention next year.

There were almost no objections to the proposal during the meeting's discussion. The panel said it will also consider, in the future, eliminating limits on presidential terms.

Many political parties in other major countries have no term limits for party presidency.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's term as LDP president is set to expire in September 2018.

Above: Mr Abe's administration may become Japan's longest-serving one if party rules are revised next year.

If he wins the presidential election then, he will remain in office until September 2021. When his tenure during his first Cabinet from 2006 to 2007 is included, Mr Abe's time in office will have topped 3,500 days in September 2021, exceeding the 2,886-day tenure of then Prime Minister Taro Katsura in the Meiji-Taisho era to become the nation's longest-serving administration.

A longer administration will certainly create an environment for Mr Abe to get down to important middle- and long-term tasks, such as realising constitutional revision.

It will also help him build relationships of trust with leaders of other countries and help him gain a greater voice.

In connection with the issue of the northern territories, he will be able to have head-to-head negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose tenure will last up to 2024.

Mr Abe advocates the vitalisation of the Japanese economy, but the challenge of bailing the nation out of deflation is only half done. He will also continue facing such serious tasks as raising the consumption tax rate to 10 per cent - a measure that has been postponed until October 2019 - and turning the primary balance into the black by fiscal year 2020.

Some fear Mr Abe's continuing dominance, but he always faces the verdict of national elections and the party's presidential election.

Mr Abe will be required to run his administration more humbly than ever. To enhance political vitality, it is hoped he will advance sound arguments over policies, while nurturing potential future leaders.

Jokowi must beware quick fixes

Kahlil Rowter
The Jakarta Post, Indonesia

In stark contrast to the previous administration, this one is hands-on. And there are encouraging signs it is moving the needle. But in the desire to see things happen fast, many issues remain unaddressed.

Above: Indonesia's President Jokowi likes to come up with solutions fast.

Meanwhile, the global situation is not improving. First, growth is slowing everywhere. Second, there are even more downside risks: European banking, US elections and the Chinese housing bubble. 

The administration of the former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono deliberated policy ad nauseam. It tried not to ruffle feathers.

The approach of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo is almost the complete opposite. It dispenses with a thorough analysis of known problems. Then it comes up fast with solutions. Followed by a speedy implementation.

Take the case of infrastructure. To speed things up, why not just use state-owned enterprises (SOEs)? You complain that they lack capital. So, just inject money into their balance sheet. Finding difficulty in clearing up land? Just build roads through state-owned land or those owned by other SOEs. Not enough money in the budget? Then cut out the wasteful fuel subsidy.

With huge political capital after getting into office, Jokowi has been able to do such things.

This logic has the appeal of getting things done fast. But there are two flaws.

First, the government's budget cannot come up with the required funds for all infrastructure investments. Second, and related, focusing only on its own effort misses the bigger picture.

It would have been better to use state funds to make uneconomical infrastructure financially viable. It also entails a lot of enhancements in the legal and regulatory environment. If done well, this will open the floodgates for private investors, including foreign ones. 

We laud the government's desire to see things happen fast. We, too, want to see positive development take place as soon as possible. But partial solutions can have unintended consequences. Even when reversed, the damage inflicted by these policies takes some time to heal.

It is better to combine the desire for a quick fix with the proper diagnosis and prescription.

Hold Myanmar to its promise

The Nation, Thailand

United States President Barack Obama recently announced the lifting of sanctions on Myanmar, and it was the right decision, but the international community must realise that this is not the end of the story. Myanmar does not yet have a functional democracy.

Above: Ms Suu Kyi still has to deal with a civil service entrenched in authoritarianism, a legacy of the military's long hold on power.

Mr Obama said his decision was based on Myanmar's progress towards democracy, especially last November's historic election, which finally brought to power a civilian government led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

In lifting its trade and economic sanctions , the US is not "rewarding" Ms Suu Kyi for her decades of political struggle. It is following the example of the European Union and allowing the local and international business community a freer flow of goods and capital with which to build the Myanmar economy.

It's important to remember, though, that the Western sanctions levelled against Myanmar years ago, when it was still in the grip of an abusive military regime, were intended to force democratic reforms, and particularly respect for human rights.

The military, known as the Tatmadaw, had run Myanmar since 1962 and, in the ensuing decades, it crushed political uprisings, ignored election results and extinguished freedom of speech.

Only in its final years did the leadership in uniform recognise that reform was essential if the country was to avoid catastrophe.

As a result of the military's long hold on power, however, authoritarianism remains entrenched in the civil service. Neither the bureaucracy nor the military, which still controls a quarter of the seats in Parliament, has any experience in democratic means of governing. Basic rights will be a long time coming.

Even with Ms Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy in power, the Tatmadaw maintains its grip on events through a Constitution it drafted itself in 2008, perhaps with an eye towards being unseated in inevitable elections.

That document gives the generals the authority to veto any proposals that come before Parliament. It barred Ms Suu Kyi from assuming the presidency of the country, as her sons are foreigners, forcing her party to name Mr Htin Kyaw as head of state, if only in title.

In fact, the starkest sign that Washington is treading carefully as it removes sanctions is that State Department prohibitions on granting entry visas to any of Myanmar's military leaders have been kept in place.

The US evidently continues to hold the generals in contempt for their actions in the past, and perhaps for their continuing refusal to fully cede power.

Most notably, in the eyes of the international community, the current government has done nothing substantial to resolve a bloody conflict between "Buddhist" fundamentalists and Muslims such as the Rohingya.

Giving Myanmar an economic leg-up is fine at this stage, but the world must be ready lest it fails to make good on democratic expectations.

  • The View From Asia is a weekly compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 21 newspapers. For more, see
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2016, with the headline '3 Asian leaders in the spotlight'. Print Edition | Subscribe