Japan’s unnecessary election

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference at his official residence in Tokyo, 18 November 2014. Abe called a snap election for December and put off a sales tax hike planned for next year until 2017. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Aurelia George Mulgan, UNSW Canberra

Prime Minister Abe is subjecting his ruling coalition — and his nation — to an unnecessary election on 14 December 2014. Abe claims his decision is all about policy, but in reality it is all about politics. His stated rationale for calling the election is the need to secure voters’ endorsement of his administration’s decision to postpone the consumption tax rise to 10 per cent until April 2017. But his real reasons are based on cold calculations of political self-interest. Read more…

Where are Hong Kong’s moderate democrats?

A protester rests after they tried to break into the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, 19 November 2014. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Steven Yet, University of Toronto

After weeks of protests, the protracted stalemate in Hong Kong doesn’t appear to be over. While the Occupy Central movement has brought together civil society groups to protest for democratic change, the movement lacks active participation from the political side. Read more…

Political Islam in Bangladeshi democracy

Activists of Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh’s largest Islamist party, acknowledge their leader during a rally in Dhaka, 4 February 2013. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Mubashar Hasan, Griffith University

Recently Bangladesh was side-tracked from an electoral democracy. Earlier this year, the ruling party Awami League formed government after a one-sided election. Bangladesh’s major opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), boycotted the election on the grounds Read more…

Najib’s East Malaysia challenge

Malaysian schoolchildren wave national flags during the 57th National Day celebrations at Independence Square in Kuala Lumpur on 31 August 2014. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Arnold Puyok, UNIMAS

Malaysia’s federal government needs to rethink its strategy on regional autonomy in the states of Sabah and Sarawak if it wants to maintain their electoral support. Sabah and Sarawak helped seal the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) victory in the 12th and 13th general elections. But there are growing concerns in the two states about the intrusion of the federal government. Read more…

Myanmar’s militant monks smash stereotypes

Buddhist nationalist monk Wirathu takes part during a demonstration in Mandalay, Myanmar, 30 October 2014. Thousands of people including Buddhist monks and nuns led by the Race and Religion Protection Organisation demonstrated in Mandalay in support of the interfaith marriage law. (Photo: AAP).

Author: David I. Steinberg, Georgetown University

In recent months, Buddhist monks have led riots against Muslim communities in various parts of Myanmar. Undocumented charges of attempted conversions of Buddhist women by Muslim men, and the perceived expansion of the Muslim population, have exacerbated concerns, at times leading to violence. Read more…

Good cop, bad cop: can responsible opposition save Indonesia from itself?

The de facto leader of the Red and White coalition, Prabowo Subianto, arrives at the inauguration of President Joko Widodo, 20 October 2014. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Yohanes Sulaiman, Indonesian National Defense University

There is good news and bad news about the recent string of victories of the ‘Red and White’ coalition in the Indonesian parliament. The good news is that unlike previous Indonesian presidents, President Joko Widodo — popularly known as Jokowi — will have to face a critical and probably hostile parliament. This is also the bad news. Read more…

Jokowi’s cabinet a mixed bag

Indonesia's new Cabinet is sworn in. (Photo: AAP).

Authors: Hal Hill and Budy Resosudarmo, ANU

Indonesia’s recently inaugurated president, Joko Widodo (Jokowi), announced his cabinet this week. Jokowi’s policy platform espoused broad philosophies but was short on detail. His cabinet appointments provide the clearest indication to date of his policies and priorities in what in all likelihood will be a decade in power. Read more…

Close enough not good enough for Jokowi’s cabinet picks

New President Joko Widodo shakes hands with Minister of trade Rahmat Gobel during the Working Cabinet's official inauguration at the presidential palace in Jakarta on October 27, 2014. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Edward Aspinall, ANU

Indonesia’s new president, Joko Widodo (Jokowi) promised to bring a new spirit of reform to Indonesia. Indeed, he has offered nothing less than a ‘mental revolution’. In his first real test, the formation of cabinet, Jokowi seems to have gone for realpolitik over reform. Read more…

Concerns over judicial independence in Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste's Foreign Affairs minister Jose Luis Gutierrez attends an audience of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, on January 20, 2014. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Michael Leach, Swinburne University of Technology

The parliament of Timor-Leste passed a motion on 24 October announcing the government’s intention to dismiss the contingent of foreign judicial officers working in its legal system. Citing concerns over recent tax cases against foreign oil companies operating in the Timor Sea, which have gone against the government, Timor-Leste’s leaders called into question the competence and integrity of foreign judges and prosecutors, accusing them of not complying with East Timorese law. Read more…

Continuity the key to New Zealand’s regional participation?

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key celebrates a decisive election victory with family in Auckland, 20 September 2014. New Zealand’s regional engagement did not feature highly in election debates, argues Gary Hawke. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Gary Hawke, NZIER

New Zealand’s approach to regional affairs is unlikely to change with the recent re-election of Prime Minister John Key. The election, held on 20 September, provided a clear mandate for Key’s National Party. The routine three-yearly election was brought forward by a few weeks to provide certainty about who would represent New Zealand at the end-of-year meetings of APEC, the East Asia Summit, and the G20. Read more…

No good time for Xanana Gusmão to let go

East Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao briefs Australia's then Foreign Minister Bob Carr with a map of East Timor during their meeting at the government palace in Dili on 13 December, 2012. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Damien Kingsbury, Deakin University

Timor-Leste’s prime minister, Xanana Gusmão, has deferred his decision to step down as his country’s leader until April 2015. He had announced earlier this year that he intended to leave office firstly in September, then in October. He has since said that he wishes to stay on to oversee negotiations with Australia over a resolution to the Timor Sea dispute. Read more…

The puzzle of Chinese political power

Chinese President Xi Jinping gives a toast during the National Day reception in a banquet hall at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, 30 September 2014. (Photo: AAP).

Authors: Peter Drysdale, EAF, and Ryan Manuel, ANU

When Xi Jinping ascended to the Chinese presidency, he, Premier Li Keqiang and their streamlined seven-person Politburo Standing Committee faced serious economic challenges at home as well as increasingly complex issues to manage abroad.

Domestically, the Bo Xilai affair hovered over the leadership transition ominously, underlining the need to deal with disquiet among the Chinese public over corruption and the relationship between the state and economic power. Read more…

With Xi’s new power is collective leadership over?

Chinese president Xi Jinping leads the parade of present and past leaders, as they gather for the National Day reception at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on 30 September 2014. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Shen Dingli, Fudan University

There is currently much talk about whether China’s President Xi Jinping is shifting away from collective leadership. Western observers tend to conclude that, given his command of all powers since becoming Chinese communist party chief and state president, Xi is centralising power around himself. But that is a premature conclusion that bears more careful scrutiny. Read more…

Surge of sedition charges in Malaysia arrests Najib’s reform agenda

A Malaysian student holds a placard during a protest in solidarity for Malaysian law professor Azmi Sharom, at Malaya University in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 09 September 2014. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Nigel Cory, CSIS Washington DC

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was charged with sedition on 24 September for statements he made at a political rally three years earlier. Shortly before, on 19 September, a Malaysian court sentenced a student activist to a year in jail for comments he made after the 2013 general election. These cases are the latest in a surge of sedition charges that is terrorising opposition politicians, social activists, journalists and academics in Malaysia. Read more…

Where are all the women in China’s political system?


Author: Jude Howell, LSE

In September 2014 the Inter-Parliamentary Union released its latest figures on the number of women in national parliaments. Rwanda topped the league with women accounting for 63.8 per cent of parliamentarians in the lower house (or its equivalent). China, however, ranked 62nd out of 189 countries, with women accounting for 23.4 per cent of representatives to the National People’s Congress (NPC) — China’s nearest equivalent to a parliament. Given that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has long espoused the idea of equality between men and women and has a well-established, dedicated institution for protecting women’s rights and interests — the All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF) — it is curious that the figures are so unimpressive. Read more…