A peace deal in the southern Philippines between The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the national government has also raised hopes for a more peaceful new year. The deal is yet to be approved by parliament but, if approved, it should go a long way towards shoring up support for President Begnino Aquino, whose election in 2010 was due in part to his pledge to find a lasting peace in the country’s south.
While Aquino enjoyed a solid year at the helm the same could not be said for the woman he replaced more than two years ago. Gloria Arroyo was charged with various crimes stemming from her nine years as president and her association with questionable businessmen.
Former Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will also soon appear before the courts after being charged with the murder of a civilian during a crackdown on anti-government protests two years ago when he was in power. About 90 people were killed and 1,900 wounded during the confrontation between Red Shirts and the military.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Current Prime Minister Yingluck Shinwatra, however, had a better year after surviving a no confidence vote and Yellow Shirt protests. The Supreme Court also ruled in favor of her Peau Thai Party. But problems with Muslim insurgents in the country’s south and the economy persisted. Thailand's biggest fiscal headache was driven by the government's promise to pay rice farmers at higher than market prices for their product. The hope that this policy would push global rice prices higher has not been borne out. Instead, the policy has resulted in Thailand accumulating a mountain of unsold rice and debt.
While many Southeast Asian countries fared poorly in Transparency International’s annual corruption survey, Malaysia proved to be an exception. The country climbed to the 54th spot out of 176 countries, up from 60th a year earlier. The independence of Malaysia's judicial system was also bolstered when the High Court acquitted opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim of charges that he and many of his supporters said were politically motivated. His rival Prime Minister Najib Razak kept his political cards close to his chest, fending off demands for electoral reforms while at the same time threatening to call an early poll which never materialized.
Singapore again performed well on the corruption index, ranking as the 5th least corrupt country in the world. Less flattering was another survey that ranked the city-state as the most emotionless place on Earth. Singaporeans were annoyed but such feelings became harder to defend after the government, soon after the survey’s release, refused entry to what was believed to be a boat carrying 40 Muslim Rohingyas who had survived being shipwrecked after fleeing the violence in northern Burma. The deportation of immigrant Chinese bus drivers who called a strike – unheard of in Singapore for 26 years – didn’t help such perceptions.
But by year’s end it is Burma that has emerged as the region’s greatest hope, despite the continued violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine. Bolstered by an unprecedented visit to his country by U.S. President Barack Obama, Burmese President Thein Sein won over many of his country’s critics as his political reforms continued to make headway. There was even one suggestion – ludicrous and insensitive – that Thein Sein should be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. But such thoughts were likely dismissed after his military allegedly launched a surprise and bloody Christmas offensive against rebels in Kachin state, ensuring Burma will again be topping the international headlines for all the wrong reasons as 2013 gets underway.