TL;DR – 2016, the gift that kept on giving…
2016 has been a very… funny year. It was a year of many twists and turns all over the world. Various events in different parts of the world happened that defied expectations. Other events, though not entirely unexpected, still made many shake their heads in exasperation. Here are five of those events that made us go “Huh? WTF…”
Duterte elected as Philippine’s president
Even before he became president, Rodrigo Duterte has already been saying some rather colourful things. He called the Pope a “son of a whore”. As Mayor of Davao, Duterte was already rumoured to have hired assassins to kill criminals. In fact, he had claimed the he had personally gone around Davao on a motorcycle hunting and killing criminals.
That said, Duterte’s unconventional methods seemed to have been effective in Davao, making it one of the safer, more orderly, and prosperous cities in Philippines. So perhaps it wasn’t entirely unexpected that Duterte, with his rousing rhetoric, was a popular candidate for presidency.
And now that he’s President, he has continued to do things that are unconventional or somewhat unexpected. Joining the Pope as one of those labelled by Duterte as a “son of a whore”, is President Obama. But Duterte didn’t stop at being rude to President Obama. Duterte has put in place various policies to move Philippines away from USA, which had been its long term close ally. How far away? Duterte has declared a “separation” from USA and align with China instead.
In fact, under Duterte, China and Philippines are fast becoming BFFs. It seems that he’s all but given up claims on the disputed islands in the South China sea. And in many other areas, the usually outspoken, belligerent and swaggering Duterte takes on a meek and mellow persona. Like a purring little kitten. At least he’s been well-rewarded with multi-billion dollar deals.
With all the WTF things that Duterte has given us in 2016, he’ll remain an interesting character to watch.
Ahok’s Blasphemy trial
Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as Ahok, is Jakarta’s governor. He was Jakarta’s vice-governor when Joko Widodo was governor. When Joko Widodo took a temporary leave from his post as Jakarta governor to run for President, Basuki became the acting Governor of Jakarta from 1 June 2014. Following Jokowi’s victory, he succeeded him as governor and was sworn into office on 18 November 2014.
That achievement is significant. Ahok is ethnically Chinese. And he’s Christian. He is the first non-Muslim governor of Jakarata in 50 years. But his path there hadn’t been easy. As a member of a minority ethnic and religious group, Basuki has become the subject of occasional racist comments. During the 2012 gubernatorial campaign, he was targeted regularly by ultra-conservatives and supporters of rival candidates for being a non-Muslim.
Jakarta is due to elect its next governor in early 2017. Ahok is in the running. He was considered a front-runner. Until September when he said his opponents had “deceived” voters by using Koranic verses to try to convince them that Muslims were not permitted to support a Christian leader. His comments prompted Muslims to take to the streets in protest. One of the anti-Ahok protests even attracted 200,000 crowd.
Ahok was eventually charged under Indonesia’s blasphemy laws for insulting Islam. The blasphemy trial has already started. Ahok insists that his comments have been taken out of context. He has emphatically clarified that his comments were aimed at the politicians who “incorrectly” used the verse rather than the verse itself. Will the court agree with Ahok?
And after the trial ends, what next? What does this case entail for racial and religious relationships? Will race and religion fracture Jakarta? Now, that’s not certain. But this incident definitely reminds us that harmonious race and religious relationships are difficult to foster, but easily broken. That’s why we need to take extra care and effort to maintain what we have.
Park Geun-hye’s impeachment
Park Geun-hye is the first woman to be elected as South Korea’s president. But the scandal surrounding her presidency started to unravel from October this year. That was when the widespread coverage of the influence of Choi Soon-sil, the daughter of a shaman-esque cult leader, over president Park Geun-hye began.
Choi Soon-sil has known Park Geun-hye since the 1970s when Choi’s father, Choi Tae-min, was the mentor of then-president Park Chung-hee‘s (Park Geun-Hye’s father) while the family was grieving from the assassination of then first-lady Yuk Young-soo. Choi at that time claimed that the shamanic leader can channel communication to her dead mother.
The younger Choi Soon-sil acted as a close confidant for the Park Geun-Hye. It appeared that this relationship allowed the younger Choi, who doesn’t hold any official government position, access to confidential documents and information for the president. Choi and President Park’s senior staffs including both Ahn Jong-bum and Jeong Ho-sung have used their influence to extort ₩77.4 billion (~ $75 million) from Korean family-owned large business conglomerates.
Ahn Jong-bum and Jeong Ho-sung, top presidential aides, were arrested for abusing power and helping Choi; they denied wrongdoing and claims that they simply followed President Park’s orders. Choi was also eventually arrested and charged. The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office of Korea (SPO), in laying charges against Choi and two former presidential aides, have alleged that President Park colluded with the three in certain criminal activities.
This scandal caused Park’s approval ratings to plummet. South Koreans took to the streets of Seoul to protest against her and demanded for her to be impeached. At one time, organisers of the protests estimated that 1.5 million South Koreans were in Seoul to take part in the protests.
These protests put pressure on the politicians. On 3rd December 2016, three opposition parties agreed to introduce a joint impeachment motion against President Park Geun-hye. The motion, which was signed by 171 of 300 lawmakers, was put to a vote on Friday, 9th December 2016, and passed with 234 out of 300 votes, a tally much greater than the required 2/3 majority. When news of Park’s impeachment broke, angry protests turned into celebrations.
The history between UK and the rest of Europe has been long and complicated. It’s a love-hate relationship. In 1975, UK officially joined the European Economic Community (EEC), a predecessor of the EU. But that didn’t mean that UK was completely committed to EU. When the EU decided to adopt a common currency, UK refused to do so. And since the moment that UK joined the EU, there have been many calls by different sectors of UK to leave the EU.
The calls to leave the EU got louder in the 2000s. That was a result of the public resentment caused by the influx of European migrants to the country since accession of Eastern European countries. It got worse with the financial crash of 2008, when the fall in living standards stoked resentments even more.
This allowed the UK Independence Party (UKIP), a very nationalistic (some would even say xenophobic) party that is against UK being in the EU, to gain influence. From getting just 3% of votes in polls in 2010, surveys in 2015 showed that up to 15% of the electorate supported it.
For the Conservative Party (the governing party of UK), that posed a threat. They were worried that UKIP will take enough of their votes to hand victory to Labour. In private, and sometimes in public, the Conservative MPs demanded that the then-Prime Minister, David Cameron, give them something in their armoury to fight off the challenge – and that something was an EU referendum.
The Conservative MPs thought that this would allow them to go into 2015 able to assure their own anti-European supporters that only a vote for the Conservatives would give them a chance to have a definitive say over Britain’s future in Europe. And so, in January 2013, Mr Cameron made his fateful pledge of an in/out referendum if the Conservatives won the 2015 election.
And win they did. So David Cameron had to make good his pledge. Few people thought that UK will really vote to leave the EU. Many pundits predicted that the Stay campaign will win. How did that happen? It was a combination of outright lying about the benefits of leaving EU, stoking the resentments of people who didn’t benefit as much from UK being in the EU, and playing up anti-foreigner sentiments. How the leave campaign won holds many lessons for Singapore.
Now UK is in the process of making Brexit real. To do that, the UK Government must trigger Article 50. But in the latest twist, the High Court has ruled that UK MPs must vote in favour before the Government can trigger Article 50. The Government has appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn the High Court’s ruling. So it’s still not actually certain if UK will leave EU. Indeed, there are people who are protesting against Brexit.
And if UK really leaves EU, it will result in much uncertainty in its economic outlook. Looks like we can still expect more drama to unfold as a result of Brexit.
In our opinion, the result of the 2016 US Presidential Elections trumps (pun intended) everything. The electoral college has officially confirmed that Donald Trump has won the 2016 US Presidential Elections. That’s right. Donald Trump will get a chance to make America great again. He gets a chance to build his wall. But more worrying for the rest of the world, he gets a chance to put in place policies that deny climate change. Worst of all, he gets the nuclear codes.
Similar to Nigel Farage did in the Brexit campaign, Trump got elected on a platform of wild election promises, stoking pent up anger and resentment of the working class, as well as misinformation, half-truths, and outright lies. And it turns out, Trump is quickly showing that he didn’t mean a lot of the things he said during his campaigns. He has been flip-flopping on a lot of the policy positions he stated during his campaign.
One example of Trump’s flip-flop is who he’s choosing to fill the positions in the Cabinet of his administration. During his campaign, he promised to “drain the swamp”, i.e. to remove the corrupt Washington insiders such as Wall Street bankers and other lobbyists. But judging from the people he’s chosen to fill his Cabinet, it seems that Trump isn’t draining the swamp. He’s filling it.
Trump picked his top fundraiser and former Goldman Sachs banker Steven Mnuchin to the Treasury Department, pulling from a Wall Street world he once criticized as having “total control” over his campaign opponents. Wilbur Ross, a billionaire businessman, will be his Commerce secretary. For Labour Secretary, Trump picked CEO of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., well-known for being outspoken against the minimum wage.
It’s not certain that these choices will be bad for Americans. It really depends on what policies these people eventually come up wtih. But at first glance, Trump’s choices does raise concern that instead big businesses and banks will have greater influence on public policies to the detriment of USA and the average American.
Beyond domestic issues, Trump has already done some rather controversial things to ruffle China’s feathers. For a start, he accepted a call from President Tsai of Taiwan. Thats the first time in history that has happened. Even though China’s response has been pretty mellow, this is a sign that USA’s relationship with other countries probably won’t be status quo under the Trump administration.
Uncertainty moving on in 2017
With all these WTF events all over the world in 2016, we can expect that there’ll be many more changes and uncertainties in the world in 2017. As we celebrate the end of 2016, we need to prepare ourselves to remain adaptable to whatever unexpected changes come our way.