Australia’s Turnbull looks for unity in political division

SYDNEY — Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday began the hard work of uniting a divided parliament after claiming a tight victory in Australia’s cliffhanger election and as a second ratings agency warned a splintered Senate may hinder debt reduction.

It was still not clear as vote counting entered its ninth day whether Turnbull’s Liberal-National coalition would form a majority government by the barest of margins or instead need to join forces with independents for a minority government.

With five lower house seats still in the balance, Turnbull will have to wait several days more to appoint his cabinet and return to government, but he is already battling sniping from within his own ranks.

Some conservative members of the Liberal Party blame their centrist leader for a loss in votes that left them perilously close to conceding power, putting pressure on Turnbull to reverse unpopular policies like changes to state pensions.

The junior coalition partner, the Nationals, meanwhile, are agitating for an extra seat in cabinet given they are on track to increase their representation in parliament.

Still, Industry Minister Christopher Pyne, who was slapped down for celebrating victory early on Friday, said the coalition had a clear mandate to deliver on its election promises.

“Whether you win a grand final by one goal or six goals, a win is a win is a win,” Pyne told ABC radio.

Turnbull’s coalition is on track to win two of the five seats still being counted, which would give them 76 seats, a one-seat majority in the 150-seat lower house. Vote counting for the Senate, where the rise of independents threatens to block the passage of legislation, will continue for several days. — Reuters

Changing charter will not be easy, concedes Abe

TOKYO — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, seeking to allay concerns he would divert energy from fixing a fragile economy to revising Japan’s pacifist constitution after a big election win, said yesterday changing the charter would not be easy.

Abe’s coalition and allies won two-thirds of the seats in parliament’s upper house in Sunday’s election. That victory, with the ruling bloc’s super majority in the lower house, opens the door to revising the constitution for the first time since its adoption after Japan’s defeat in World War II.

China’s official agency quickly warned that the victory posed a danger to regional stability. Commentaries by the Xinhua news agency are not formal government statements but often reflect official thinking in China, where memories of Japan’s past militarism still spark outrage.

“With Japan’s pacifist constitution at serious stake and Abe’s power expanding, it is alarming both for Japan’s Asian neighbours, as well as for Japan itself, as Japan’s militarisation will serve to benefit neither side,” the Xinhua commentary said.

Abe said revising the constitution was his Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) cherished goal, but forging agreement on changes in the diverse pro-revision camp would not be easy.

Revisions require a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament and a majority of votes in a public referendum.

“To realise revision of the constitution is my duty as LDP president,” Abe told a news conference. “But it is not that easy, so I hope debate will deepen steadily.”

Experts agreed that building such agreement would be tough.

“It’s the first time to have two-thirds in both houses of parliament, but you can’t find any issue on which the two-thirds can agree,” said Gerry Curtis, professor emeritus at New York’s Columbia University.

Some in financial markets worry a focus on the constitution would drain attention from the economy, but Abe promised yeysterday to craft a large stimulus package.

“A public referendum is needed so he must boost support to advance revision. So for constitutional change as well, he will probably come up with a large-scale economic package,” said Daiji Aoki, senior economist at UBS Securities Japan.

Doubts about Abe’s policies persist even though his ruling bloc won big in terms of the number of seats. Many voters felt they had no other option, given memories of the main opposition Democratic Party’s rocky 2009-2012 rule. Others stayed home.

Surveys show many Japanese voters are wary of changing the constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9, which advocates see as the source of Japan’s post-war peace and democracy. Conservatives see it as a symbol of humiliating defeat.

If taken literally, Article 9 bans the maintenance of armed forces. Successive governments have interpreted it to allow a military for self-defence, a concept Abe last year stretched to allow Japan’s military to aid friendly nations under attack.

Formal revision of Article 9 would likely be largely symbolic, though nonetheless historic.

Convincing the Komeito party, the dovish junior partner in Abe’s LDP-led coalition, to agree would be challenging. The pro-revision camp might therefore tackle another amendment first.

One possibility is a clause giving the government more power in a national emergency, a move critics say would curtail civil rights.

Another option, floated by the Komeito, would be to add an environmental protection clause. That less contentious step would nonetheless break the political taboo on revision.

It is unclear whether that would satisfy Abe’s political base.

“Conservatives see the constitution as emasculating the nation,” said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University in Tokyo.

“If I’m in his camp, I’m thinking, this may be my best shot.” — Reuters

Turnbull looks for unity in political division

SYDNEY — Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday began the hard work of uniting a divided parliament after claiming a tight victory in Australia’s cliffhanger election and as a second ratings agency warned a splintered Senate may hinder debt reduction.

It was still not clear as vote counting entered its ninth day whether Turnbull’s Liberal-National coalition would form a majority government by the barest of margins or instead need to join forces with independents for a minority government.

With five lower house seats still in the balance, Turnbull will have to wait several days more to appoint his cabinet and return to government, but he is already battling sniping from within his own ranks.

Some conservative members of the Liberal Party blame their centrist leader for a loss in votes that left them perilously close to conceding power, putting pressure on Turnbull to reverse unpopular policies like changes to state pensions.

The junior coalition partner, the Nationals, meanwhile, are agitating for an extra seat in cabinet given they are on track to increase their representation
in parliament.

Still, Industry Minister Christopher Pyne, who was slapped down for celebrating victory early on Friday, said the coalition had a clear mandate to deliver on its election promises.

“Whether you win a grand final by one goal or six goals, a win is a win is a win,” Pyne told ABC radio.

Turnbull’s coalition is on track to win two of the five seats still being counted, which would give them 76 seats, a one-seat majority in the 150-seat lower house.

Vote counting for the Senate, where the rise of independents threatens to block the passage of legislation, will continue for several days.

Moody’s Investors Service yesterday joined Standard and Poor’s in expressing concern that a splintered upper house would stymie agreement on fiscal consolidation and macroeconomic policy.

Moody’s said such a scenario would be “credit negative”, echoing S&P’s decision last week to cut Australia’s credit rating outlook to negative from stable, threatening a downgrade of its coveted triple A status. — Reuters

Merkel sure UK will trigger Article 50 for Brexit

BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday that she was convinced Britain will trigger Article 50, formalising its vote for Brexit and starting negotiations on its EU exit.

“I absolutely believe that the request will be made,” Merkel told public broadcaster ZDF.

“The next step is that they will trigger Article 50 which they will want to do only once they have a new prime minister… I assume in principle they will do that,” she said.

It will be down to the UK’s new prime minister to trigger Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, which starts a two-year clock running on a country’s exit from the bloc after current PM David Cameron said he would leave the task to his successor.

British Conservatives must first choose their new leader — who will also become prime minister — on September 9. They will choose between Interior Minister Theresa May and junior energy minister Andrea Leadsom.

Following the June 23 poll in which 17.4 million voters — 51.9 per cent of the ballots cast — backed Brexit, Merkel argued Britain needed time to decide on the way forward.

But shortly afterwards she joined European counterparts including French President Francois Hollande in calling for Britain to make a decisive and timely break from the EU. — AFP

Thai journalist charged under draconian charter law

BANGKOK — A Thai journalist and four activists were charged yesterday under a draconian law banning criticism of the junta’s new constitution which will be voted on in a referendum next month.

Taweesak Kerdpoka, a reporter with the news outlet Prachatai, was arrested on Sunday morning alongside four members of the New Democracy Movement, one of the few activist groups that dare to challenge the military since generals seized power two years ago.

“Their actions were violating the referendum bill article 61 clause 2,” police colonel Amnuay Pongsawat, from Ban Pong district in central Ratchaburi province, told AFP.

He did not elaborate on how their actions had broken the law, but the men face up to ten years in prison if convicted.

The clause outlaws critical discussion of the junta’s new draft constitution, which if passed will become Thailand’s 20th in less than a century.

Prachatai editor Chiranuch Premchaiporn said Taweesak was travelling in the same car as the activists to report on their activities.

Police stopped the car and found documents that they deemed were in breach the referendum law.

“He is a reporter that covers human and environmental rights,” she told AFP. “He was just doing his job.”

Thais will vote on the new charter on August 7, the first return to the ballot box since the 2014 coup.

The junta says the document is the antidote to Thailand’s caustic political divide.

But politicians on both sides of the divide have dismissed it as an attempt to further entrench the military’s hold on power through an appointed senate.

Video posted online showed the five shackled men making their way to court yesterday morning as supporters handed them roses.

The activists could be heard shouting: “Voting ‘no’ is our right, it is not against the law”.

A message from Taweesak on his Facebook page read: “Being arrested for referendum campaigning is bad, but what should we call being arrested for reporting on the referendum campaign?”

Prachatai has a history of investigative journalism that frequently riles Bangkok’s ultra-nationalist establishment.

Last year, its editor Chiranuch lost an appeal against a conviction under the country’s notorious royal defamation law for failing to speedily remove reader comments deemed critical of the monarchy.

Since the military’s takeover Thailand has undergone a major rights crackdown, with scores of activists jailed and skyrocketing lese majeste convictions.

The kingdom has been handicapped by more than a decade of political deadlock and violence including two military coups. — AFP

Mexico: If Trump wants a wall, he can build it

MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s president hit back Sunday at Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s claim that if elected, he would make Mexico build a wall along its US border.

The bombastic billionaire has promised to crack down on illegal immigration and insulted Mexican immigrants by calling them rapists, criminals and drug dealers.

As his party’s presumptive presidential candidate, Trump is now eyeing a clash in the November election with his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

“There is no way to have Mexico pay (for) the wall. But any decisions inside (the) USA — is a decision of its government,” Pena Nieto told CNN in English.

The Mexican president earlier had said Trump’s campaign pledge was a non-starter, but he did not address the issue as specifically.

Pena Nieto said US-Mexican relations were based on coordination, collaboration and cooperation on security issues.

The Mexican president earlier compared Trump’s rhetoric to the rise of European dictators Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. — AFP

Thailand detains four for opposing draft constitution

BANGKOK — Four people have been detained in Thailand for campaigning against a military-backed draft charter, police said yesterday, the latest arrests by authorities in the lead-up to a referendum next month.

The Aug 7 referendum will be the first time Thais go to the polls since the military seized power in a bloodless coup in May 2014. The ruling junta has said the referendum will pave the way for an election next year.

Critics, including major political parties, say the constitution will enshrine a political role for the military and weaken civilian governments, worsening the turmoil that has hit Thai politics over the last decade.

The four were detained in Thailand’s western Ratchaburi province on Sunday, said police, after their cars were searched and copies of booklets providing information on the constitution were found.

The group had violated a law that carries a 10-year jail term for campaigning in connection with the referendum.

“They violated the Referendum Act,” said Police Captain Poom Klaklaew, a police investigator for the case.

With less than a month to go before the referendum, the junta has taken what rights groups say is a hardline stance on any opposition to its plans and has banned all public discussion of the constitution.

Among those detained was a reporter from Thai online publication Prachatai, Taweesak Kerdpoka, who joined three activities to report on their activities.

“Police found a few copies of the booklet in his bag,” said Kornkritch Somjittranukit, who works with Taweesak at Prachatai.

“He told them it was material for his news report, but they arrested him anyway.”

Colonel Winthai Suvaree, a junta spokesman, said the arrests were a police matter.

“The police probably didn’t know who was who when they detained the group,” Winthai told Reuters. “They weren’t out to target the journalist.”

The latest arrests followed the release last week by a military court of seven activists detained in June for campaigning against the charter. — Reuters

Beijing: No discussions on South China Sea

BEIJING — The South China Sea is not on the agenda and should not be discussed at a major summit between Asian and European leaders in Mongolia at the end of the week, a senior Chinese diplomat said yesterday.

The Asia-Europe Meeting, or ASEM, will be the first important multilateral diplomatic gathering after today’s ruling by an arbitration court hearing a dispute between China and the Philippines over the South China Sea.

Tensions and rhetoric have been rising ahead of the ruling in the Dutch city of The Hague, a case which China has refused to recognise or participate in. Beijing says the court has no jurisdiction and China cannot be forced to accept dispute resolution.

China has repeatedly blamed the United States for stirring up trouble in the South China Sea, where its territorial claims overlap in parts with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou signalled discussion of the South China Sea would not be welcomed at the event, which happens once every two years, as it is designed to discuss issues between Asia and Europe.

“The ASEM leaders summit is not a suitable place to discuss the South China Sea. There are no plans to discuss it there on the agenda for the meeting. And it should not be put on the agenda,” Kong told a news briefing.

However, Beijing-based diplomats involved with preparations for ASEM say it is inevitable the South China Sea dispute will be raised at the summit, which is expected to be attended by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The United States has conducted freedom of navigation patrols close to Chinese-held islands, to Beijing’s anger, while China has been bolstering its military presence there.

Kong said that if there are tensions in the South China Sea it is because certain countries outside the region have been putting on shows of force and interfering.

“There is no reason to get the South China Sea issue into this ASEM meeting citing freedom of navigation and security interests as causes of concern. It’s got no leg to stand on,” he added.

Ahead of the ruling, Philippine nationals in China received mobile phone text messages from their embassy during the weekend, warning them not to discuss politics in public and to avoid engaging in discussions on social media. They were advised to carry their passports and residency permits with them at all times and to contact the embassy or Chinese police if there are any untoward incidents.

China says much of the building and reclamation work it has been doing in the South China Sea is to benefit the international community, including for civilian maritime navigation.

The official China Daily said yesterday that China will soon start operations of a fifth lighthouse in the South China Sea, on Mischief Reef.

Taiwan is also watching the case closely.

Its single holding of Itu Aba is the biggest feature in the Spratlys and the one some analysts believe has the strongest claim to island status and an exclusive economic zone.

“If the ruling touches on our sovereign rights we will respond strongly,” said deputy foreign minister Leo C.J. Lee to lawmakers in a parliamentary committee session yesterday.

The coast guard, which directly oversees Itu Aba with the support of the military, will not “soften” its defence of the island, coast guard chief Lee Chung-wei added.
— Reuters

Philippines’ top lawyer urges more killings

MANILA — The Philippine government’s top lawyer called yesterday for police to kill more suspected drug criminals, as he defended President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on crime against mounting criticism.

Police have confirmed killing more than 110 suspects since Duterte won elections in May promising a law-and-order crackdown that would claim thousands of lives and fill funeral parlours.

As the official death toll has mounted, and other bodies not confirmed killed by police have been found with placards declaring them drug traffickers, human rights lawyers and some lawmakers have expressed deep concerns about the war on crime spiralling out of control.

In response to the criticism, Solicitor General Jose Calida held a press conference yesterday at national police headquarters to insist on the legality of the police killings and to encourage more deaths of people suspected of being involved in the drug trade.

“To me, that is not enough,” Calida said of the killings so far.

“How many drug addicts or pushers are there in the Philippines? Our villages are almost saturated (with drugs).”

Duterte, who took office on June 30, has repeatedly warned that drastic action is needed to stop the Philippines from becoming a narco-state.

A lawyer and a former prosecutor, Duterte has urged law enforcers to kill those they believe are involved in the drug trade, as well as other criminals.

In one of the deadliest single incidents, police reported killing eight “drug personalities” during a pre-dawn raid on Saturday in a small southern town.

As in the other cases, police insisted they were forced to shoot after encountering resistance.

One of the nation’s top human rights lawyers, Jose Manuel Diokno, warned last week that Duterte had “spawned a nuclear explosion of violence that is spiralling out of control and creating a nation without judges”.

Former senator Rene Saguisag, a prominent human rights lawyer during the regime of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, also criticised Duterte’s statements naming and shaming alleged drug lords and police officers ahead of a formal investigation.

“Do we still probe and have a trial as part of due process? Useless, it seems to me,” Saguisag wrote in an online column last week.

Some opposition lawmakers have also called for a congressional investigation into the spate of killings.

Calida, a Duterte appointee, said he would protect police from or during congressional probes, while emphasising it was up to critics to prove allegations of abuse rather than base inquiries on speculation.

“I am here to encourage the (police) not to be afraid of any congressional or senate investigations. We will defend them … I am the defender of the (police),” he said. — AFP

Eye for daily life

WHILE taking pictures anywhere any time is the growing trend — there are some who prefer to sketch on location to improve their observation skills.

They call themselves Urban Sketchers.

One might be reminded of Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit who sketched the places he had been to and characters he met in his book There and Back Again.

Urban Sketchers is a global community that connects those who sketch daily lives on the spot, be it the cityscapes, towns or villages that they live in or travel to.

Journalist and illustrator Gabriel Campanario founded in Seattle in 2007.

It became a global movement and attracted more than 80,000 participants with 60 regional chapters across the globe.

Kuala Lumpur Urban Sketchers was formed by K.C. Lee in November last year.

Lee, 57, was a graduate of Fine Arts from Malaysia Institute of Arts. With a strong 35-year background in advertising, graphic design and architectural interiors, Lee started the KL chapter with the purpose of recording beauty in everyday happenings and share them with others.

Recently, the group held a “sketch crawl” at the Valley of Hope in Sungai Buloh.

Valley of Hope used to housed the second largest leprosarium in the world. It was closed down in 1969 and is now called the National Leprosy Control Centre.

“There is a lot of beauty at this place,” Lee said.

“Artists are free to roam the area and do as many sketches as they can, hence the term sketch crawl.

“We started with about 20 participants last year. Today, we have about 150.

“I want to see more young people participating. It provides them a good opportunity to enjoy the outdoors.”

Urban Sketchers draw on location, indoors or out, capturing what they observe.

Liew Yong Kian, a lecturer from the institute, has been taking his students to several sketch crawls organised by Lee.

“Sketching is a basic skill for artists and designers. Sketching on location is one of the assignments for my students,” Liew said.

Sketch crawls are held every third Sunday of every month. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/KLUrbanSketchers.

E-Paper Article View