This is not the silly season
NEWSPAPERS in England call the period from July to September “the silly season” because few serious events happen then, so they fill their pages with lighter stories, usually of a bubbly, scandalous nature.
Typically, they involve rich toffs, genial gangsters or off-season footballers caught cavorting with busty young ladies or well-oiled rent boys while quaffing vodka or some illicit substance.
Here, however, where there is no summertime as such, the regional press tends not to be silly or frivolous in a titillating European manner, but stolidly serious, even when reporting rather offbeat items.
Consider, for instance, a top story in one of Myanmar’s neighbours this week, which was boldly headlined, “Laos establishes diplomatic ties with Liberia.”
Wow. Liberia! That was clearly a big deal, even if the small West African state remains – to put it diplomatically – off the map as far as most Asians are concerned.
No matter; it was far more important for the people of Laos than another inane utterance by Donald Trump or a histrionic BBC report of a portly Polish woman setting a record in the hammer throw at the Rio Olympics.
They are the true silly stories, whereas the Liberia item brought good tidings and a chance to contemplate flights between Vientiane and Monrovia, like those recently launched between Yangon and Dubai.
Another weird but far from silly regional story was this week’s report from the Philippines that crowds had “rallied in stormy weather” against plans to relocate the corpse of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Shakespeare may have cursed those who seek to disturb the bones of the dead, but that has not fazed President Rodrigo Duterte, who has already encouraged vigilantes to whack hundreds of alleged drug pushers.
In office less than two months, Duterte has now ordered that the cadaver of his predecessor should be moved from Marcos’ distant hometown and interred in the national cemetery for heroes.
It is not a silly notion, but rather a recognition that while Marcos was brutal and corrupt, he did fight for his country in World War II and later was elected a congressman, then a senator and finally president in 1965.
He was re-elected three more times, although of course the polls were fixed, and in 1986 the people finally rose up against his venal rule and he fled into exile in the United States.
He was always Washington’s kind of guy and clearly Duterte feels the same way. After all, he was hardly worse than Hirohito or Mao Zedong or Suharto, and they got heroic gravesites, so why not Marcos?
Another recent item that tended to get silly-season coverage rather than the serious analysis it deserved was Thailand’s failed bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Many said it was laughable for a country ruled by a non-elected military junta to bid for the post and to waste US$20 million on a campaign to woo UN delegates in New York and around the world.
But then Bangkok could argue that its only rival, Kazakhstan, was hardly a bastion of democracy and human rights.
However, as the noted academic Thitinan Pongsudhirak wrote, “Thailand’s multiple governments, twin coups and a string of foreign ministers fed into global perceptions of a country that has gone off the rails.”
So Kazakhstan won 138-55 and the heavy loss did little for Bangkok’s image, while Almaty’s, like Manila’s, can withstand leadership quirks because – say what you like – votes put their guys in office, not tanks.
Another recent non-silly regional story that should have received more attention was the rash of infrastructure failures in supposedly hyperefficient Singapore.
It has become a bit boring to report the constant breakdowns of the island’s MRT subway system, but last month’s revelation of defects in 26 out of 35 new trains defied belief.
Over the past five years there have been four serious break-ins at the high-security MRT depots and a series of train failures that have forced passengers to exit into dark tunnels and stagger to the next station.
And it’s not only the MRT. On the morning of July 14, Singapore’s stock exchange crashed and all trading in the region’s premier financial hub was halted for the rest of the day. Unbelievable.
Remember, there had been two other SGX breakdowns in 2014, so it was not a silly story, but rather one to make folks think twice about all that BBC guff about Singapore’s famed efficiency.
Finally, here at home, readers may have wondered if a deliberate sillystory campaign had been launched to confuse them about the performance of the newly installed government led by the National League for Democracy.
Last week, the estimable Richard Horsey, a political analyst and adviser to the renowned International Crisis Group, asserted that Myanmar is doing pretty well.
He wrote, “The country’s remarkable democratic transition hasn’t been perfect, but its critics should keep in mind how much has already been accomplished.” In his view, the government has “made some missteps, but no huge mistakes”.
Adopting a different tack, the equally estimable Larry Jagan, a freelance reporter, said there was confusion and irritation at the government’s performance and that its honeymoon glow had begun to fade.
Of the NLD and its leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Jagan wrote, “There is increasing criticism of the lack of change and the absence of clear policies during her first 100 days of official governance.”
Like those other items from across the region, these divergent views are most definitely not silly, but rather indicative of a still-developing, but more rooted, regional community. So get yer ya-yas out and celebrate.
Protesters rally in Manila on August 14 against Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s plans to move late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ remains from his hometown to the National Heroes’ Cemetery next month.