This is not the silly sea­son

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - ROGER MITTON roger­mit­

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.

Photo: AFP

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.

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