Indonesia has one of the most free-wheeling democracies in Southeast Asia, following years of authoritarian rule that only ended with the ouster of President Suharto in 1998. But observers say this election could be a key turning point for the country. Indonesians will choose between a political outsider who preaches reform, and a former military general with direct ties to the old regime—and polls suggest the race is neck and neck with only days to go before election day.
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Cambodians head to the polls for the fifth parliamentary elections since a United Nations-brokered peace deal ushered in an end to years of conflict. Amid a restrictive political climate, some Cambodians push for change, while others side with the certainty of one of the world's longest-serving leaders.
Southeast Asian foreign ministers have failed to hammer out a joint position summarizing key regional meetings. Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations stumbled over how to describe the simmering dispute in the South Chin Sea. The unprecedented impasse has left some officials pointing a finger at chair Cambodia. It also raises questions about the cohesiveness of ASEAN members, China's growing influence in the region and the possibility of a rift within the 10-member bloc.
As senior ministers in Southeast Asia met for a high-level summit in Cambodia in July, some observers were looking ahead to 2014. That’s when Burma, known as Myanmar, will be taking its place as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
It will be an important year for Burma itself--but also for ASEAN, which has its credibility at stake should Burma's unprecedented reforms stumble. ASEAN is eager for the international community to completely remove sanctions on Burma. But some nations' reluctance to axe sanctions altogether is a point of frustration for the regional bloc.
“ASEAN wants the sanctions against Burma removed, because it discriminates against one of its members," one observer says.
But economic sanctions may be harder to remove than they were to impose in the first place.
Cambodia’s fragmented opposition parties are promising to work together, rather than compete against each other for votes. All it took was another crushing victory at the polls for the country’s ruling party.
Few expected the governing Cambodian People’s Party, with Prime Minister Hun Sen at its helm, to lose in nationwide local elections held here June 3. Yet the way in which it won—securing a commanding 97 percent of commune chief seats nationwide—was particularly decisive.
If the election was a barometer to gauge the political climate ahead of key parliamentary elections scheduled for 2013, then it showed that a great deal of work lies ahead for what is still a divided opposition.