LAST MONTH IN EAST AND SOUTHEAST ASIA - October 2022

November 11, 2022
Last month's updates: South Korea faced the worst crowd crush in Itaewon Halloween festival, while a life sentence was imposed on the Cambodian opposition leader.

South Korea

The Itaewon Tragedy: Halloween Crush Kills over 150

South Korea experienced the worst crowd crush in history on the weekend prior to Halloween. Over 150 casualties in a crowd stampede occurred in the famous party neighborhood in Seoul on the night of October 29, as approximately more than 100.000 attendees gathered in the narrow alleys of Itaewon. 

A symbol of the Seoulite nightlife, Itaewon is often regarded as the most popular destination for partygoers on Halloween. The last weekend of October 2022 saw the first time Halloween celebrations returned to Itaewon after a long-awaited 3 year period of strict social distancing, and mask policies in South Korea, causing the unexpectedly large crowd who got jammed up in a sloping 4-meter wide alley. Most of the victims were in their 20s and 30s, among which 98 are women, and 26 were foreign nationals, making this the deadliest foreign-related incident in the country. 

President Yoo Suk Yeol offered his apology during an interview on the following Monday, saying "I am sorry and apologetic to the bereaved families who are suffering an unspeakable tragedy, and to the people who share the pain and sorrow." Since the incident, police have come under fire for their incompetence in their response to the tragedy. Only 137 police showed up at the disaster zone, despite telephone transcripts showing there had been 11 calls to the police emergency number 112, with the earliest made at around 6.30 PM, four hours before the incident. 

Multiple candlelight vigils were organized across the country from Seoul to Busan by the opposition political party to mourn for the victims and call for President Yoo to resign. At least seven vigil protests were held in the capital, with thousands of civilians gathered in Seoul City Hall Plaza, chanting “Step down, Yoon Suk-yeol’s government!”

Malaysia

Malaysia’s political landscape in turmoil

Since Malaysia’s most recent elections in 2018, party rivalries and coalition infighting have cast a shadow over the country’s political landscape. In this momentous election for the nation, the opposition was successful in ousting the 60-year-old-long ruling party: the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). However, the opposition’s coalition could only hold onto power for two years before collapsing as a result of internal strife, allowing the new UMNO alliance to take over. 

Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Malaysia’s current PM since August 2021, called for the parliament’s dissolution on the 10th of October. This comes as an attempt from the UMNO to assert its legitimacy as the new ruling party and put an end to faction infighting.

While the new vote is set to be on November 19, some prominent figures of the Malaysian political landscape made their return. Mahathir Mohamad, 97 years old, former PM, and ex-leader of the UMNO is set to run for the general election. Another revenant in Malaysian politics: Anwar Ibrahim, leader of the opposition party, the Pakatan Harapan Coalition. Anwar was jailed for allegations of sodomy multiple times from 1998 until he was acquitted again in 2018. Anwar always claimed these allegations were politically motivated

Many expressed concern over these elections due to the severe monsoon in the country expected for the 12 of November, hence fearing a lower turn-out than expected due to weather-related risks. On another side, the recent decrease in the voting age from 21 to 18 could result in an additional 6 million first-time voters.

Japan

Japanese commemoration triggers diplomatic tensions

On October 17th, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida triggered China’s and Korea’s resentment by making an offering to a shrine temple in Tokyo. Although this reaction might sound a bit exaggerated, the issue is that Japan still refuses to recognize war atrocities. This offering commemorates the soldiers fallen during the war who committed them. This shrine, the “Yasukini-jinja”, is particularly symbolic because it honours convicted war criminals such as Hideki Tōjō and about 2.5 million war dead. What is also seen as a provocation is the fact that several officials from the government went to the shrine without consideration for war-time atrocities and respect towards neighbouring countries.

Such indignation from the latter is not a surprise in light of the atrocities committed during World War II by the Japanese army under the Empire’s rule. At that time both Koreas and parts of China were under Japanese colonization and suffered several war crimes. Although the 1965 treaties signed in San Francisco are supposed to have settled diplomatic relations between Japan and Korea, Korea is still asking for Japan’s reparations to the families of the victims which Japan keeps declining. Therefore, the topic is still hot today. Although Japan and Korea are de facto behind Washington’s initiative to contain China, some bilateral issues are still unsettled and hinder the tightening of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Nevertheless, it is noteworthy to highlight that Kishida did not pay tribute to the soldiers in person. After the infamous 2013 Shinzo Abe’s commemoration of the Yasukuni shrine and the diplomatic crisis that ensued, this act would have been a real diplomatic and political mistake that Kishida could not afford to endorse.

Cambodia

Former CNRP leader is sentenced to life imprisonment

On October 19, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced Sam Rainsy to life in jail for ceding Cambodian territory to the indigenous groups. 

Sam Rainsy is a former president of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) who has been exiled since 2016 and now lives in France. He has been convicted in absentia of several offences ranging from incitement and defamation to planning to topple Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government. His sentences total more than 40 years, along with the life sentence that was currently given.

In the recent trial, judges accepted the prosecution’s claim that Sam Rainsy had consented to hand over control of the 4 northeastern Cambodian provinces of Mondulkiri, Ratanakkiri, Stung Treng, and Kratie to ethnic minorities. 

He was charged with a meeting with Kok Ksor based on the 2013 video. Ksor is the Montagnard Foundation leader and an advocate for the rights of the indigenous minority living on both sides of the Vietnam-Cambodia border. In addition, the details of the meeting became public via the video of the meeting in 2013 which was posted in 2018 on an anonymous Facebook account.

According to the Voice of Democracy, though Rainsy did not promise to give away any land, the government and Fresh News seized upon the video and accused him of giving away the country’s land to a foreign power.

Article by the editorial staff of the lunar times

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