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Ashlyn Anderson, Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Ariella Rotenberg, Ayumi Teraoka, and Gabriel Walker look at the top stories in Asia this week.
1. Singapore’s historic elections. Singaporeans took to the polls today in the first general parliamentary election in the country’s history in which every constituency is contested. The People’s Action Party (PAP), which has ruled the country since it was expelled from Malaysia in 1965 and held more than 90 percent of the seats in parliament prior to the election, won a majority of seats again. However, the elections were a test for the PAP, which fared worse in the 2011 elections than it ever had before and has been criticized recently over its policies on immigration and social welfare. This was also the first election since the death of legendary PAP founder (and father of current prime minister Lee Hsien Loong) Lee Kuan Yew, who ruled Singapore as prime minister for more than forty years.
2. Thailand’s junta rejects draft constitution. Thailand’s junta-appointed reform council rejected a proposed constitution last Sunday—a constitution that had been written by its own drafting committee. As a result, Thailand’s next election will not take place until April 2017 at the earliest. The rejection of this draft will ensure that the junta stays in power at least until that time. The sticking point of this current draft was a provision that allowed for a panel of majority military members to take control of the government during “crisis” situations. If this version had passed, it would have been the twentieth constitution in eighty-three years. The military junta will now appoint another drafting body to start from scratch on yet another constitution.
3. Abe Reelected. On Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was reelected without a vote as the president of Japan’s ruling party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Despite the attempted challenge to Abe by Seiko Noda, who has served as a minister in various cabinets and taken key leadership roles within LDP, not one individual in the party was able to garner enough support to enter the race—precisely twenty signatures from party lawmakers—while Abe received support from all seven factions of the party and four groups of members who do not belong to the factions. Reportedly, Abe himself was insistent on having no vote in this election to show party unity, and instead focused on passing controversial security bills later this month. This reelection extends his tenure as the head of LDP to the end of September 2018. He plans to reshuffle his cabinet in early October and shift focus away from security issues to emphasize economics.
4. Twelve convicted for 2006 train bombing in Mumbai. Nine years after simultaneous bombs detonated on seven commuter trains and at a train station during an evening rush hour, leaving close to two hundred dead and eight hundred injured, a Mumbai court handed guilty sentences to twelve individuals for the attack. The men involved in the blasts were members of the Student Islamic Movement of India and thought to have plotted with the help of the Pakistan-based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, according to the prosecution. Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group that carried out other attacks in Mumbai in 2008, denies any involvement in the 2006 train blasts. Although charges against the men were filed four months after the incident, evidence was scant and police had to rely on call records to connect the conspirators. While one of the thirteen men charged was acquitted, the twelve convicted face life in prison or death.
5. Yakuza split in Japan. Yamaguchi-gumi, a prominent yakuza or Japanese organized crime syndicate, divided in early September with the establishment of a new group called Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi. The new group will include approximately three thousand members under the leadership of Kunio Inoue, who formerly directed an affiliate of Yamaguchi-gumi. The split was attributed to resentment of the current leadership and a regional power struggle between gang leaders in Kobe and Nagoya regarding the location of the group’s headquarters. News of the divide ignited fears that deadly violence could break out as occurred in the aftermath of another yakuza split in 1984. However, given the increased severity of anti-gang laws in Japan and the weakening financial positions of the yakuza, some believe the violence may be limited to just a few skirmishes. Yamaguchi-gumi is Japan’s largest yakuza and is estimated to be the world’s wealthiest organized crime group, with revenues of approximately eighty billion dollars in 2014.
Bonus: Onomishi’s cat cam. In a country where it’s easy to get a feline fix on one of eleven cat islands or at a cat café, the city of Onomishi in Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan, has developed its own Google Street View–like map aimed at giving tourists a cat’s-eye view of its local streets. The interactive map, which was developed by Hiroshima’s tourism department using a 360-degree camera, allows users to peer through the eyes of Lala, Hiroshima’s “Manager of Backstreet Tourism,” while learning about the city’s tourist attractions, shops, and even other neighborhood cats. The effort may be part of a broader push to attract overseas visitors, who are a boon to Japan’s flagging economy. In 2014, a record 13.4 million tourists visited the country, which hopes to have twenty million visitors a year by the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.