Singapore’s Governing Party Solidifies Rule

By Sarah Medeiros

Singapore held snap elections this past September, an event reminiscent of the nation’s elections held immediately after Sept. 11, 2001. In both cases, the ruling party won overwhelmingly. Much like everyone in the United States, the island nation was awash with grief for the fallen. Also, terrified for their own safety, Singapore citizens gave the People’s Action Party a higher percentage of parliamentary seats that year.

This is the party of Lee Kuan Yew, the country’s enigmatic founder, who held power from 1959 until 1990 and whose son is the current prime minister. The party has continued to hold sway in the intervening time, deviating only a few seats and percentage points here and there until the elections of 2011, which saw the P.A.P.’s share of votes dip to only 60 percent for the first time in its history. Although both the world and the media landscape have changed greatly since 2001, there are similarities in the two unplanned votes.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called for a snap election to be held on the anniversary of Sept. 11, and his decision to call the election at that time was probably a calculated one. In March, his well-loved father passed away, sending the whole country into mourning.

Lee Kuan Yew is widely credited with turning Singapore into the successful nation it is today, with the third highest gross domestic product per capita in the world (almost double the G.D.P. of the U.S.). Not only was this month’s election the first after his death, but it also followed weeks of celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of Singapore as an independent nation.

PM Lee likely timed the vote to capitalize on a renewed sense of national pride, concerns about the future of the country without its stalwart founder and fears about Singapore’s financial stability as China’s economy continues to fluctuate. Although many analysts seemed unsurprised about this swing back to the P.A.P. in the years since the 2011 drop, crediting the nation’s “silent majority” with the decisive victory, the way the battle is portrayed in the media is particularly interesting.

The Straits Times, Singapore’s leading English-language newspaper, was largely measured about the election results, permitting editorials on the subject. Like most of the press in Singapore, it’s monitored by the government and lacks the freedom to outright criticize the P.A.P.. Certain Singaporean analysts and opinion writers imply that age might be a factor in the disparity between the vocal online community, which favored a measured uptick in opposition representation, and the governing party supporters.

Annabelle Liang for the Associated Press  notes that the new, younger voters take Singapore’s prosperity, stability and safety for granted, and the relatively quiet P.A.P. support online is what adds to frequent discussions of “the silent majority” in articles about the results. In addition to traditional articles, however, is social media itself; an entire page within The Straits Times“GE2015” section is dedicated to citizens’ reactions to the election across multiple online sites.

Since Sept. 1, people have used the #GE2015 hashtag 42,962 times (as of September 17), and the Times also provides a theoretical breakdown of the hashtag users’ political leanings (although it gives no notation of how they determine this).  Certain social media sites, such as Snapchat and Tumblr (both of which have young user bases), were not noted on The Straits Times’s page. Twitter is relatively mainstream now, but Instagram’s user base skews young, and as such many pictures from that site include tags along the lines of #votingvirgin.

Many people proudly posted pictures of their ballot stubs, and others included snaps from the Sept. 9 opposition rallies. One Singaporean, Lester J Wan (les_weekender), included a strongly worded statement about the P.A.P. and how he would never vote for a party that ruled with “an unaccountable monopoly as well as their creative approach to ‘history.’” The picture, however, was a joking reference to a character from Marvel’s recent blockbuster The Avengers: Age of Ultron.


As a Catholic, and someone who disagrees with 5 decades of an unaccountable monopoly as well as their creative approach to 'history', this ruling party will never get my vote. Not sure if I'm cynical or disillusioned though, but I believe a large proportion of Singaporeans will not make their vote count or put their money where their mouth is. I remember Cheng San. Again, whatever the result, I pray for a more just, caring and life-giving Singapore, as well as more accountable governance. Lord, thy kingdom come. P.S. Look which Nordic hero I saw at the rally :D #rally #politics #sgpolitics #opposition #oppositionparty #workersparty #wp #thetimestheyareachangin #wegottoprayjusttomakeittoday #thykingdomcome #catholic #singapore #sg #igsg #singaporean #sg50 #ge2015 #generalelections #thefutureofsingapore #hammertime #letthehammerfall #thor #jbj #democraticsocietybasedonjusticeandequality #andjusticeforall #majulahsingapura #pritamsingh #sylvialim #lowthiakiang #hetingru

A photo posted by Lester J Wan (@les_weekender) on


The Singapore media, both traditional and social, in essence had little effect on the results of the election. It is the history of the nation that explains the election results: Singaporean citizens tend to turn to a familiar figure when faced with uncertainty.

In the 2001 snap elections, the P.A.P. took 75.3 percent of the votes, and a week ago they closed the polls with 69.86 percent. The governing party lost quite a few seats since 2001, but for the moment Singapore’s “traditionally risk-averse” population has renewed their mandate for another five years.




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Ecuador’s Media Still Under Attack

By Tara Schoenborn

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa continues to wage war on his nation’s media as he moves to shut down the nation’s only independent organization dedicated to freedom of the press, Fundamedios.

Although the 2008 Ecuadorian Constitution acknowledges freedom of speech and expression, Correa has consistently attacked journalists and news outlets since his election in 2007. His first success, as reported by the International Business Times, occurred in 2012 when he won a libel case that convicted the four owners of one of the most widely circulated newspapers, El Universal.

The most damaging of Correa’s actions against the media is the 2013 Communications Law, according to Freedom House, which gives the government the authority to regulate media content. Known as the “Gag Law,” it was supposed to redistribute television and radio licenses evenly to promote equitable representation in the media. However, Reporters Without Borders says that the Correa administration is using the law to “control information and to stifle critical opinion.” Freedom House says the law is the reason Ecuador’s press status switched from “partly free” to “not free.” In fact, according to a former Ecuadorian journalist in The New York Times, Correa is a “self-declared enemy” of the independent news media. He not only appears on television every weekend to attack the “corrupt news media,” he also uses airtime to put down journalists and physically rip up newspapers.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa

In his latest attempt to control the media, the International Business Times reports that Correa used the eruption of volcano Cotopaxi on Aug. 14 to declare a “state of emergency” that grants him the power of censorship for up to 60 days, including over social networks. According to an article in Mongabay, a nonprofit environmental news service, this serves the dual purpose of ensuring the safety of Ecuadorian citizens and quelling the many political protests against the Correa administration by various indigenous and social groups.

Under the declared “state of emergency,” the Correa administration’s National Secretariat of Communication (SECOM) sent a letter to Fundamedios, the country’s last-remaining media watchdog, to notify it of its dissolution. The Miami Herald reports that the administration claims that the U.S.-funded nongovernmental organization “has disseminated messages, alerts and essays with indisputable political overtones,” and has violated its own mission to only involve itself in “the areas of social communications and journalism.”

According to Telesur TV, there is evidence that Fundamedios has supported organizations opposed to Correa and issues unrelated to freedom of expression. However, the United Nations and international human rights organizations like the Human Rights Watch (HRW) are criticizing the Correa administration for what Daniel Wilkinson, HRW managing director for the Americas, says is “an egregious abuse of power and a clear example of this government’s authoritarian practices.” The U.S. Department of State has also expressed concern, as reported by the Associated Press, and has “called on Correa’s government to uphold its international commitments to respect free expression and association as fundamental democratic rights.”

Fundamedios has 10 days to defend itself against the Correa administration’s accusations, but according to the Latin Post, it is unlikely that it will be able to do so. The international news media are increasingly highlighting Correa’s violations against freedom of speech, so even if he succeeds in shutting down Fundamedios, the political and social implications for Ecuador may be vast when the 60-day “state of emergency” comes to an end.

Photograph by Luis Astudillo C. (Courtesy of Flickr: Agencia de Noticias ANDES)

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Haiti’s Tourism Effort Continues, Despite Political Strife

By Cameran Clayton

The government in Haiti is betting on increased tourism to bolster its economy despite the country’s on-going political instability and devastating social conditions.

Tourism development is a central pillar of the country’s post-earthquake reconstruction strategy, with government officials eager to remind foreign investors and potential tourists that “Haiti is open for business.” Haiti was once considered one of the most fashionable vacation destinations in the Caribbean, and officials hope to restore Haiti’s reputation as a vacation hotspot.

In many ways, the government’s plan makes sense. Haiti has many natural assets, including pristine beaches alongside mountainous terrains, colonial architecture and historical attractions, as well as a vibrant culture and arts scene.

Hotels and restaurants are also using local food and materials, and the country’s own hospitality school prepares Haitians for work in the service sector. Hotel giant Marriott considers its new 174-room mega hotel in Haiti its “biggest social responsibility project.”

Poolside at Wahoo Bay, Haiti

Poolside at Wahoo Bay, Haiti

Unfortunately, revitalizing tourism development in Haiti has not been easy. The damage caused by the 2010 earthquake has made demonstrating land ownership notoriously difficult. Many titles simply disappeared in the wreckage. This problem is further exacerbated by the country’s drastically overburdened, some say corrupt, judicial system.

Land tenure deficiencies in Haiti also affect residents, as reports of illegal seizures and forceful evictions surface regularly, and citizens often do not have access to due process if their lands are seized illegally. Some residents question whether the government’s tourism development is worth this appropriation.

For example, there are tensions in Île-à-Vache, a coastal village where the government is channeling some of its tourism development. The government is planning for the tiny island to host a new airport, a slew of hotels and a massive golf course. Last year, bulldozers began destroying people’s farmland as part of the project.

“We had so many plants — potato, corn, beans, all kinds of crops,” said Cyprise Gislene, 32, a mother of three and long-time resident of Île-à-Vache. “Now we have nothing to live from. They destroyed my life,” she said. “Tourism is good for them, but not for us. It doesn’t create jobs for us — it just takes our land.”

Tent City in Haiti

Tent City in Haiti

These problems are just the beginning. In addition to the country’s land issues and accusations of government misconduct, much of Haiti’s population remains housed in “tent-cities,” while the country as a whole remains, in many ways, an international protectorate. Despite nearly six years of reconstruction efforts, Haiti remains dependent on foreign aid and the presence of U.N. peacekeepers.

To compound matters, Haiti has been without a functioning government since January 2015, and the president is currently ruling by decree. More recently, there has been a resurgence in violence, intimidation and social unrest as the country fumbles its way through yet another deeply flawed electoral process.

Through all this, the government remains steadfast in its efforts to boost tourism. There are signs that its efforts are working. Last year, JetBlue began non-stop flights to Haiti, and earlier this year it announced plans to expand its service routes. In late 2014, the government reported a 21 percent increase in arrivals for the year, and tourism remains the country’s largest industry. But with so many unresolved issues, it remains to be seen whether tourism can sustain Haiti. Until the country’s more immediate problems are addressed, hope for a vibrant tourism sector will remain tenuous.

Photo 1 Credit: Courtesy Steve Bennett/

Photo 2 Credit: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Society; Photo: IFRC/Eric Quintero (p-HTI0141).



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Mexico Still Needs Carmen Aristegui

By Carlos Diaz Barriga

Mexican radio host Ciro Gomez Leyva’s announced in his El Universal column on Sept. 3 that journalist Carmen Aristegui is coming back to radio this month.

Good. Six months was a long time for Mexico to go without its loudest and most important voice in media.

Back in March, Aristegui, a Legion of Honor recipient, was terminated from her contract with the media conglomerate MVS Comunicaciones after issuing an ultimatum to the company to reinstate two employees from her team.

The employees in question were dismissed after announcing their association with MexicoLeaks, a platform inspired by WikiLeaks, which is dedicated to revealing information of public interest in Mexico. MVS Comunicaciones argued that the employees used the company’s name to promote the new platform without its authorization.

Considering Aristegui’s morning show was one of the top three highest-rated radio shows in the country, and MVS Comunicaciones’ only program in the top 10, it’s perplexing as to why she was let go over such a trivial matter.

Although the media conglomerate still insists that it was the ultimatum that prompted her dismissal, one doesn’t have to look any further than Aristegui’s last exposè to figure out the – most likely – real reason.

Carmen Aristegui

Carmen Aristegui

On Nov. 9 of last year, Aristegui’s own news site, Aristegui Noticias, published the article “Mexican President’s ‘White House.’” The story details how a $7 million house that was said to belong to the Mexican president’s wife, Angelica Rivera, was registered under the name of a subsidiary of Grupo Higa, a company that has been awarded millions of pesos in government contracts.

The report generated negative press towards President Nieto and his family for months. Mexico’s first lady even had to release a video statement claiming her innocence. Ultimately, Rivera announced she was selling the house (something that has yet to happen).

After her dismissal, Aristegui held an online press conference. When asked if the decision to fire her was influenced by the government, she confirmed that “it appears to be. I cannot imagine something of this size without some kind of, at least, consent of the highest presidential power or the higher powers.”

Aristegui has been down this road before with MVS Comunicaciones, when she was fired – and then reinstated – for commenting on air about the rumors of then-President Felipe Calderon’s alleged drinking problems, back in 2011.

Aristegui’s style of journalism is needed now more than ever. The other top-rated radio shows are nowhere near as critical or analytical as hers when it comes to investigating the government.

Listening to Ciro Gomez Leyva or Oscar Mario Beteta’s shows will keep you up-to-date on the country’s most relevant news, but they hardly provide a unique point of view. Especially in a nation like Mexico, where freedom of the press is still under threat, a powerful journalist like Aristegui is needed to bring forward the darkest and most controversial stories.

The radio station where she will make her return to the airwaves has yet to be announced. But that doesn’t matter. As she has proven over and over, she will continue to push back against the political class no matter where she is. It’s Aristegui who is holding the politicians accountable.

Photograph by Eneas De Troya (Flickr: Carmen Aristegui en el campamento del SME) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.


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Pakistan and India Spar Over Line of Control

By Gujari Singh

Pakistan and India are continuing their verbal assault on each other concerning the so-called line of control (LOC), which is the disputed border between the two countries in Kashmir. The back and forth between the counties has played out on the floor of the U.N. General Assembly. “Pakistan regretted that the people of Jammu and Kashmir had been deprived of their right to self-determination,” said Diyar Kahn, a counselor at Pakistan’s U.N. Mission. India’s Mayank Joshi, First Secretary to the Indian mission to the U.N., called Kahn’s comments, “unsolicited,” and “factually in-correct.” Both countries claim Kashmir in entirety and the dispute has continued for 60 years.

In the past months, fighting on the LOC has increased dramatically. In October, nine civilians were killed from continued shelling along the border. Relations between the two countries have also been strained since India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi cancelled planned talks with Pakistan aimed at renewing dialogue between the two countries.

Map of the Kashmir region bordering India and Pakistan

Map of the Kashmir region bordering India and Pakistan

Military officers on both sides have increased action. The reason for this spike in aggression is not known, but there have been more than 1,000 mortars fired. One source says that Modi’s accusations aimed at Pakistan could be the cause of part of the aggression. Modi said in regards to Pakistan that it is “helping Islamist militants cross into its side (India) to keep alive a 25-year armed revolt in India’s only Muslim-majority state.”

Pakistan disputed this claim, however, and stated that it only provides moral and diplomatic support to Kashmir’s “rightful struggle to self-determination.” This aggressive exchange of ideas could be the stimulus that brought the current rise in aggression along the LOC.

When discussing the aggression south of Kashmir along the undisputed border of Pakistan and India, it cannot be separated from the dispute along the LOC. With the current rise in attacks along the LOC, there is speculation that the increased tension between the countries is creating aggression along the entire border of the two countries. On Nov. 2, 45 people were killed at the Wagah border crossing, which is the only land crossing between the two countries.

The U.S. government has raised its concern over the current violence on the LOC. Senior American Diplomat and U.S. Special Representative of Pakistan and Afghanistan Dan Feldman spoke at an Atlantic Council Forum about his worries. “I’ve personally raised these concerns with each side – and urged them to engage in dialogue to reduce tensions and end the violence.” Feldman also said that “there is no relationship more critical to Pakistan’s future than its relationship with its neighbor.”

With the increased international concern over this topic, the hope is that Pakistan and India will soon come to a resolution. While no certain agreement is on the horizon, the international community can take comfort that the two nations continue to communicate in forums such as the U.N. General Assembly.

Map of Kashmir region courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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