New Mandala’s 2015 in review (and Christmas dance)

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We take our traditions pretty serious at New Mandala. This year some familiar faces are back to dance up a storm. Click through here to check out their moves.

It’s also time to do a recap of what was our busiest year yet.

2015 proved to be massive for Southeast Asia, with free and fair elections in Myanmar (the first in 25 years), as well as Singapore’s first vote in the post-Lee Kuan Yew era. The ballot in Myanmar saw long-time democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi romp home in a ‘red wave’ that has also been seen as a repudiation of military rule in the country.

Elsewhere, 2014’s man of the moment, Indonesia President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo, quickly went from hero to zero, blundering from one policy failure to another and seemingly unable to control his own cabinet, let alone a say in his own party; controlled by matriarch oligarch Megawati Sukarnoputri.

We saw a major scandal in Malaysia that nonetheless hasn’t knocked the PM from his perch (yet). Thousands of Rohingya from Myanmar and neighbouring Bangladesh were left adrift at sea. And of course Thailand continued its downward spiral from fractious politics into farce; this year seeing a man charged with lese majeste due to a comment he made about the king’s dog.

With so much happening across the region, it’s no surprise that New Mandala also had a huge 12 months.

To date, we’ve published more than 460 articles and other posts (many republished in Australian and regional media), which have generated more than 3,600 comments (that we could actually approve; some of you were very naughty and probably shouldn’t expect a visit from Santa). And of course, we continued to attract many tens of thousands of weekly readers.

So what mattered to us, and more importantly what did our readers care about? Here’s our top 10 articles published in 2015.

In 10th is Singapore swing, Bridget Welsh’s post-ballot box wrap of Singapore’s general election in September, which saw the incumbent and long-ruling People’s Action Party win comfortably. With many arguing PAP would lose seats in this vote, the result proved to be the optimal pendulum swing says Welsh.

Gerhard Hoffstaetder’s snappy photo essay on Malaysia’s massive citizen march for clean politics in August comes in at ninth. Bersih 4.0 takes over Kuala Lumpur combines strong imagery and cogent analysis to beautifully set the scene for the major political rally. Unfortunately, this year’s trends paint a much worse picture for Malaysian politics in general, with people power maybe not enough to improve things.

Sticking with Malaysia, Bridget Welsh’s article on Prime Minster Najib Razak’s introduction of a goods and services tax in April, Najib’s taxing problem: The politics of Malaysia’s GSTtakes out eighth. In addition to the excellent insight, the photo of his cat makes this article well worth re-reading (it’s a bit “one million dollars!”. See the video below.)

Good news for those who love bad news. Max Grömping’s article on electoral integrity in the region, Southeast Asian elections worst in the world, takes out seventh.

A meeting between Pavin Chachavalpongpun and Noam Chomsky proved to be popular coming in sixth. A conversation with Chomsky recounts the pow-wow with the well-known intellectual (take your pick which we’re referring to), in which they cover Thai politics, the monarchy and Thaksin.

In fifth is Llewellyn McCann’s look at the Thai monarchy, Political implications of Thailand’s royal succession. In it he looks at whether democracy will move forward with a change at the top, and the palpable fear people have about the current king’s inevitable departure.

Malaysia’s 1MDB scandal garnered worldwide attention this year and Tom Pepinsky’s examination of how it fits in with similar examples of corruption in the country’s past also proved hugely popular. Taking out fourth, Malaysia’s long history of financial scandals paints a sobering picture of how common this type of situation really is.

In the bronze medal position and a spot on the podium, third is Lee Jones’ Thai junta turning tragedy into farce. If you follow Jones on Twitter you will be familiar with his acerbic wit and hot takedowns. Casting his eye over the manner in which Thailand’s military leaders continued to fluff their lines when it came to the investigation of August’s Bangkok blast, this must-read piece is no different!

Bridget Welsh scoops silver with her third appearance in our 2015 top 10, taking out second for her article Lee Kuan Yew’s political legacy – a matter of trust. Her assessment of the LKY legacy was not only popular in the wake of the long-time leader’s death, but is sure to be a “go to” reference for future looks at how he helped shape Singapore.

Finally in first (and by some margin) is Michael Buehler’s exposé of dealings between mysterious representatives of the Indonesian government and lobbyists in the US. Waiting in the White House lobby recounts how a third-party paid some $80,000 to US lobbyists during President Jokowi’s less than impressive visit to Washington.

It caused a serious stir in Indonesia, leading to at least two press conferences by senior ministers and generating more than 400 articles in local and international press. (Indonesian media even reported on the fact that we changed the image accompanying the article.) It is an important contribution on politics in Indonesia and the region, and more than a worthy winner for 2015.

An honourable mention must be made of an article that only missed the top 10 by a couple of reads. In 11th, Clive Kessler’s essay on modern Islam and terrorism, A rage against history, examines whether Islam is a religion of peace today. One reader labelled it “deeply unsatisfying, both intellectually and emotionally.” It certainly got people talking – and will continue to do so.

Lastly, we want to say thanks to all our readers, contributors and commenters — you are the lifeblood of the website. See you all in 2016, which, for those keeping score, marks our 10th anniversary. It will be big. In the meantime, be good to each other and yourselves.

The
New Mandala team: James Giggacher, Mish Khan
, Nicholas Farrelly and Andrew Walker.