Asia's political winds

 
An anti-government protester pushes riot police officers during scuffles near the Government house in Bangkok on Nov 24, 2012. Over the past weekend, a large number showed up in the Thai capital,, then inexplicably withdrew. Maybe retired Maj Gen Boonlert Kaewprasit, who is leading the anti government Pitak Siam movement, made a military style decision to fight another day.  -- PHOTO: REUTERS

As the life-giving monsoons wane over South Asia, and wax in the Southeast, new clouds are gathering across Asia -- on the political front.

As Japan heads for polls next month, the dozen or so parties nominally in the fray are jockeying for public attention. On Thursday morning, Shinzo Abe, the leader of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party and a former Premier, declined a request from Prime Minister Noda for a US-style debate on television. Instead, he said, it would have to be an Internet debate.

Read our veteran Japan Correspondent Kwan Weng Kin's interpretation of the situation, which is developing against a backdrop of worsening ties with China.

In Thailand, Yingluck Shinawatra is having her first brushes with negativity as political forces opposed to her exiled brother Thaksin, gather in Bangkok's crowded streets.

Over the past weekend, a large number showed up in the Thai capital,, then inexplicably withdrew. Maybe retired Maj Gen Boonlert Kaewprasit, who is leading the anti government Pitak Siam movement, made a military style decision to fight another day. This was the second time in two months that anti Yingluck rallies have been held in Bangkok and things are beginning to look different this time.

In previous protests seen in Bangkok before last year's general election, you could tell which side was on the streets by the colour of their tunics -- Red Shirts backing Thaksin and Yellow Shirts, the royalists who believe the former leader wants to bring down the monarchy.

This time, Pitak Siam was a new coalition that did not define itself by colour but by common purpose -- "protecting" the monarchy from Thaksin, who they see as a closet Republican.

More worryingly, says Indochina Bureau Chief Nirmal Ghosh, the second rally showed a tendency to descend rapidly into violent skirmishes with the authorities.

Meanwhile, in the countryside, pro-Thaksin Red Shirts have held meetings drawing people in the thousands. It is the kind of gathering storm that Thailand, Asean's No. 2 economy, can do without at a time when the region is trying to cope with a slowing China and a Europe teetering on recession, reducing demand for goods produced in the country.

Track this story in our print editions and on this web site.

Down the peninsula, south of the isthmus of Kra and across the South China Sea to Borneo, Malaysia is bracing for its next general election which Prime Minister Najib Razak must be held before the end of May.

At least twice before, in the past eight months, Najib seemed to be ready to call snap polls, then stepped back from taking the plunge. This week's general assembly of his ruling Umno-- short for United Malays National Organisation-- will be the last before he goes to the people for a renewed mandate and Kuala Lumpur is buzzing.

Follow our detailed coverage, including Najib's speech to the convention, through the eyes of Malaysia Bureau Chief Carolyn Hong and Correspondents Teo Cheng Wee and Lester Kong.

Meanwhile, in India, the world's largest democracy, polls are not due until 2014 but the election fever is on the rise. The ruling Congress Party has named second time MP Rahul Gandhi as its principal campaigner for the poll.

After a rash of government scandals and complaints of administrative paralysis in New Delhi, you would have thought things would be going well for the principal opposition group, the Bharatiya Janata Party. Guess again.

Read all about it in Friday's print editions.