Year In Review 2019: Who and what dominated Yahoo searches in Singapore

Actor Aloysius Pang seriously hurt during SAF training exercise in New Zealand
The late Mediacorp actor Aloysius Pang.

SINGAPORE — The world in 2019 was dominated by disruptions, both good and bad, triggered by individuals and nations. It is perhaps inevitable then that Yahoo News Singapore users are concerned about momentous changes in Singapore, the neighbouring region, and elsewhere around the world.

These are the top 10 news searches among the users for 2019:

10. Najib Razak

As former Malaysia prime minister Najib Razak prepared to face corruption charges over the 1MDB scandal, he went on the charm offensive on social media, rejecting accusations of his involvement and even recording a ballad to proclaim his innocence.

Nevertheless, his court appearances were widely watched by the Malaysian media, and he finally took to the stands in December to face questions of his involvement in the US$4.6 billion money laundering scandal. If convicted, the 66-year-old could face hefty fines and jail terms ranging from 15 to 20 years on each charge.

Earlier this week, another bombshell was dropped when one of Najib’s former bodyguards accused him of ordering the 2006 murder of Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuu.

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9. US-China trade war

The ongoing conflict between the US and China has shown little signs of abating since it began in 2018. And it is a source of worry among business entities and governments everywhere, as they fret over how the spat would affect their trade dealings with the world’s two largest economies.

Would they have to take sides eventually? Most are hoping they will not need to make such tough decisions. While there have been attempts by both US and China officials to negotiate, the tough stances by US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping meant that new conditions were inserted repeatedly into such talks, dimming any hopes of resolution.

Whether the trade war would end amicably in the near future is anyone’s guess.

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8. Carrie Lam

The central figure of the Hong Kong protests that dominated Asian news in the second half of 2019, Carrie Lam’s deeply unpopular push for an amendment to the city’s extradition law sparked off widespread discontent which eventually descended into violence in the financial hub.

Lam was widely criticised for her ill-judged attempt to push through the amendment bill despite objections, and many have called for her to step down amid the escalating chaos in Hong Kong. Her refusal to do so was a key reason why the protests dragged on and worsened the violence on the streets.

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7. Ben Davis

The 18-year-old Singaporean footballer found himself thrown into the spotlight in 2018, when his attempt to defer his national service to join English club Fulham was rejected by the Ministry of Defence. The incident touched a nerve and sparked lively debate in Singapore on issues such as maximising talent and balancing the need for national security.

NONTHABURI, THAILAND - OCTOBER 11: Ben Davis of Thailand in action during the friendly match between Thailand U-23 and Army United at Nonthaburi Province Stadium on October 11, 2019 in Nonthaburi, Thailand. (Photo by Pakawich Damrongkiattisak/Getty Images)
Former Singapore footballer Ben Davis representing the Thailand Under-23 in October. (PHOTO: Pakawich Damrongkiattisak/Getty Images)

In February this year, Davis failed to report for NS as required, and was declared a defaulter. In September, he was then selected into the provisional SEA Games squad for Thailand, his place of birth. Although he was subsequently dropped from the final squad, he said in an interview that representing Thailand in football is the best option for him.

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6. Indonesia elections

Indonesia held its general election on 17 April and, for the first time in the country's history, the president, the vice-president, members of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), and members of local legislative bodies were elected on the same day with over 190 million eligible voters participating.

After six months of campaigning, the polling day returned incumbent President Joko Widodo to power for a five-year term, as he garnered 55.5 per cent of the votes to challenger Prabowo Subiato’s 44.5 per cent. Prabowo rejected the result with accusations of vote-rigging, and launched a lawsuit in June, which the Constitutional Court rejected.

Prabowo’s supporters also rioted in May in Jakarta, leaving eight dead and over 600 injured. It also emerged that 569 election workers had died during the lengthy voting and counting process.

Ream more.

5. Lee Hsien Loong

Much of the attention surrounding Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2019 revolved around who will succeed him. All signs point to Heng Swee Keat, who was appointed Deputy Prime Minister in April, as speculation raged on when Lee will call a general election to get a mandate for the next generation of government.

During the annual National Day Rally, Lee touched on topics such as the threat of global warming, the development of the southern waterfront, as well as raising the retirement age.

His ongoing dispute with his two siblings on the estate of his late father, Singapore’s first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, continues to have an impact this year. In September, he sued The Online Citizen editor Terry Xu over an alleged defamatory article on the social-political website that touched on the dispute.

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4. Donald Trump

The controversial US president continued to hold court in global politics with his outrageous and unpredictable proclamations and tweets.

He continued with his threats of additional tariffs on China amid the ongoing trade war between the two superpowers; he abruptly ended negotiation talks with North Korea during his summit meeting with Kim Jong-un in Hanoi; and he continued to attack and ridicule his domestic political opponents.

However, he may have met his match this year, as the House Democrats are initiating impeachment hearings against him, after a whistleblower alleged that Trump had abused the power of his presidency by withholding both military aid and a White House meeting, as a means of pressuring Ukraine to publicly announce investigations into his political rival Joe Biden.

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3. Huawei US ban

Tech giant Huawei has been embroiled in espionage allegations over Chinese 5G network equipment, and in 2018, its chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada and faced extradition to the US on charges of violating sanctions against Iran.

Her arrest sparked off a long series of accusations and counter-accusations between China and the US, and exacerbated the ongoing bilateral trade war. Meanwhile, the public wondered if they would encounter network cuts or pricier Huawei mobile phones should the company be slapped with bans and tariffs.

On a side note, Huawei caused a mini-ruckus in Singapore after a botched promotion attempt in July. Trying to leverage on Singapore’s 54th National Day celebrations, it had offered its smartphones at a ridiculously low price of $54 for Singaporeans aged 50 and above. Cue massive queues and plenty of disgruntled senior citizens as Huawei quickly ran out of stocks of the smartphones, forcing the tech giant’s local distributor to apologise profusely for their gaffe.

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Demonstrators react as police fire tear gas during a protest in Hong Kong, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. Hong Kong riot police fired multiple rounds of tear gas and used a water cannon Saturday to break up a rally by thousands of masked protesters demanding meaningful autonomy after Beijing indicated it could tighten its grip on the Chinese territory. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Demonstrators react as police fire tear gas during a protest in Hong Kong. (PHOTO: AP/Kin Cheung)

2. Hong Kong protests

While it was a deeply unpopular bill to amend an extradition law that sparked off the Hong Kong protests in June, they eventually evolved into a far more existential battle of wills as the protests grew increasingly chaotic and violent.

Now into its seventh month, the ongoing protests are pitched between pro-democracy protesters calling for more freedom in the territory, and the local pro-Beijing authorities and the Chinese Communist Party who are resisting such demands; between the rich elite and the struggling common people who cannot afford housing; and between those who support the protests and those who disapprove the chaos caused to daily life and extensive damage.

It has resulted in a deeply-divided Hong Kong, with the repercussions likely to persist long after the protests subside. It has also divided the Chinese diaspora around the world, including in Singapore, as they argue over freedom of speech, government control and the protesters’ use of violence.

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1. Aloysius Pang

With national service a mandatory rite of passage for Singaporean males, deaths by national servicemen – however accidental – easily trigger debates about NS safety during peacetime operations.

So when a well-known Mediacorp actor who suffered a serious injury during his reservist training in New Zealand, it caused concern among many Singaporeans, who found out that Aloysius Pang was crushed between the gun barrel of a howitzer and its cabin in January.

His subsequent death caused a huge outpouring of grief, as well as concerns over the general safety of NS men. The Ministry of Defence launched an inquiry into Pang’s death, and eventually two Singapore Armed Forces servicemen were charged for causing death by negligence, and were fined by the military court last month.

Read more.

Other year-end stories

Year In Review: Top 10 news stories in Singapore

Year In Review 2019: Top 10 quirky court stories in Singapore

Year In Review 2019: Top sports searches in Singapore

Year In Review 2019: Most read court and crime stories in Singapore