Akan Datang: A “Bicentennial Bonus” in Singapore’s 2019 Budget

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Akan Datang: our contributors’ take on the stories to watch in Southeast Asia this week, curated by Regional Editor Aisyah Llewellyn.

Hello New Naratif readers and welcome to another week in Southeast Asia! Apologies for the lateness of this issue; between travel and working on more content for New Naratif we decided to push Akan Datang back a little.

This week we have news from all over the region, as Vietnam gears up for Trump-Kim; Malaysia postpones the trial of the century; and Indonesia launches an Olympic bid.

At New Naratif this week we published this piece on Cambodia’s encaustic cement tile-making industry and the gap left in industry by the death of a veteran artisan. We also have this piece on the stigma that surrounds abortion in Thailand and the dangers this can cause.

Also new on the site, we have a video on Third Story Project, which was co-founded by the imprisoned Reuters journalist Wa Lone, and that aims to improve children’s literacy in Myanmar. There’s also a new episode of our fortnightly podcast series Political Agenda, which discusses privacy breaches in Singapore. You can follow the show on Spotify or subscribe on iTunes.

Here are all the stories to watch in Southeast Asia this week…


From Vietnam this week, our contributor, Mike Tatarski, has this dispatch:

It’ll be impossible to avoid Trump-Kim news as their Hanoi meeting nears. Kim Jong Un will arrive in Hanoi on the 25 February for a state visit before his summit with President Trump. The North Korean leader is expected to to meet with Vietnamese leadership and also tour major manufacturing facilities in nearby provinces.

Security both ahead of and during these events will be intense, and a heavy police presence is being put in place in the capital.

In aviation news, which there is plenty of here these days, the US Federal Aviation Administration has granted approval for Vietnamese airlines to fly directly to America. This is a big milestone for the country, though it’s unclear when exactly flights will be launched. Vietnam Airlines, the flag carrier, has announced intentions to fly to Los Angeles, home to a huge Vietnamese community, four times a week before expanding to cities like San Francisco. Competitors VietJet Air and Bamboo Airways have both expressed desire to fly to the US as well, but neither currently has the planes necessary to do so.


Last week Indonesia saw the second in a series of televised live debates ahead of the presidential elections, which pitted current president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and challenger Prabowo Subianto answering questions on energy, the environment, natural resources, food and infrastructure.

There’s been a lot of talk about issues with the format of the televised debates, which this time saw the two speakers plucking what looked like test tubes out of fish bowls in order to select a question. And it’s easy to mock. But I really enjoyed this article from Ben Bland over at Lowy Institute which points out that there is still some substance over style. In the coming week we can expect to see a lot more chatter about the debate and the topics discussed, and also many, many more unicorn memes.

On a different topic—expect to see more about this breaking news that Indonesia has launched a bid to host the 2032 Olympics after apparently winning “praise” for hosting the Asian Games last year. As I said at the time however, there’s always a dark side to these kinds of sporting events… so watch this space.

Peninsular Malaysia

In Peninsular Malaysia, our Deputy Editor for Bahasa Malaysia/Melayu, Adriana Nordin Manan has this news:

The first criminal trial of former Prime Minister Najib Razak, related to the 1MDB scandal, was postponed on the eve of its scheduled date last week. It takes little to imagine the raised eyebrows this caused among Malaysians, already eager for the trial and revelations on the explosive and expansive case to see the light of day.

There were queries on what this meant, both inviting jittery observations and activating the rumour mill that Malaysians love and often resort to when trying to understand local politics and its underpinning configurations. One article offered a view that helped make sense of it all, explaining the legal technicalities pertaining to the country’s hierarchy of courts that led to the surprise (to the layperson observer at least) development.

For now, we’ll just have to wait a little longer to see the saga have its day at court.


And over in Sabah, Consulting Editor for Sabah, Jared Abdul Rahman, has this:

There’s a lot of chatter about Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (or simply “Bersatu”) coming over from Peninsular Malaysia to set up shop in Sabah. Despite concerns for what impact such a move would have towards the political landscape this side of the horizon, Bersatu chairman, and Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has stressed that he isn’t eyeing further control in the state.

But if the excuse used is to provide a home for ex-UMNO members, I think the people have already made it clear how they feel about them.


From Singapore, our Chief Editor, Kirsten Han, has this news:

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat delivered the Budget for 2019 yesterday, so we’ll have Committee of Supply debates to look forward to. Among the goodies was the Merdeka Generation package, which provides more healthcare support for those born in the 1950s. There’s also the SGD1.1 billion (over USD810 million) Bicentennial Bonus—to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Singapore’s colonisation ?—adding fuel to the fire of rumours that there might be an early election called this year.

Also, don’t forget to listen to our Political Agenda what we think of this year’s SG Bicentennial commemorationspodcast episode on .

And that’s a wrap on this week in Southeast Asia! If you have a tip on a news story you would like to see featured in Akan Datang, then send it to us via [email protected] !

See you next week!

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