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! Another week dawns in Southeast Asia and we look at the big stories that are likely to capture our attention. This week we have the repatriation of the Rohingya in Myanmar, more election chaos in Malaysia, and squabbles over Facebook in Vietnam.
Over at New Naratif, we started the week with this piece about female genital mutilation in Indonesia and how the practice is not just symbolic. You can read the Indonesian version of the piece here. We then followed it with this article on how creatives in Singapore are struggling to find outlets for their art and music. In addition to our journalism pieces, we published a research article on ride-hailing apps in Southeast Asia.
We’re also working on a new episode of our fortnightly regional podcast, Southeast Asia Dispatches, which drops tomorrow. This latest episode features free speech activism in Myanmar; how Bangkok’s street food is disappearing amid city sidewalk cleanups; an interview with a journalist who reported from the scene of a devastating earthquake in Indonesia; and an op-ed on media restrictions in Singapore. Southeast Asia Dispatches is available on Spotify or you can subscribe on iTunes.
Here are all the stories to watch in Southeast Asia this week…
Over in Vietnam our contributor Mike Tatarski has this report:
Social media continues to be a top news story here. Last week the Ministry of Information and Communications announced that it has completed a social network code of conduct in an effort to get users to share more wholesome information while avoiding spreading misinformation. The code has not been publicly released, and it is unclear what parts, if any, of this will actually be enforced, or how it would be enforced. The government of Hanoi has also released an appeal to its residents, asking for them to avoid posting false or misleading information online.
The ministry also says it wants 50% of all social network activity within Vietnam to take place on Vietnamese-developed platforms by 2020, a goal that will absolutely not be met. It’s clear that officials don’t know how to handle the popularity of Facebook here, and this is an issue they are going to be wrestling with for some time.
Meanwhile, in Saigon, the construction of the city’s first metro line continues at a snail’s pace. Construction on the 20km-long line began in 2012 and was scheduled to be completed last year, but delays and cost overruns pushed the completion date back to 2020, and that won’t be met either. VnExpress has a good photo essay on the project’s progress, which has been hampered by the National Assembly’s failure to approve a higher budget for the line.
In Indonesia, it has been a slightly less eventful week than last week—although that can only be a good thing for a country that has been pummelled by earthquakes, tsunamis ferry disasters and plane crashes in recent months, leading me to ask the question: “How much more tragedy can we take?”
At this point, I’m actually hoping there aren’t any stories to watch in Indonesia over the coming week. We need a break.
In Malaysia, our Consulting Editor for Sabah, Jared Abdul Rahman, has this dispatch:
This week, Sabah finally laid to rest its post-GE leadership squabble, with Warisan leader Shafie Apdal coming out on top, over UMNO Sabah leader, Musa Aman. The High Court put an end to the dispute, ruling that Shafie is the legitimate chief minister for Sabah, not Musa, despite Musa’s claims the appointment was illegal and unconstitutional. Musa had previously held the position for fifteen years.
Sabah’s political uncertainty was the result of Shafie being sworn in as chief minister after a swarm of defections, which seemed to resolve hung-parliament drama, giving Warisan and its partners the majority, just two days after Musa had already been sworn in for the same post. Perhaps now, after six months of civil servants not knowing who to pledge their allegiance to, we can actually get on with it.
In Myanmar, our contributor Victoria Milko has this news:
The repatriation of over 2,000 Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar is scheduled to begin this week. UNHCR has said that conditions in Rakhine, where the Rohingya will be returned to, are “not yet conducive for returns.”
The repatriation start is set to begin just as the 33rd ASEAN Summit concludes, having some wonder if the topic will arise during the events talks. De facto head of state Aung San Suu Kyi is not scheduled to attend the ASEAN Summit.
And finally, in Singapore, our Chief Editor Kirsten Han has this:
The People’s Action Party, which has dominated Singapore politics since 1959, elected its new central executive committee (CEC) today. Several heavyweights, including the ever-popular Tharman Shanmugaratnam, stepped down to make way for more of the fourth generation (4G) leadership. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also said that today’s party conference might be the last before the general election—adding fuel to the rumours that he’ll call the election next year.
This new CEC is meant to give an idea of what leadership succession in the PAP is going to look like. Lee has said that he intends to step down from the top spot after the next election, and all three favourites for the premiership—Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, Minster for Finance Heng Swee Keat and Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung—are in the new committee. But they haven’t decided what positions they’ll all be taking within the committee yet, so that’s something to watch out for in the coming weeks.
In other news, the government has slammed a news article published on States Times Review and The Coverage claiming that Lee is a “key investigation target” in Malaysia’s 1MDB probe as “fake news”. Both STR and The Coverage are far from credible news sites in Singapore or Malaysia and should always be taken with sacks full of salt, but the authorities have brought in the big guns: the Monetary Authority of Singapore filed a police report against STR, while the InfoComm Media Development Authority issued takedown orders to both STR and Facebook. STR refused to remove the article, and Singaporeans are now blocked from accessing the site. Facebook, too, refused to take down STR‘s post sharing its article, which has unfortunately given the government more ammunition to plump for its anti-fake news legislation. We’re going to have to keep our eyes peeled for the introduction of this law.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org !
See you next week!