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! As we continue to limp towards the end of the year, it seems as if the news in Southeast Asia has decided to give us all a bit of a break—for the most part we’re being spared the usual dramas and theatrics that have marked 2018. Here’s hoping we can glide towards 2019 in a similarly calm fashion. This week in the region, we have potential power cuts in Vietnam, more protests in Indonesia, and a feel-good story of resettlement out of Malaysia.
We had a busy week over at New Naratif as we started off our coverage with this piece on the UN’s contracts with a company belonging to one of Cambodia’s most notorious tycoons. We then followed this with the Bahasa Indonesia version of our story on weaponising the Internet in Thailand. We also published two research pieces on the end of ethno-centric elite rule and the rise of ethno-centric elite rule in Malaysia. (Both versions are also available in Bahasa Malaysia.)
And last but by no means least, we are delighted to announce that New Naratif will publish longform articles on West Papua throughout the month of December. We kicked things off this week with this explainer on this little known region, which is also available in Bahasa Indonesia.
Here are all the stories to watch in Southeast Asia this week…
We start this week with Vietnam and our contributor, Mike Tatarski, has this update:
The men’s national team plays the Philippines in Bacolod tonight in the semifinals of the AFF Cup 2018, and nationwide celebrations can be expected if the squad wins to advance to the next round. Vietnam beat Cambodia 3-0 on 24 November in their last match of the group stage, and appears to be in strong form. Thousands of fans packed the streets of Hanoi after that win, though the atmosphere in Saigon was much more subdued thanks to an approaching tropical storm. It’s been a good year for Vietnamese football, and the men’s team returned to FIFA’s global top 100 (sitting at #100 out of 211) for the first time in seven years. They are currently the highest-rank squad in Southeast Asia. The Vietnam-Philippines match is the first of two between them and they play again on Thursday.
Elsewhere, Vietnam’s national power grid may face trouble next year. The country’s two domestic coal producers have announced that they won’t be able to provide as much coal as they’d promised next year, leading to concerns that power cuts may become necessary. One thermal plant in the northeast has already shut down two out of its four turbines due to the shortage. While hydropower is a major energy provider in Vietnam, it’s anticipated that thermal power will account for 48% of electricity production next year, so a lack of coal would be a big problem. The government is working on a plan to ask citizens to reduce power use, but Vietnam’s booming economy and fast-growing cities are driving strong energy demand.
Out of Malaysia this week we have some good news for once which concerns Hassan al-Kontar, a Syrian refugee who lived in Kuala Lumpur International Airport for seven months. Having been in limbo for months having unsuccessfully applied for asylum in a number of countries, Hassan has now been resettled in Canada. We profiled Hassan in Episode 4 of our fortnightly podcast series, Southeast Asia Dispatches, back in September and wish him the best of luck in the future!
From Singapore, our Chief Editor, Kirsten Han, has this update:
Singaporeans are reeling from the horror of our national costume for the Miss Universe pageant that’ll be taking place on 17 December in Bangkok, and that’s really occupied a lot of people’s attention this week.
In other news, The Online Citizen, whose Chief Editor Terry Xu got raided and interrogated by the police a couple of weeks ago, is now fundraising in preparation for election coverage. There are lots of rumours that the election is going to be called ahead of schedule and will take place next year, so it’s not too early to start getting ready. It’ll be interesting to see how much TOC is able to raise following this latest episode of police harassment.
While it’s not just focused on Laos and also touches on other countries like Thailand, Brazil, Chile and China, we really enjoyed this piece on large-scale dam projects around the world and their uncertain future. A fascinating look at an issue that plagues many countries in Southeast Asia.
Over in Indonesia, today marks the anniversary of the 212 demonstrations that swept the country on 2 December 2016 and saw Muslim hardline groups calling for the imprisonment of the former governor of Jakarta, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama after he was deemed to have misquoted verses from the Quran while on the campaign trail. To mark the occasion, another demonstration, catchily named the 212 Rally Alumni, took place in Jakarta. For sure it seems rather odd to “celebrate” such an event, particularly when you consider that Ahok was jailed for blasphemy so there’s really no need to rehash the demonstration.
Looking at the list of attendees however, which included opposition parties, current presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto, his potential-VP Sandiaga Uno, and the current governor of Jakarta, Anies Baswedan, it seems that this was all a political stunt before election season kicks off in earnest in the new year. Expect more of these kinds of shenanigans in the coming weeks and months until it’s all over in April 2019. For more reading on the presidential election, I wrote this piece about how politics trumps human rights in Indonesia back in August.
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@example.com !
See you next week!