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Akan Datang: From female sultans to durians in space

Hello New Naratif readers! We’re ready for another week in Southeast Asia and although things seem a little quieter on the surface, we still have more content than you can shake a stick at. This week we take you on a journey from a sultan’s kingdom in Indonesia, to the murky depths of the ocean in the search for MH370, to the outer reaches of space which are soon to be filled with the world’s most noxious fruit. It’s one of those weeks…


This week we have potential presidential hopeful, Prabowo Subianto, on a pilgrimage trip to Mecca with politician Amien Rais, and the Jakarta Post has this sassy article about how it’s all unfolding: “Amien Rais Flaunts Meeting With Prabowo, Rizieq on Instagram”. You may remember that Rizieq, the leader of the Islamic Defenders Front who’s in self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia, is currently wanted in Indonesia on pornography charges. It’s probably safe to say that this Instagram #humblebrag is all about currying favour with conservative voters ahead of the next election, and we’re likely to hear more about the giddy delights of the trip in the next week.

From one kingdom to another, we also have this piece from BBC Indonesia which caused a bit of furore on social media. It discusses lines of succession when the present Sultan of Yogyakarta steps down; part of the job requires whoever’s in power “to keep both the goddess of the south sea and the god of the volcano in balance.”

Both the current sultan’s daughter and his brother are posturing for the position and while a female sultan sounds empowering, it could just be about economics. As many commentators have pointed out, if the sultan’s daughter does indeed succeed him, she will keep and control all the family’s wealth, whereas if it passes to his brother then… well, you do the maths.

Speaking of economics and culture, New Naratif also has this piece about the Batak Mandailing of North Sumatra who may or may not have got their name from a kingdom known as ‘Bata’ in the 15th century.


One extremely poignant read from Malaysia this week is this piece in The Daily Beast which ties the case of missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 to former Prime Minister Najib, his wife Rosmah Mansor, and her now infamous collection of Hermes Birkin bags.

The search for the plane has been officially called off by the Malaysian authorities but, “Wherever the 239 victims of MH370 are entombed, they represent a comprehensive failure of the systems and people that were supposed to protect them from such an appalling fate.”

It seems public enquiries in Malaysia often fall short of expectations, as we discuss in this piece about Pastor Raymond Koh, “Disappeared In Malaysia. The human rights commission’s enquiry into the disappearances is back on, though, so we hope for the best.


Over in Vietnam Mike Tatarski, who writes Vietnam Weekly, has this analysis:

Corruption cases are making front-page headlines in Vietnam again, and one in particular warrants close watching this week. Truong Minh Tuan, the current Minister of Information and Communication, has been accused of serious violations in a deal in which the state-owned telecommunications firm Mobifone attempted to buy a huge stake in a private pay-TV company called Audio Visual Global. The deal ended up losing money.

Tuan’s predecessor, Nguyen Bac Son, has also been named in the case, as has the former chairman of Mobifone, according to reporting by Reuters. The next step will be for the government to decide on how to punish the involved officials. While it is unclear what sort of penalties will be levied, the fact that a current government minister has been named is a dramatic step in the ongoing anti-corruption drive led by Nguyen Phu Trong, the Communist Party of Vietnam’s chief.


Thailand has a series of problems that we can expect more coverage of this week, including the death of a pilot whale that had swallowed 80 plastic bags, “The whale vomited five bags during a vain attempt by conservation officials to save it in a canal in Songkhla province,” so watch this space to see if this causes enough backlash in Thailand for the country to start making a serious effort to clean up its polluted seas.

Next up—and even though no one asked for it—there’s talk of sending durian, Asia’s stinkiest fruit, into space. “According to local media reports, the fruit will be launched into space via a rocket,” which sounds like good news; the fewer durian left here on Earth, the better.


At the time of writing this column the Trump-Kim Summit is almost definitely back on and scheduled for June 12. But who’s going to pay for Kim Jong Un’s hotel room?


Over in Myanmar, our local contributor Victoria Milko, who writes this Myanmar-related newsletter, brings you this dispatch:

Late last week the government of Myanmar announced that it was ready to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to allow the two agencies to participate in the repatriation of displaced persons. The signing ceremony is anticipated to take place in Myanmar’s capital city of Nay Pyi Taw on Wednesday.

This came as a bit of a surprise, as the Myanmar government had previously stated that no international organisations would be invited to be involved in the Rohingya repatriation process. The United Nations has routinely said that the repatriation must be done voluntarily and with mechanisms in place to allow safe return for refugees. This is a challenge, as few mechanisms have been put in place for this—including citizenship rights.

And finally Coconuts Yangon has this fascinating piece about Police Captain Moe Yan Naing, who gave evidence in the trial Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo that exposed a police trap, but who was also present at the scene of the massacre that the two Reuters journalists had been working to uncover.

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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