Hello New Naratif readers! Another week in Southeast Asia and it’s all looking a bit gloomy. As well as the sham elections in Cambodia, we also have a spate of natural and manmade disasters, from an earthquake in eastern Indonesia to a burst dam in Laos. As if that wasn’t bad enough, rain is lashing parts of Indonesia and we also have widespread flooding causing havoc in Myanmar. Stay safe everyone!
Here are all the stories to watch in Southeast Asia this week…
We start with Cambodia this week because it’s election day and while we already know that Hun Sen has won, it’s still an interesting one. Our contributor Andrew Nachemson has this dispatch:
Cambodia’s election is over but the controversy is just beginning (there was already a statement from domestic and international election monitors about fake observers). Final vote counts are not yet available, but voter turnout figures are already raising eyebrows. While the ruling party was always expected to easily win the election, there was concern that voter turnout would be embarrassingly low due to a boycott campaign. Originally reported as 75% (a drop of one million voters compared to last year), that number has been revised three times and is now at 82.7%. Many journalists on the ground (including myself) witnessed relatively empty polling stations across Phnom Penh, where turnout figures recently jumped from 69% to 80%.
The next significant marker of resistance would be a higher rate of spoiled ballots. Some journalists at polling stations reported rates of spoiled ballots as high as 15%.
This coming week will likely be filled with international reactions, starting with a press conference by the banned opposition on Monday. The US has previously warned it might not recognise the legitimacy of the election results, so I guess it’s time to see if they put their money where their mouth is. The other thing to keep an eye on is whether Hun Sen will start making concessions to avoid sanctions now that the election has been successfully stolen. First on the list would be the release of jailed opposition president Kem Sokha.
We also published this beautiful illustrated piece on the elections last week.
From Myanmar, our contributor Victoria Milko has this news:
Major flooding across southern Myanmar has caused over 16,000 people to be evacuated from their homes across several states. As monsoon rains continue flood levels are expected to rise in several areas.
Flooding is an annual occurrence in Myanmar, sometimes turning deadly. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi as well as several other high-ranking government officials have visited the region to provide aid, but internally displaced persons living in the region have said they are yet to receive any flood support from the government.
The Global Climate Index has regularly named Myanmar as one of the top five countries most vulnerable to extreme weather and climate change.
Over in Laos, we have the terrible news of a dam collapse, which hasn’t really garnered as much international attention as you would expect. The Xepian-Xe Nam Noy dam is one of around 120 such dams along tributaries of the Mekong, erected as part of a hydropower expansion project in the Mekong Basin. Lowy Institute has this piece to explain the background of such projects and the stresses they place on the Mekong, and Mongabay has this piece from 2017 explaining why the latest dam collapse was an accident waiting to happen.
We are likely to hear more about the number of casualties and causes of the dam malfunction later this week.
We now go to Indonesia, and the news today of a 6.4 magnitude earthquake which hit the island of Lombok. This was followed shortly afterwards by 11 aftershocks. So far there are thought to be upwards of 10 casualties, and while this is indeed a tragic incident, I can’t help but think that it’s only getting coverage due to the location of the epicentre. Take the headline from the Guardian as an example: Indonesia earthquake: 10 dead, buildings collapsed on tourist island of Lombok. Or the BBC, who have gone with something similar.
In other news from Indonesia, we are now all gripped by talk of the presidential nominees ahead of the election in 2019, and can expect to hear news between 4–10 August. As former military strongman, Prabowo Subianto, has already filed his SKCK (police check) however, it seems safe to say he will be challenging current president Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo in the battle for the presidential palace.
More of a mystery is who both men will choose as their potential vice presidential candidates. I’m going to call it now and say I think Jokowi will go for Ma’ruf Amin, the head of Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI), the largest Muslim organisation in Indonesia, while Prabowo will probably plump for Agus Yudhoyono, the son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Both men will be a disaster and are completely unqualified for the VP role, FYI.
And in the Philippines, we have this heartbreaking piece on land rights and indigenous communities in the Guardian, which should also give us all pause for thought when we buy our coffee in the future.
Over in Vietnam, our contributor Mike Tatarski has this news:
In major labour news involving Vietnam, Japan has agreed to accept 10,000 Vietnamese caregivers to tend to the latter country’s growing elderly population by 2020. An initial 3,000 workers will go to Japan over the next year, where they will reportedly receive financial assistance and language training.
Japan has developed a close economic and cultural relationship with Vietnam, in part because the Southeast Asian nation is so eager to seek investment and other support from countries that aren’t China. Meanwhile, Japan needs more workers as its population ages and shrinks, and Vietnam is turning into a major source of labour. I’m very interested to see how this trend develops in coming years, as Japan is generally held in very high regard here.
In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s tallest building—the 461.5m Landmark 81—is rapidly approaching completion. On Thursday, a mall that takes up several of the tower’s bottom storeys opened, drawing crowds of curious visitors. I checked it out for Saigoneer, and the city now has a skyline icon appropriate for its reputation as a booming, increasingly cosmopolitan megacity.
And to round things off, our chief editor Kirsten Han has this:
Singapore’s foreign minister will be chairing the Asean Foreign Minister’s Meeting and other related sessions from tomorrow, so lots of officials are going to be in the Lion City, including the first visit of Malaysia’s new foreign minister. On the agenda: North Korea, as well as more vague things like “Asean centrality and unity”.
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!
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