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Akan Datang: Politics, investments, and Vietnam’s football winning streak

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. We’re still scratching our heads over just where the latest Trump-Kim Summit is going to take place, and we also have some questions about other things. Like why is a radical hate preacher in Indonesia being granted early release from prison? Or why Chinese investment seems like a good idea in Sabah?

Over at New Naratif this week, we brought you this piece about Indonesian migrant workers in Taiwan, and how Taipei Main Station operates as a social and educational hub for those far from home. You can read the Bahasa Indonesia version of the story here. We then followed this with a piece about former political prisoners in Indonesia who still live in the shadow of Suharto’s New Order “curse”.

We also had a new episode of Southeast Asia Dispatches which features Adam Bemma speaking to LGBT rights activists working to establish an advocacy network in Laos, Victoria Milko visiting a peace park set up by the Karen ethnic group in conflict-embroiled Myanmar, Aidila Razak speaking to a trans woman who left her home country of Malaysia to seek asylum in the UK myself talking about my experience covering the December 2018 tsunami from Lampung in South Sumatra.

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


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

This week we’re going to keep our eye on Tan Cheng Bock. He used to be a People’s Action Party MP, but has since left the fold. In 2011, he ran for president, and almost won; in fact, the PAP-favoured candidate only beat him by a whisker. It’s widely believed that the rules were changed for the 2017 presidential election because the ruling party were afraid he would be successful the second time ’round. Well, he’s not stepping back yet: in fact, he’s announced that he’s applied to register a new political party, the Progress Singapore Party.

He’s already got a brand name—built up since 2011—going. With rumours that the general election might be held this year, this is definitely a development to watch.


Over in Malaysia our Consulting Editor for Sabah Jared Abdul Rahman has this update:

In a bid to ensure a prosperous path ahead for Sabah, Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal has announced his plan to secure investments from China. While officiating a community cultural festival in Kota Kinabalu, he said that he’ll personally go to China and “bring back some of the Chinese investors.” One can’t help but wonder if the plan to reclaim our Sabahan rights includes selling the land we walk on. Or just the shirts off our back?


Over in Vietnam, our contributor Mike Tatarski has this dispatch:

Plenty more Trump-Kim summit speculation related to Vietnam is on the way, as the White House has announced a second meeting between the two leaders, apparently in late February. No exact date has been announced, nor has a location been specified, but it is believed that Da Nang is the leading contender. Expect a flurry of diplomatic and security activity from Vietnam if this becomes official.

In sporting news, Vietnam’s national football team beat Jordan this evening in the AFC Asian Cup 2019, which took place in the UAE. Vietnam, fresh off their 2018 AFF Cup victory, squeaked through the opening round of this tournament, so this win was huge, as, until now at least, the squad wasn’t considered quite ready for continental prime time. They’ll play Japan or Saudi Arabia in the final 8.


Over in Indonesia, we have the news that Abu Bakar Bashir, better known as ABB and the spiritual mastermind behind the 2002 Bali bombings which left over 200 people dead, is due to be released from prison on “humanitarian grounds”. It’s an odd one, and the backlash is already building on social media, so you have to wonder why Indonesian president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo would make such a sensitive move ahead of the elections in April 2019.

ABB is due to be released on Wednesday or Thursday of this week and we are bracing for this story to dominate the headlines in Indonesia for some time to come. It’s a particularly unsavoury move to many when you consider that figures such as former governor of Jakarta, Ahok, and Meiliana still languish in prison on blasphemy charges, yet Jokowi regularly claims that he can’t intervene in the legal process. Quite what will happen this week is anyone’s guess as many people are not happy about this news, so this is a big one to watch.

Talking of the elections, the first televised presidential debate took place last week, and was not a particularly informative or scintillating affair. The candidates were all a trifle lacking in sparkle, and James Massola, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald seemed particularly on the money with this analysis:

Both men have it all to play for. Not that you would know it on the evidence of the first debate, with both men and their would-be deputies looking robotic and giving risk-averse answers seemingly designed to bore their opponents into submission.

Quite. More good political analysis on the debate can be found here and here.

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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