Najib and Rosmah - New Naratif

Akan Datang: Tiaras, elections and Southeast Asia’s love of Ayam

Hello New Naratif readers! We’re back with another deep dive into the week ahead in Southeast Asia. There’s so much going on in the region, from elections to arrests, to some important information about… tinned sardines.

Keep reading as we take you on a whistlestop tour of Southeast Asia with all the stories you need to watch out for as we enter the month of July. It promises to be an interesting summer, to say the least.


We start this week with some of the saddest news in the region which is the story of 12 Thai boys and their football coach who have been trapped in Tham Luang Cave on the border with Laos and Myanmar for over a week now. Search efforts have been hampered by heavy rain and, as more time elapses, it seems that this could end up being a recovery effort rather than a search and rescue. We hope that the boys and their coach will be found alive and well this week.  


It’s been quite the week in Malaysia and things look set to get even more exciting.

We predict that this may be the week former PM Najib Razak finally gets arrested and faces the music in the 1MDB scandal. USD273 million worth of goods were seized from Najib’s various residences last week including 14 tiaras allegedly belonging to his wife, Rosmah Mansor, which does seem a little excessive by anyone’s standards.

Also often overshadowed by the 1MDB scandal is the murder of Mongolian model, Altantuya Shaariibuu, whose body was blown up by military-grade C4 explosives in 2006. Shaariibuu is thought to have been the lover of one of Najib’s top advisors and here’s a good piece with background on the case which is now being reopened. We predict that much more will come out about this in the coming weeks.

In other news, the National Security Council Act (NSC) is in the spotlight in Malaysia. Amendments could be made, which would be good news for progressive activists as the act is widely considered to restrict free speech and freedom of the press. But not everyone is convinced that Mahathir is fully committed to free speech in Malaysia.


On the topic of press freedom in Southeast Asia, we go to Cambodia and this story of Australian national James Ricketson, who has languished in Prey Sar Prison in Phnom Penh for over a year. Ricketson is accused of espionage after filming a street rally using a drone, but as he says, “I haven’t been informed which country I’m spying for. I would love to know.”


Talking of imprisonments, sadly there’s been no update on Will Nguyen’s status in Vietnam, reports our contributor Mike Tatarski, who also has this dispatch:

World Cup fever is in full swing in Vietnam, meaning bars and restaurants with TV screens are packed with excited football fans every night. There’s a dark side to this however, as the popularity of gambling—which is illegal—has led to a number of depressing stories. Suicide attempts and crime are both reportedly up, while dog owners have been warned to be extra vigilant with their pets amid an uptick in dog thefts. Animals can be sold, either back to their owners or to other buyers, to pay off gambling debts. More of this can be expected as the tournament moves into the high-stakes knockout rounds.

More heads are expected to roll in the ongoing anti-corruption campaign in the coming days. The Central Inspection Committee, an arm of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) which determines whether party members have committed misdeeds, has recommended disciplinary measures against several high-ranking officials. These include two top Air Force commanders, as well as Truong Minh Tuan, the current Minister of Information and Communications. It is now up to Nguyen Phu Trong, the CPV’s chairman, to decide how to proceed.


And in some lighter news, and apropos of nothing, we enjoyed this story of famous Singapore-based canned foods company, Ayam Brand, beloved across Southeast Asia where “[o]ne in every two homes in Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei has Ayam products in its kitchen at any given time”.


Over in Indonesia we saw millions of voters take to the polls for the regional elections, which were covered and analysed generally by a number of outlets like the Wall Street Journal and Channel News Asia. We particularly appreciated VICE Indonesia’s coverage, which gave us an insight into polling stations in places like North Sumatra and Papua, which are usually not covered by the mainstream media but are important barometers ahead of the presidential elections in 2019. We may hear more about the elections this week as the quick counts become official results. The elections have been pretty light on scandal so far, but will someone suddenly cry foul?

In more news coming out of Indonesia, we published this piece on the socio-economic factors that fuel small-fry drug dealers in the country this week, and the surprising support they receive from the local community.


And last but not least we go to Myanmar where our contributor Victoria Milko has this news:

This week should make for interesting conversation regarding the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and Rohingya repatriation plans.

Reuters is reporting that is has seen the MoU that was signed between the United Nations, Bangladesh and Myanmar at the end of May… and it does not sound good. The report outlines that there are no “explicit guarantees of citizenship or freedom of movement throughout the country”, which are two major concerns for the Rohingya population and human rights groups alike. The UN has a policy not to provide comment on leaked documents, but Rohingya leaders and human rights groups have been voicing their concern about the document, as well as the lack of transparency around the document.

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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