Hello New Naratif readers! It’s time for a new week in Southeast Asia, and also a bit of a sad one in Indonesia where North Sumatra is still reeling from the sinking of a passenger ferry at Lake Toba. The accident put a damper on the Eid holidays to mark the end of Ramadan, and elsewhere in the region we have more bad news as a result of crackdowns in Vietnam and ill-conceived food related “proposals” in Malaysia.

We’ll also see regional elections across Indonesia this week, which no one outside the country is likely to care about, and preparations for the general election in Cambodia coming up next month, so it’s really all-go as we rumble out of June and into July.

Here’s all the news…


We start this week with Indonesia and the dreadful boat sinking at Lake Toba which you can read about here and here. Authorities are now saying they’ve found what looks like the wreck of the Sinar Bangun ferry at a depth of 490 meters, but as the divers in the water can only dive down to a depth of 50 meters, it’s unclear how they are going to bring the boat to the surface even if they do find it. We expect to hear more from this in the coming week as the story develops. A terrible business.

In other news from Indonesia, Aman Abdurrahman, the head of the ISIS-inspired terrorist group Jemaah Ansharut Daulah, was sentenced to death on Friday for his part in planning the Jakarta attacks in 2016. This is a big development for the region as it shows that the Indonesian authorities are keen to be tough on terrorist activity, but whether it’ll have much impact on lone wolf attacks or similar remains to be seen. We predict a number of think pieces popping up about this over the next week.

And finally we have this news that foreigners working in Indonesia will now have to take language classes, which is something that has been on the cards for a while. There are some who argue this is an important part of cultural assimilation, and others who think it’s nonsense and will be almost impossible to enforce. The details of the new law are sketchy for now, so we may gain some clarity on what this actually means this week.


And… from one law aimed at foreign nationals to another, there’s an ongoing furore in Malaysia regarding a gormless suggestion by Human Resources Minister, M Kulasegaran, who said that local restaurants should only hire local cooks. It is not yet clear how this will all pan out and whether the proposal will ever see the light of day as an actual law—it’s been tossed around periodically for years. As a palate cleanser, pun intended, we love this ode to Malaysian cuisine and fusion food everywhere, “Like it or not, that is the truth of our food—people from different, seemingly incompatible, backgrounds falling in love and sharing their own foods to produce something magnificently new.”

On the political front, we liked this piece in Foreign Policy on how Malaysia’s diplomacy is trapped in Mahathir’s shadow, which provides a good look ahead at the struggles of forming a new cabinet.


Back in May we brought you this story in the Akan Datang column about a gold mine which had leaked toxic substances into a nearby river, killing local residents. We’ve followed up on this story, and now bring you this piece about the mining industry in Cambodia, and its corrupt nature and lack of regulations—all of which are endangering lives.

Also over in Cambodia, things are gearing up for the elections on July 29, and here is a good explainer of the political situation for those not in the know. Andrew Nachemson also wrote a preview for New Naratif earlier. Spoiler: Hun Sen is going to win.


In Vietnam, our contributor Mike Tatarski, who writes Vietnam Weekly, has this:

Will Nguyen, the Vietnamese-American graduate student detained during protests in Saigon two weeks ago, is still in jail, and little information regarding his condition or whereabouts is available. Nguyen appeared on state TV last week in what is believed to be a forced confession, but this week all eyes will be on whether he gets charged with a crime, and what steps the US government will take to support him. Nguyen’s family has started a Twitter campaign calling for his release under the hashtag #FreeWilly.

Also in Saigon, a police station in the city’s Tan Binh District was damaged by an explosion last Wednesday. Initial reports said the blast, which injured one police woman, was an accident, but authorities now believe it was intentional, and one suspect has been arrested. There will likely be more news related to this in the coming days, as a motive has not been publicly announced.


Over in Myanmar, we saw this interesting report from UNFPA on the country’s youth, which has some frightening statistics in it, including the fact that 500,000 young people can’t read and almost 300,000 teenage girls are married. Food for thought in a country that is often linked to the Rohingya crisis at present, but which has many other issues less explored by the foreign media.


And we end with this piece in Time on press freedom in Southeast Asia which, bizarrely, makes no mention of Indonesia—a rather glaring oversight considering the issues of reporting in areas such as Papua which we discussed in our piece on the trials and tribulations of working as a journalist in the region.

Continuing with the topic of journalism in Southeast Asia, we published this piece on reporting in Myanmar while female last week, and this piece on gender bias in the media.

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 northsumatra.editor@newnaratif.com !

See you next week!

If you enjoyed this article and would like to join our movement to create space for research, conversation, and action in Southeast Asia, please subscribe to New Naratif—it’s just US$52/year (US$1/week)!

Aisyah Llewellyn is a British freelance writer based in Medan, Indonesia. She is a former diplomat and writes primarily about Indonesian politics, culture, travel and food.