Akan Datang: Who’s grateful for those Indonesian toll roads? ?

Indonesian Toll Roads - New Naratif

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. Across the region we are gearing up for Lunar New Year which will take place on Tuesday, and what better way for all of us to celebrate than by watching the new Peppa Pig film, “Peppa Pig Celebrates Chinese New Year” which is set to be released on the first day of the holiday. (Chief Editor Kirsten Han: “Peppa Pig creeps me out.”) Apparently, the film “shows Peppa celebrating Lunar New Year with two new friends—’Jiaozi’ (dumpling) and ‘Tang Yuan’ (glutinous rice ball).”

Happy Lunar New Year from all of us at New Naratif to those who celebrate it!

Over at New Naratif this week we published this comic by the very talented Indonesian artist Iskandar Salim, whose work I’ve been a big fan of for several years. In “My Name Is…” Iskandar reflects on name, politics, culture and identity in Indonesia. The comic is also available in Bahasa Indonesia here. We followed this with a piece on seeking refuge in Malaysia and how Rohingya Muslims, who make up the largest proportion of refugees in the country, are still considered undocumented migrants. You can also read this piece in Bahasa Melayu/Malaysia.

We also have a new episode of Southeast Asia Dispatches which features an ethical elephant park in Vietnam, the history and struggles of Myanmar’s ethnic minorities and the cases of two high-profile refugees from the Middle East who found temporary shelter in Southeast Asia before being resettled in Canada. You can follow the show on Spotify or subscribe on iTunes.

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


We start this week with Indonesia, a country gripped by election fever, with no sign of a break on the horizon. In the news this week, we have a great quote from the Mayor of Semarang in Central Java, who tried to throw his support behind incumbent candidate, current president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, by saying that people who don’t support him shouldn’t use the toll roads built during his tenure. This all plays into Jokowi’s campaign message which is heavy on pushing his infrastructure policies which are… basically building lots of toll roads across Indonesia, but the comments that you should vote for the president if you have ever had the audacity to drive on one has caused much mirth online.

And in other news, another day, another case of some poor soul being dragged in by the Indonesian authorities to answer questions about something they said which may have upset some other people. In this case it was Rocky Gerung, a former philosophy lecturer and well-known critic of the government who used the term “fiction” to discuss holy books on a talk show last year. This story is one to watch over the next few weeks to see if Gerung, like so many others, is going to be charged with blasphemy or similar for his comments.


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

We thought that the theft of non-medical data of 1.5 million Singaporeans last year was bad, but this year we’ve got a privacy breach to top it. Last Monday, the Ministry of Health announced that the personal information of 14,200 people living with HIV (PLHIV) has been leaked online. This time, they named the perpetrator: American citizen Mikhy K. Farrera-Brochez, himself a HIV+ gay man, whose partner used to head the National Public Health Unit. As it turns out, the government had known that Farrera-Brochez was in possession of this confidential information since 2016 (FFS). It’s unclear why Farrera-Brochez would pull such a dick move that could potentially ruin lives, but what’s important now is supporting those who have been affected by this horrible breach. Civil society groups, including LGBT campaign Pink Dot and sex workers’ rights group Project X, have called for anti-discrimination legislation to protect PLHIV from being further marginalised. We can expect to be hearing more about this big mess in the coming week.


Over in Thailand, a country currently battling debilitating smog, the plight of anti-Royalist activists is something also widely covered up. Al Jazeera has this good piece on the case of two Thai dissidents abroad which makes for some disturbing reading:

“Whoever killed the activists was hoping that the cement in their stomachs would do its work and sink the bodies, and the memory of them, to the bottom of the river. Yet, as often happens, activists have a stubborn tendency to remain vocal, whether in life or in death.”


Over in Peninsular Malaysia our Deputy Editor for Bahasa Malaysia, Adriana Nordin Manan, has this update.

The Malaysian Ministry of Primary Industries demanded that the WHO retract a study in a recent edition of the World Health Organisation Bulletin which, among other things, said that the palm oil industry behaves like alcohol and tobacco lobbyists.

In a meeting with the WHO Representative to Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore, Minister of Primary Industries, Teresa Kok, stated the government’s view that the article be retracted from said bulletin. In response, the WHO stated that the article does not represent the organisation’s official stand; however, checks on the WHO site today stated that the article was no longer available.

This is an interesting piece of news because it brings into focus the global “information divide” on palm oil worldwide, with two Southeast Asian nations at the centre of framing and contesting the narratives. Malaysia will be chairing the sixth ministerial meeting of the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries (CPOC) in Jakarta on 28 February. CPOC was jointly founded by Indonesia and Malaysia, its sole member countries until November 2018, when Colombia entered the fold.

Interestingly, The Malaysian Minister of Primary Industries, when announcing Colombia’s membership, stated that the participation of palm oil countries in CPOC is “crucial in strengthening Malaysia and Indonesia’s efforts to counter EU’s (European Union) negative campaign against palm oil.

In Sabah, Consulting Editor for Sabah, Jared Abdul Rahman, has this update:

Sabah State Law and Native Affairs Minister Datuk Aidi Moktar caused a commotion with his comments regarding a review of the Interpretation (Definition of Native) Ordinance 1952.

Whether or not he was deliberately implying that Bugis and Javanese should be considered “natives” of Sabah, it does raise the question of who actually holds claim to the title.

We can interpret all we like, but the Ordinance doesn’t actually list just exactly who is a “native”. Instead, we are offered a detailed list of criteria according to which one can become defined as such. One who is recognised as “native” without needing to jump through hoops, however, is referred to as one who is of a “people indigenous to Sabah”. But who are the people indigenous to Sabah?

The listed criteria does identify those who aren’t recognised as “native” suo jure, such as those “indigenous to the Republic of Indonesia or the Sulu group of islands in the Philippine Archipelago or the States of Malaya or the Republic of Singapore”, and how they can go about their claim to become “native”. But, other than indicating that the title can be achieved with a little bit of hard work and determination, this doesn’t help us answer the question.

And the Federal Constitution isn’t much help either. With the wording “a person of a race indigenous to Sabah” it assumes that the Interpretation (Definition of Native) Ordinance 1952 has its act together. One thing we can all agree on, however, is the intended purpose of the Ordinance, to which it falls short: “To define the expression ‘native’ in a more precise manner and to make certain consequential provisions thereon.”

Shall we now call into question the Federal Constitution’s Article 153?

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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