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! This week we have widespread flooding in Indonesia, a new monarch in Thailand, and a controversial school closure in Sabah.
Here at New Naratif we kicked off the week with this piece on the Indonesian elections and the suspicious deaths of some of the staff who worked to pull off one of the biggest single-day ballots the world has ever seen. We also published this piece on why Indonesia has such a problem with rubbish—and in particular with its landfills. It’s also in Bahasa Indonesia. Also in our Indonesia section, we have the Bahasa Indonesia version of our article about the long ears, tattoos and fading tradition of the Dayaks of Kalimantan. And one more: our Membership Engagement Editor Deborah Augustin wrote this blog post on our recent democracy classroom in Kuala Lumpur.
Here are all the stories to watch in Southeast Asia this week…
Thailand has a new king. King Vajiralongkorn, who will also be known as King Rama X, was crowned on Saturday in what was the first of three days of rituals. This is the first coronation of its kind in seven decades following the death of King Bhumibol, and King Vajiralongkorn promised to “reign with righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the people forever”. Just days ago it was announced that the king has married Queen Suthida Vajiralongkorn na Ayudhaya, a former flight attendant and bodyguard to the royal family, in what was a surprise ceremony to many Thais as the couple had never publicly acknowledged their relationship before the announcement. It will be interesting to see more news of the coronation in the coming week and to see the king’s first moves as the new monarch of Thailand—which remains something of a mystery.
Over in Singapore our chief editor Kirsten Han has this:
Singapore’s Parliament is set to debate the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill at its second reading this coming week. And since it’s Singapore—where the People’s Action Party has a supermajority in Parliament—when we say “debate”, we really mean “some talking will happen and then the bill will be passed with no amendments”.
The government has been busy defending the bill this past month, as criticism has come in from academics, journalists, civil society, international NGOs, and even the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and a former PAP MP. They’ve even roped in a local celebrity and her comedy persona to help push their message. While none of this will stop the bill from passing, the Law Minister has promised that he’ll make clarifications and give more reassurances in Parliament — so that’s one to watch closely and analyse this week.
From Peninsular Malaysia our Bahasa Malaysia/Melayu editor, Adriana Nordin Manan, has this update:
Malaysia has its first female Chief Justice, Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat, putting an end to questions of who would assume the highest judicial post in the land after the retirement of Richard Malanjum. The appointment of the Chief Justice has been of particular public interest after the 2018 General Elections, as last year’s appointment of Malanjum, a non-Muslim Bumiputera from Sabah, was portrayed as a sign that the Malays were losing power in the country by those who are perhaps vested in such a narrative gaining traction among certain segments of society. After reaching his tenure limit of being six months past his 66th birthday, Richard stepped down after just over nine months in the role.
In Tengku Maimun, high hopes are being placed by those who urge her to pay particular attention to reform in issues disproportionately affecting women, such as domestic violence, as well as those who say her track record as a progressive judge bodes well for the country’s judiciary.
From Sabah, our consulting editor Jared Abdul Rahman has this news:
Despite increased efforts to address issues surrounding stateless and vulnerable children in Sabah, including access to education, Penampang District Education Department has ordered an Alternative Learning Centre (ALC) to shut down without adequate notice.
The ALC, Hope Learning Centre, was founded in 2007 with the aim to provide basic education to children not permitted access to formal schooling. Denied enrolment into state-recognised schools, these children rely on ALCs like Hope Learning Centre for what little education they can get. In addition, ALCs also keep these children off the streets, and minimise their risk against exploitation as well as susceptibility to criminal activity.
However, although operating beyond the bounds of formal schools enables ALCs to serve these children in a way the government is not, this also means that ALCs are under constant scrutiny, and frequently face threats of closure due to lack of official government-approved registration.
According to the founder of Hope Learning Centre, Michael Liman, there are approximately 900,000 undocumented children scattered all over Sabah, stuck in systemic poverty. Blocking access to education only worsens their situation, which ultimately worsens the situation for the wider community and nation as a whole.
With the closure of Hope Learning Centre, 260 children are now without access to education. Given that Penampang District Education Department aims to close all ALCs in the district, this number is due to increase dramatically.
Over in Indonesia flash flooding is plaguing the country during the wet season. A flash flood hit Samosir regency in North Sumatra and one resident is still missing. Some 29 people have been killed by similar flooding and landslides in Bengkulu Regency. Flood waters have also hit 37 different spots in Jakarta alone, and although this is a problem across Indonesia every year during the rainy season, it seems as if not enough is being done to help those affected and also stop the issues re-occurring whenever the country is battered by heavy rain.
Hopefully the weather will ease up a little next week, but whatever happens we will probably still be hearing about plans to move the capital of Indonesia from Jakarta to an as-yet-unidentified location. For some reason this story has taken the Internet and social media by storm, despite the fact that it has been mooted since the Sukarno era. I wrote about it back on 2017!
And last by not least, in Vietnam, our contributor, Mike Tatarski, has this dispatch:
The health of President and General Secretary of the CPV Nguyen Phu Trong remains a mystery a week after the government announced that he was ill. Trong was supposed to preside over the funeral of Le Duc Anh, the former president who recently passed away at 99, but he did not appear at the ceremony in Hanoi on Friday.
Last year a new bill was passed making the health of government leaders a national secret. This was an attempt to reign in rumours and speculation regarding the health status of people like the president, but has had the opposite effect, as social media has been full of rumours in the absence of official information.
Trong’s no-show at Anh’s funeral was surprising, and at this stage there is no knowing when he will be seen in public again.
Meanwhile, tensions are running high between Indonesia and Vietnam following a dramatic incident in waters which both countries claim. An Indonesian navy ship detained a Vietnamese boat that Indonesia says was illegally fishing in its waters. Two Vietnamese coast guard vessels then attempted to ram the Indonesian ship, sinking the fishing boat in the process. Twelve Vietnamese fishermen were detained, and Vietnam is calling for their release, while Indonesia has summoned the Vietnamese ambassador for an explanation.
Other South China Sea disputes tend to get lost in the overarching “China versus everyone else” narrative, but this will be important to watch.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org !
See you next week!