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 Indonesia is facing uncertainty over the results of its presidential election, Malaysia is labelled a kidnapping risk and Vietnam sees a number of huge drug busts.
Here at New Naratif we kicked off the week with some Indonesian presidential election coverage as our editors took to the ground on polling day to bring you this photo essay from Jakarta, Gorontalo and North Sumatra. We also published these sketches of a day at the polls in Yogyakarta.
Also new on the site this week, we had this op-ed on the new Syariah Penal Code in Brunei, and this research piece on the changing perspectives of Malaya through film.
In the journalism section, we published this piece on the fading traditions of the Dayak community in Kalimantan.
Here are all the stories to watch in Southeast Asia this week…
The presidential election in Indonesia is over, although it won’t be until June that we find out who has officially won. For now however, both camps have claimed victory, which is embarrassing when you consider what a feat of democracy it actually is to pull a single-day election off in a country of 810,000 polling stations in the first place.
It would appear from the quick counts (not to be confused with exit polls—they’re different!) that the incumbent Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has won, but challenger Prabowo Subianto has form when it comes to claiming that elections are rigged and insisting that he’s won.
He did the same thing in 2014, but it seems as if this failure to be gracious in defeat is ruffling some feathers in his camp, with his VP pick, Sandiaga Uno missing from several of his election victory announcements.
The “official” reason for his absence was that he had a bad case of hiccups.
We can expect much more on allegations of vote rigging and other shenanigans in the coming week.
Over in Vietnam, our contributor Mike Tatarski has this update:
A fresh spate of massive drug busts in Vietnam has made it clear that huge quantities of narcotics are moving from the Golden Triangle into the country, though at this point it’s unclear whether this is a new phenomenon, or if police are just taking a closer look.
Following two huge seizures in Ho Chi Minh City last month, on Monday police confiscated 600kg of meth and arrested five people in Vinh, a city on the north-central coast. Two days later, officers found 900kg of meth abandoned in bags on the side of a road in the countryside near Vinh.
Finally, on Friday, police carried out another operation which netted just over a ton of narcotics. Some of these drugs were destined for other countries, while some was for the domestic market, and foreign nationals from countries such as China, Malaysia and Taiwan have been involved.
I wouldn’t be surprised if a major nationwide police operation is put together in the near future, as this string of record-breaking drug busts has been front-page news.
Also last week, rumours regarding the health of President Nguyen Phu Trong, who is also General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, spread like wildfire on local social media. It’s important to note that such info is completely unverified at this point, and state media has been completely silent on the matter. The gist of the rumor mill is that Trong, 75, had a stroke while visiting a Mekong Delta province, was rushed to a hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, and then flown to Hanoi for further treatment. Again, none of this has been confirmed, but it does raise questions about who will step into Vietnam’s leadership roles in the future.
Our Deputy Editor for Bahasa Melayu/Malaysia, Adriana Nordin Manan has this dispatch from Peninsular Malaysia:
The Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on the 2015 discovery of mass graves and literal cages of human trafficking victims in Wang Kelian, a town on the Malaysia-Thailand border, began its public hearing last week. Prior to this, the most damning evidence was a special 2017 report by a local newspaper but with little political will to investigate, the atrocity was a matter known but barely heard of again. In the first two days of the hearing so far, the extent of the cover-ups and abuse of responsibility have been exposed, begging deep questions in a country which has a lot to atone for in its treatment of migrant workers and refugees.
From Sabah, Consulting Editor for Sabah, Jared Abdul Rahman, has this:
The U.S. State Department has updated its travel advisory, incorporating its new “K” indicator to better communicate the risks of kidnapping and hostage taking by criminal and terrorist actors around the world. Malaysia is one of 35 countries included in the update.
The overall travel advisory for Malaysia remains unchanged, however, with the entire country (with the exception of Eastern Sabah) listed under the most basic Level 1, advising travellers to “exercise normal precaution”. As before, Eastern Sabah is listed under Level 2, advising travellers to “exercise increased caution”, but the old “C” (crime) and “T” (terrorism) indicators have been replaced with a new “K” (kidnapping) indicator.
Despite the travel advisory clearly stating that Malaysia is Level 1, where normal precaution is advised, and that increased caution is only advised for some areas, and travellers seeking to travel to Malaysia are instructed to read the entire travel advisory, Malaysian leaders are up in arms, calling for the travel advice to be removed.
On the other hand, Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal does not expect the update to have any significant impact to Sabah’s tourism industry. Instead of being insulted by the updated travel advisory, he has expressed hopes to be able to work closely with the U.S. government to ensure security in Eastern Sabah, as well as the entire region.
A recent, ongoing territorial dispute in the region has seen US presence increase dramatically. With an influx of diplomats and sailors passing through, Kota Kinabalu now even hosts Fourth of July celebrations. But these visitors never stay for more than a couple of weeks. Perhaps this is just the kind of invitation they’ve been looking for.
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!