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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! In the news this time around, we have the worrying disappearances of more Thai activists, issues with “illegal immigrants” in Sabah, ambitious economic reforms in Peninsular Malaysia, and a controversial legal aid team in Indonesia.
This week over at New Naratif we published this research piece on Singapore’s “fake news” bill and why it’s based upon dubious assumptions which are not supported by the science of media effects studies. We then followed up with a piece on Suara Revolusi Malaya, or the Voice of the Malayan Revolution. We also published this beautiful comic in which the artist, Kia Nazary, reflects on her responses to the 2019 Women’s March in Kuala Lumpur, and how important it is to remember to practise self-care. There’s a Malay version too.
Here are all the stories to watch in Southeast Asia this week…
Our Deputy Editor for Bahasa Malaysia/Melayu, Adriana Nordin Manan, has this dispatch:
As New Malaysia turned one, the Federal Government unveiled a new economic model, named “Shared Prosperity”, with a target of realisation come 2030. With its goals of overcoming deep wealth and wage gaps in society, it can be taken as a sign that the Pakatan Harapan government realises that it needs to show more initiative and direction in matters of the economy, given the growing discontent on the ground with the current government a year after it assumed office.
Ever acerbic, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, during his nationwide speech to commemorate the first year of the current government, took jabs at the Malay-Muslim conservative alliances in the opposition, saying that it’s about time to end the tactic of fanning racial and religious sentiments to score political points. While that might be wishful thinking, hopefully the Malaysian public has grown more discerning of when they are being fed deliberately distressing perspectives of race and religion in national policy-making, and know the ulterior motives that drive their peddling.
Consulting Editor for Sabah, Jared Abdul Rahman, has this news:
The pressure is on for the state government to address the long-standing issue of so-called “illegal immigrants” in Sabah.
Without much consideration for the varying types of non-locals without appropriate documentation, increasing vocalised opinion on the matter has presented the Warisan-led coalition government with an ultimatum: prove your allegiance to the local Sabahan by resolving without delay a complex, multi-faceted issue caused by centuries of racial-political unrest, exacerbated by foreign imperialist forces and their modern day divides; or lose the vote.
As such, the Sabah government has answered the call with increased steps to locate and arrest, increased “repatriations”, as well as increased verbal statements on those politically-pesky “illegals”.
Meanwhile, we rejoice at the newly-announced Air Busan direct flights to Kota Kinabalu, and the prospect of achieving our target of a record four million tourist arrivals this year, having already experienced one million as of March.
Country of origin aside, it seems as long as they arrive legally, with appropriate documentation and a pocketful of cash, we are more than happy to accommodate hordes of foreigners running amok on our local identity.
Over in Thailand, following the opulent coronation of King Rama X last week, we now have the news that three Thai activists accused of insulting the monarchy have disappeared following their arrests in Vietnam. What’s perhaps most shocking about this case is that it seems that the Vietnamese authorities willingly handed over the three suspect to the authorities in Thailand, despite having been aware of the risks to the activists’ safety.
Thailand is known for its strict lese majeste laws which prohibit criticism of the monarchy and which carries a maximum 15-year prison term. This is also not the first time that these kinds of disappearances have taken place. In January 2019, two bodies were found in the Mekong River close to the Thai-Laos border with concrete in their stomachs. They are thought to have been those of two famous anti-junta campaigners.
The Philippines will have it midterm elections on Monday, widely seen as a referendum for the controversial Duterte administration. But there’s also more than one Duterte in the political scene––while not running for office herself, President Rodrigo Duterte’s daughter Sara Duterte is campaigning for her father’s allies. Analysts say this could just be part of her plan to make a bid for the presidency herself come 2022.
Also, the authorities have arrested three suspected members of a militia group affiliated with Islamic State, and this could be an interesting one to watch in the coming week as more possible arrests may be forthcoming. There are a number of groups that support ISIS in the Philippines, and there have been fears that the Catholic-majority country could face fresh attacks on houses of worship following the terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka and also in Jolo at the start of the year.
Flying very much under the radar in Indonesia this week, at least in terms of international coverage, is the creation of a new “legal aid team” which is being headed by former military general Wiranto. The new team, which includes lawmakers and academics, will “[…] study and provide legal assistance related to words and actions that are considered violating the law; second, submit a recommendation to law enforcers to follow-up the study result; and third, report the team progress […]”.
The term “legal aid team” is something of a misnomer, as the team’s function will be to look at potential violations and then recommend that these be followed up by the authorities—so pretty much the exact opposite of the meaning of the term in most countries. The creation of the team has caused something of a backlash in Indonesia, with fears that it could be used as a way of clamping down on those who don’t agree with the government, and that it could lead Indonesian law in a more authoritarian direction.
Wiranto himself however pushed back against this allegation, asserting, “Don’t let there be any accusations saying that Wiranto is going back to the New Order, that President Jokowi is a dictator […]”
Which really isn’t that reassuring, as statements go.
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@example.com !
See you next week!