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Akan Datang: It’s a war of petitions in Singapore

Author: Aisyah Llewellyn
Published:

Hello New Naratif readers! A new week looms on the horizon in Southeast Asia and we have all the stories you need to watch out for. This week Vietnam is taking on Facebook, residents in Indonesia face a dining ban, and Duterte’s mouth keeps getting him in trouble in the Philippines.

Over at New Naratif, we were mostly Indonesia-focused last week, which started off with a piece on how Indonesians are turning away from tobacco. We then followed up with this article on the latest casualty of Indonesia’s opaque blasphemy law. We also brought you a new episode of our fortnightly podcast series, Southeast Asia Dispatches which features our Editor-in-Chief, Kirsten Han, visiting a modernist building in danger of demolition in Singapore, contributor Samantha Cheh talking about anti-LGBT pseudo-science in Malaysia and our Consulting Editor for Jakarta and Papua, Febriana Firdaus, examining the challenges faced by local journalists in West Papua.

We’re also thrilled to announce that it was our first anniversary on 8 September, and you can take a look at our shiny new site and consider signing up to be a member if you would like to support our work. To celebrate our anniversary we also have a new episode of our fortnightly podcast series Political Agenda that’ll be released on Monday, with PJ and Kirsten reflecting on the year we’ve had.

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

Singapore

We start this week with Singapore, and the news that Law and Home Affairs Minister, K Shanmugam, has said that “a majority of Singaporeans are opposed to the removal of Section 377A of the Penal Code, which makes gay sex illegal. There does not, however, appear to be much solid evidence to demonstrate that this is true.

Either way, the conservatives have fired up their networks again and been sending out WhatsApp messages urging people to sign a petition to pressure the government to retain 377A. LGBT activists have also launched their own petition, with signatures from heavy-hitters in the Singaporean arts and business scene, among others—so it’s going to be a war of petitions in the coming weeks.

To add to this, the Singaporean penal code is coming up for review; it’s the perfect opportunity to relook 377A, although the government has already excluded it from the scope of review.

 

The Philippines

In the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte is still the president and as colourful as ever. He’s been in Israel, buying weapons and visiting a Holocaust memorial—which is kind of awkward when you remember that he once likened himself to Hitler.

To find out more about all the times Duterte’s mouth has got him in trouble, Asian Correspondent has this great piece that takes us through Duterte’s top five diplomatic faux pas, including when he called the UN “stupid” and labelled the Pope “the son of a whore”.

 

Indonesia

Over in Indonesia this week, we continue to monitor the financial crisis that may be gripping the country as the rupiah has fallen to record lows. Could we see a repeat of 1998 all over again? This excellent piece in The Diplomat says not quite!

In other news, it seems that the region of Bireuen in Aceh Province has banned men and women dining together if they’re not married or related. The reason for this nonsensical piece of legislation? Apparently it will make women “more well-behaved”. Perhaps we will see an outcry about this in the coming week, although Aceh is a law unto itself, literally, most of the time—so am not holding my breath.

 

Cambodia

There have been a number of disappointing cases of journalists being jailed across Southeast Asia in recent weeks, including Australian national, James Ricketson, who was sentenced to six years in prison in Cambodia. Lowy Institute has a great article about the case and other similar cases in the country.

 

Vietnam

From Vietnam, our contributor Mike Tatarski, has this report:

Nguyen Phu Trong, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, visited Russia last week. While there, Trong signed a US$1 billion deal to buy weapons, though no details of exactly what this includes have been released. In recent years Vietnam has rapidly upgraded its military hardware as tensions with China bubble in the East Sea, and Russia is the Southeast Asian nation’s largest weapons supplier. I’m interested to see what sort of specifics, if any, come out this week, as Vietnam has already received six attack submarines and a range of advanced fighter jets from Russia.

Meanwhile, Vietnam’s acting Minister of Information and Communication has called for the creation of a home-grown Vietnamese social media network to take on Facebook and Google. The government has wanted this to happen for years, but it’s too late: Facebook practically is the internet for many Vietnamese, and Google services such as YouTube are massively popular. According to local media, the information ministry has suggested creating policies to facilitate the creation of such a network, with the goal of gaining 60-70% of the national market share by 2022, which simply won’t happen. I wrote about social media in Vietnam for New Naratif earlier this year, which should serve as good background on this subject.

Lastly, Hanoi is hosting the World Economic Forum on ASEAN 2018 from Tuesday-Thursday, and most of the region’s leaders will be in town for the event. But human rights activist Debbie Stothard has been denied entry into the country.

 

Myanmar

And finally in Myanmar we are still dealing with the fallout from the terrible news that Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were sentenced to seven years in prison under the Official Secrets Act. We hope we will continue to see more news about this in the coming week as foreign governments and human rights groups pile on the pressure and call on Aung San Suu Kyi to pardon the two men. This article for Quartz looks at the chances of this actually happening.

 

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!

Aisyah Llewellyn

Aisyah Llewellyn is a British freelance writer based in Medan, Indonesia, and New Naratif's Regional Editor, Deputy Editor for Bahasa Indonesia, and Consulting Editor for North Sumatra. She is a former diplomat and writes primarily about Indonesian politics, culture, travel and food. Reach her at aisyah.llewellyn@newnaratif.com.

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