Akan Datang: Election fever creeping up on the region

Thai Election 2019 - 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! This week we have more election news from all over the region as well as floods in Indonesia, a shocking legal decision in Myanmar and an ongoing parliamentary debate in Sarawak.

This week at New Naratif we published this piece on conflict-ridden provinces in Thailand’s deep south and the human rights activists running for office in the hope of promoting peace through democratic means. This piece is also available in Bahasa Malaysia/Melayu. Also new on the site last week, we have the Bahasa Indonesia version of our piece on the hunted monkeys of Sulawesi. We also published this piece on the Swedish black metal band Watain whose planned concert in Singapore was halted following a petition by Christians in the city state.

In other content, we also have this video on a new play that was written following the public caning of a same-sex couple in Terengganu in Malaysia, and a photo essay on the pollution of Pasir Gudang.

We also have this new episode of Political Agenda in which we talk about fake news, foreign interference, freedom of expression and security in Singapore while waiting for the People’s Action Party government to introduce new legislation to tackle “deliberate online falsehoods” and foreign meddling.

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

Elections across the region

There’s no escaping it―we’re deep in election season in Southeast Asia, with voters going to the polls in Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and perhaps Singapore later in the year. If you want to know more about what is happening and when, ABC has this good explainer.


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

Following on from last week’s dispatch, it seems there’s been no word yet on any outcome regarding the supposed parliament sitting to debate the matter of restoring both Sabah and Sarawak’s status to equal partners alongside Peninsular Malaysia, within the Federation of Malaysia, as in accordance with the Malaysia Agreement (1963).

Perhaps they’re still in there debating.

Or perhaps we should be reminded that this kind of talk is really nothing new. The previous administration also made similar promises.

Same same but different? Or different but same same?

Peninsular Malaysia/Vietnam

Over in Peninsular Malaysia last week we had the surprise news that Siti Aisyah, the Indonesian national accused of having played a part in the murder of Kim Jong Nam (the half-brother of Kim Jong Un) has been freed from prison and will no longer face charges. Even more of a surprise however, is the fact that her co-accused, Vietnamese national Doan Thi Huong, will still stand trial for her alleged part in the killing.

It’s unclear why one woman’s charges were withdrawn while the other will stay in prison, so perhaps we can expect to find out more about this in the coming weeks.


Over in Indonesia we have the sad news that 89 people have died in floods in the Sentani district of Jayapura, Papua. According to Indonesian Disaster Agency spokesperson Sutopo Nugroho, a further 159 have been injured and almost 7,000 are displaced.

As if all of that wasn’t bad enough―there are also reports of baby sharks washing up following the widespread flooding.

In other (bad) news, as investigators try to find out what caused an Ethiopian Airlines plane to crash last week, it appears that the plane, a Boeing 737 Max 8, may have suffered from the same mechanical fault as a Lion Air plane that crashed in Indonesia back in October. We can expect to hear more about this in the coming weeks.

We also had a debate last week which featured presidential VP picks Ma’ruf Amin and Sandiaga Uno duking it out and answering questions on health, education, employment, and social and cultural issues. Despite this being slated ahead of time as one of the more boring debates, it actually shone a light on what we can expect from the VP candidates, and Ma’ruf in particular appeared well prepared and more on point than many thought he would be. Still… whether this is enough to affect voters when they go to the polls on 17 April remains to be seen. Stanley Widianto has this good piece on the education issues discussed in the debate.

And last but not least, I really enjoyed this piece on the violence in Poso in the early 2000s and how a women’s school is forging a path to peace.


From Myanmar, we have the news that a court in Sittwe has sentenced lawmaker Dr Aye Maung and author Wai Hin Aung to 20 years in prison for “high treason”, following public speeches they made in Rakhine State last year. As both men are from Rakhine, it seems that this is further going to ramp up the tension the state which has seen outbreaks of fighting between security forces and the Arakan Army.


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

Last year, Singapore hanged a total of 13 people, continuing the trend of increasing executions. This Friday, Sarawakian Micheal Anak Garing will be hanged for his role in a 2010 murder.

Following the awful terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, Singapore’s Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam said that he’ll be tabling a motion to have a debate on hate speech, race and religion in Parliament next month. He also said that tough laws are needed to deal with hate speech, especially since online media platforms don’t seem to be doing a good enough job curbing it. While the bit about online media platforms is true—lookin’ at you, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.—Singapore already has very broad laws that curb speech on race and religious issues, so I’m a little nervous about what he seems to be suggesting here.

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 aisyah.llewellyn@newnaratif.com !

See you next week!

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