Akan Datang: Election fever in Indonesia!

Indonesian elections 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! When it comes to the region, some countries command the spotlight more than others at certain times, and this week all eyes will be on Vietnam as the much anticipated Trump-Kim summit approaches on Wednesday. Over in Indonesia the main news is all election-related as everyone has an eye on April 2019, and in Sabah there is a spat over careless comments made by the Philippine ambassador to Malaysia.

Over at New Naratif this week we published this feature on Aun Pheap, one of Cambodia’s most well-respected reporters who is now seeking asylum in the US after being forced to flee his country. We also published this piece on Thailand’s long-awaited election and questions about how fair it’s going to be.

Also new on the site, we have this special podcast in Bahasa Indonesia on the second Indonesian presidential debate in which I talk to our consulting editors for Kalimantan and Sulawesi, Nita and Ian, as well as our contributor for Flores, Max, on election issues that include energy, food, natural resources, the environment and infrastructure in Indonesia. This is our first podcast entirely in Bahasa Indonesia, and we hope to bring you more multilingual coverage on the Indonesian election in April 2019 in the coming months.

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


In Vietnam this week, it’s all about the Trump-Kim summit and everyone is going a little crazy as the anticipation ramps up. This is certainly the main story to watch in Southeast Asia this week, and you can do a little pre-reading on what to expect when the two leaders meet on Wednesday and Thursday here. If you’re in Vietnam at this exciting time, there are a few ways to prepare, such as downing a “Peace Negroniations” cocktail or having your locks shorn in the Trump-Kim style.


And over in Sabah, Consulting Editor for Sabah, Jared Abdul Rahman, has this:

Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia, Charles Jose, reportedly insulted Malaysia during his courtesy visit to Sabah after meeting Chief Minister, Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal, when he mentioned his nation’s claim over Sabah.

Both sides have their own arguments, based on their own interpretations of the 22 January 1878 concession treaty signed between the Sultanate of Sulu and a commercial syndicate (what would become North Borneo Chartered Company, or British North Borneo Company, represented by Alfred Dent and Baron de Overbeck).

Regardless of which interpretation is more accurate, perhaps both sides need to turn their focus to the Madrid Protocol of 1885, whereby Spanish sovereignty over the entire Sulu archipelago was formally acknowledged. Signed by the Spanish Empire, the British Empire and the German Empire, Article III of the agreement stipulates that Spain relinquishes all claim to Borneo.

With the Sultan of Jolo, and therefore the Sultanate of Sulu, having already submitted to Spain, one assumption made is that Spain’s relinquishment is effectively also a relinquishment made on behalf of the Sultanate of Sulu.

But who cares? Caught between archaic imperialism and conniving neo-colonialism, do the people even get to have a say?

The Philippines

And talking of the Philippines, the Washington Post has this interesting feature on a body found shackled in a river in Manila and the story of why most drug-related murders are never investigated in the city.

“Rights groups estimate at least 20,000 killings and drug-related deaths since 2016 around the country. That is a rate well below some of the world’s most dangerous places in Latin America and the United States. But it is among the highest in Southeast Asia.”


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

After lots of rumours swirling about a general election being called early this year, we’re suddenly not so sure… Heng Swee Keat, Singapore’s Finance Minister, delivered the Budget this week and some commentators say that it might not actually be an election Budget, since the government can stand to spend a lot more. So we’ve now gone from growing certainty to widespread speculation again.

It’s incredible annoying because we’re really just quibbling over a date that the PAP will get to set, and everyone will have to scramble around. In an effort to pre-empt this, the Singapore Democratic Party has announced that they’re kicking off their campaign already, but not before some grief about the venue of their campaign launch.


Indonesia is still wrapped up in election season and will be for some time to come it seems.

Last week saw presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto heading to my hometown of Medan in North Sumatra to try and woo Chinese-Indonesian voters. It would seem a pretty smart move, although not necessarily one that will pay off, but one thing it does do is provide an example of how Prabowo is often incorrectly painted as being anti-Chinese. In reality, he’s as pragmatic as they come, so if this means sweet talking Chinese-Indonesian business owners in Medan then he’s all over it.

More Prabowo-related news comes in the form of this piece about how Prabowo invited the former head of NATO, Wesley Kanne Clark, to his home to deliver a lecture. It’s an interesting situation, as there’s talk of whether Clark was paid for this engagement, and why he would think it a good idea to attend such an event. Conspiracy theories also abound as to whether this was orchestrated by Washington as a way of showing support for Prabowo’s presidential bid, although this seems a step too far in my opinion and Clark is retired from duty so can speak wherever he wants.

Still, I expect there will be more questions asked about this speaking engagement in the coming week…

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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