Akan Datang: What’s going on with the Pan Borneo Highway project?

Pan Borneo Highway - 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 confused election results in Thailand, a maritime dispute in Vietnam and a shocking update on the Syariah Penal Code in Brunei.

This week over at New Naratif we published this piece on the pollution of Sungai Kim Kim which has affected over 4,000 people in Pasir Gudang in Johor due to chemical dumping. We also have this piece from Indonesia on the former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, who was jailed for defaming Islam and his possible return to politics now that he is free. Also new this week is this piece on Hanna Alkaf’s novel The Weight of Our Sky which is the first Malaysian young adult novel to be published internationally and discusses themes of mental illness and the race riots that took place in Kuala Lumpur on 13 May 1969. This piece is also available in Bahasa Melayu/Malaysia.

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


The big news to watch this week is the result of the election in Thailand which took place on 24 March. There seems to be a lot of confusion in the air about exactly what went down on election night, but the Guardian says that, “Preliminary results, with 93% of the votes counted, showed a narrow win for the pro-democracy Pheu Thai, with an estimated 129 seats, compared with 117 seats for the pro-military Phalang Pracharat.”

We can probably expect to see a lot more about this in the coming week as the votes are counted and an official statement is made about the results.


Over in Brunei, Matthew Woolfe of The Brunei Project, an independent human rights initiative that has been monitoring and raising awareness about human rights in Brunei since May 2015 issued this statement on a worrying development in the region:

[…] having continually delayed implementation of phases 2 and 3 of the Syariah Penal Code (SPC), Brunei is now rushing through full implementation, with the SPC to be fully implemented on 3rd April, 2019. When first announcing that the country would be implementing Syariah law prior to the first phase in 2014, the Government committed to implementing the SPC in three phases but will now be implementing phases 2 and 3 concurrently. Although notification of commencement was given on 29 December 2018 and was published on the Attorney General’s Chambers website (see here), no public announcement has been made regarding implementation and there has been no reporting of it in the local media.

Under phases two and three of the SPC, Brunei will be implementing some horrendous punishments, including for some “offences” that should not even be considered crimes.  Among the punishments will be the amputation of limbs for theft, the death penalty for apostasy, and a range of punishments for those found guilty of engaging in sexual activity with members of the same gender and adultery. These punishments include whippings, jail terms and death by stoning.  In 2015, Brunei signed the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). Although it has not yet ratified the CAT, the fact that Brunei has signed the convention suggests that the Government is obliged to uphold the principles contained within it.


From Sabah, Consulting Editor for Sabah, Jared Abdul Rahman, has this news:

Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal announced that the RM29 billion Pan Borneo Highway upgrade project would drop its project delivery partner (PDP) model, with the federal government stepping in to take over construction works itself. The announcement was made at the launch of the International Conference on Heart of Borneo and World Forest Day 2019, while commenting on the project’s effect on wildlife habitat.

With its initial works pre-dating the formation of Malaysia, and then intensifying in 1963, the purpose of the Pan Borneo Highway as a whole is to enhance intercity connectedness on the island. Carried out in stages originally contracted out to the private sector in accordance with the PDP model, this latest project had planned to cut through Class 1 forest reserves.

Also known as Protection Forests, Class 1 forest reserves are described as, “Forest conserved for the protection of watershed and maintenance of the stability of essential climatic and other environmental factors. These areas cannot be logged.”

The Chief Minister stated that by dropping its private sector PDP contractor, cutting through these forest reserves could be avoided. Apart from reducing the project’s environmental impact, such a move would also be more cost-effective. Increased transparency and accountability were also mentioned.

And to think that all this time we’d been putting up with the project’s traffic delays with patience and politeness.


From Vietnam, our contributor Mike Tatarski has this news:

Tensions are running somewhat high in the South China Sea, or the East Sea as it is known in Vietnam. The Vietnamese government has lodged an official complaint at the Chinese embassy in Hanoi over the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat in the Paracel Islands earlier this month. Reuters reports that in response, the Chinese government said, “We hope the Vietnamese side can stop making things up.”

It is unlikely that the alleged intentional sinking of a small fishing boat will lead to a confrontation, but this is worth keeping an eye on.

Vietnam, meanwhile, has denounced Taiwan for holding military drills on and around an island which the former country claims as part of its territory in the same body of water.


In Indonesia this week we have more news about the elections, and in particular presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto, who has been hit by fresh claims of human rights abuses during his time in the Indonesian Armed Forces.

According to reporting from Reuters, “The latest accusations were detailed at a news conference by Suharto’s last armed forces chief, Wiranto, who now heads a small political party which is backing Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, the man polls predict should win the two-man race for the presidency,” so it seems as if this could all be the result of a fresh power struggle between two of Indonesia’s most famous military strongmen.

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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