Everything you need to know in Asean

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Hello friends,

As I said on Tuesday, this week is a freebie to everybody as I get my new plan up and running! Twice a week from here on out — which I thought would make this a touch more concise but it’s still just as long as the full week so uh, no shortcuts when you’re covering 11 countries!

As of next week we’ll be back to the usual free/premium deal, so if you’re keen to stick with your TWO blasts a week sign up here for $5 a month or $50 for the year:

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See you next Tuesday,

Erin Cook

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Let’s start in Singapore, which is once again Asean’s leader in Streisand Effect via the courtroom. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is suing financial advisor Leong Sze Hian, who reposted a piece from a Malaysian outlet which suggested LHL helped out Najib Razak in securing loans for 1MDB. His government has already targeted the Coverage, the publisher of the original story, but also went after Leong Sze Hian after he allegedly ignored a letter from LHL’s lawyers asking him to remove the post.  What are you even on about, Leong Sze Hian has said. This is one of those fairly common Singapore stories that on the surface seem very ‘ugh get real problems Singapore’, but really raises much bigger questions about how tight restrictions on free speech are and how far the Singaporean government will go to defend them.  

If anywhere was going to take a sin tax to its extremes, it would be Singapore. A total ban on sugary drinks has been floated but we are much more likely to see a tax. Good, I love a sugar tax. Which gives me a great opportunity to talk about my biggest gripe with Singapore. Why does the McD in terminal 2 have only sugar free coke options? I don’t need Ronald McDonald making health choices for me when I’m hungover flying internationally THANKS.

Oof, this is an awkward one. Lee Bee Wah MP was met this week by Edward Foo, an activist from the Ready4Repeal movement. Foo brought with him a petition signed by hundreds of constituents who all want to see the colonial era criminalisation of the LGBT community overturned. How well do you think that went? Foo says the MP said “I have other residents with real problems” before bailing on the whole event. Yikes. Nothing like watching lawmakers drag their feet on the inevitable. Good on ya, Edward Foo and pals! I hope we’ll see more of these sorts of events as we head towards the election. Polling isn’t yet in the activists favour, but that hasn’t stopped anyone yet.

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In Malaysia, three people have been killed in an explosion at a Sarawak mall. Definitely not terrorism, authorities say, probably a gas leak. New charges for Jho Low! But still no Jho Low. Through his attorney the run-away said he has no chance of a fair trial anyway. Race has been an underlying tension for a couple of weeks now (and decades too, to be fair) and Reuters has a nice look at that. Rama Ramanathan over at Asia Times has a look at the temple riot. Some good news though: don’t expect a credit downgrade despite a slowdown and dang that media is getting free.

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The Philippines is ALSO going to war on sugar! Imelda Marcos paid her bail on those sticky old graft charges. Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters clashed with military, leaving seven dead. The latest round of violence comes just weeks before a vote on the Bangsamoro Organic Law, so is certainly one to watch. Richard Heydarian on the wider impacts of the conviction of the police who killed Kian Delos Santos. I did like this one on China money. The headlines versus the delivery is a bubbling story in much of the region (and BRI world too) and definitely deserves more investigation. And of course, Maria Ressa. The United Nations has backed the journalist, though given the president’s take on the UN it may not be too helpful, and there should be bigger developments later today as Manila wakes up.

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Lots of developments in Myanmar on the Rohingya crisis front. Firstly, those fears of a mass exodus on boats again appear to have come to fruition with the arrival of 20 Rohingya men in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, on Tuesday. Reuters spoke with Rohingya who have lived in temporary camps in Rakhine State administered by the United Nations. Efforts to fix those sites up have been quite the dud and residents say they still live under the same old draconian rules. Meanwhile, beef with Bangladesh is heating up. The Myanmar ambassador was summoned on Wednesday to follow up on comments made by the religious minister about Rohingya “marching on Myanmar”. The national legislature has dropped the ball on child protection, drawing the ire of voters and fitting in nicely with a horrible region-wide trend.

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The shamelessness with which Thailand passes laws directly aimed at the Shinawatra family truly madly deeply leaves me gobsmacked sometimes. Sure, according to Mahannop Detwithak, the lawmaker who led the bill, the law is "not designed to treat anyone unfairly" but let’s just take a lil look. Okay, so anyone convicted of a crime who flees their sentence will no longer be able to file criminal suits. Given how quickly the Bangkok press screamed the Shinawatra siren, I think we can make safe assumptions.

Elsewhere, the coronation of the new king will probably take place after the election says Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. He’s set to be nominated as the prime minister candidate for the Palang Pracharat party, confirming the new party’s spot as the most pro-junta. Remember the constitution change madness back in April last year? That is this! The prime minister no longer has to be elected to parliament and can be nominated as an ‘outsider’ by the parties. Each party is required to nominate three candidates, but Palang Pracharat has not tipped who the other two would be. Imagine being that filler!

I am so confused by this nose story.

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I’ve got a friend in Vietnam at the moment and her Instagram has been good food on good food until last night! When Vietnam beat out the Philippines to make it through to the AFF Cup final and Hanoi erupted. They’ll face Malaysia for the top spot. Nothing too gossip-y just yet, but Facebook’s head of Vietnam operations Le Diep Kieu Trang has announced she will resign at the end of the year. It comes after the introduction of tough new laws on internet companies. Connected? I don’t know let’s wait and see! At least one Chinese manufacturer has bailed on plans to relocate to Vietnam amid a ~truce in the China-US trade war. Hmm.

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In Cambodia, the government has again suggested it would ‘welcome’ Radio Free Asia to return. “There was no pressure, RFA closed the office by itself”, Minister of the Interior Sar Kheng said this week echoing comments made a couple months back. “But now we welcome them back, and the radio station can re-establish its office in Phnom Penh”. Ooh, EU tariffs on rice haven’t passed just yet. In the latest surrogacy ring, 32 Cambodian women have been released from prison after being charged with human trafficking. They have all agreed to keep the babies instead of give them up. It’s been awhile since we had a decent longread on this, so someone please do it. I want to know what happens to these babies and women. It’s a tough deal. This one from David Hutt on the emerging dynasties in Cambodian politics did numbers.

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The horrible dam collapse in Laos just doesn’t end. Nearly six months after the collapse of the Xe Pian Xe Namnoy hydropower project, villages both near and far still struggle to deal. RFA spoke with a university student who is not sure she’ll be able to continue her studies. She says the family has not received government support for two months.

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Quiet second half of the week in Timor-Leste.

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And Brunei.

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This story from Indonesia makes me sick. What we do know is up to 31 construction workers in West Papua were killed in a massacre. The West Papuan liberation army has claimed responsibility, according to media reports, and efforts by military to enter the area were met with gunfire. The first week of December is always a hairy one for West Papua with Independence Day on the 1st often leading to arrests and violence team that with notorious difficulty for foreign and local media alike in safely entering the tenser districts it may take more time for the rest of the story to come out. For some context, this Conversation piece on President Jokowi’s efforts in the region is excellent. It reads well with John McBeth’s Asia Times piece.

Who invented cendol?

And is Duterte on the cones?

Hello friends!

This year has been a big one for lil Dari Mulut ke Mulut. I monetised, flexed on a few frenemies about it and then kinda hit a safe plateau with the project. Next year though is an electoral mess. I cannot wait! We’ve got election, on election, on election. And that doesn’t even touch on the amazing social progress (and regress) and movements which have sprouted and grown this year across the whole region.

So instead of a big old 2,000 word slog at the end of every week, we’re going 1,000 (or so!) every Tuesday and Friday. I really want to focus more on the local stuff and those developments are often much faster than a weekly release can cope with — although the bigger picture/regional stuff will remain — and include more context. I’m also doing a bunch of nerd stuff on my end to be heaps more legit like fixing up the website and doing a cute style guide (AP but with SGD conversions, FYI).

For this week while I’m getting that together, both briefs will be open to all subscribers before going back to the usual premium vs. free next week. You can sign up now for $5 a month or $50 a year here:

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And if you’re a student from an Asean member state, get in touch! You get a free membership in exchange for telling all your pals to sign up too.

See you Friday,

Erin Cook

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Let’s start in Indonesia. Sunday marked the second year anniversary of the anti-Basuki ‘Ahok’ Tjahaja Purnama rallies, known as 212. As usual, figures on the turn out vary wildly but among them were Prabowo Subianto and the Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan. President Jokowi was pointedly not invited. Is the Indonesian Solidarity Party’s Grace Natalie the next target? She is not having sharia law or unfair influence of one religion over others and it’s not going down well. She has been reported to the police.

Attacks on the LGBT community have been increasing again over recent months and Pariaman in West Sumatra is really going for it. The city has introduced a Rp 1 million (SG$95) fine for gay and transgender residents on account of disturbing ‘public order’. "At a minimum, we're trying to prevent the population from increasing," deputy mayor Mardison Mahyudin told AFP. Sense doesn’t work here, so there’s no point hashing out the multiple ways in the which this is dumb as all hell.  

“The campaign has lasted three months and I am still called Pak Anies,” says poor Sandiaga Uno, formerly Anies Baswedan’s vice governor. It’s been awhile since a prison break, but Banda Aceh is ready. The Law and Human Rights Ministry confirmed 113 prisoners escaped on Thursday. As of Friday afternoon 26 had been located. Indonesia is super prone to prison outbreaks with lacking facilities and rife over-population. Back during the Palu disaster over 1,200 inmates escaped from three different facilities but were given time to return home to assist family. Would love an update though!

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Malaysia is not saying never to reopening the search into MH370, just days after relatives of the victims said they’ll never stop looking. “We are open to possibilities, but we must have credible leads before we decide,” Minister of Transport Anthony Loke Siew Fook said Friday, as reported by Bloomberg. The US Fed is coming for you, Goldman, as part of the 1MDB investigation. It’s going to be taught in schools now. Malaysia’s mad because CNN said cendol is from Singapore, but tell you what — I reckon it’s from Central Java.

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Singapore is looking towards the next leaderFinance Minister Heng Swee Keat remains the top pick — while the soon to be outgoing Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warns Singaporeans better get ready for more mess globally. He WILL lead the PAP to the next election though.

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All quiet in Brunei.

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I am FURIOUS about this news out of the Philippines today. President Rodrigo Duterte admits he ingests marijuana (that’s such a nerd way to say but I can’t tell from his comments what he actually means sooo) to help him stay awake (weird). Thousands on thousands of Filipinos have died in his war on drugs but HE is allowed to smoke a lil weed when he feels like it? Filth. He walked back on it, saying it was another one of his cracker gags but one of those headlines is going to make much bigger news. Not that he cares about image. He’s keen to create his own Death Squad, modelled on the Marcos-era Sparrow Unit, to hunt down communist cells. We’re probably looking at a Mindanao martial law expansion come the end of the month, but it’s not locked in yet .

It’s a big one for Maria Ressa. The Rappler CEO/bona fide Southeast Asia journalism legend has turned herself in on charges of evading tax, widely seen as a stitch up to shut down the critical publication. This has been a long-running case, and Manuel Quezon for Splice Newsroom handily prepared a look at what happened all the way back in January.

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A bit quiet in Timor-Leste this weekend!

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Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has absolutely lost it over the criticisms of the freshly redrawn electoral map. Detractors say it favours pro-junta parties, Prayut had a spray for the journalists. Show us the policies! Decentralisation of the education system looks like it’ll be on the cards. We’ve got a bit more information about Australia-based Bahraini refugee Hakeem Al Araibi, who is now in immigration detention in Bangkok.   

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Two senior Vietnamese police have been found guilty of “running an underground online gambling ring which raised millions of dollars”, Reuters reported. The ring racked up an impressive SG$574 million. The pair got off lightly compared to nine people convicted for selling meth and heroin who have been sentenced to death. And finally, activist Huynh Thuc Vy has been sentenced to prison for 33 months after being found guilty of daubing white paint onto national flags. She is currently pregnant, so won’t be jailed until the child turns three. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho came to town, but we’re not allowed to know what he talked about with local counterparts. Vietnam is supposed to be a model for North Korea if and when it wants to open up, so it’s assumed it’s about all that. Bennett Murray for SCMP has more.

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And then over in Laos, it’s all South Korea! This from Tae-jun Kang at the Diplomat looks at the numerous ways in which the two countries are connected. Villages in the Sangthong district of Vientiane have been warned off bathing or eating fish caught in a local stream after a foreign banana farm dumped chemicals into a river.

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Down in Cambodia, coverage of the Khmer Rouge tribunal and what happens next continues. Seth Mydans has covered Cambodia and the tribunal for an age, so I found this piece for the NYT very illuminating on how the legacy of those decades has changed and continues to shape the country. Chinese development is rooting Sihanoukville, still. The European Union tariffs have put the fear into rice exporters who say it’s the general dudness of Euro rice which hurts the market, not imports from Cambodia — completely missing the point of the tariffs. I’m keen to read Exiled: From the Killing Fields of Cambodia to California and Back by Katya Cengel.

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This one from Reuters’ Myanmar team did NUMBERS this weekend. Activist Thinzar Shun Lei Yi was once a huge fan of Aung San Suu Kyi, but now she’s not having it. “I lost my idol, I’m confused, frustrated and lost,” she said. She’s certainly not in the majority of millennials but isn’t it nice to hear! Bangladesh isn’t keen to waste any more time on failing repatriation plans, putting pressure on Yangon last week to resolve all the concerns. “Dhaka is waiting for the reply, they said, stressing that living up to the pledges has never been Myanmar’s strong point,” reports the Dhaka Tribune. Azeem Ibrahim, who wrote The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar's Hidden Genocide a couple years back, says this is what needs to happen next. Keep an eye on Kachin State, says Al Jazeera with a report about the 33rd Light Infantry Division (LID).

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