🇹🇭 It's off to the races (kinda)
🇰🇭 How the Cambodian government strong armed ISPs
Apologies for the delay this week — was sick at the start of the week and then watched too many old episodes of House in bed so was certain I was dying of something obscure, rendering me usual for another day or two.
But! Here we are with a big one from the Mekong states. Thailand is on the electoral move, Cambodian officials are defiant and the crackdown is keeping Vietnamese civil servants in a state of nerves.
Let’s crack in!
🇹🇭 (Almost) Officially election season
OOOH, IT’S COMING!
Mark your calendars for May 7th, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha said this week. That’s the most likely day for an election. This is exactly what all the eggheads have been predicting for months, but good to finally have some firmer indication. Must be qualified that this confirmation came from a relatively casual interaction with a journalist, reported by Reuters here as: ‘Asked by a reporter if the election would be on May 7, Prayuth said: "Sure, why not?"’ Is that enough? Yeah, probably. Thai media has run with it and I’m gagging for an election so these pages shall too. Prayuth also committed to dissolving parliament sometime next month, which is the major factor.
Pheu Thai’s Paetongtarn Shinawatra isn’t wasting time. The daughter/niece of the previous Shinawatra generation has been campaigning in anticipation of an imminent election. “We managed to fix everything in the first year but then four years later we were ousted by a coup, so there are things that we have not achieved. So we go on each stage to tell people how our policies can change their lives. And only through stable politics can people's lives change in a sustainable manner,” she told Reuters in an exclusive.
Terrible timing for internal bickering at Move Forward, the successor to the banned Future Forward Party. Thai Enquirer lays out the timeline of a particularly public spat after the announced departure of co-founder Chris Potranandana at the start of the month. He said he “could not lie to the people by campaigning on policies [he] did not believe in and talking about a party whose management [he] disagreed with,” as reported by Thai Enquirer.
Progressive parties eating themselves before a high-stakes election? A tale as old as time!
Here’s an intriguing one from Coconuts which is revealing about perceptions ahead of the election. Beer People Festival, a celebration of all things craft beer (pee-yew), had planned to hold the event at The Street Ratchada shopping mall. It’s since been turfed out with the mall citing “political reasons.”
“The shopping centre is concerned that it may cause the public to develop the misconception that the shopping centre supports political parties and is not neutral, which may bring about protests or political rallies and may cause disturbance to others in the shopping centre or may affect the image of the shopping centre in the future,” the mall said in a statement, as per Coconuts.
The festival was to include proponents of craft brewing and supporters of a bill, defeated last year, to legalise homebrewing that was defeated by Prayuth’s government last year.
🇰🇭 How the private sector does Hun Sen’s bidding
While much of Cambodia’s battered media ecosystem mourned the loss of Voice of Democracy earlier this month, government-aligned outlets couldn’t help but gloat. “Cambodian Government Does Not Attack VOD; VOD Attacks Government by Spreading False Information,” Fresh News said in one headline, as per Luke Hunt for the Diplomat. VOD had Russian backing went another conspiracy theory from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s favoured publications.
With the Southeast Asian Games in May, the election a month later and the rise of son and anointed successor Hun Manet, this is a tense time for Hun Sen, writes Luke Hunt. Government-aligned media have fallen into line: “It’s a message designed to reinforce the delusions of those in power and make money from the inner circles as the games, elections and transfer of power approach.”
Jack Brook for Nikkei Asia reports on how internet service providers were mobilised into blocking access to VOD. In a Telegram channel for telco execs, an official demanded all ISPs block the site at 10 am on Feb. 13. Many complied immediately, accounting for why some users reported being unable to access the site before the deadline. “The speed and breadth of the website blackout shows that the government can force private-sector ISPs to censor critical voices and independent journalism at will,” Naly Pilorge, director of rights NGO Licadho, said.
You’d have been hard-pressed to miss this from BBC earlier in the week. A whole trove of Angkor-era jewellery and treasures smuggled out by the late antiquities smuggler Douglas Latchford showed up after his death in 2020. “I felt like crying. I just thought — wow — the crown jewels of ancient Cambodian civilization packed into four boxes in the back of a car,” Brad Gordon from Cambodia’s investigative team told BBC in one of the best quotes I’ve ever read.
The Cultural Ministry in Cambodia confirmed Tuesday that dozens of the pieces have been repatriated. Culture Minister Phoeurng Sackona called on all countries and others around the world who may have stashes to return them to Cambodia asap. It will go a long way towards “reconciliation and healing of Cambodians who went through decades of civil war,” the Minister said.
Radio Free Asia has had a peek at satellite snaps of the Ream Naval Base where collabs between Cambodia and China have the region (and the US) jittery. Despite promises from Phnom Penh that there were no intentions of building the base up, nor allowing one foreign country to have complete access, two piers have appeared. They seem to be makeshift, rather than for docking warships, but RFA reports it could be for bringing construction materials on shore.
🇻🇳 After crackdown comes inertia
Well, I’m a jinx. A few weeks back I wrote in these very pages that the anti-corruption crackdown in the governing ranks of Vietnam seemed to be having little impact on the country as an attractive site for investment. That has changed: civil servants are increasingly wary of approving contracts that could give the impression of nefarious wheeling and dealing, Bloomberg reports. As a result, economic activity is slowing. “Nobody in Vietnam wants to be on the record of approving anything right now because they don’t know whether it will come back to them in the anti-corruption campaign,” Albert Park, chief economist at the Asian Development Bank, told Bloomberg.
On the other side, manufacturing job cuts from some of the world’s biggest brands are coming. Around 3,000 jobs at a Ho Chi Minh City factory supplying Nike and Adidas are poised to be cut by the end of the month, with Taiwanese firm Pou Chen citing a drop-off in demand amid inflation in European and US markets. A further 3,000 contracts will not be extended.
Rice growers in the Mekong Delta are switching over to durian with the promise of bigger payoffs. But, agriculture expert Nguyen Bao Ve warns, the region doesn’t have the right soil for it and oversupply is coming. This has happened before, says Vo Huu Thoai, head of the Southern Horticultural Research Institute. Agri-workers previously switched from rice to jackfruit and oranges when prices were high. It might not be the payday growers are hoping for, he added: “Of the 80,000 hectares of durian in Vietnam, only 5% are approved for imports by China, and this poses a great risk to farmers.”
🇱🇦 Back on the board
Bless, East Asia Forum. Near single-handedly keeping Laos dilettantes fed! Toshiro Nishizawa from the University of Tokyo touches on the rise of new Prime Minister Sonexay Siphandone — a nepo baby! — and what it means for the economic situation.
Love this one! Tom Drury from Broken Hill (which, I must always note when the town is mentioned, is the inspiration for Wake In Fright) loves to skate and he loves Laos. So here’s a new skate park in Vientiane he planned that has been embraced by the city’s kids. Very cool!
🇲🇲 Back to school?
Next week, my Buku podcast is going deep into Myanmar so we’ll keep it light today.
Education was upset all over the world in 2020, but for Myanmar and the boycott of junta-run institutions and public life, classes have never really gotten back to normal. With the boycott entering its third year, where does that leave kids and young people? Frontier Myanmar looks at the various moving parts here and the bottom line is: it’s not just the junta keeping kids away.
Indonesia’s floated idea of sending over military generals to chat with their counterparts about the post-1998 experience has faltered. The Jakarta Post suggests it may have been an ‘off the cuff’ remark made by President Joko Widodo in an interview with foreign media, given no further news from the Foreign Ministry or the Indonesian military.
Excellent piece here from DW on exiled Myanmar journalists and how they continue to work. Sonny Swe of Frontier fame is the king when it comes to this and lays out how his team works and what challenges they face both as journalists and as people run out of their homes.
European Union smacked a fresh round of sanctions on the military. This sixth round targets nine individuals and seven entities, according to Reuters, and ‘ include the energy minister, prominent businessmen, high-ranking officers and departments of the defence ministry and private companies supplying fuel, arms and funds to the military.’