March - Natural dyes, sad goodbyes, Setya cries

Hi everyone!

Okay this is my first one from Substack and I really, really hope I don’t mess it up. Sorry if I do!

From me this week: The 'Foreign Interference' Blame Game in Malaysia’s Upcoming Election and Philippines bids to take the family out of politics.

I’m in easy-breezy-Ubud today, so let’s just end it here so I can go swim.

See you next week!
Erin Cook


I don’t know how I missed this one last week from Indonesia! It’s all anyone could talk about - the Muslim Cyber Army is serious business. Setya Novanto has been crying in court all week because the KPK won’t accept his ‘justice collaborator’ status and so he’s probably going to go down hard. Schadenfreude! Bali went much further than usual for Nyepi this year, cutting the internet and other services. Not quite smooth sailing in the seizing of 1MDB-linked yacht in Bali.  

The Saudi government executed an Indonesian worker earlier this week despite a judicial review underway and the intervention of Jokowi. A lot of the responses to this have been along the lines of hoping this gives Jokowi some pause about Indonesia’s own death penalty cases, which I certainly agree with, but I think we need to see this specifically through the lens of the rights and safety of the region’s migrant workers when abroad.

In less dark news, here’s why the Google Doodle featured Indonesia’s grandfather of cinema Usmar Ismail. Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan is keeping quiet about the findings of his Tanah Abang mess but a full report should be released next week, which I for one am thrilled about because I have a lot of thoughts and feelings on the situation (most of which can be whittled-down to 😡).


I’m fascinated by the push to boot dynasties out of politics in the Philippines and Asia Times let me write on it! Very tough road ahead, but with clear links between dynastic rule and poverty and corruption it’s time to get to work. The ICC fall-out is still dominating, with the palace suggesting more countries could follow theirs and Burundi’s lead. Uh, okay. So what, the ICC says, we’re going to keep investigating. Good. Thirteen drug suspects were shot and killed on Wednesday in one province alone. Police have claimed self-defence.

This is one to watch: the Philippines, as we know, has some of the most devastating and frequent weather events in the region. Climate change is making it worse and big business is probably to blame. China will ‘prudently advance’ joint oil exploration in the South China Sea.


Horrible news overnight in Vietnam with an apartment fire in Ho Chi Minh City killing at least 13.

The New York Times’ Vietnam introspection over the last year has been painfully US-centric and this piece explores why. Gorgeous photos from a not so gorgeous industry c/o Nat Geo covering the sand mining industry. And finally, does the arrival of USS Carl Vinson herald a new dawn in US-Vietnam relations?


Myanmar has had a big one, so let’s rapid-fire through it. President Htin Kyaw has stepped down from the largely ceremonial role citing health concerns. Vice-President Myint Swe will be acting in the role before the next leader is named. Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo marked 100 days in jail with a court hearing. CJR has a fascinating write-up about the history of media freedoms which I hard recommend. And this investigation on the trafficking and sexual exploitation of Rohingya children is a horrifying but necessary watch:


Here’s your Malaysia election links for the week: on Cambridge Analytica and Mahathir Mohamad’s ‘testicular fortitude’. Read this one from me at the Diplomat on ‘foreign interference’ to wipe that last sentence from your brain. This has really dominated the week so we’ll just leave Malaysia there for now.


Singapore’s draconian fake news laws have been before a senate hearing for the last few days (hard recommend following Kirsten Han for up-to-date analysis and reporting) with tech giants weighing in. It comes as a law passed banning Singaporeans from taking, posting and sharing photos of terror incidents. It also bans texting about any security response. Meanwhile, Trump is loving Singapore’s death penalty for drug offences, but the data doesn’t really add up. Singapore isn’t boring!


Brunei’s reliance on its oil and gas has long been a problem, with Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah taking it extremely seriously in recent years. Enter China. While big banks like HSBC and Citibank are pulling out of Brunei, the Bank of China is rushing in. The 12 day legislative council sitting is over with a $5.3 billion budget passed.


Very sad news out of Cambodia this week with the shock death of Kak Channthy, frontwoman of the Cambodian Space Project, in a road accident on Tuesday in Phnom Penh. International pressure to free up elections later this year continues with 45 countries presenting a letter to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. What’s your fave part of the New York Times piece which did the rounds earlier? Mine is for sure: ‘After the hourlong talk, which strayed into the merits of drinking one’s own urine and his recent struggle with diarrhea, Mr. Hun Sen posed for photos with members of the crowd.’ The Phnom Penh Post is not going to shut down anytime soon despite reports.


With the Prawit case still unresolved, Thailand is set for an even bigger corruption scandal with the ‘anti-corruption agency investigating the suspected misappropriation of up to 85 percent of money from a state fund for the poor.’ Voice TV is off the air for a fortnight after the program ‘caused confusion and incited societal division’, according to the media regulator. Six people have died so far this year in a quickly escalating rabies outbreak. Reports of dogs being poisoned are outraging animal rights groups while the Agriculture Ministry is scrambling to contain a vaccine scandal. The Thai government has a novel and totally innovative way to stop sexual assaults during next month’s Songkran festival – don’t dress sexy, ladies. Wow, why has no one thought of that before?


Mr X is down for the count! The Laos drug kingpin has been jailed for life in a Thai court after being found guilty of trafficking meth across the border. Who knew indigo dye could be so fascinating?

Former president and prime minister of Timor LesteJosé Ramos-Horta has weighed in on the Witness K case, calling on the Australian government to return the whistleblower’s passport.