Oh, Najib. How the mighty fall!

Hello everyone!

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How do we even choose where to begin this week? It has just been chaos across the region. Let’s knock out the Mekong states first, who have been unusually quiet and then onto the rest.

See you next week
Erin Cook

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Vietnam continues to bubble away after massive (and rare!) protests last month. Seven people have been arrested in relation to a bomb last month on a police station in HCMC. Two officers and a cook were injured in the blast. The bomb and the protests have not been officially linked with authorities saying it was orchestrated by a foreign entity. Meanwhile, Dang Thanh Binh, a former deputy governor of the central bank, and four accomplices are heading to the slammer for their role in a financial scandal at the Vietnam Construction Bank. It is, as we say every week, part of a wider crackdown on corruption in the country. Forty-one Vietnamese nationals have been caught up in an immigration sweep in Malaysia. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is swinging by Hanoi on his Asia adventure, expect an update on Will Nguyen over the weekend.

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Textiles from Laos is a whole genre. I like this one from OZY. Coffee exports seem to be the great hope of Southeast Asia’s minnows, this from the Diplomat makes a compelling case for the country’s industry.

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It’s finally here! Election month in Cambodia! Who knew restrictions on the media could get even tougher ahead of the vote? Hmm, everyone probably. We’ve talked before about Hun Sen’s inner circle copping a bit of flak in recent weeks, Asia Times has a look at who they are. ‘While 20 different political parties will vie for votes at Cambodia’s national elections on July 29, the contest will be by any honest measure a one-horse race.’ When you put it like that...

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Updates in some long-running stories in Myanmar this week. First of all, the courts have indicated we will soon have a ruling in the pretrial of Reuters journalists Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone. The pair are looking at 14 years on sedition charges. We should have word on Monday. A diplomat showed up to the United Nations in Geneva and said Myanmar was committed to protecting human rights. Commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein was apoplectic. It comes as Physicians for Human Rights prepares a report which allegedly finds injuries and scars ‘highly consistent’ with claims of violence made by Rohingya people. And here’s an update on conditions in Rakhine State from Oliver Slow and Frontier Myanmar.

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Brunei, what have you been up to lately?

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Hooley dooley. This one in Timor Leste is far more about Australia than itself, so we’ll skim over it but let me just say: read Crossing the Line. A former spy turned whistleblower and his lawyer have been prosecuted for revealing the bugging scandal. Not a good look, also not happening in Dili. Let’s move on!

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There’s only one story out of Thailand this week and it is impossible to have missed. Firstly, I can’t believe how great these teenage boys are. All thumbs ups and questions about the football, very brave! Secondly, I really, deeply hope this ends well though as of this afternoon one rescuer has died and that makes me extremely nervous.

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My Singapore alert has been blasted with property news over the last few days. Tell you what, that doesn’t interest me particularly much. Still, the water wars with neighbouring Johor have escalated with Chief Minister Osman Sapian saying Mahathir Mohamad has given him the go ahead to jack up prices by 1600 percent. Oof! Let’s wait and see on that one. Yes, it is true. The Uber-Grab merger is bad for competition (that sound is GoJek loyalists smirking) and here’s a load of penalties including restoring pre-merger pricing structures.

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Bad news from Indonesia this week with ANOTHER ferry disaster. This time, over 30 people have been killed as the boat capsized off the coast of South Sulawesi on Tuesday. Yet again, the ferry was filled over-capacity. President Jokowi has weighed in saying it is due to ‘human negligence’. Sure, ferries shouldn’t pack people to over-capacity and passengers shouldn’t get on if they see the boat looking hairy. Duh. But this happens with such regularity because there are few other options! Locking up crew and captains is just part of a solution to this. And Jokowi should be all over this, he loves the maritime bizzo. Let’s get some hot capital injections into the industry, make it safer, make it better!  

Election hangover is still sticking around. I have a piece next week which looks at the South Sulawesi gubernatorial so we’ll skip that but omg let’s talk about Makassar. Sooo, in the Makassar mayoral race Golkar’s Munafri Afiruddin was the only candidate. Crushing blow to the man, I imagine, when he lost to the ‘blank box’ option (aka. None of the above). The electoral commission has promised an investigation as the local chapter of the Independent Journalist Alliance accuses authorities of blocking access to the count on June 27 amid a flurry of social media reports of impropriety. Ooh, juicy. I’m a big fan of the electoral commission here, I think that to roll out SO MANY elections across such a geographically diverse country is darn amazing. Which is to say, don’t think this is a dirty election ‘sign of the times’ type thing we see elsewhere in the region. This case will be dealt with and is an outlier!

I know it’s a horrible cliche to say things like ‘only in Indonesia!’ but I need to say it. Look at this bio paragraph from Reuters on the Aceh governor arrested on corruption charges: ‘Yusuf, who escaped from a jail where he had been serving a sentence for treason after it flooded during the tsunami, was reelected in 2017 for a second term as governor.’ Jeeze! Irawandi Yusuf is facing charges of taking bribes in a massive state project. Hold on, Aceh? Asked Indonesia’s infamously black humour loving social media users. What’s the punishment for corruption under the Sharia Law practiced in the province? Hand chopping. But don’t get too excited.

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Okay, Malaysia. Malaysia! We knew it was coming it was just a matter of when. Najib Razak is in big trouble now. Okay so what we know right now is this: he has been charged on three counts of breach of trust and one of corruption in the 1MDB scandal, he has pled not guilty to all. He posted half of the 1 million ringgit bail on Wednesday with the other half due on Monday. His supporters are raising money to help him out. Yeah, I know. Najib’s daughter Nooryana Najwa reported her bank accounts had been frozen after bail was posted. She accused Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of being vindictive in the process. He responded in the way only Tun M can – kind of making her case but somehow arguing against it. Najib’s lawyers are now suing 1MDB investigators citing conflicts of interest. But where’s Jho Low?

As all of this was going on, Malaysia was also holding a conversation about child marriage. This conversation has popped up occasionally in Malaysia (and elsewhere in the region) but with the new government it seems to have taken on more of an active indignation, maybe now something will change. The conversation was prompted by reports of a 41-year-old Malaysian man marrying an 11-year-old Thai girl last month. Malaysian authorities have vowed to look into it, but that’s not enough activists say. Not enough with child marriage laws remain on the books and open young girls up to abuse and exploitation. And then we get the bloke from Kelantan who reckons “LGBT issue, illicit sex and having children out of wedlock” are bigger problems.  

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This should be much bigger. In the Philippines, two mayors have been gunned down in two days. The killings happened on Monday and Tuesday, both in towns nearby Manila. Ferdinand Bote had been shot while in his car and no apparent motive has come forward yet. Antonio Halili was shot by a sniper at an event. He had been accused of peddling drugs. This brings the murder death toll of mayors since 2016 to 10. There is a lot of hearsay on this and the presidential palace have already denied links to any deaths saying we all ought to wait until police investigations are done. Not everyone is convinced, with TIME reporting human rights groups reckon Duterte is taking out opposition figures under the guise of his drug war. Dirty stuff, this is still unfolding now and we’ll follow it up next week.