Who the heck is Lawrence Wong?
Leni Robredo, you can’t sit with us
Thank you to everyone who reached out with kind words over the last few days. Not there yet, but definitely on the mend. Please excuse any/all errant typos, this Covid business has really done a number on my brain.
See you later!
🇹🇭 🇮🇩 Putting on a show
This weekend marked the 15 year anniversary since I went to Coachella and lost my mind at how much beautiful green grass there was while Americans told me California was in a drought. That’s not a drought, THIS is a drought.
It also marked the debut of a whole slew of Asian artists from the 88Rising community to the festival and oh it actually made my week.
Indonesian musician Niki and her Thai labelmate rapper Milli set hearts at home aflutter. Footage Niki’s cover of Sempurna, which she dedicated to “my family and my country,” went immediately viral and found praise from the meme accounts to leading mainstream media.
Milli, who Coconuts Bangkok describes as a dissident teen rapper, ate mango sticky rice from the stage at the end of her set before asking “Who wants mango and rice that is sticky?!” Enter Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, whom I presume Milli is no fan of.
The Commerce Ministry also jumped on the Milli-wagon, using the moment to pledge increased mango exports to the rest of the world.
There’s no denying the talent of the roster, but it’s also a massive win for 88 Rising, the label/tastemaker driving the Asia-US mainstream cross-over. This New Yorker piece is still the comprehensive take on the organisation and required reading but there have been a couple of reports over the years linking the group to some of Southeast and East Asia’s largest venture capital firms that do make you wonder.
🇸🇬 Who the heck is Lawrence Wong?
White smoke over Istana, finally! Finance Minister Lawrence Wong has been selected by the party room to take over from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong if and when he decides to step down, it was announced last week.
Nikkei Asia near immediately published this fantastic profile on Wong. The paper notes that, unlike his soon-to-be-predecessor, Wong was hardly groomed for a life in politics and instead comes from ‘humble beginnings’ before working his way through the PAP machine. He’s been a part of the so-called 4G, the next generation of PAP leadership expected to succeed the current bosses, but was a relatively unknown quantity until he played a major role in the country’s COVID-19 taskforce.
So, will Wong be leading the PAP into the next general election (don’t get excited, it’s not due until 2025)? Possibly, says 70-year-old LHL, but we haven’t decided anything yet. "Whether it is for me to hand over to him first, he consolidates, he leads into the next election as leader of the 4G team and will be in charge after the next election; or I go into the next election leading the PAP, fight the next election, and if we win, after that, Lawrence takes over and then the 4G team goes forward," the Prime Minister told the Straits Times.
Wong was the strong but not unanimous choice from within the party, Channel News Asia reports, with 15 of 19 votes backing him. Still, political analysts expect that the three votes against him won’t damage cohesiveness within the party. “I won’t attach too much significance to the ‘vote’ not being unanimous for Mr Wong. Seeking unanimity is unrealistic,” Associate Professor Eugene Tan from Singapore Management University told CNA.
An editorial from Yahoo Singapore has raised some interesting questions about what Singapore can expect from the chosen one. It notes that there isn’t too much in Wong’s track record to indicate how he falls on issues key to the city, including relations with China and Malaysia, tolerance of political dissent and the question of repealing the colonial-era legislation outlawing same-sex relations between men. It also points to Wong’s language skills in a sharp reminder of what’s expected of a Singaporean leader — brush up on that Mandarin and get to Bahasa Malay class!
🇵🇭 Leni Robredo, you can’t sit with us
To the Philippines now! We’re on the final stretch for the country’s general election and while Bongbong Marcos has kept his lead and I can’t imagine any exciting upset between now and then, the rest in the race are kicking off.
A joint Easter Sunday press conference from some of the presidential candidates — Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, Senator Ping Lacson and former Defence Secretary Norberto Gonzales — ostensibly about reining in the Marcos train descended into an anti-Leni Robredo farce.
Isko Moreno specifically got under my skin with his “Be a hero. Withdraw.” line, but all three were arguing the same point, one which we have heard before: that Robredo is popular with her supporters, but there are lots of voters who could not stomach voting for her so why not bring her supporters to the side of someone who polls well as second preference. Happily, that seems to be Isko Moreno.
Those vibes aren’t our fault, say Isko Moreno and Ping Lacson’s camps. The media kept needling us on it! “It was that way because the questions by the media, they kept on pounding on the issue on Vice President Leni Robredo, that’s why the gentlemen obliged them by answering what they really felt,” Ernest Ramel, chair of Moreno’s party Aksyon Demokratiko, told the Inquirer.
This was very confusing to me personally. A very good friend of the letter who has been a guiding hand for Philippines coverage in recent years laid it out explicitly for me: candidates don’t really care if Marcos gets in, they just don’t want Leni (or Bongbong VP candidate Sara Duterte) to win. Seeing it through this prism makes things easier to understand. Shoring up proximity to political power is key.
“The failure of Domagoso in the presscon to attack Marcos while criticizing Robredo, and his insistent demand for her to withdraw despite her standing as second to the leader, stirs speculations about a possible Domagoso-Marcos understanding,” writes Philippine Star columnist Federico D. Pascual Jr, using Isko Moreno’s formal name. Ah!
Manny Pacquiao, whose name appeared on a joint statement and had committed to attending the conference if he was back in Manila in time, must be sighing in relief that he missed it. Gonzales has also stepped back from the conference, saying: “I’m apologizing to her. Because what we need is something better after the elections, whoever wins.”
This post initially said Domagoso is a nickname of Isko Moreno, it is his legal surname.
Across the region:
🇲🇾 Get ready, the general election is coming
UMNO has backed untested incumbent Prime Minister Ismail Sabri, while Anwar Ibrahim is not looking to expand Pakatan Harapan. Anwar’s comments come amid a push to solidify an opposition coalition against the UMNO government. And will he lead it?
"The more important thing to do now is to assist the people and convince them that our country needs a political change. From what they have seen with Umno and BN, this country has to bring changes to its politics, which have been marred with corruption, abuse of power, arrogance, and narrow racial sentiment. This has to be changed with new politics,” he told Malaysiakini.
Lucky timing. Between the Lines, who is my number 1 pick for being guided through what is sure to be a complicated drama, is offering a discount on an annual subscription with the code BDAYBABY.
🇻🇳 Investigation into Foreign Affairs takes flight
Anti-corruption crusaders have netted a big haul in Vietnam with Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs To Anh Dung arrested on suspicion of bribery, government officials said. His arrest is part of an investigation in which foreign ministry officials are alleged to have taken bribes from nationals abroad looking to return home on designated repatriation flights, which were in short supply as the pandemic shut down much of the commercial industry. Oh, dear.
🇲🇲 Word from ASSK
Aung San Suu Kyi has spoken, via a statement, for one of the first times since last year’s coup. "Aung San Suu Kyi tells the people 'be united', to have open dialogue among each other. 'Everyone has a different view — discuss and talk patiently,'” an unidentified confidante of the leader said, as reported by Reuters. Importantly, the comments clarified that ‘dialogue’ and ‘unity’ does not mean engaging the violent junta.
🇮🇩 A win in Indonesia
Well done to activists and supporters in Indonesia, where a long pushed sexual violence bill has passed after years of deliberation. The law targets forced marriage, sexual violence and harassment and forced sterilisation. Heavy penalties for sexual violence and sharing revenge porn have been welcomed by civil society groups who have waited for this to pass since it was first tabled in 2010.
“When I heard the knock [of the gavel], my mask was just filled with tears. I was trembling so much. I think my voice was the loudest in the room. I kept screaming thank you and thank you,” 56-year-old Imbaniasih Achmad, who began campaigning for the bill after her daughter was raped, told the Guardian.