See More on Facebook

Current affairs, Politics

Look ahead 2019: 3 things to watch out for in South-east Asia

The Straits Times takes a look at three headlines that will shape Southeast Asia in 2019.


Written by

Updated: December 28, 2018

1 WHAT’S NEXT FOR PAKATAN HARAPAN?

The learning curve has been steep for Malaysia’s first-ever new government, with the past seven months throwing up not just speed bumps, but also insurmountable obstacles to plans for wide-ranging reforms promised prior to Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) shock win in May.

Some of these have been self-inflicted, such as doing away with taxes and reintroducing subsidies. These have made financially unsound vows – to do away with student debt and toll expressways – impossible to fulfil.

So far, it has had a useful “get out of jail free” card. Blaming the disgraced Najib Razak administration for leaving it with over RM1 trillion (S$328 billion) in liabilities, not least due to missing billions from 1Malaysia Development Berhad, has given PH some breathing room.

But as time passes, this tune will get old. And so will the backtracking over racial issues, amid a right-wing Malay uprising against a government they say is being manipulated by ethnic Chinese and liberals, now that the Democratic Action Party is in power.

To be fair, the Mahathir Mohamad administration has used most of its resources this year to press the reset button, clearing the house in important government institutions and coming up with a plan to bring public finances back in order.

Next year will show if PH can offer “a new deal” of sorts. Several reforms are being readied for Parliament, both in areas of politics and civil liberties, as well as the economy. And the good news is that with the once long-ruling Umno on the brink of collapse, the government should be able to push through new legislation and policies without too many hiccups.

PH’s biggest enemy might be itself, even as the clock ticks on the promised – yet uncertain – transition from Tun Dr Mahathir to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, expected some time in 2020. Political wrangling will increase and distract from the job of governing.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has promised to step down eventually, but added that it is up to the public to accept Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (right) as premier.

Dr Mahathir has promised to step down, citing his 93 years of age, but ominously added it is up to the public to accept Mr Anwar as premier.

One year is a long time in politics, and it is a brave man who bets against the old fox whose mastery of the game in Malaysia does not seem to have waned despite the 15-year break since he last sat in the Prime Minister’s Office.


2 MORE THAN 190M INDONESIANS TO VOTE IN APRIL ELECTIONS

More than 192 million voters in Indonesia will head to the polls on April 17 to cast their ballots in the 2019 presidential and legislative elections.

This will be the first time that citizens in the world’s third-largest democracy will pick their president and MPs on the same day.

All eyes, however, will be on the high-stakes contest between President Joko Widodo and his old rival, former general Prabowo Subianto.

While the presidential race has been billed as a rematch of the 2014 election between the two, Mr Joko – better known as Jokowi – is no longer the dark horse, but the incumbent, whose track record will be up for scrutiny by voters.

The question now is whether he has done enough, particularly in his infrastructure push, in beefing up the economy and raising wages, to convince Indonesians to give him a second five-year term.

On the surface, he remains a popular figure, rarely ever losing his place at the top of nationwide electability surveys.

At his peak, his approval ratings rose to almost 70 per cent, with several surveys released in October last year showing he would have won an election by a landslide if polls had been held then.

That was a far cry from his winning margin in 2014, when he defeated Mr Prabowo with 53.15 per cent of the votes.

Although electability surveys continue to show Mr Joko holding a double-digit lead over Mr Prabowo, many observers are expecting a tight race once campaigning heats up in the new year.

Many, such as Mr Pangi Syarwi Chaniago, a political analyst from the Syarif Hidayatullah National Islamic University in Jakarta, have also warned that rising religiosity in Indonesia could threaten the President’s re-election bid.

They point to last year’s election for Jakarta governor, when the incumbent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama was defeated by Mr Anies Baswedan, who was backed by Mr Prabowo in a bitter campaign marred by sectarian discord.

Mr Pangi Syarwi told The Straits Times earlier this week that the tide could turn against Mr Joko if Mr Prabowo and his running mate, Mr Sandiaga Uno, garner momentum for their campaign.

“If the electability of the challengers experiences an uptick, it can threaten the incumbent, whose level of support tends to stagnate over the campaign period,” he said.

But while it is still anyone’s race, Mr Joko does have a slight edge, noted Mr Pangi Syarwi. “There will be many infrastructure projects which will be completed in February and March. These include new ports, the MRT, irrigation projects, and so on. We will see if they have an impact on his electability.”


3 THAILAND: INTENSELY COMPETITIVE POLLS AHEAD

Thailand will hold its first election in eight years on Feb 24. By then, the coup-prone kingdom would have spent almost five years under military rule.

Critics of the ruling junta allege the polls have been rigged to extend military influence and engineer a second term for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a retired general who had led the 2014 coup.

They also warn that his term could last for another eight years because of a transitional constitutional provision.

This election promises to be intensely competitive, thanks to a new electoral system that narrows the gap between top-performing and second-most popular parties.

The junta lifted a ban on political activity only on Dec 11, giving parties a very short runway to the polls.

The new Constitution enacted after the coup makes it very difficult for big parties such as the former ruling Pheu Thai Party to dominate any more. Instead, small-or medium-sized parties will gain ground, making a coalition government very likely.

New election rules also allow someone who does not run in the general election to become premier, as long as he gets the nod from both the elected House of Representatives and appointed Senate.

Several pro-Prayut parties have surfaced. The most prominent is the three-month-old Palang Pracharath Party, which is helmed by four key ministers in the Cabinet, a sore point for political rivals, who claim there is a conflict of interest because the party is getting crucial last-minute exposure from year-end government cash handouts for the poor.

Palang Pracharath said it simply seeks stability and wants to save Thailand from another lost decade of political turbulence.

Opposing them is the Pheu Thai Party, as well as its offshoot parties such as Thai Raksa Chart and Pheu Chart. They say they will work with anyone who stands for democracy and will reject Mr Prayut’s return.

But this alliance suffers from the perception of being controlled by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was overthrown in a 2006 coup and has remained overseas since 2008 to evade a jail sentence.

The medium-sized Bhumjaithai Party has stayed relatively low-key so far, but analysts expect it to eventually take a place in a pro-Prayut coalition.

Meanwhile, the Democrat Party, led by former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, remains the second-largest party after Pheu Thai. It projects itself as an alternative to the two opposing blocs.

Also, young first-time politicians in the Future Forward Party, led by charismatic tycoon Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, have captured the imagination of some progressives by declaring they want to decentralise power and downsize the powerful military.



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


About the Author: The Straits Times is Singapore's top-selling newspaper.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Current affairs, Politics

Modi defends citizenship decision

PM Modi says it has nothing to do with Indian Muslims. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, that unity in diversity is integral to India while addressing ‘Aabhar Rally’ at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan today to kick start Bharatiya Janata Party’s Delhi Assembly Elections campaign slated for early next year, amid protests in Delhi and all over the country against the contentious Citizenship Act and the National Register of Citizenship(NRC). Modi raised slogan of ‘vividhta me ekta, Bharat ki visheshta’ (Unity in diversity is India’s speciality). PM Modi while giving his party and government’s view on CAA and NRC said, “Muslims being misled, I have always ensured that documents will never come in way of development schemes and their beneficiaries.” Citizenship law and NRC have nothing to do with Indian Muslims or with Indian citizens, he clarified. “We have never asked


By The Statesman
December 23, 2019

Current affairs, Politics

Rallies rage on in India over citizenship law

Thousands of students flood streets of Delhi; Assam state sees five protesters shot dead. Thousands of university students flooded the streets of India’s capital yesterday, while a southern state government led a march and demonstrators held a silent protest in the north-east, to protest against a new law giving citizenship to non-Muslims who entered India illegally to flee religious persecution in several neighbouring countries. The protests in New Delhi followed a night of violent clashes between the police and demonstrators at Jamia Millia Islamia University. People who student organisers said were not students set three buses on fire and the police stormed the university library, firing tear gas at students crouched under desks. Members of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party said opposition parties were using th


By The Straits Times
December 17, 2019

Current affairs, Politics

Japan: Koizumi offers no concrete plan on coal

The new environment minister needs to offer better ways to tackle climate change.  During a ministerial meeting of the U.N. climate summit in Madrid on Wednesday, Shinjiro Koizumi, the Environment Minister did not express concrete steps for reducing coal-fired thermal power generation. Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi did not express concrete steps for reducing coal-fired thermal power generation, for which construction of new plants is currently underway in Japan, during a ministerial meeting of the U.N. climate summit in Madrid on Wednesday. “I am afraid I cannot share new development on our coal policy today,” Koizumi said at the ongoing 25th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate


By The Japan News
December 13, 2019

Current affairs, Politics

Power transition after Apec summit

Mahathir open to stepping down after APEC summit. Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the world’s oldest prime minister, has promised to hand over power to anointed successor Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in spite of new sexual assault allegations against him. Dr Mahathir, 94, said he would not hand over before a summit of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) countries that Malaysia is to host in November 2020, but could be ready after that. “I made a promise to hand over and I will, accepting that I thought that a change immediately before the Apec summit would be disruptive. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m stepping down and I’m handing the baton to him (Anwar). If people don’t want him, that is their business, but I will do my part of the promise… irrespective of whatever allegation. I made my promise, I keep my promise, ” he said in an interview w


By The Star
December 11, 2019

Current affairs, Politics

Communist Party of China calls for efforts to deepen reform and expand opening-up

Political Bureau stresses importance of winning three critical battles in 2020. The Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee called on Friday for solid efforts to deepen reform and expand opening-up, amid tensions in the external environment, to ensure that the goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects will be attained next year. The general trend of China’s economy in maintaining stable and long-term positive operation remains unchanged, according to a statement released after the bureau’s meeting, presided over by Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee. China will keep its economic growth within a reasonable range in 2020, with more “forwarding-looking, targeted and effective” policies, the statement said. The nation will pursue a policy framework that allows macro policies to be stable, micro policies


By Esther Ng
December 9, 2019

Current affairs, Politics

SAARC turns 35 but has very little to show for its age

The regional bloc of seven South Asian countries and Afghanistan has largely been held hostage to the rivalry between India and Pakistan, say analysts. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation might have turned 35 but its three-and-a-half decades of existence has largely failed to advance its own central tenet—regional cooperation. As SAARC marked its 35th anniversary with a flurry of congratulatory messages from heads of government, expressing their commitment to regional cooperation, many analysts and diplomats wonder if these promises will ever translate into action. The regional association has failed to hold its 19th summit, ever since 2016 when India sud


By The Kathmandu Post
December 9, 2019