Southeast Asian Roundup: September 2-6, 2021

CAMBODIA

Parties deny using Sokha’s name for political mileage – Khmer Times
Some former court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party officials who are forming political parties have allegedly used former CNRP leader Kem Sokha’s name to galvanize popularity ahead of the upcoming commune and national elections.

Sokha’s lawyers have said when his name is used for those parties’ benefit, it impacts Sokha as he remains banned from politics after the ex-CNRP was dissolved by the Supreme Court in November 2017, and does not want to be associated with a political party.

Kem Sokha’s treason trial has been delayed since the outbreak of the coronavirus last year. The next general election is not until 2023.

Sihanoukville’s dirty secret: Dark rumours and inside information raise questions about The China Project – Khmer Times
Ongoing investigations by Khmer Times have revealed that approximately 25,000 people are in bonded captivity and one-third of them are housed in The China Project in Sihanoukville.

Brigadier General Yi Chon, deputy police commissioner in Sihanoukville, agreed to meet Khmer Times to discuss the issue. Khmer Times journalists posed questions but he declined to immediately respond.

The three largest are The China Project in O’tres Beach II, Victory Paradise in Phum II district and a multi-building complex in a narrow alley, also in Phnum II. The latter lies hidden at the end of a dirt road. Only one car is able to drive down the narrow lane.

Cambodia supports elevation of ASEAN-China ties to Comprehensive Strategic Partnership – Khmer Times
Cambodia has voiced its support for the enhancement of the ASEAN-China ties to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.

On the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, while ASEAN expressed appreciation to China for the extensive regional support, China further reiterated the commitment to strengthen cooperation with ASEAN, including through the support of regional capacity in the production and distribution of vaccines and medical supplies as well as recovery efforts.

On the South China Sea, ASEAN and China stressed on the importance of the implementation of the 2002 [Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea] DOC, and welcomed the resumption of the COC [Code of Conduct] textual negotiations towards its early conclusion.

The DOC was an agreement among China and the ASEAN states separately to pursue a COC. “According to diplomatic sources, China has three basic demands regarding the code of conduct: It should not be covered by the Unclos treaty; joint military exercises with countries outside the region must have the prior consent of all parties to the agreement; and no resource development should be conducted with countries outside the region.”

INDONESIA

How Kadin has turned into Jokowi’s lobbying machine – Politics – The Jakarta Post
Kadin, Indonesia’s biggest business lobby group, appears to have strengthened its ties to the government after members of the Cabinet, heavyweight politicians and corporate allies filled up its new board.

Reports previously emerged that several Kadin branch members had been approached by people claiming to be State Intelligence Agency (BIN) officials, headed by Budi Gunawan, a close confidante of Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) matriarch Megawati Sukarnoputri, allegedly telling them to vote for Arsjad (the new chairman of Kadin).

Kadin describes itself as “an independent spokesperson of private sector interests [and] the only nation-wide business organization mandated by Law…to speak on behalf of private business, maintaining a privileged liaison to Government Officials and covering all relevant sectors.”

Jokowi shores up power base – Fri, September 3 2021 – The Jakarta Post
A day after the country passed the 4-million COVID-19 cases mark on Aug. 24, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo gathered the executives of six ruling coalition parties at the State Palace to introduce the National Mandate Party (PAN), a party with strong support among urban Muslims, as a “New best friend” of the government.

With PAN officially joining the ruling coalition, Jokowi, whose popularity dropped from above 70 percent at the beginning of the pandemic to below 60 percent last month, has now secured the support of 82 percent of members of the House, leaving only the Democratic Party and the Prosperous Justice Party as the opposition.

“Jokowi is anxious about the curse of the second term,” said Adi Prayitno, a political analyst of the Jakarta State Islamic University, when asked about Jokowi’s decision to include PAN into the ruling coalition, a move that could alienate other coalition parties.

The “curse of the second term” is a reference to the tendency of ruling-coalition politicians and parties to weaken the current government in a bid to gain power in the next election (in this case, 2024). Meanwhile, rumors continue to swirl that the constitution might be amended in such a way as to allow Jokowi to run for a third term.

TERRORISM

The rise of familial extremism: Suicide bombings in Philippines, Indonesia linked to family in Malaysia, SE Asia News & Top Stories – The Straits Times
Recent terrorist bombings in the Philippines and Indonesia have been linked to a family living in Malaysia’s Sabah state, say experts, who warn that familial extremism is a growing trend in the region.

The perpetrators of the suicide bombings that killed 23 at the Jolo cathedral in the southern Philippines in 2019, and wounded 20 people at the Makassar church in Indonesia this year, are connected to an Indonesian family who lived in Sabah for about two months.

“The attacks in both Indonesia and Philippines can be categorised as an action mobilised by a group with strong family ties and that was organised by two cross-border groups, namely JAD (Jamaah Ansharut Daulah) in Indonesia and Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines,” said Stanislaus Riyanta, a Jakarta-based security and terrorism expert.

The Sabah connection | The Star
There is a Sabah link to the deadly suicide bombings at Jolo cathedral in 2019 and the church in Makassar in 2021.

“The attacks in both Indonesia and Philippines can be categorised as an action mobilised by a group with strong family ties and that was organised by two cross-border groups, namely JAD in Indonesia and Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines,” says Stanislaus Riyanta, a security and terrorism expert based in Jakarta.

Sabah is the transit point that connected the JAD fighters in Makassar with the Abu Sayyaf gunmen in Jolo.

Foreign threats play cat and mouse games with our forces in Sabah | The Star
The preferred route for Indonesian militants to enter the southern Philippines is through Sabah.

Sabah appears to be a transit point for Indonesians who want to join terror groups or learn to make IEDs in the Philippines.

Stanislaus Riyanta, a security and terrorism expert based in Jakarta, says Sabah is a transit point for JAD members heading to the Philippines from Indonesia.

Sabah is where foreign threats play cat and mouse games with the vigilant Malaysian security forces.

MALAYSIA

The Risks Facing Malaysia’s ‘Second Chance’ Government – The Diplomat
Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s decision to give his predecessor’s cabinet a second chance might just work in his favor.

Of the 69 ministers and deputies named in Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s government, 60 – or about 87 percent – were from Muhyiddin’s last cabinet, with only nine new appointments made, mainly from Ismail’s United Malays National Organization party.

If incompetencies persist, there is no telling if Ismail will even last 100 days as prime minister, given that he is Malaysia’s third prime minister in three years.

Muhyiddin’s return will keep Ismail under control, claims Puad | Free Malaysia Today (FMT)
Umno Supreme Council member Puad Zarkashi predicts that Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob will be “Controlled” by his predecessor Muhyiddin Yassin, who was appointed as chairman of the National Recovery Council yesterday.

He also questioned whether the NRC had a wide jurisdiction, stating that there would now be terms of reference that would make the council more authoritative.

If Muhyiddin’s appointment was forced as a condition for Bersatu’s support, “This means that Ismail will be a prime minister who is ‘controlled’ and allows a Perikatan Nasional 2.0 government to exist,” Puad said.

Pakatan: AG should resign over ‘wrong’ advice that new PM need not prove majority in Parliament | Malaysia | Malay Mail
Opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan’s presidential council today said it was shocked over the attorney general’s statement yesterday that a vote of confidence is not needed in the Dewan Rakyat (Malaysia’s parliament), as it is contrary to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s (the Malaysian constitutional monarch) wishes for the new prime minister to present a motion for a vote of confidence in the Dewan Rakyat as soon as possible.

The PH presidential council also said Ismail Sabri should not use the AG’s “Wrong” advice if the current prime minister does not want to follow in the footsteps of the former prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, whom the PH presidential council said had caused political instability when his legitimacy was often doubted and disputed.

Earlier in the statement, the PH presidential council noted Istana Negara’s August 18 statement, where the Yang di-Pertuan Agong was recorded as having told the leaders of all political parties on August 17 that the prime minister which he appoints…”Has to as soon as possible table a motion for a vote of confidence in the Dewan Rakyat to validate that he commands the confidence of the majority of Dewan Rakyat members”.

MYANMAR

Tank Troop Of Myanmar Tatmadaw Deservedly Sails Into Final In Tank Biathlon (Division-2) Of International Army Games-2021 – Global New Light Of Myanmar
Tank Troop of Myanmar Tatmadaw deservedly sails into final in Tank Biathlon of International Army Games-2021.

The Myanmar Tank Squad taking part in the Tank Biathlon of the International Army Games-2021 launched in the Russian Federation on 22 August deservedly cruised into the final stage with standing at the second position in the group by passing the different group events.

Members of the Myanmar Tank Squad are participating in the Tank Biathlon of the International Army Games for the fourth time, including this year, with strenuous efforts to have the experiences of competition, technologies and friendships among the international military organizations.

Rebels claim killing 23 Myanmar troops near China border – Newspaper – DAWN.COM
Myanmar ethnic rebels have killed at least 23 government soldiers in days of fighting near the Chinese border, a spokesman for the group said on Friday, in the latest clashes likely to worry powerful neighbour Beijing.

Fifteen soldiers were killed on August 28 and eight more in renewed clashes on September 1, he said, adding one MNDAA fighter had been killed.

Video published last month by Chinese state media CGTN claimed to show the military fighting the Kachin Independence Army – another group that operates in northern Shan state – and “Several other ethnic armed groups”.

Insurgent groups, including the MDNAA, have been accused in the past of receiving arms from China.

PHILIPPINES

DOJ chief: President can run for VP, then take over as president | ABS-CBN News
President Rodrigo Duterte can run for vice president and then take over as president under proper circumstances, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Tuesday.

“If he ran next year for vice president and won, and something happens to the sitting president or rather the president who will win next year, that is precisely the role of the vice president – to take over if the elected president dies in office, becomes permanently incapacitated or resigns,” he said.

“For the President to run for vice president is against the intent of the Constitution. It’s an insidious move to circumvent the constitutional prohibition on reelection because the Vice President is the mandatory line of succession to a vacancy,” he said.

Bongbong considering 2022 run for president | The Manila Times
Former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. admitted he was considering running for president next year amid the support he was receiving from some sectors and political groups.

“Those supporters…say…I do better in the presidential survey than the vice-presidential survey,” Marcos said.

When pressed to comment on the revelation of his elder sister, Sen. Maria Imelda Josefa “Imee” Marcos, that he was in talks with the two factions of the PDP-Laban, he said, “In truth, we talk to everybody.”

Robredo rejected alliance–Lacson | Inquirer News
Sen. Panfilo Lacson revealed on Thursday that Vice President Leni Robredo “Resisted” his offer of trying to forge a unification of candidates between their camps when the two met to discuss possible alliances in the coming presidential elections.

In an interview, Lacson said he offered Robredo a “Sure unification formula” by having a common candidate but this was supposedly met with “Resistance.”

With Robredo not budging, Lacson said the possibility of him yielding to the Vice President is also improbable.

Negrense mayors urge Inday Sara to run for president
Calls for Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio to run for president in the coming 2022 polls have been gaining ground in Negros Occidental.

At least a dozen city and municipal mayors are urging her to join the presidential race, said Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo who recently met and shared their concerns with him.

“We want Sara to run because we want continuity,” said Panelo, quoting the local officials.

SINGAPORE

India, Singapore hold drill in South China Sea : The Tribune India
India and Singapore on Saturday completed their three-day joint exercise at sea conducted at the southern edge of the South China Sea.

Since the first week of August, a flotilla of four Indian warships is on an overseas deployment to the South East Asia, the South China Sea and Western Pacific.

What exactly are Singaporeans angry about CECA? – The Online Citizen Asia
We have witnessed the exodus of villages of Indians into Singapore and watch helplessly as they conveniently plant their roots into our economic success and inevitably drove up our public housing cost and overloaded our infrastructure, public healthcare & socio-economic balance.

If those involved in the CECA agreement can so stupid and naïve to give the Indians numerous loopholes to game our economic success, Singaporeans like myself do not blame the Indians and their politicians for taking advantage of us but are angry at them for trading away a substantial part of our economic success and employment opportunities so foolishly.

When some government officials start labelling Singaporeans as racist or xenophobic for raising their displeasure over CECA, they inadvertently created an unwarranted tension between Singaporeans and Indian professionals working in Singapore when CECA was never an issue of race or nationality.

These are the hard truths as to why many Singaporeans are angry with our government.

Singapore truly needs another human rights ‘naratif’ – Opinion – The Jakarta Post
Reading the recent speech delivered by Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for the 2021 National Day Rally, when major policy announcements are made, could be one of the best ways to understand the approach of the ruling People’s Action Party toward the greatest challenges faced by the city-state.

The overall impression is that the government there is becoming not more progressive per se, but certainly more emphatic and caring of society in such a way that, to some extent, the projections of Donald Low and Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh in their bold book, Hard Choices, Challenging the Singapore Consensus, are coming true.

If their prognostication that Singapore’s social compact would become more focused on alleviating the needs of the common citizen is now a reality, there is still a long way for the city-state to go before it becomes a “Model democracy” as per the hopes of the book’s authors.

PSP appears intent on carrying on campaign against Ceca: Ong Ye Kung, Politics News & Top Stories – The Straits Times
Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Tuesday said he was “Puzzled” by the Progress Singapore Party filing a motion in Parliament to debate issues around foreign workforce policy and the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement free trade pact.

“Unfortunately, the PSP appears intent on carrying on its campaign against Ceca,” Mr Ong wrote on Facebook.

PSP Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai had earlier announced on Facebook that he expected the private member’s motion and debate to take place on either the Sept 13 or Sept 14 sitting of Parliament.

THAILAND

PM survives debate, but takes a hit
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his five ministers survived the censure debate on Saturday. That is not surprising despite a rumour that made the rounds among reporters in parliament that some dissident MPs of the Palang Pracharath Party, led by Deputy Agriculture Minister Thammanat Prompow, may try to unseat him.

The prime minister was repeatedly accused of “trading in death” by opposition MPs to the extent that he rose up to defend himself that the allegation was very unfair. 

[T]he various protest groups which are leaderless and do not have the support of the workers, especially in Bangkok, [are not] able to accomplish much.

The street protests launched by young protesters prone to violence, like those who gather at the Din Daeng intersection and clash with the police, have alienated many in the capital who prefer peaceful protests.

PM Prayut survives vote but is weakened – Thai Examiner
After this week’s censure debate in parliament and vote on Saturday, it is clear that the man to watch in Thai politics right now is Captain Thamanat Prompow of the Palang Pracharat Party. Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul also emerged strengthened by the parliamentary trial despite a less than impressive performance before the House of Representatives.

The Prime Minister and his government survived a no-confidence vote on Saturday in the Thai parliament but General Prayut Chan ocha’s prestige and political standing have been left diminished by a damaging week of censure and controversy with swirling rumours that his government was about to fall to a plot engineered by elements in the ruling Palang Pracharat Party and the leading opposition group in parliament, Pheu Thai.

Coup plot against the PM melts in goodwill – Thai Examiner
MPs associated with smaller political parties have confirmed that a coup plot involving Pheu Thai and the ruling Palang Pracharat Party was in play which could have led to another outside Prime Minister being elected but the question was always would the players go through with the parliamentary coup or would it be aborted at the last moment.

[W]ords were expressed between Captain Thamanat Prompow and the government leader in which the PM vowed to correct the complaints made against him that he had not met many serving Palang Pracharat Party MPs while Captain Thamanat promised that the government leader would win the no-confidence debate and do better than other minsters.

The Prime Minister said he would prefer if all government ministers emerged on an equal footing.

Opinion: Dear China, please butt out of our internal affairs – Thai Enquirer
Would the Chinese diplomatic staff like to explain why they are so ardently defending this ineffective medicine that Thailand still insisted on buying up until last week? Or explain what role Thailand’s largest conglomeration CP has in the procurement process given that it owns a part of Sinovac’s parent company?

Would the Chinese diplomatic staff like to explain why it is defending a private company and criticism of the private company? Or is the West right and every company in China merely an extension of the Chinese Communist Party?

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