The Week Ahead: It’s too hot and things are not going well

Malaysia's ex-PM faces corruption investigation, Thailand cabinet reshuffle surprise and I'm backing Manila on this one.

Hello friends!

Looks like another big week ahead for Thai politics and drama in Malaysia. But before we get to that have a listen to last week’s Reformasi Dispatch, post-Constitutional Court presidential election decision and featuring a fascinating long chat with Dr Dan Slater about the state of democracy in this new era of Indonesia.

See you tomorrow for a Myanmar update!
Erin Cook

High temps across the region as schools close and public health scrambles

The long commute in temps like these — brutal! (Photo by Pradamas Gifarry on Unsplash)

Goddam, it’s hot in here. It’s too hot in the Philippines for the next couple of days (and a big jeepney strike to boot) so schools are closed and classes are online nationwide for Monday and Tuesday at least. Stay out of the heat and drink at least two litres of water even if you don’t feel thirsty, Cambodia told residents this weekend as temperatures of 43 degrees, while Vietnam prepares for the first heatwave over the Labour Day long weekend in a decade. 

Stay safe and cool out there, friends! 

Malaysia braces for response after Mahathir officially under-investigation

When are we going to hear from the Mahathir Mohamad camp? 

On Thursday, the former two-timer prime minister was officially named under investigation by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and I am bracing! He has spent much of the last six months rattling the (at this stage, proverbial) cage over MACC sniffing around his sons, acquaintances and himself. Well, I guess he was right.

MACC hasn’t revealed too much about the case just yet. Chief Commissioner Azam Baki told media last week that when the Commission compelled sons, Mirzan Mahathir and Mokhzani Mahathir, to declare their assets earlier this year it was indeed related to an investigation of Papa. 

“‘It was following this probe against him that his two sons were implicated, where we have issued notices under Section 36 of the MACC Act to the sons asking them to declare their wealth. However, I do not wish to reveal more details on their (alleged) offences or the specific accusations against Mahathir,” he said, as reported by Malaysiakini

We might not hear much this week about it from MACC — “Let the investigation take its course first until a time where we see it fit to give more information,” Azam Baki added — but I’ll be very surprised if we don’t see Mahathir unleashed.  

It seems someone has wisely intervened between the statesman and his Twitter account for now, but I’m putting notifications firmly ON just in case. This man is one of the region’s strongest posters and when he does, I predict it will be awe-inspiring. Both of the sons have denied any sort of wrongdoing in the family.

Who is in and who is out in Thailand’s cabinet?

This danged cabinet reshuffle in Thailand has finally happened! The Bangkok Post reported Sunday that while Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin had dodged questions about it as recently as Saturday morning, he’d signed off on the final list Friday and submitted it for royal approval. 

He’s no longer the finance minister, instead that portfolio will be taken over by former energy executive turned advisor to the PM Pichai Chunhavajira, Reuters reported yesterday. Poor fella is now in charge officially of the danged digital wallet so, bummer for him.  

Looking forward to hearing the intrigue around Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara, the now-former foreign minister! He was ditched as deputy prime minister during the announcements on Sunday and later yesterday said he was leaving the post entirely. He’s, of course, been very prominent in recent weeks as Thailand responds to the Myanmar crisis. This popped up on a tweet from the Nation right as I was ready to hit ‘schedule for tomorrow’ so hopefully we’ll find out more in the coming days.

Given Srettha’s focus on the soft power push, the Tourism Ministry is way more integral than previously, even in a country where tourism is vital to the economy. “This ministry is also seen as a key player in the government's soft power promotion policy and Mr Sermsak is trusted to do the job instead,” a source told the Bangkok Post of former culture minister Sermsak Pongpanich was shuffled into the role and Sudawan Wangsupakitkosol exited. 

Pheu Thai Party have made gains in the cabinet, but we’ll dig further into what this all means in the Mekong premium read later this week. 

Manila, Beijing spat gets weirder

Whoa, whoa, whoa, we didn’t agree to a thing! Says Malacanang (in not those exact words). Manila was forced to deny over the weekend claims made by Beijing that the two countries had reached an agreement earlier in the year to chill tensions in the South China Sea. 

A spokesperson at the Chinese embassy in Manila told media on April 18 that China and the Philippines reached a “new model” in approaching the Second Thomas Shoal, Reuters reports. What the actually means was not elaborated. What, said Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro. His department is “not aware of, nor is it a party to, any internal agreement with China” since President Bongbong Marcos took power in 2022, he told media,

This odd little update in the ongoing beef between Manila and Beijing (and Davao City) should, I hope, develop further this week. Reuters noted that attempts to chat with the embassy in response to Teodoro’s comments went unresponded to, given that it was the weekend. Will be keeping my eyes peeled!  

Reads you better not miss

“Environmentalists are worried about their win,” writes Julia Winterflood of the Prabowo Subianto-Gibran Rakabuming Raka win. Musicians, long a force for social and political criticism and change in Indonesia, are taking a stand. New label focused on environmentalism, Alarm Records, has released its first compilation sonic/panic and I love it. And the label’s not just talking the talk: “Hundreds more have since joined sonic/panic live events in Yogyakarta and Malang. In Yogya, attendees were required to share a video of themselves planting a tree as a prerequisite for venue entry, while in Malang, almost a third chose a ticket option that included a banyan tree planted on their behalf,” Winterflood reports.  This one’s my favourite but I can’t get it to embed for some reason: Bambu Runcing by Prabumi

Beautiful work over at the Washington Post where the team digs into what, exactly, is going on between the Philippines and China in the waters and why the deliberately run-aground-Sierra Madre has become the focal point. Deeply reported and with stunning snaps, I feel like this one will be my reference point for the months (years!) ahead. 

This is a very intriguing piece that reminds me of similar conversations I’ve had with friends of the Vietnamese diaspora — millennials born well after the war who don’t necessarily share the same view of the country as their parents who fled. There are “two Vietnams” between Christina Vo and her father and that divergence became the basis of My Vietnam, Your Vietnam, a memoir that sounds very interesting and I must have it right now.  

This region has been awash with ‘what the heck is this’ true crime stories lately, what a treat. Kry Masphal returned last month from the US where he’d been out house arrest for 18 months facing charges over an alleged monkey smuggling ring. But when he finally got to court the whole thing fell apart because what the heck were prosecutors doing. 

Saudi cash and consumer trends are changing businesses in Bangkok — and how the city looks. ‘The growing interest in Middle Eastern visitors is important economically, but it also suggests that a significant change is taking place in Thai social attitudes, including a willingness to put to rest some of the negative views that have shaped society's attitudes toward Arab cultures, including the commonly negative use of the word khaek,’ Marwaan Macan-Markar writes for Nikkei Asia. 

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