• Dari Mulut ke Mulut
  • Posts
  • The Week Ahead: Philippines and US launch joint exercises, Indonesia readies for election ruling

The Week Ahead: Philippines and US launch joint exercises, Indonesia readies for election ruling

Elsewhere, Thai PM Srettha to head to the border, Malaysia hits another round of Najib mess and Jakarta readies for a post-Idul Fitri influx

Hello friends!

It’s begun: our favourite regional outlets are officially on India-election watch and I’m kinda getting into it. I have no idea what’s happening — although I’ve had this on my bedside table for weeks — but some great coverage so far. 

As always, this is free to read for all readers but if you’d like to join us on the premium coverage come on over:

Tomorrow is another Myanmar update from me, and then premium reads on through the week.

See you then!
Erin Cook

Brace yourselves, it’s Balikatan time

The annual joint military exercises between the US and the Philippines begin today and will run until May 10. It’s a long-running endeavour, but expect a potential extra bee in the bonnet of Beijing as it comes just a few weeks after Filipino President Bongbong Marcos sat down with US President Joe Biden — and Japanese PM Fumio Kishida — to chat all things security in the region.

“It is to demonstrate appalling combat readiness, but also interoperability we're dealing with,” AFP’s Col. Michael Logico told reporters, as quoted by Nikkei here. Whoa, okay. “We're talking about two armed forces which have different organisations, different cultures, different capabilities and different processes for command and control. And you intend to train to a level that you can fight together.”

Literal fighting words from Logico, who oversees the exercises. This year will include the sinking of a warship, so I’m holding out for some great coverage from the Associate Press. 

No surprises expected in Indonesian election challenge

Don’t expect much argy-bargy after the Indonesian Constitutional Court hands down its decisions in twin challenges to the presidential election today. Both losing tickets argued that the involvement of the outgoing president, Joko Widodo, and some real stinky business with the Constitutional Court (hang on…!) should be grounds for a look in. With near on 60% of the country voting for the winning ticket, where the fanatical support ends and the thumb on the scale begins is impossible to gauge.

Runner-ups Anies Baswedan and Cak Imin aren’t too fussed. Former Jakarta governor Anies — already talked about as a likely key opposition figure in the opening years of the Prabowo Subianto era — has always seemed to acknowledge the wild David and Goliath dimensions of such a challenge. To his credit, he’s been far less frothy than the final-placed Ganjar Pranowo and Mahfud MD and told Kompas over the weekend that it’s just football, innit: someone’s always winning and someone’s always losing

Previous post-election challenges have led to enormous and violent protests, but given the huge margin and (hmm how to say this delicately) the personality types within the losing parties it’s unlikely we’ll see anything dramatic. And I hope so, too! Protests in 2019 were very sad to witness. 

Srettha Thavisin readies to visit Mae Sot

We’ll have a big Myanmar update tomorrow, but the key takeaway this week is to watch what Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thaivisin says and does when he visits Mae Sot. The border town is just across the river from Myawaddy and has become the first spot villagers fleeing clashes between the military and the resistance forces reach. With over a thousand arriving on Saturday alone — and many of those children and elderly — Thailand is feeling the stress. 

In a post to Twitter Saturday evening, Srettha promised to visit the town this week after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday. 

Is Najib going home? Not for over a month, at least

Disgraced former prime minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak, wants house arrest for his 1MDB charges. And he’s willing to go to court for it. That won’t be heard until June 5 but if this weekend’s reporting from Malaysia’s hardworking journalists is anything to go by we’re going to be hearing a lot about it this week. That’s on the king (Agong) to decide, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said this weekend, side-stepping the bomb. “Our position is clear that any decision made in the Pardons Board, the Agong’s decision, is final,” he said at a PKR meeting over the weekend, as quoted by Malaysiakini

This is good news for me, personally. I love analysis about how involved the Agong is and we’ve got a new fella now! 

Homecoming and homemaking

In the week leading up to Eid, millions — and I mean MILLIONS — of people leave Jakarta and its surrounding cities to celebrate the holiday with family elsewhere in the country. Then everyone returns home and gets back to work. A smaller influx occurs each year, with thousands coming to try their luck in the city. The Jakarta Civil Registry and Population Agency expects up to 15,000 new Jakartans in the coming weeks, which is a marked decrease on last year when just over 25,000 arrived. 

“It's the right of all citizens, as long as they can work well and have a place to live. The local government will ask for that from the people,” Acting Governor of Jakarta Heru Budi Hartono said last week, as reported by the Jakarta Globe. The city government will monitor newcomer numbers over the next few weeks.  

Reads you better not miss

Merdeka, Palestine (Jom Media)

A beautiful, long piece reflecting on the connections between Palestine’s struggle and the historical struggle of Singapore towards its independence. Jom’s essays at their best, I think.

However, anti-colonial struggles for freedom in the Third World crept into conversations with locals. When Harun mentioned Singapore’s proximity to Indonesia, the imam of Al-Aqsa Mosque praised Sukarno for fostering Afro-Asian solidarity. At Harun’s hotel, a waitress asked why he carries a British passport. Harun explained that his government only controlled internal affairs then, but “before long, Singapore will most certainly become a free nation.” Negara merdeka. In the dying rays of a colonial sunset, Harun’s imperial passport let him move through an increasingly bordered world. His optimism belied the bitter quarrels to come over merger, Malaysia and race, over which Palestine also loomed.

Every now and then I’ll see a headline and think ‘this better be by who I think it’s by’ and sure enough — Randy Mulyanto! With a new president readying in Taipei, what will Taiwan’s relations with Southeast Asia look like? Don’t expect much of a change with Lai Ching-te, but what a great time to take a look at the relationships.

While the effects have been mixed, officials say Lai will pick up where Tsai leaves off.

"The new government will continue the good foundation and results of the New Southbound Policy and continue to deepen relations with Southeast Asian and South Asian countries," Jeff Liu, Taiwan's Foreign Ministry spokesperson, told Nikkei Asia. "Deepening bilateral relations with Southeast Asian and Indo-Pacific countries, and multilateral relations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is one of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' key tasks and long-term goals."

This headline made me laugh. Malaysia has been edging towards this conversation for a long time but to see it this bluntly put by Malaysiakini got me. This question will grow much more prominent in the coming weeks as Najib Razak seeks to serve his term at home instead of a jail cell, where he belongs.

Anwar, being Anwar, wants to please everyone and in the end, makes everyone miserable, including himself.

Anwar’s “people-pleasing” behaviour is to say very little, so as to avoid conflict. In the Allah socks saga involving KK Mart and Dr Muhamad Akmal Saleh, Anwar failed to censure the recalcitrant Umno-Baru Youth leader. 

Filmmakers of Indonesia are hellbent on making me cry. Every visit to a cinema will leave you terrified for a three-minute trailer before serving you up whatever Marvel garbage you’re watching because it’s too wet to leave the mall. (This is the first one I ever saw and it’s burned into my soul forever.) But don’t let me being a crybaby obscure the truth — Indonesian horror is having a hell of a moment. 

Indonesian horror films have long been a popular mainstay in the country, but the ones currently showing in theaters point to new heights in quality and reception, both domestically and internationally. 

The two biggest horror titles in theaters now are Badarawuhi di Desa Penari (Dancing Village: The Curse Begins), a prequel to 2022 giga-hit KKN di Desa Penari, and Siksa Kubur (Grave Torture), the latest offering from famed auteur Joko Anwar. Released at the same time on April 11, during Idul Fitri, both films had sold more than 2 million tickets at theaters as of Thursday, according to local box office analyst Cinepoint.

There’s sooo much going on with the Philippines at the moment that it’s easy to put the long-running communist insurgency in a little box marked ‘yeah she’ll be right.’ But that is folly, and here’s why in Crisis Group’s words: ‘While the government has indisputably weakened the rebels, somewhere between 1,200 and 2,000 fighters remain under arms. Their elusiveness and residual community support mean that efforts to vanquish the guerrillas on the battlefield will be arduous and prone to spurring new manifestations of armed conflict.’

Most of the communities caught up in the violence are rural and poor. Indigenous peoples often bear the brunt of the conflict, which in some regions has been characterised by sudden flare-ups of fighting, abuse of civilians and profound damage to local economies. Manila’s campaign has also featured extensive use of the practice of red-tagging, referring to the authorities’ sometimes over-reaching efforts to prosecute or otherwise harass people or organisations suspected of being associated with the communist movement. 

🎧 🇮🇩Reformasi Dispatch 

This week, Kevin O’Rourke and I chatted about where Jokowi might call his political home — and Kevin indulged me in my Singapore succession obsession. 

Join the conversation

or to participate.