Bhargav Reddy – APAC Assistance Operations Assistant
Main Issues in EAST ASIA PACIFIC
Monday, 01 April 2019
Firstly in INDONESIA
The presidential candidates’ fourth debate on March 30 was heated at times. Former military general Prabowo Subianto questioned the capability of the Indonesian military to protect the country. He said Indonesia’s defense is too weak because the budget allocated for defense is too small. President Joko Widodo retorted that Prabowo had no faith in the military. He said Indonesia is ready to anticipate a foreign threat but it should be more concerned with possible internal conflict. He added that Indonesia’s defense budget is the second biggest after the Public Works and Housing Ministry.
In attempting to discredit the Widodo government, Prabowo proposed a bigger budget for the defense ministry, thus projecting himself to be hawkish. Widodo, however, defended his government’s budget and pointed out Prabowo’s lack of faith in the military. Pre-election surveys show Widodo commands a comfortable lead over his rival.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn revokes all royal decorations awarded to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The move was announced in the Royal Gazette on March 30. The King made the move because Thaksin “was sentenced to jail by the Supreme Court, in addition to many other accusations, and he fled the kingdom, which is a highly inappropriate behavior,” the announcement said.
The revocation of Thaksin’s royal decorations followed the military’s recall of his armed forces alumni awards on March 28. The successive moves appear to signify that both the military and the King are one in discrediting Thaksin. The moves are also discrediting the political parties backed by Thaksin, such as the Pheu Thai party and the coalition it has formed after the March 24 election.
Small group of about 100 opposition activists protested near the Victory Monument in Bangkok. The group accuses the Election Commission of delaying and manipulating the results of last week’s election. The commission has said it will release the official full results of the election by May 9, after the coronation of the King. As of yesterday, an online petition on change.org, calling for members of the Election Commission to be fired, had reached 800,000 signatures.
At present, protests against the Election Commission are still minimal, but could gain ground should major parties back the rallies. They could escalate before and after May 9.
Clients in Bangkok are advised to avoid protests and to employ extra precautions near EC building, Parliament, Constitutional Court, and other government offices and police stations.
14 suspected communists killed in Negros Oriental Province. 14 suspected communist rebels killed in Canlaon City and two other towns in Negros Oriental province in central Philippines on March 30. They claimed that the suspects were killed after they opened fire during anti-insurgency raids in the province. The military-backed police operations also led to the arrests of 15 other suspects. Human rights and peasant groups said, however, that the killed men were “farmers asserting their rights to land” and the latest victims of extrajudicial killings under the Duterte government. The Commission on Human Rights is now investigating the case.
The deadly operations against suspected insurgents came after President Duterte recently terminated the appointment of members of the government’s peace negotiating panel dealing with the communist movement. The deadly incidents highlight the risk that anti-insurgency operations, after the peace talks have been closed, can turn deadly, leading to potential protests.
Clients in the Philippines are advised to exercise high caution in communist hotbeds in the Philippines. These hotbeds include the Cagayan region in Northern Luzon, the Bicol region in Southern Luzon, the Negros island and Samar island in the Visayas, and parts of northern, central and southern Mindanao island.
Rantau by-election set for April 13. A four-cornered fight in the Rantau by-election in Negeri Sembilan has been set for April 13. The candidates are Dr. S. Streram of Pakatan Harapan; Mohamad Hasan, UMNO deputy president, of Barisan Nasional; and independent candidates Mohamad Nor and Malarvizhi Rajaram. The election was called after the Federal Court rejected a petition by Mohamad Hasan to set aside the Seremban Election Court’s decision on November 16 to declare his victory in the state constituency in the 2018 general election null and void.
UMNO-Barisan Nasional’s Mohamad Hasan is believed to have an edge in the upcoming by-election. UMNO has won Malaysia’s last two by-elections. Another by-election victory by UMNO will affirm the opposition’s recovery of strength as that of the ruling coalition shows signs of weakening.