A revolution took place in Malaysia on May 9, 2018. It was a silent and peaceful one, amazingly achieved through the ballot box, and is therefore not noticed for what it is. But it is a revolution nevertheless, and the effects of it are moving like a strong undercurrent throughout the nation—cutting down old structures, be these mental ones, social ones or political ones. A sense of jubilation and disorientation now permeates the country, and will do so for a few weeks yet, if not months.
On 2 December 2016, about 800,000 Muslim protestors hit the streets of Jakarta to demand the arrest of the Christian-Chinese governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, aka “Ahok”. The largest in a series of such protests since October 2016, it was labelled “Defending Islam Acts”. The crowd accused Ahok of blasphemy, alleging that a speech he made in September 2016 had insulted Islam. As the result of this protest Ahok, who at the time was running for re-election, saw his polling numbers drop significantly. Conversely, the hard-line Muslim groups and politicians driving the protest enjoyed new heights of public attention.
In recent years, voters have increasingly chosen populist leaders from the left and from the right. An increasing number of elected populist leaders can be found in countries with long democratic traditions and history. It might be less surprising to find populist leaders in countries that are purportedly democratic but without necessarily having strong liberal democratic traditions. While some have argued that the reason for this rise is the failure of globalization and the lack of inclusive growth. For the segment of the population that have not benefited from the borderless economy, there is understandably, a cynicism that makes populist rhetoric appealing.
Digital, online and social-media avenues undoubtedly offer an alternative or complementary channel for news, because of the inherent difficulty in censoring these spaces. Their wide reach and levels of engagement have saved lives during disasters or emergencies.
Journalists sued for espionage in Cambodia, and for using drones or supposedly violating the official secrets act in Myanmar. News outlets faced with financial penalties steep enough to cause them to go under, as it did in Cambodia. Media organizations in the Philippines repeatedly described as ‘fake news’ outlets by government officials chafing at critical reporting.
Internet users in Southeast Asia are confronted with a heavily regulated environment in which there are more restrictions being placed on freedom of expression. Despite technological advances, societies undergoing political transitions, such as Indonesia, Myanmar, and Thailand, have yet to enjoy the full democratic potentials of a free and independent media. Instead of top-down reforms for the media, these countries need policies that prioritize the public’s interests. Only with the meaning public’s meaningful participation of civil society can these reforms become sustainable while supporting democratization.
“... some people had stones thrown at their head, a knife pointed at their throat or a knife aimed at their belly (these are experiences that I myself had directly). Some have had piss thrown at them, and have been kicked and slapped around. Some have been beaten up to within an inch of their lives just for other people's satisfaction. They have been kicked, beaten and stomped in the face, without being raped or having their possessions taken. That sounds like a joke but it is the reality for kathoei in our home in Cho-airong District.”
By creating a carbon-free energy development network, a moderating unit designed as a regional focal point will be established in order to identify synergies on combining or aligning national activities. Sharing successful activities with member organisations will scale up successful actions and activities. The aim is to slow down coal development, reduce regional energy dependency and a financial log in into coal capacity for Southeast Asia.
For the countries of Southeast Asia, this year’s rather tumultuous G20 summit held unprecedented opportunities to present themselves as good multilateralists and shape the outcomes of the annual meeting, at least in theory. Apart from Indonesia, the only permanent member of the club, Vietnam, in its function as current Chair of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), attended the summit and Filipino President Duterte who currently chairs the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) equally expected an invitation.
Diversity is an essential feature of our region. While religious and ethnic animosity poses an obstacle to creating a “cohesive and caring society”, this is not to suggest that diversity is the cause of conflict and insecurity per se. As illustrated in various multiethnic states around the globe, many governments have succeeded in integrating diverse populations. Rather, it is discriminatory practices and the lack of respect for differences in Southeast Asia that have alienated minorities and created chasms within communities.