Violence and media oppression up ahead of November vote – Nikkei Asian Review

Street close to President Erdoğan's homeplace of Kasimpaşa in Istanbul (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

ISTANBUL — When the office of Hurriyet, a major Turkish newspaper, was attacked by a crowd of around 200 stone-throwing supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sept. 6, Emre Kizilkaya was not surprised. Kizilkaya, managing editor of Hurriyet’s English edition, says that press freedom in Turkey “has declined dramatically” since the long ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) failed to win an overall majority in June elections and the country lurched toward civil war. After the vote, fighting resumed between the Turkish military and the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), breaking a two-year ceasefire. In the worst violence in the region since the 1990s, more than 100 soldiers and police have been killed since June in Turkey’s southeast, where many of the country’s estimated 15 million Kurds live. Kurdish militias in Iraq and Syria have led the fight against the self-described Islamic State, earning admiration in the West but prompting concerns in Ankara that Kurdish gains elsewhere are emboldening Kurds in Turkey, where they make up around 18% of the population. “In this climate of war, media has been affected, with many critical columnists forced out of newspapers and pro-government media accusing independent media, such as ours, of ‘terrorism’,” Kizilkaya told the Nikkei Asian Review.

Ahead of elections, crunch time for Myanmar cease-fire talks – Nikkei Asian Review

Kachin rebel on look-out at captured Burma Army position outside Laiza, the rebel HQ (Photo: Simon Roughneen, late December 2012)

TAUNGGYI, Myanmar – A draft national cease-fire deal was agreed in March, but whether the agreement will be signed is questionable, given that the government has refused to recognize six of the 21 ethnic armed groups as potential signatories. The government’s stance has caused a rift among the ethnic organizations. Some, including the powerful Karen National Union and the Restoration Council of Shan State – Shan State Army South, said in August that they would back the deal regardless of others’ involvement, but have since wavered. The Kachin Independence Organization, with an estimated 10,000 fighters, has said it will not sign the national cease-fire without all armed groups on board. If the Kachin were to opt out, any deal would be toothless. “You really need the Kachin involved for it to be comprehensive,” said a close observer of the negotiations, who did not want to be identified.

Chasing the ethnic vote in Myanmar – Nikkei Asian Review

Students heading home after class in Taunggyi (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

TAUNGGYI, Myanmar — For parliamentary hopeful Sai Lynn Myat, Myanmar’s Nov. 8 legislative elections could lead to some lively banter around the family dinner table. His father-in-law, Kyaw Khin, is a central executive committee member of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, while Sai Lynn Myat is running for the rival Shan Nationalities League for Democracy. Ironically, his SNLD office is just off the main street of Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State. The thoroughfare is named after Gen. Aung San, a Myanmar independence hero and father of Suu Kyi. The street in the breezy hill town, 1,436 meters above sea level, bustles with hawkers peddling fried snacks in front of new mobile phone shops and colorful boutiques selling traditional garb.

The man who wasn’t there – Nikkei Asian Review

Conference speakers baffled by Sarawak chief minister Haji Adenan bin Satem's attempt to replicate the handshake pose used by ASEAN heads of government at official meetings (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia — In the end, it was left to former anti-graft activist Paul Low Seng Kuan to explain why Prime Minister Najib Razak, his current boss, was a no-show at a major anti-corruption conference organized by watchdog group Transparency International and co-hosted by the Malaysian government. Low, the former president of Transparency International in Malaysia and now the cabinet minister responsible for government integrity, claimed it was he who advised Najib to skip the International Anti-Corruption Conference, held in Putrajaya, near Kuala Lumpur, on Sept. 2-4. Responding to a question from the Nikkei Asian Review during the conference, Low said he advised Najib that the audience might prove “hostile … in view of the circumstances and some of the issues that are presently happening and involving him personally.”

Najib clings to power despite renewed attacks by Mahathir – Nikkei Asian Review

Mahathir Mohamed poses with well-wishers at Pavilion mall in Kuala Lumpur on Aug. 31 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak looks secure in office, for now, despite massive weekend street protests calling for his removal. The prime minister, under pressure since July over $700 million deposited in bank accounts in his name prior to national elections two years ago, described the protests as immature and “not the proper channel to voice opinions in a democratic country.” However as Najib and government colleagues joined national day celebrations at Kuala Lumpur’s Merdeka Square, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed, Najib’s chief critic, continued a series of broadsides against the incumbent. “He has effectively removed all the laws and undermined the legal system,” Mahathir told the Nikkei Asian Review, discussing Najib’s efforts to retain office despite the allegations of financial impropriety.

In Malaysia, peaceful protest hints at growing ethnic divide – Nikkei Asian Review

Protestors wearing 'occupy' style masks in Kuala Lumpur on Aug. 29 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Tens of thousands of yellow-clad Malaysian protestors marched through Kuala Lumpur on Saturday to demand the resignation of scandal-mired Prime Minister Najib Razak. Joining the demonstrators at Malaysia’s national mosque, Lim Kit Siang of the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) told the Nikkei Asian Review that “we want to save Malaysia from political and economic crisis, where the country will end up as a failed state with no rule of law.” For Najib, the protests, which are scheduled to continue until Aug. 30, come after possibly the most exacting few weeks of his political career. In the weeks since the Wall Street Journal in July carried allegations that almost $700m had been deposited to bank accounts in his name — seemingly money diverted from companies linked to troubled state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) — Najib has faced mounting criticism and calls for his resignation.

High hopes for fair poll despite party purge – Nikkei Asian Review

Medics at work at Taunggyi hospital (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

TAUNGGYI, Myanmar – When Myanmar’s government on Aug. 10 issued a directive for a handful of military medical personnel to be posted to the country’s public hospitals, civilian medics were quick to react. Within three days, a Facebook page full of photos of doctors and nurses in hospitals across Myanmar — all with black ribbons fastened to their white coats to protest the move — had gained over 40,000 followers. “Most of the serving doctors and staff here are wearing the black ribbons,” said Htar Htar Nyein, a surgeon at the main hospital, a five-minute walk from the military’s eastern command here in the Shan state capital. Issued three months ahead of what is being billed as Myanmar’s first free and fair elections in 25 years, the surprise directive was a reminder of the military-dominated past.

Rohingya MP banned from contesting election – Nikkei Asian Review

Rohingya children play inside Dar Paing camp near Sittwe, Rakhine State (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

YANGON — One of five lawmakers from Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority who have sat in the country’s national and regional parliaments since 2010 has been barred from contesting the upcoming Nov. 8 national election. Shwe Maung, speaking to the Nikkei Asian Review on Sunday, said he had received an official notice from the government’s election commission that he was not eligible to run in the election – even though he holds a seat in national parliament. He said he would appeal the decision take by the district election sub-commission in Maungdaw, a Rohingya-majority district in northern Rakhine state, bordering Bangladesh. “I have seven days to appeal and perhaps tomorrow I will make the appeal at the Rakhine state regional electoral commission,” said Shwe Maung, who was elected in 2010 as a lawmaker in Myanmar’s lower house, representing the Union Solidarity and Development Party.

Southeast Asia grapples with resurgence of ‘traditional’ piracy – Nikkei Asian Review

Fishing boats moored at Banda Aceh (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – During the first six months of 2015, pirates launched an attack once every two weeks on average in Southeast Asian waters, according to the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau. “We have been busy, getting many calls, emails, even faxes,” Noel Choong, head of the IMB’s Piracy Reporting Center in Kuala Lumpur, told the Nikkei Asian Review. The center was set up in 1992 as “a 24-hour and free service for shipmasters to report any piracy, armed robbery or stowaway incidents,” according to the IMB website. The increase in the number of incidents marks a return to the period between the early 1990s and 2006 when Southeast Asia was the most “pirate infested” region in the world, according to the IMB. It was subsequently overtaken by an upsurge in deadly attacks and hijackings in the waters off Somalia and East Africa, where ship crews were sometimes held captive for years.

Indonesia’s foreign worker flip-flop – Nikkei Asian Review

Rachmat Gobel, who was recently fired as Indonesia's trade minister as part of a cabinet reshuffle (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – Indonesian President Joko Widodo has signaled a softening of his government’s increasingly stringent visa requirements for foreigners working in the country in an apparent response to strong concerns raised by overseas businesses. Widodo told the cabinet on Aug. 20 that the government would drop earlier plans to require foreign workers to learn the Indonesian language and apply for temporary stay permits of up to a year, known by their local acronym, Kitas. The president’s statement came six weeks after the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration introduced new rules requiring all companies to hire 10 Indonesians for every foreign employee. Ulf Backlund, chairman of the European Business Chamber of Commerce in Indonesia, known as EuroCham, said while the chamber is “upbeat on the economic prospects of Indonesia,” the hiring restrictions could be “counterproductive in the long run.”