DENPASAR — For the second time in less than a year, voters in East Timor will head to polling stations on May 12 to decide who will run the second smallest country in Southeast Asia. The last elections held in July 2017 left Mari Alkariri of the Fretilin party, or the Revolutionary Front of Independent East Timor, as prime minister leading a shaky minority government. As its name suggests, Fretilin is made up of activists and fighters who opposed Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor between 1975 and 1999. Fretilin won the most seats then, with 23, but the coalition it cobbled together was vulnerable, holding just 30 out of a total 65 seats in the Dili parliament. Unsurprisingly, Alkatiri’s government fell after the pointedly named Parliamentary Majority Alliance opposition refused to support his proposed budget.
JAKARTA — The sight of commuters, their faces hidden behind masks, zipping around on the back of motorcycle taxis is common across Asia. The bikes weave through gridlock in cities like Jakarta and Bangkok, getting the passengers to work on time. The masks, sometimes worn by both driver and passenger, hint that the air they breathe might not be the cleanest. Judging from World Health Organization figures released on Wednesday, covering 4,300 cities across 108 countries, the commuters have the right idea. Of an estimated 7 million deaths worldwide per year from air pollution, just over two-thirds take place in Asia, which is home to slightly less than 60% of the global population. Breaking the numbers down further, the 10 countries in the WHO’s “South-east Asia” region account for about a quarter of the world’s population but suffer around 2.4 million, or 34%, of all air pollution deaths.
JAKARTA/SINGAPORE — A year ago two young female migrant workers in Indonesia, including 26 year old Indonesian Siti Nurbaya, were cast at the center of an international murder mystery when they were arrested by police for their alleged role in the audacious, Le Carré-esque assassination by poisoning of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which was carried out despite the usual bustling morning crowd at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport. Preying on the women’s perceived vulnerability as relatively-poor migrant workers at the margins of society, defense lawyers contend that North Korean agents duped their clients into unwittingly carrying out the murder by bluffing they were being recruited for a series of made for TV pranks. As the trial of Nurbaya and her alleged accomplice from Vietnam rolled on last month in Shah Alam near Kuala Lumpur, another case was emerging that highlighted the perils facing migrants in Malaysia. Adelina Sao died in a Penang hospital on February 11 after she was found with head injuries and infected wounds on her limbs, succumbing after two years in Malaysia as one of around 400,000 foreign maids working in the country.
JAKARTA — Footage of a vast plastic ‘slick’ shot by a British diver off the coast of Bali has put renewed focus on the growing threat of ocean pollution. Rich Horner filmed himself swimming through swathes of plastic rubbish floating in turquoise waters around 15 miles offshore from Denpasar, the Balinese regional capital. The footage is being seen as a warning over increasingly toxic levels of plastic waste along some of the most picturesque shorelines of Indonesia, which is heavily reliant on tourism. “Plastic bags, plastic bottles, plastic cups, plastic sheets, plastic buckets, plastic sachets, plastic straws, plastic baskets, plastic bags, more plastic bags,” Horner wrote.
JAKARTA — Even as the terms of its exit from the European Union remain undecided, the U.K. looks set to take on Brussels over access to Asian markets, with Indonesia’s growing economy set to be the first, and potentially crucial, battleground. While Britain tries to lay the groundwork for future trade agreements, the bloc it is leaving has already brokered a number of deals across the region. Last week, the EU and Indonesia held the fourth round of negotiations over a proposed free trade deal known as the Indonesia-European Union Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. As those discussions were taking place in Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s hometown of Solo in central Java, the U.K.’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office announced the appointment of Richard Michael as Britain’s official export finance representative in Indonesia.
JAKARTA/LONDON — British engineers could be handed lucrative contracts with Indonesia to regenerate its ailing road and rail networks under a government push to boost trade and diplomatic ties with Southeast Asia after Brexit. The move would pit British firms against Chinese and Japanese giants who are vying for influence over Indonesia’s growing economy, in one of the first tests of the UK’s post-Brexit “Global Britain” push. “We are trying to get a greater slice of the action,” Moazzam Malik, the British ambassador in Indonesia, told the Telegraph as UK officials unveiled plans to increase business ties.
JAKARTA — Indonesia is the latest Asian country to face American trade curbs after the U.S. Department of Commerce said it planned to slap anti-dumping duties of 92.52% to 276.65% on biodiesel imports from the archipelago. Argentina, another biodiesel producer, was also targeted by the Feb. 21 announcement, after U.S. businesses complained that they were being undercut by unfairly subsidized fuel from both countries. The commerce department said that exporters from Argentina and Indonesia respectively sold biodiesel in the U.S. at 60.44% to 86.41% and 92.52% to 276.65% below what it deems fair value. The U.S. International Trade Commission will make a final decision on April 6 on whether the imports have hurt U.S. producers. If the ruling is upheld, the duties recommended by the commerce department will effectively price Indonesian biodiesel out of the U.S. market.
JAKARTA — When the Indonesian government invited the United Nations’ human rights commissioner to Jakarta, it must have known that Zeid Ra’al al Hussein, a Jordanian diplomat who is nearing the end of his 4 year term, would have plenty to say about proposed changes to country’s criminal code. Indonesian parliamentarians will vote soon on measures which include criminalizing not only gay sex but all sex outside marriage between men and women. Al Hussein joined foreign minister Retno Marsudi in addressing a conference at the ministry on Monday last week, telling the officials and diplomats that human rights are not restricted by geography, ethnic group or gender. Two days later, after meeting Indonesian President Joko Widodo, al-Hussein was less bland, claiming that the proposed changes “betray strains of intolerance seemingly alien to Indonesian culture.”
JAKARTA — Major palm oil producers in Asia are hoping European governments will not go ahead with proposals that could undermine their businesses and damage the Indonesian and Malaysian economies. Proponents say palm oil requires less land to grow than other vegetable oil crops. “Palm oil is the most productive oil that exists today,” said Colin Lee, director of corporate affairs at Cargill Tropical Palm, which has around 80,000 hectares of oil palm plantation in the region. Indonesia and Malaysia provide around 85% of the world’s palm oil. Palm oil makes up between 10% and 12% of their total exports, according to global bank HSBC.
SINGAPORE – Indonesia’s constitutional court today turned down a petition to have extra-marital sex banned, the latest culture war skirmish in the world’s biggest Muslim democracy. A narrow 5-4 majority of judges voted to reject the request made by a group called the Family Love Alliance which said it wants Indonesian law to categorise adultery to mean any relationship that involves sex outside marriage, not just married people having affairs. The group said it would appeal the decision and is hoping that like-minded MPs will resume the campaign in parliament to criminalise “sexual deviance,” including gay relationships as well as adultery.