JAKARTA — Malaysia’s environment minister is sure that 2017 will not see a repeat of the choking, eye-watering smog that covered parts of his country, as well as Singapore and areas in Indonesia, for around two months in 2015. “We are very likely to be haze-free this year. Even if it comes, it will not be as serious as before,” said Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, Minister for Natural Resources and Environment, on March 2. Mostly caused by the burning of peatland and forests to clear land for plantations in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s haze has for three decades been a near-annual blight that makes air in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, two of Asia’s most dynamic cities, almost unbreathable and in turn, diminishes economic output. Prolonged bouts of the haze, such as in 1997 and in 2015, caused diplomatic ructions as Singapore railed against neighboring Indonesia over the impact of the pollution on its citizens and their livelihoods. But a new Indonesian government-backed alliance of farmers, businesses, environmentalists and concerned citizens aims to prevent more debilitating blazes in southern Kalimantan and western Sumatra, home to much of Indonesia’s lucrative palm oil and pulpwood sectors. “The Indonesian government is very serious on tackling the forest fires,” said Prabianto Wibowo, assistant deputy minister for forestry at Indonesia’s economic co-ordination ministry, speaking at the Responsible Business Forum in Jakarta on March 15.
JAKARTA — Two neighbors with a fractious history sought to put recent disputes behind them as Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull agreed at the weekend to restore military cooperation and reduce restrictions on some exports ahead of a possible free trade deal later this year. “Great result for Australian farmers. It will now be easier to export more sugar and beef to Indonesia,” Turnbull tweeted on Sunday, referring to Indonesia’s agreement to reduce tariffs on Australian sugar to 5% and allow more live cattle exports from Australia to the country of 250 million people. Widodo’s Feb. 25-26 visit to Sydney was his second trip to Australia since he took office in 2014, and the first since he personally showed Turnbull around Jakarta in November 2015. That meeting came shortly after the Australian prime minister took power in Canberra, on the back of an internal Liberal Party coup against incumbent Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
JAKARTA — After a tense campaign marred by religious protests and phone-tapping allegations made by a former president, Indonesia’s capital will have to wait two more months to learn who will run the city of 10 million people. Incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as “Ahok,” will face a runoff election in April against a former education minister who was backed by Islamist protesters, turning the election into a test of religious tolerance in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country. Purnama, a Christian of Chinese descent and an ally of President Joko Widodo, won around 40% of the votes cast Wednesday according to preliminary counts. That was roughly the same as his rival, Anies Basdewan, a Muslim whose reformist credentials came under scrutiny when Islamist supporters sought to have the sitting governor jailed over a speech in which he allegedly insulted Islam.
JAKARTA — A tumultuous election campaign for the job of running one of the world’s biggest, most traffic-clogged and flood-prone cities drew to a relatively placid close over the final weekend before the Feb. 15 vote. Candidates in the race for the Jakarta governorship ended a last televised debate by grinning cheek-to-cheek in a group selfie photograph. As staged as it was, it was a rare cordial moment in a combative campaign. It came the day before Islamist groups held a last-ditch rally against the sitting governor, who they accuse of blasphemy. The rally drew a much smaller turnout than the hundreds of thousands of people who flocked to two similar protests in late 2016 against the incumbent governor, adding to the sense that the contentious election campaign had left participants drained. “It has been divisive but I am happy that the debate in the end is focusing on policies and programs, it takes the tensions down a bit,” said Sandiaga Uno, a candidate for vice governor and running mate of Anies Basdewan, one of two challengers seeking to oust the embattled incumbent, Bakuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as “Ahok.”
YANGON — A Feb. 3 report by the U.N. Human Rights Council featured harrowing accounts by Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh of army abuses in northern Rakhine, including the gang rape of women and murder of children. In response to the report, Myanmar’s government, which is led by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, initially softened its prior outright denials of military abuse and promised to investigate the allegations. But on Feb. 7, it said it needed more information from the U.N. Naypyitaw’s earlier denials had prompted criticism from around the world. On Jan. 20, Yanghee Lee, the U.N. human rights envoy to Myanmar, said: “For the government to continue being defensive when allegations of serious human rights violations are persistently reported, that is when the government appears less and less credible.”
Previously, Myanmar railed against a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on the Rohingya crisis, held in Malaysia on Jan. 19, during which Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak reiterated harsh criticisms of Naypyitaw’s policies, saying: “The killing must stop, the burning of houses must stop, the violation of women and girls must stop.” He had earlier urged international intervention in Myanmar and accused the government of “genocide” against the Rohingya.
JAKARTA — When Yunalis Zarai saw a picture of herself loom large over a New York landmark in late November, she was understandably elated. “Your Kedah-born girl just went up on the @NASDAQ billboard in Times Square New York today,” the 30-year-old singer-songwriter tweeted, with an accompanying snapshot of the signage. “Every month, the billboard will feature artistes to promote their music, so this month it’s my turn,” she explained. Professionally known as Yuna, her third album “Chapters” was ranked among the Top 10 Critics’ Choice R&B records of 2016 by Billboard, alongside albums by Beyonce, John Legend and Rihanna. The U.S. magazine compared her to Sade, a 1980s Nigerian-British singer-songwriter who sold 50 million records, including such hits as “Smooth Operator.” Yuna’s musical style and voice also has been likened to hit singers Norah Jones and Adele.
JAKARTA – Around lunchtime on December 2, the skies opened over Jakarta. But the downpour was probably the last thing on Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s mind as he strolled the few hundred yards from the presidential palace to a nearby plaza, where an estimated half a million Islamist protesters were chanting for the arrest of one of his political allies. Such blusukan — casual walkabouts in markets and villages—were a key part of Widodo’s electioneering and made him seem a down-to-earth man of the people in voters’ eyes. All the same, the protesters were taken aback by the president’s gate-crashing, especially when he joined their ranks, which included some of Indonesia’s most hard-line Islamist leaders, for Friday prayers. “Jokowi,” as the president is known, commended the drenched crowd for assembling peacefully, interspersing his brief cameo with cries of “Allahu Akbar,” and prayed with Habib Rizieq Shihab, the head of the shadowy Islamic Defenders Front, known as the FPI, an Indonesian acronym. One protester, who gave his name as Ahmad, said that he was very surprised, but that “it was good that Jokowi spoke; it helps Indonesia be united.” Ahmad said that he had flown in from Bali, a majority Hindu holiday island, to attend the demonstration. The target of his and the other protesters’ ire was Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama], who was deputy governor of Jakarta and was elevated to the governorship in 2014 when Widodo, who had held the post, became president. Purnama is a Christian of Chinese descent, a blunt and forceful outsider running the capital of the country with the world’s biggest Muslim population.
JAKARTA – Aid workers, soldiers and others tore through the rubble of collapsed buildings in the northwestern Indonesian province of Aceh on Wednesday in a frantic search for people trapped by an earthquake that killed at least 97 people. early Wednesday morning, officials said. Maj. Gen. Tatang Sulaiman, chief of the army in Aceh province, said four people had been pulled from the rubble alive by late Wednesday.. Another four or five still believed to be buried, but he didn’t say if they were dead or alive. By sundown, local disaster relief officials said the number of injured had reached 600. The number of victims was predicted to increase “because some people are still stuck under the damaged buildings,” National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said. The magnitude 6.5 quake was centered about six miles north of Reuleut, a town in northern Aceh, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The worst damage occurred in Aceh’s Pidie Jaya district, where hundreds of people were rushed to hospitals and dozens of buildings were flattened. Local officials appealed for emergency relief supplies and heavy equipment to move debris and aid in the search for survivors.
JAKARTA — The spiraling humanitarian crisis in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State is prompting anger among Muslims across Asia. Last week, thousands of protestors in several regional capitals slammed Myanmar’s treatment of its Muslim Rohingya minority — even going as far as labelling the country’s de facto leader, a former political prisoner and now State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, as a “butcher” over the military’s brutal crackdown in Muslim-dominated borderlands close to Bangladesh. In Indonesia, home to more Muslims than any other country, around 400 demonstrators, including members of some Islamic political parties, gathered in front of the Myanmar embassy in Jakarta on Nov. 25, shouting demands that Aung San Suu Kyi hand back the Nobel peace prize she was awarded while under house arrest by the Myanmar military in 1991. “I’m sorry Ms. Suu Kyi, we know you accept the Nobel peace prize, but where is the peace in Myanmar? There is no peace in your country for Muslims,” said rally co-ordinator Julkifli Ali.
JAKARTA — After the most divisive election campaign in decades, tens of thousands of Americans have protested and rioted against the winner in cities across the country, prompting international concerns about an increasingly divided superpower. During his campaign, Trump called Mexicans “rapists,” appeared to mock a disabled reporter, threatened to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., and faced accusations of sexually assaulting women. Clinton was subject to an FBI investigation over her use of a private email account while working as secretary of state, while a foundation run with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, was suspected of soliciting cash from foreign governments in return for contacts in the U.S. government. China crowed over the debacle. “The innumerable scandals, rumors, conspiracy theories and obscenities make it impossible for a person to look away,” said state media outlet Xinhua News Agency. Alongside its unrivalled economic and military strength, the U.S. has relied on intangible “soft power” to influence other countries. Joseph Nye, the Harvard University scholar who coined the term, calls it “the ability to get what one wants through attraction rather than coercion or payments.” But Nye noted that American prestige in Asia has been undermined. “The lack of civility in the presidential debate and the nativist, xenophobic nature of a number of Trump’s statements have already had a negative effect on American soft power in Asia and elsewhere,” he told the Nikkei Asian Review.