A grim search for answers – The Edge Review

Fransiskus Bambang Soelistyo, head of Indonesia's search and rescue agency, updating media about the search mission for AirAsia flight QZ8501  (Photo Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – Despite the sea into which the aircraft plummeted being relatively shallow, only 40 victims’ bodies had been found by midweek. “The waves are above two meters, so it is difficult to operate,” explained Hendro, Director of Facilities at Basarnas. “We need to locate the big part of the aircraft,” he told The Edge Review, speaking at Basarnas headquarters in Jakarta. By Wednesday, the day the aeroplane’s tail was first seen lying on the seabed, the cause of the crash still had not been established, but Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency has said that bad weather appears to have been a factor.

A decade on, Aceh looks forward, not back – Nikkei Asian Review

Bursting bubbles outside the the Baiturrahman Grand Mosque, a popular meeting place in downtown Banda Aceh (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

BANDA ACEH – If Bali-style hedonism is out of the question for Aceh, visitors might be drawn by what locals are calling “disaster tourism.” That means promoting the region’s stirring tsunami memorials — such as the imposing PLTD Apung, the Tsunami Museum, with its dank and sheer water tunnel, designed to mimic the soaring tsunami waves, and the disaster research center, which doubles as an evacuation tower and sits near a mass grave holding the remains of almost 15,000 tsunami victims. Reminders of the tsunami dot Banda Aceh, ensuring that although the disaster happened a decade ago, memories remain poignantly and ominously vivid in the minds of survivors.

One election, two visions – The Edge Review

Joko Widodo signs guitar at event organised by supporters in south Jakarta in July (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

SOLO – Even before Jokowi took office as president, Indonesian democracy was dealt a blow when MPs allied to Prabowo – who needed an August constitutional court ruling to tell him he had lost the election – voted to end Indonesia’s system of directly electing heads of local government – the same format that enabled Jokowi get his start in politics in Solo back in 2005. “If there wasn’t any direct election, he [Jokowi] would still be selling furniture,” said Asti Suryo, assistant manager of the Danar Hadi museum in Solo

Brunei set for another flogging – The Edge Review

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah chairing the ASEAN-US summit in Bandar Seri Bagawan in Oct. 2013 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – Petroleum-rich Brunei rarely makes the news. Hardly a surprise, given that the Sultanate’s 422,000 population and 5,200 km sq. land area make it one of the world’s smallest countries. But last year the Abode of Peace was headline material. And it wasn’t because 2014 marked 30 years since independence from the United Kingdom, a time-marker that went unnoticed. In April, Brunei’s autocratic ruler Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah introduced harsh punishments for infractions of Islamic law.

Dreadlocks, dreamers and do-gooders – The Edge Review

Novelist Amitav Ghosh speaking at the 2014 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

BALI – As ground zero for Bali’s beach and booze crowd, Kuta has no literary pretensions beyond the bawdy car stickers and smutty T-shirts hawked along the main drag. Wading through the tat, it is hard to believe that this is the same island where literary luminaries such as Amitav Ghosh and Tash Aw enchant crowds with exquisite exegeses of exile, loss, memory and tacky women on the make, as they did recently at this year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. Ubud, a hillside town of Hindu temples and wind-chimes in Bali’s heart, is a magnet for dreadlocked, tie-dyed Westerners who seem to subsist on little more than quinoa and squirrel droppings and bits of tree bark.

Split personality – The Edge Review

Aburizal Bakrie watches results from Indonesia's parliamentary election at Golkar party HQ on April 9 2014 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – Another messy split looms for the one-time political powerhouse Golkar, the party of Indonesia’s former dictator Suharto, following a rancorous annual conference over the past week. Aburizal Bakrie, a billionaire businessman, was re-elected as party leader on Wednesday evening after sidelining several senior party rivals who wanted Golkar to join the coalition government. In what sounded like a scene from British comedy classic Blackadder, a recording surfaced of a Bakrie aide telling delegates in Bali that he had a “cunning plan” to ensure Bakrie was re-elected. It worked: Bakrie won unopposed after his six opponents dropped out or refused to run, claiming the vote was tainted.

Jokowi primes the pump – The Edge Review

Traffic around Tanah Abang market in Jakarta. Raising fuel prices will likely have a knock on impact for the urban poor in Jakarta (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – Despite the threat of political opposition and public protests, Indonesian President Joko Widodo this week raised fuel prices in a move he said will free up revenue for infrastructure improvements and social spending. Aziz Pane, chairman of Indonesia’s Tyre Manufacturers Association, said that his group had been calling on successive governments to allocate more money to improving Indonesia’s infrastructure, which means cutting the fuel subsidy. “But they have all been afraid of the oil mafia,” he told The Edge Review.

What happens when the fighters come home? – Nikkei Asian Review

Memorial at the site of the 2002 Bali bombing  (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA/KUALA LUMPUR – To counter ISIS in Indonesia, the Widodo government is considering further measures, according to Ahmad Suaedy, coordinator of the Abdurrahman Wahid Center for Inter-Faith Dialogue and Peace. “The Indonesian government is now looking for the legal basis to prohibit and provide sanctions that deter Muslims from involvement with [Islamic State] and other forms of radicalism and terrorism,” he said.

Obama visit unlikely to boost Aung San Suu Kyi – Nikkei Asian Review

U.S. President Barack Obama fields questions at Yangon University on Nov 14 2014 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

YANGON – Standing next to Suu Kyi on Nov. 14, Obama said that barring the NLD leader “doesn’t make much sense.” But he did not raise the issue when speaking later at Yangon University. Nor did Suu Kyi’s eligibility come up during an hour-long question and answer session with students after the speech. Opinions differ about the importance of the clause. Lamin Oo, a Myanmar filmmaker whose name was mentioned by Obama during his speech, said afterwards that “if that issue was an important one for [young people] it would have come up in questions.” However, Kyaw Thu, a former actor turned philanthropist, said the constitution should be changed to allow Suu Kyi stand. “Obama should push for this with Thein Sein,” Kyaw Thu said.

Changed times – The Edge Review

Thida Aung and Tin Tin Tan await Obama's arrival near Yangon's Secretariat (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

YANGON – Myanmar has jailed several journalists this year, while one reporter, Ko Par Gyi, was murdered by the army in the country’s east. Some new laws have been heavily criticised, while calls to amend the country’s constitution, which gives the army a veto-wielding 25 percent of parliament seats, have not prompted any change yet.”I think we certainly did see a lot of reforms in 2012 and 2013, but 2014 has perhaps added an element of realism, with the concerns over the constitutional amendment process,” Melissa Crouch, Research Fellow at the National University of Singapore, told The Edge Review.