Tagged: ASEAN

Looking at Jakarta 2017 Governotarial Election


According to a quick count released by several pollsters, the current Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama – popularly known by nickname Ahok – and his running mate Djarot Saiful Hidayat gained only about 43 percent of the votes, while their challengers Anies Baswedan and Sandiaga Uno are likely to win with roughly 57 percent.

Though a final result will only be announced in this month May – the quick count has more or less sealed Ahok chances in continuing to govern Jakarta as its Governor.

Analysts are divided on the cause of his defeat – with Western observers largely zeroing on the rise of Islamist. It is undeniable that, Islamist has been extremely successful in injecting the Islamic element in the whole issue, thus invoking a strong sense of guilt and responsibility for Islamic voters to oust Ahok.

However, realistically speaking – Islamist contributed only a part of the bigger socio-political backlash, which we have witnessed on 19 April 2017. It is worth noting that – in late 2014, Islamist did organised a rally against Ahok. The rally garnered a lukewarm response from Jakarta citizens.

Instead, what we see in the recent Jakarta election is a culmination of various genuine socio-cultural and economic dissatisfaction – which over time has been framed as a socio-religio issue by religious and seculars politicians alike.

To begin with, Ahok’s approach and ethics towards the Governorship post sets him apart. As someone who is willing to get down to the streets and listen to people’s grouses, Ahok approach is relatively personal and non-elitist.

In a book titled ‘A Man Called #Ahok Sepenggal Kisah Perjuangan & Ketulusan‘ by Kurawa, the Jakarta Governor is even described by members of his own constituents (Belitung Island) as a charitable personality who would donate money for building Mosques.

Though, in retrospect to the high-spirited and visionary work ethics, he has a distinct form of leadership. Temperamental, brash, outspoken and decisive – these traits characterises Ahok’s approach towards managing people and Jakarta public projects. For the polite and shy society of Javanese and Betawi, his logic of communication, however, may not be in-line with the generally accepted socio-cultural norms. Some have even suggested that his tough talk and Sumatran style has either captivated or appalled people in equal measure.

Secondly, are his policies. Arguably, the slum clearances at the controversial seafront Luar Batang in 2016 – though were popular with the middle class, did not go down positively with the poorer segment of Jakarta inhabitants. The relocation of Luar Batang dwellers which majority comprises of poor fisherman to new locations far away from the seafront has affected the source of livelihood of this group.

It was at this juncture that Islamist group such as FPI (Islamic Defender Front) begun showing solidarity with Luar Batang residents by making the Luar Batang mosque as the rallying point. In April 2016, it was turned into a humanitarian shelter for residents affected by the relocation exercise. Similarly, a controversial FP leader Habib Rizieq visited and handed out Rp 100 million, (USD 7500.00) or (RM 32,579) to residents affected.

This move has broad consequences.

First and foremost, this solidarity raises the plight of Luar Batang’s residents beyond the affected location. The plight equally resonates with the lower-middle income to poor Muslims segments – which already make the majority citizens in Jakarta. More importantly, it raises Islamist group as a credible movement to be fighting what now seems to be Ahok’s perceived discriminative and oppressive policy against Jakarta poor Muslim neighbourhood.

The big break for the Islamist movement came when Ahok is accused of uttering blasphemous insult against a paragraph in Al- Quran. Despite the recording of the incident itself is questionable, it has been widely circulated on Youtube prompting a broad backlash from Muslim community and religious conservatives.

Compounding all the above issues and framing it as a form of Islamic struggle – Islamist group such as FPI and FUI (Indonesia Ulama Council) in November 2016 organised a public demonstration attended by nearly 50,000–200,000 people demanding for Ahok’s resignation and trial. In December, another rally was held in Central Jakarta, which attended by an estimated 200,000 people.

Demonstrations in late 2016 provided a strong ripple effect towards Jakarta April 2017 Governor’s election.

These culminations of events opened window of opportunity for Muslim moderate politicians, which in this case – Anies Baswedan and Sandiaga Uno to jump into the Islamist bandwagon and packaged their campaign in line with the broader grouses. Clear contrast can be seen in campaigning style. Ahok focused on policy, while Anies and his allies focused on religion. Another Indonesian political heavyweight – Prabowo who himself is a military and nationalist-oriented leader is reported to have sided with the Islamist through endorsing Anies and Sandiaga candidacy.

These strategies paid well when Anies Baswedan and Sandiaga Uno as we know it won the Jakarta Gubernatorial election in April 2017.

In a nutshell, there are two key take away facts worth noting from all these development.

First, notwithstanding how successful the Islamist movement was in framing the anomaly that is Ahok – the major successors that took the Governor’s office – has ironically not been anyone from the Islamist movement. As a matter of fact, it is the two moderate and secular politicians, who happened to be Anies Baswedan and Sandiaga Uno.

This leads us to a second conclusion, that is, the preoccupation with the rise of Islamist Indonesia and the downfall of religious tolerance narrative – has only provided a partial understanding of the political dynamics. I would argue that the recent development has not shown any clear indication that the “rising Islamist element” could compromise Indonesia’s established religious, social and political tolerance, in the long-term.

Instead, the clear fact is – the issue of religion and race can be utilised as a convenient but impactful force to discredit leaders in Indonesia. Moreover, given the success in April 2017, such strategy may be employed again in the future. I suspect Jokowi given his liberal political outlook may face a similar challenge with his 2019 Presidential re-election.

On Ahok’s side – his downfall could possibly be traced to his failure to understand the finer nuances of Indonesia socio-cultural politics. In this context, he should have understood that his actions rightly or wrong have the possibility to be taken out of context, if he in the first place, does not tread his style of communication tactfully.

His future with Indonesian politics will largely depend on how he makes amends with the grass-root segment in Indonesian politics. He still has a sizeable support and sympathisers in both Jakarta and Belitung. Now, all that he needs is to reassure the broader voters that he would not positively approach his public and political work as he did previously.

The above article has appeared earlier in The Malay Mail Online 2 May 2017 with a different title. The content, however, remains the same.


Israel’s proxy in the South China Sea


The arms race amongst the South China Sea (SCS) claimants will be seeing an increase. Report by IHS Analytics estimated that SCS coastal nations’ collective defense spending could likely jump between $435 billion in 2015 to around $533 billion by 2020. China’s increased assertiveness in the waters of South China Sea has largely sparked this security dilemma. Other claimants may need to develop the capabilities that will allow them to at least,  defend their territorial claims in the region.

The source of arms imports varies. Though the US may be the leading provider in the region, there are other emerging arm suppliers.

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report showed that Russia may account for 93 percent of the deliveries to the Southeast Asian nation, which included eight combat aircraft, four fast attack craft and four submarines armed with land-attack missiles.

Interestingly, however, archived web-based reports from 2008 to 2016 suggested – Israel may have already joined the list of arms suppliers to the region. This is worth further deliberation.

In 2014 – Philippines news outlet PhilStar Global reported the agreement by Philippines Government to purchase three ELTA air radar from Israel Aerospace Industries worth PH2.6 billion. The air radar will be utilized to monitor naval activities in the South China Sea waters.The following year in November 2015, Israel Defense, a credible Defense portal reported that – EXTRA (Extended Range Artillery Rocket) missile system has been purchased by the Philippines naval force since early 2015. Manufactured by Israel Military Industries (IMI systems), the rocket is reported to be highly accurate within a 150 km range. The system is placed within the contested waters of South China Sea.

In February 2016, SIPRI reports also showed the purchase of 20 Israel’s EXTRA by Vietnam. The whole system as reported by Reuters in August 2016 has been moved to 5 bases within Vietnam’s Spratley Islands.

Narrowing this into China-Israel defense cooperation – it is worth knowing Israel’s sales to China from the late 80’s up to the early millennium reached close to USD4billion.(atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/FL21Ak01.html). Israel is China’s second-largest foreign supplier of arms (after Russia). China has purchased a broad array of military equipment and technology, including communications satellites.

One of the prime outcomes from Israel-China defense relations is China’s PLA fighter jet Chengdu J10 (Vigorous Dragon). J-10 is reverse engineered after Lavi jet fighter with the help of Israel’s Aerospace Industries (IAI) engineers. Both fighter jets share many similar avionic elements. With nearly 240 J-10 aircraft in active service, the aircraft has been utilised extensively in the South China Sea.

For the record, Israel’s Aerospace Industries (IAI) is owned by the Israel government through its Ministry of Defense.  Shimon Peres, which is the former President of Israel, is the founder of IAI in 1953 (http://www.iai.co.il/).

The same is for Israel Military Industries Systems (IMI systems), which is fully owned by the Israeli Government through its Ministry of Defense. Production of military equipment is channelled largely to Israel Defense Force (www.imi-israel.com).

This proxy involvement of Israel Government in the South China Sea through its military sales raises four areas of concern and perhaps potential discourse in the future.

First and foremost is the provision of weapons by Israel, which has been questioned morally for its military activities. Israel has for decades flout international condemnation and demand to cease its land grabbing policies in Palestine.

Second is – Israel provision of weapons to the biggest recipients in the region, which has the audacity to ignore international norms and escalate the SCS conflict. China, which is the obvious recipient, has benefited much from IAI’s Lavi to J-10 technology transfer efforts and – ever since, has also been operating the aircraft actively in the controversial waters of SCS.

June this year, two J-10 as reported by Reuters has been involved in an unsafe air maneuver with a U.S. Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance plane over the East China Sea.

The third factor that needed to be considered is the moralistic and humanitarian issue. What is the moral stand of other ASEAN countries to Israel indiscriminate use of military technology in the Middle East? As food for thought, the Israel military technology utilised by certain ASEAN members might possibly be used against innocent women and children in Gaza.

In this context, ASEAN Secretariat through its ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights needs to raise this issue with the respective members that have and might plan to purchase military technology from Israel.

The fourth and perhaps a potent factor to contemplate is the reaction of Muslim countries in the South East Asia region. Malaysia and Indonesia are traditionally the two strongest Israel critics on the latter’s military policies in the Middle East.

In this circumstance, what would the hypothetical reaction be, once these facts become common knowledge in these respective countries? Specifically – the use of Israel’s military enhanced equipment both air and sea by China to assert its already perceived unfair demands in SCS?

Admittedly, these areas of discourse are still preliminary, and will take years for it to be widely discussed. Singapore possesses Israel’s technology for decades and the political reactionary to such knowledge has been quiet.

Hence it largely depends on how grass root leaders frame or think tanks urgently broach the abovementioned information into political sentiment or a form of discussion-worthy issue. However what is worth to be reminded, when it comes to this stage of complex entwinement of Israel, South China Sea, and Human Rights issue – diplomatic sensitivities should be practice sparingly by ASEAN.

Not too long ago in 2012, ASEAN former Secretary-General, Dr. Surin Pitsuwan warned the South China Sea disputes might risk into becoming the next ‘Palestine of Asia’. This statement may hold some water at this contemporary time– and hence deserves a little more attention now.

This article also appeared at The Palestine Chronicle (a Washington based Palestine Advocacy News) http://www.palestinechronicle.com/israels-proxy-south-china-sea/

GE 2015 : Singapore’s PAP batters Opposition

Singapore's Prime minister Lee Hsien Loong’s celebrates early victory. Getty Image

Singapore’s Prime minister Lee Hsien Loong’s celebrates early victory. Getty Image

The ruling People’s Action Party has won Singapore’s most observed general elections in its fifty years and improved its vote share. This marked a significant gain for a party that had seen its popularity fade as some voters rejected its dominance just four years ago.

The PAP won 83 of 89 parliament seats, giving it a comfortable majority to govern for the next five years. The party’s share of the popular vote rose to 69.9% from a historic low of 60.1% at the last election in 2011, returning Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to power.

However, it has been different for the Worker’s Party (WP) –  one of Singapore’s leading oppositional voice since 2011.

Of the 28 seats that the WP contested in the 2015 General Election, it lost Punggol East Single Member Constituency (SMC), and retained Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC) and Hougang SMC by narrower margins. WP secured Aljunied by a margin of less than two per cent, or 50.95 percent of the overall vote, falling from 54.72 percent when it made history by being the first-ever opposition party to win a GRC. Incumbent Png Eng Huat retained Hougang SMC with a 57.69 per cent vote share, a drop from 62.1 percent in the 2012 by-election that he won.

Though still in its early hours, PAP comeback may be attributed to the current economic situation. Local sentiment suggests the confidence level in PAP to steer Singapore away from the bleak economic climate holds higher than other alternative parties available. A few locals interviewed opined – there is a need for an uninterrupted progress and for PAP to continue its economic mitigation efforts.

Mr. Lee’s decision to call the early election appears also to have paid off. A poll conducted by local firm BlackBox in July indicated that Lee Kuan Yew’s death had contributed to a significant increase in overall satisfaction in the government’s performance: 80% of voters polled in March, the month Mr. Lee died, said they were satisfied with government performance, compared with 72% to 76% in each month of the previous year.

In the hindsight, the latest election result also meant PAP has quashed Singapore’s opposition parties ambition to create a stronger opposing voice in a country dominated by one political faction.

A neutral name for South China Sea?


A name can project a distinct culture, identity and, more importantly for land and other space resources, a connection to a certain community. Along with maps and scientific stations, it is one of the most visible markers of national presence. Territorial naming at the international level has long been recognised as a strategic tool for creating new facts on the ground. A noteworthy example involves the multiple names and claims for the Antarctic Peninsula, where it is called Queen Elizabeth Land for the United Kingdom, Tierra San Martin for Argentina, Palmer Peninsula, for the United States and Tierra de O’Higgins for Chile.

Closer to our shores, the South China Sea epitomises a similar problem.

Documented evidence suggests that prior to the name South China Sea (SCS), the surrounding waters were described with various names, including Champa Sea or Sea of Cham, East Sea, or Luzon Sea. Ancient Chinese empires such as Western Zhou and Qing dynasty named the widely contested sea territories as “South Seas”.

The name “South China Sea” came to be used officially in 1947, during the time of Chiang Kai-Shek’s nationalist government. The change of name was accompanied by technical claims to the seas through China’s new map and its “eleven-dash line” which later was changed to “nine-dash line”. In principle, the “nine-dash line” are barriers and exclusive territorial claims by China, which covers the majority of the South of China waters including those areas that have been claimed by other neighbouring countries. Here it is worth noting the nine-dash line has no legal significance in international maritime law which only recognizes the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) regime of respective states.

For nearly 68 years to the present day of 2015, this specific dogma and technical claim has remained constant and China’s economic prosperity together with its corresponding increase in military power has become a drive for the latter to be emboldened with the SCS policies. Hence, one sees a more deterministic approach by China within the past 15 years with regular military intrusion by sea and air. The issue, if one would look close enough, has been by and large the product of unchecked and uncontested unilateral naming of disputed waters by China and its dogma from the very beginning.

The usage of the SCS label has encouraged China’s stand to permeate slowly both at the domestic and international levels specifically, affecting most Asean members. At the domestic level, it made the SCS to subtly be equated to the exclusive dominance of China in the surrounding sea territory. In the international arena, it provided China with a quiet but legitimising power to continue roaming the disputed waters and launch military operations. The South China Sea label has seemingly put the Chinese slowly-but-surely military activity under the radar.

It took between 28 and 41 years for Asian states to realise China’s seriousness in SCS claims when the latter captured Paracel Islands from South Vietnamese armed forces in 1974 and the killing of 70 Vietnamese naval officers by the Chinese in 1988 near Spratly Islands. In a nutshell, the largely zero response to China’s geostrategic move in 1947 has created a strategic impetus to China to continue to solidify its South China Sea territorial claims and military projects. So much so, to a point where now, the move by contemporary China appears to be unstoppable and heading towards a protracted form of conflict.

The damage has been done.

In an effort to mitigate and find a middle ground in the disputed waters, there is a need for smaller countries, particularly Asean member states, to include a finer strategy in its overall diplomatic approach. One of such involves the need to consider alternative names to an already entrenched “South China Sea”. The seas in the disputed territory can be changed into a neutral name, which reflects a collective sharing of water territories among close neighbours. Various names have been suggested to reflect this, such as the “Southern Seas” or “Asian Sea”.

Here the point is to lobby and change SCS into a universally acceptable name that will make any future Chinese military action to be perceived as outrightly intrusive, absurd and in direct violation of international waters regulation. It is worth realising that, after 68 years, it will be of no surprise if the above mentioned strategy is met with strong opposition by China. Moreover, some Asean countries may be hesitant to take such an approach, given the block’s strong economic relations with China and the pacifist ideals largely practised. However, it is important to consider this softer and subtler policy as part of Asean’s long-term plans, in view of China’s increasing military assertiveness.

The tackling of this invincible form of problem is just as important, if not more, than the tangible part of the issue (China’s warship and jet plane incursions/building of artificial islands). This involves getting a hold on the perception and the underlying beliefs which are providing the impetus for Chinese leaders, policymakers and military generals to be brazen in their claims and actions.

What impact can the abovementioned strategy give? While it’s not possible to provide a definite answer, there are two prominent examples where unchallenged unilateral renaming of territory is likely to be followed by policies of occupying the space. The Islamic State’s (IS) renaming of territories in Iraq and Syria as the Islamic Caliphate is corresponded with its violent action of grabbing Syrian and Iraqi territories.

Secondly, the unilateral renaming of the West Bank in Palestine into “Judea” and “Samaria” by Israel and its unrelenting military operations to gobble up as much space. It is not my intention to distastefully equate China with IS or Israel, since the political motivation and historical background of all described actors are different. Notwithstanding this, what is crucial is the logical sequence to follow after territorial renaming, which may be worth looking at.

This article written by Ferooze Ali appeared in News Straits Times, Malaysia 13 June 2015. 

Survey finds US businesses remains cautiously optimistic about ASEAN


American companies remain cautiously optimistic about business prospects in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations region, according to an annual survey by the American Chambers of Commerce in Asean member countries.

The annual ASEAN Business Outlook Survey, released  on 26 August by the Asean chambers and the US Chamber of Commerce, surveyed 471 senior executives representing US companies in all ten ASEAN nations

More than 70% reported that their company’s level of trade and investment in Asean has increased over the past two years, and 86% of respondents expect it to increase over the next five years.

Despite investor confidence, optimism has declined over the years. More than half (53%) of respondents said Asean markets have become more important to worldwide revenues over the past two years, down 10% points lower than reported two years earlier. In addition, 66% of the executives this year expect Asean to become more important in terms of worldwide revenues over the next two years; while still high, this is seven percentage points lower than two years earlier.

However, investor confidence has been steadily increasing in countries, such as Malaysia, Vietnam and Cambodia. For example, investor satisfaction with new business incentives offered by the government has risen by 25 % over the past five years in Malaysia.

Corruption was the top issue of concerns and impediments to their growth across Asean, cited by the majority of respondents in all countries except Brunei and Singapore. Also highlighted were burdensome laws and regulations, lack of transparency, poor quality of infrastructure, and the difficulty in moving products through customs in some countries as obstacles to greater investment. 77% of respondents to this year’s survey reported that exchange rate volatility has a “significant” or “somewhat significant” impact on their business operations in the region.

AEC sense of urgency gains momentum after KL-Asean Economic Ministers meet


Dato’ Sri Mustapa Mohamed, the Minister of International Trade and Industry Malaysia chaired the 47th ASEAN Economic Ministers’ (AEM) Meeting from the 22 to 25 of August.  Asean Economic Community(AEC) has been at the top list of the discussion including China’s recent yuan devaluation.The currency fluctuations created greater urgency for the AEC establishment apart from being a critical push factor for all ASEAN states.

Mustapa said closer economic integration was important for ASEAN because it would allow the region to better face external challenges. ASEAN aims to announce the formation of the Asean Community at the end of this year, which will comprise three pillars, namely the economic, political security and socio-cultural.

The necessity for AEC has been highlighted by The Asian Diplomat in its August 14 article. ASEAN need to work on proactively with its single currency/ economic union project. This could be a possible measure to mitigate drastic fiscal actions by economic giants such as China and the US to the region. The reliance of Southeast Asia as a single economy and currency could help not only in mitigating immediate financial impact but also raise the confidence level of foreign investors on the robustness of the system and reduce any panic factor – which has the potential to plunge a single state economy overnight.

Former Thai Prime Minister’s son doubles reward offered for Bangkok bomber capture

Panthongtae Shinawatra

Panthongtae Shinawatra

The son of ousted Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra – Panthongtae Shinawatra has doubled the reward offered by police for the capture of those behind this week’s deadly Bangkok bomb blast by putting up nearly US$200,000.

He wrote in his Facebook stating  “I have been given permission from my father to give seven million baht – two for any informant and five million for those officials who investigate and make arrests,” – “In order to swiftly regain confidence and morale among both Thais and foreigners we have to arrest the suspect as soon as possible to make everyone realise that Thailand is not (a) place where this kind of thing can happen and you get off scot free,” he added.

Also earlier in the week a well-known member of the Red Shirt movement loyal to Thaksin offered a further two million baht bounty – bringing the total money on offer to $335,000. Thaksin himself has been vocal in expressing outrage at the attack.”I condemn the perpetrator and anyone behind (this attack) with the strongest words,” he stated on his Twitter account earlier this week.

Thai police insist their investigation are making headways despite days of confusing and sometimes contradictory statements from senior officers and junta officials. Among the potential perpetrators named by police and experts alike include international jihadists, members of Thailand’s southern Islamist insurgency and extremist on both sides of Thailand’s festering political divide.