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Audio Overview of East Asia Issues, THURSDAY, April 4 2019

Paul Quaglia  – APAC Assistance Director

Major Issues In EAST ASIA PACIFIC

THURSDAY, April 4 2019

 

INDONESIA

Widodo retains lead in the opinion polls. Two new surveys indicate that President Joko Widodo and his running mate, Mar’ruf Amin, will win in the April 17 presidential election, with the election just two weeks away. The Melbourne-based Roy Morgan released yesterday its March survey of 1,102 respondents across Indonesia showing that the Widodo-Ma’ruf pair is 13% ahead of their rivals. The margin is lower than in February when the Widodo-Ma’ruf tandem was 14% ahead of Prabowo Subianto and Sandiaga Uno. Another survey of 1,200 respondents released on April 2, that of Indo Barometer, also showed that 50.8% of voters were expected to vote for Jokowi-Ma’ruf, compared to Prabowo-Sandiaga’s 32%. An 18% gap in favor of team Jokowi. The survey also gathered information that explained why Indonesians would be voting for Widodo-Ma’ruf. The latest survey of the Indo Barometer, an Indonesian research company, adds to other Indonesian polls showing that Widodo and Ma’ruf will win with 17% to 20% margin over their rivals. The Roy Morgan survey is different from the Indonesian polls in that it shows a lower margin for Widodo-Ma’ruf, 14%. It confirms a survey by Kompas last month showing Prabowo and Sandiaga Uno gaining momentum as voting day approaches. The decline of Widodo’s lead, however, is not as big as in the Kompas survey, where Widodo’s margin was reduced to 11%.

 

THAILAND

Sedition case against Thanathorn. The Pathumwan police station in Bangkok summonsed Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit to appear on April 6 to answer a sedition complaint. Thanathorn is accused of helping anti-coup demonstrators in 2015 escape arrests, a crime punishable by up to nine years in jail. Col. Burin Thongprapai, legal affairs chief of the National Council for Peace and Order, said that in May 2015, about 20 demonstrators protested at the Pathumwan police station and fled in a van, escaping arrests and detention by authorities. The authorities found later that the van was owned by Thanathorn. The sedition complaint against Thanathorn suggests that he and his Future Forward Party are being targeted by the military regime. Thanathorn and several other officials of the party are also facing a cybercrime charge over a speech made on Facebook criticizing the military government in July 2018. Prosecutors will decide on April 26 whether to put the party leaders on trial for the cybercrime charge. The Future Forward Party made a strong showing in the March 24 election, coming in third with 6.2 million votes, after the Palang Pracharat Party and the Pheu Thai Party. It has joined a coalition led by the Pheu Thai Party that has vowed to block Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha from staying in power.

 

PAPUA NEW GUINEA

Protests against mining company. Porgera town in the central Enga province has come to a standstill as 17 of 24 landowners and their supporters stageed protests, calling for gold miner Barrick (Niugini) Limited to leave the mining area. The Porgera landowners have been given the opportunity to speak their minds on Barrick’s application for renewal of mining lease for another 20 years. Barrick has operated the Porgera mining area for 30 years and its special mining lease is expiring on August 19.   The fate of Barrick’s application for mining lease extension is uncertain. Barrick’s mining operations in Porgera have been hounded by many controversies, including alleged exploitation of miners and violence against the locals. The Porgera landowners have the support of the Enga provincial government. Clients in Papua New Guinea are advised to avoid protest-hit areas in Porgera and exercise high caution across the town at this time due to ongoing tensions.

 

MALAYSIA

Najib pleads not guilty. Former prime minister Najib Razak pleaded not guilty to three counts of breach of trust, three counts of money laundering and one count of abuse of power at the Kuala Lumpur High Court complex yesterday. The charges were related to transfers totaling USD 10.3 million into Najib’s bank account from SRC International, a former unit of 1Malaysia Development Berhad. The trial started at 2:00 PM and was adjourned to April 15 at 5:36 PM. Najib is facing a total of 42 charges over his alleged involvement in the looting of USD 4.5 billion state funds from 1MDB. The trial of 1MDB cases will be a test of the functioning of Malaysia’s judicial system.

 

PHILIPPINES

Explosion in Sultan Kudarat province. More than 18 people were injured in an explosion outside a small restaurant in Isulan town in southern Sultan Kudarat province on the Mindanao island yesterday. Military officials said the attack was believed to be either an extortion attempt or retaliation by Islamist separatist militants targeted in recent military offensives. Unidentified people had recently tried to extort money from the restaurant owner, who refused to pay up. Authorities are also looking into the possibility that the attack was carried out by Muslim militants belonging to the Bangsamoro Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who have been targeted by military offensives. Isulan town in Sultan Kudarat province witnessed two consecutive bomb attacks in August and September 2018 carried out by suspected BIFF militants who have aligned with the Islamic State group. The bombings, which injured five people and injured 45 others, occurred despite tightened security on the Mindanao island. The whole of Mindanao has been under martial law since the five-month long siege in Marawi City in May 2017. Clients in the southern Philippines are advised to employ high caution in Sultan Kudarat. Travel to high-risk insurgency and kidnapping hotbeds, particularly in Western Mindanao, is not advisable.

 

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