Hong Kong from Another Lens

I said earlier that Hong Kong had no universal suffrage before 1997 anyway, and The Guardian commentary gave a deeper insight into the Hong Kong protest psyche, different from the typical pro-West view on the democracy movement in Hong Kong now. The writer, Martin Jacques, is a seasoned China expert who takes a more layered view of the events in Hong Kong. He makes a persuasive point that Hong Kong’s crisis is not about universal suffrage per se as it was never a real problem before, but of changing demographics and frustrations with Beijing. A Beijing that allowed Chinese cities like Shenzhen and Shanghai to take over slowly the former British colony’s lead in port and financial services, and more Chinese workers and tourists flooding Hong Kong and causing the inevitable social tension.

The Guardian’s commentary by Martin Jacques is even more enriching when compared side by side with another commentary in The Guardian which is more pro-protest, pro-revolution, and common among Western reporting of the Umbrella Revolution. The truth is rarely pure and never simple.


China is Hong Kong’s future – not its enemy
Martin Jacques
The Guardian, Tuesday 30 September 2014 19.45 BST

The upheaval sweeping Hong Kong is more complicated than on the surface it might appear. Protests have erupted over direct elections to be held in three years’ time; democracy activists claim that China’s plans will allow it to screen out the candidates it doesn’t want.

It should be remembered, however, that for 155 years until its handover to China in 1997, Hong Kong was a British colony, forcibly taken from China at the end of the first opium war. All its 28 subsequent governors were appointed by the British government. Although Hong Kong came, over time, to enjoy the rule of law and the right to protest, under the British it never enjoyed even a semblance of democracy. It was ruled from 6,000 miles away in London. The idea of any kind of democracy was first introduced by the Chinese government. In 1990 the latter adopted the Basic Law, which included the commitment that in 2017 the territory’s chief executive would be elected by universal suffrage; it also spelt out that the nomination of candidates would be a matter for a nominating committee.

This proposal should be seen in the context of what was a highly innovative – and, to westerners, completely unfamiliar – constitutional approach by the Chinese. The idea of “one country, two systems” under which Hong Kong would maintain its distinctive legal and political system for 50 years. Hong Kong would, in these respects, remain singularly different from the rest of China, while at the same time being subject to Chinese sovereignty. In contrast, the western view has always embraced the principle of “one country, one system” – as, for example, in German unification. But China is more a civilisation-state than a nation-state: historically it would have been impossible to hold together such a vast country without allowing much greater flexibility. Its thinking – “one civilisation, many systems” – was shaped by its very different history.

In the 17 years since the handover, China has, whatever the gainsayers might suggest, overwhelmingly honoured its commitment to the principle of one country, two systems. The legal system remains based on English law, the rule of law prevails, and the right to demonstrate, as we have seen so vividly in recent days, is still very much intact. The Chinese meant what they offered. Indeed, it can reasonably be argued that they went to extremes in their desire to be unobtrusive: sotto voce might be an apt way of describing China’s approach to Hong Kong. At the time of the handover, and in the three years I lived in Hong Kong from 1998, it was difficult to identify any visible signs of Chinese rule: I recall seeing just one Chinese flag.

Notwithstanding this, Hong Kong – and its relationship with China – was in fact changing rapidly. Herein lies a fundamental reason for the present unrest: the growing sense of dislocation among a section of Hong Kong’s population. During the 20 years or so prior to the handover, the territory enjoyed its golden era – not because of the British but because of the Chinese. In 1978 Deng Xiaoping embarked on his reform programme, and China began to grow rapidly. It was still, however, a relatively closed society. Hong Kong was the beneficiary – it became the entry point to China, and as a result attracted scores of multinational companies and banks that wanted to gain access to the Chinese market. Hong Kong got rich because of China. It also fed an attitude of hubris and arrogance. The Hong Kong Chinese came to enjoy a much higher standard of living than the mainlanders. They looked down on the latter as poor, ignorant and uncouth peasants, as greatly their inferior. They preferred – up to a point – to identify with westerners rather than mainlanders, not because of democracy (the British had never allowed them any) but primarily because of money and the status that went with it.

Much has changed since 1997. The Chinese economy has grown many times, the standard of living of the Chinese likewise. If you want to access the Chinese market nowadays, why move to Hong Kong when you can go straight to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and a host of other major cities? Hong Kong has lost its role as the gateway to China. Where previously Hong Kong was China’s unrivalled financial centre, now it is increasingly dwarfed by Shanghai. Until recently, Hong Kong was by far China’s largest port: now it has been surpassed by Shanghai and Shenzhen, and Guangzhou will shortly overtake it.

Two decades ago westerners comprised the bulk of Hong Kong’s tourists, today mainlanders account for the overwhelming majority, many of them rather more wealthy than most Hong Kong Chinese. Likewise, an increasing number of mainlanders have moved to the territory – which is a growing source of resentment. If China needed Hong Kong in an earlier period, this is no longer nearly as true as it was. On the contrary, without China, Hong Kong would be in deep trouble.

Understandably, many Hong Kong Chinese are struggling to come to terms with these new realities. They are experiencing a crisis of identity and a sense of displacement. They know their future is inextricably bound up with China but that is very different from embracing the fact. Yet there is no alternative: China is the future of Hong Kong.

All these issues, in a most complex way, are being played out in the present arguments over universal suffrage. Hong Kong is divided. About half the population support China’s proposals on universal suffrage, either because they think they are a step forward or because they take the pragmatic view that they will happen anyway. The other half is opposed. A relatively small minority of these have never really accepted Chinese sovereignty. Anson Chan, the former head of the civil service under Chris Patten, and Jimmy Lai, a prominent businessman, fall into this category, and so do some of the Democrats. Then there is a much larger group, among them many students, who oppose Beijing’s plans for more idealistic reasons.

One scenario can be immediately discounted. China will not accept the election of a chief executive hostile to Chinese rule. If the present unrest continues, then a conceivable backstop might be to continue indefinitely with the status quo, which, from the point of view of democratic change, both in Hong Kong and China, would be a retrograde step. More likely is that the Chinese government will persist with its proposals, perhaps with minor concessions, and anticipate that the opposition will slowly abate. This remains the most likely scenario.

An underlying weakness of Chinese rule has nevertheless been revealed by these events. One of the most striking features of Hong Kong remains the relative absence of a mainland political presence. The Chinese have persisted with what can best be described as a hands-off approach. Their relationship to the administration is either indirect or behind the scenes. Strange as it may seem, the Chinese are not involved in the cut and thrust of political argument. They will need to find more effective ways of making their views clear and arguing their case – not in Beijing but in Hong Kong.


Hong Kong and Suffrage, Little Change Pre and Post 1997

Large scale peaceful protests are not uncommon in Hong Kong. The firing of tear gas, however, is unusual and is a jolt to the Hong Kong electorate. Whether that would enrage and embolden the protesters more, or make them meek, I think the former. The involvement of students in the protest poses awkwardness for Beijing. They cannot be seen as too rough in handling the students as most of the youth there are in it more for the edgy carnival atmosphere and rebellious experience, with a sprinkling of political eagerness. While 1989 was a long time ago and a whole different world, the image of defiant students protesting is something Beijing wants to avoid in the narrative of the Hong Kong protest.

The romanticism of the need for protests is that Beijing would restrict democracy which is not far from the truth, given the pro-China bias in the way the chief executive election is held. However, was Hong Kong under British rule really democratic?

The post of the Governor of Hong Kong until 1997 was never elected by the Hong Kong public. There was no universal suffrage then either  under British rule. To play Devil’s Advocate, at least now the Hong Kong public has a choice of which pro-China Chief Executive they want.


Hong Kong surprises itself with the exuberance and spontaneity of protests
Sight of police wearing helmets and respirators unfamiliar and chilling to many, even before teargas was deployed
Tania Branigan in Hong Kong
The Guardian, Monday 29 September 2014


“Did you ever think you would see anything like this in Hong Kong? I never thought I would see anything like this in Hong Kong,” a resident marvelled as we rounded the corner of the flyover and saw for the first time just how many people had flowed into the roads around the government offices at Admiralty.

Hong Kong is no stranger to large-scale protests pushing back against Beijing: huge numbers took to the streets over controversial security laws in 2003 and plans for compulsory “patriotic education” two years ago – on both occasions prompting backdowns, though few expect a similar outcome this time.

Nor was Sunday night exactly chaotic, despite the bursts of teargas from police and the impromptu protests that sprang up at fresh locations. There were first-aid stations, litter-collection points and frequent bursts of applause: for people delivering water, or police helping an unconscious protester. The crowds swarmed around small numbers of officers repeatedly, trying to stop them moving in, but held their hands in the air to indicate they intended no malice. Upturned umbrellas blossomed across sections of the crowds to ward off pepper spray and more teargas.

In many ways it was a very Hong Kong protest, down to the protesters who politely explained that they would not be present the next day as they needed to go to work.

But the resident saw something unique in the exuberance and spontaneity of the peaceful crowd – preempting plans to launch the civil-disobedience movement on Wednesday, a national holiday – combined with the tough tactics of the police. It is the first time officers have fired teargas in Hong Kong for almost a decade.

Whether Sunday’s events will do anything to shift the views of the many people here who think of Occupy Central as inconvenient or ill-judged remains to be seen. Many protesters acknowledged that large sections of the region’s population remain politically conservative and more focused on maintaining economic stability than fighting for rights.

“You never see Hong Kong people grouping together; they always want to work and earn money,” said Melissa Lam, a 27-year-old sales assistant.

She had never protested before, but the police reaction to the students made her feel she had to act.

“I was watching TV while I ate dinner and when I saw what the police did I almost cried. My family said: You don’t have to go there – you can’t do anything in front of China; you can’t change anything … But I think I had to come. There’s no excuse. If you don’t stand up today there’s no tomorrow,” she said.

In theory the protests are about whether the universal suffrage promised to Hong Kong will be delivered or not. Beijing says that one person, one vote for the next chief executive, marks a step forward; its critics say the restrictions on candidates are so tight as to make that meaningless.

In reality, most here seem to see the protests as being about whether the region can retain its independently minded identity: about defending its rights and culture, rather than advancing them.

“We want to protect the democracy of Hong Kong,” said Templi Wong, 17.

Fifty-year-old businessman Lawrence Ku added: “Hong Kong’s freedoms have been getting less and less since the handover. We just want to have the freedom like before.”

Ku said he also feared that an influx of mainland migrants meant that soon “Hong Kong won’t be Hong Kong”, reflecting a widespread and growing sentiment.

The protesters are determined to maintain the rights and liberties unimaginable to their counterparts on the mainland. There was alarm that 17-year-old student leader Joshua Wong was held for more than 40 hours without charge – but a high court judge ordered his unconditional release on Sunday, telling police that the Scholarism leader had been held for an “unreasonably” long time. He urged the police to treat two other student leaders fairly; Lester Shum and Alex Chow were reportedly released not long afterwards.

Officers unfurled signs warning that they would fire teargas before doing so. Officials stressed that riot officers, though equipped with rubber bullets, had not used them.

But the sight of police wearing helmets and respirators was unfamiliar and chilling in itself to many, even before the canisters were deployed.

Hong Kong has often shown its spirit most forcefully when it feels under pressure from Beijing: now it is doing so again. Yet this time it faces an increasingly assertive leadership on the mainland which, thanks to China’s economic growth, no longer needs to be as careful of the financial centre as it once was. The real battle is not over the 2017 election as much as the region’s long term expectations and aspirations.

Sedition in Malaysia

Perkasa, a Malay supremacist party and ardent supporter of UMNO, supports the Sedition Act. No surprise, just as no surprise that Suaram is on the other end of the court. The National Harmony Act is supposed to be more precise in dealing with race and religious hate crime, and would replace the Sedition Act. The joke on the Sedition Act or its successor is that if there is any party that should be slapped with the Sedition Act, it should be Perkasa. Right wing politics is getting popular again even in Western democracies in Europe, so Perkasa’s rise is not an anomaly given UMNO’s reaction on Chinese voters’ supposed betrayal after the last Malaysian elections.  Malaysia successfully tried this old wine in new bottle move before when it repealed the Internal Security Act as a populist measure, and replaced it with the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012. Najib will repeat the trick. That is actually the best balance if the National Harmony Act is not all encompassing to indiscriminately net regime critics in multi-ethnic Malaysia.

Malaysia’s Sedition Debate
As the government continues to wield the colonial-era legislation, opposition is mounting.

It came as a surprise when Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced in 2012 that he was intending to repeal the Sedition Act, a piece of legislation left over from British colonial rule. People were hopeful, thinking that the abolition of such draconian laws could bring more civil liberties for Malaysians.

Fast-forward two years and hope now seems to be in short supply. Although Najib has again reiterated his intention to repeal the law, the Sedition Act is far from gone. The government has said that it aims to present the National Harmony Act Bill – a piece of replacement legislation to counter religious or racial hatred – to Parliament in 2015.

In the meantime, people are still being charged and investigated for sedition. Four opposition politicians and a law lecturer have been taken to court under the Sedition Act in the past month alone. A student was investigated under the Act for allegedly having “liked” an “I Love Israel” Facebook page, a Malaysiakini journalist was arrested for her interview with an executive councillor in Penang and a former student activist jailed for 10 months for a speech he had given.

A law introduced by the British colonial powers in 1948 to combat Communists, the Sedition Act outlaws any action that would “excite disaffection” against any ruler, government or the administration of justice in Malaysia. The maximum penalty for breaching this law is three years’ imprisonment, a RM5,000 (approx. USD1,573) fine, or both.

N Surendran, vice-president of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and one of the lawyers for the beleaguered opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, was charged with sedition on August 18 for his criticism of a court judgment relating to Anwar’s case. He later faced another sedition charge for saying that the sodomy charges against Anwar were politically motivated.

“It’s a sedition blitz. This is clearly an attempt to stifle dissent,” he told AFP.

“The reason why the Sedition Act is still in place is because it is so easy to use against dissidents,” said Syahredzan Johan, the chair of the National Young Lawyers Committee within the Malaysian Bar Council. “The Act is drafted very wide, so any form of dissent can be drafted in. It has a low threshold: there’s no need to prove intention or that anyone was incited. All you need is to prove that those things were published or uttered and you’ve got your conviction.”

Others also believe that there is an element of opposition within UMNO – part of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition – itself towards Najib’s attempt at being a “reformer.”

“The Najib government is using the easiest tool remaining, now that the [Internal Security Act] has been changed,” Bridget Welsh, Senior Research Associate at the Center for East Asia Democratic Studies of National Taiwan University, wrote in an email to The Diplomat. “It also is part of an effort to taint the opposition as ‘betraying’ the country and potentially removing key leaders from positions. It reflects jockeying for positions and prestige within UMNO.”

Human rights advocates are also concerned about the Act’s impact on freedom of expression in Malaysia. “With so many people under the investigation, arrest and charges of the Sedition Act, and the conviction of student activist Safwan Anang, the Sedition Act is going to have a very serious a chilling effects on freedom of expression of the ordinary Malaysians,” wrote human rights organization SUARAM in response to questions from The Diplomat.

With citizens deterred from criticizing the government or state officials, critics worry that politicians and high-ranking officials would no longer be held to account by the people they serve, and allowed to behave with more and more impunity.

The Malaysian Bar Council will not be sitting idle. On September 4 the National Young Lawyers Committee (NYLC) launched #MansuhAktaHasutan (#AbolishSeditionAct in English), a year-long campaign to gather grassroots support across Malaysia for the repeal of the Sedition Act.

Although the backlash against the Sedition Act has already gained some momentum, Syahredzan says it’s still necessary to take a year to reach out to more people and conduct public education campaigns on the Sedition Act.

“For us to demand repeal now… I don’t think any significant change is going to happen. You need political will, and political will will only come when the government thinks there is a significant number of Malaysians who don’t want the Act,” he said.

To get this significant number, #MansuhAktaHasutan campaigners are prioritizing a push to gain broad-based support across the country. Political campaigns in Malaysia have often been criticized as being too heavily based in the capital of Kuala Lumpur, neglecting more rural areas where political education may be lacking and public opinion very different from that in the urban center. Such KL-centric campaigns, Syahredzan says, allow the government to claim that activists are not reflecting the wider public sentiment, and to dismiss protests.

The NYLC will not be the only ones looking at public education. More than a hundred NGOs, including SUARAM, have come together to launch the Abolish Sedition Act Movement. They plan to launch a nationwide roadshow – accompanied with a parallel social media campaign – that will raise awareness about the Sedition Act and the need for repeal.

“What is important is that we need to gain that critical mass of people who are going to say that they don’t want to support the Sedition Act any longer. This is crucial,” Syahredzan said. “After one year we can tell the government that we’ve gone and done this campaign, we’ve gathered the support and we can show them with the signatures we’ve collected.”

He continues to say that the NYLC will not shy away from collaborations with political parties. “I’m quite certain that we cannot effectively have this campaign without cooperating with political parties. The Malaysian Bar has a limited reach outside of the urban centers. We are open to working with anyone! Even if there is a person in Barisan Nasional who is against the Sedition Act and wants to work with us, we are open and willing to work with them.”

While SUARAM does not believe that any other piece of legislation would be necessary to replace the Sedition Act, Syahredzan had actually been involved in drafting one of the three replacement bills as part of the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC).

“That bill put the threshold of criminalizing free speech at a much higher threshold. You need to prove that there is an intention to actually incite racial hatred. There must be an element of harm, or actual incitement to physical harm, injuries to persons or damage to property. The replacement bill doesn’t criminalize any criticism of the government or court judgments and so on and so forth,” he said.

The three bills were met with harsh criticism. Detractors said that the bills were against Islam, and would undermine the position of Malay Muslims in the country. Others slammed the NUCC for not carrying out more public engagement. Still others had problems with a clause that prohibited discrimination based on gender.

In fact, there are some groups who don’t want to see the Sedition Act to go at all. The National Unity Front – a group formed by Malay rights group Perkasa and 54 other Malay organizations – have launched a pro-Sedition Act campaign in response to #MansuhAktaHasutan.

Syahredzan is unsure of what will become of the bills. “The government shelved the bills. They said it would only be presented to Parliament sometime next year. I don’t know if these bills will see the light of day.”

That may yet change if activists from #MansuhAktaHasutan and the Abolish Sedition Act Movement are successful in their push to mobilize grassroots support. As public education campaigns begin to roll out across the length and breadth of Malaysia, the prime minister might find it harder and harder to break his promises.

Kirsten Han is a writer, videographer and photographer. Originally from Singapore, she has worked on documentary projects around Asia and written for publications including Waging Nonviolence, Asian Correspondent and The Huffington Post.

The ISIS Peril in the Region

ISIS is more than mere a bogeyman paraded by governments, whatever cynics might think of governments crying wolf. Its documented barbarism and appeal to militants to flock to Iraq and Syria is alarming. Already the UK said they would not allow UK citizens who fight with the militants to return to the UK. The Singapore government recently mentioned that some locals were with the militants in Syria, and this reflects a global trend of the romanticised militant-adventurer with an AK47 in the desert. After all, Indonesians and Malaysians are already there, and our neighbours are worried that these battle-hardened militants would return home, if they survived Syria, and revive terrorism in the region. Indonesia, with its new president, would not want another Bali or Jarkata bombing and already made statements that ISIS should not be tolerated. Rightly so.

ISIS in Southeast Asia
Canberra and Jakarta settle their intel rift, as jihadi recruiting grows.

ISIS is attracting followers from Muslim communities across the Asia-Pacific. In Indonesia, radical groups have declared support for the Islamic State in Jakarta, Surakarta and other cities. In Malaysia, police say they have arrested 19 ISIS-inspired militants planning attacks against pubs, discos and a Carlsberg brewery in and around Kuala Lumpur. Australia estimates that 150 of its citizens are now fighting with ISIS in the Middle East, with 15 Australians among the dead, including two suicide bombers.

In the face of this threat, governments need to broaden avenues of cooperation. So it’s good news that Indonesia and Australia have finally ended a feud that started last November with Edward Snowden’s revelations that the Australian Signals Directorate tried to tap the phones of Indonesia’s President and his top advisers, including the first lady, for 15 days in August 2009.

The disclosures caused a serious rift as Jakarta limited imports of Australian beef, froze trade talks, recalled its ambassador, suspended cooperation on border security and curbed military and intelligence cooperation. Protesters burned flags and effigies in front of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta.

Last week’s deal doesn’t forswear future snooping—only the use of spy resources “to harm each other’s interests,” according to Australia’s Foreign Minister. But it allows the countries to restore and expand intelligence sharing.

That’s necessary given the multinational and connected nature of modern-day jihadism. The October 2002 Bali bombing killed 202 people from at least 23 countries, including 88 Australians, 38 Indonesians, 27 Britons and seven Americans. The alleged spiritual leader of the bombers, radical cleric Abu Bakr Bashir, has pledged allegiance to ISIS from prison.

Jakarta estimates that some 60 of its citizens are fighting for ISIS, but the real number is probably higher. One potential future target is the Borobudur Temple in Java, a major tourist attraction and the world’s largest Buddhist monument. An ISIS-linked Facebook page last week expressed hope that the temple “will be demolished by Islamic caliphate mujahidin,” as the Taliban destroyed the Buddhist statues of Bamiyan in Afghanistan in March 2001.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono recently branded ISIS “humiliating” to Muslims, banned support for the group and ordered police to step up efforts against online radicalization. Malaysian leader Najib Razak has condemned ISIS for “crimes committed in the name of Islam,” while his government stepped up monitoring of Malaysians traveling overseas. Australia has tightened customs surveillance and introduced legislation to strengthen intelligence monitoring of social media and to mandate that telecom providers save two years’ worth of phone and Internet metadata.

Critics of Western intelligence agencies obsess about the theoretical risks their activities pose to civil liberties, while downplaying the risks of an all-too real and rising terrorist threat. But intelligence gathering and cooperation are vital to preventing another Bali-style bombing that would kill more innocents and force governments to take stronger measures.

Indonesia and ISIS

If ISIS becomes a real state, something like the Taliban but with more violent jihad ambitions, would Indonesia establish formal diplomatic ties? Already some Indonesians have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight. With the Indonesian government struggling to manage the domestic terrorist danger, it would be hesitant and certainly not the first if ever to recognise IS, formerly known as ISIS or ISIL.  Especially if IS still maintains its bloodlust and hatred for everyone else. Already politicians have called for censure of IS propaganda, rightly so as IS goes against Pancasila.


Heeding Concerns of the Spread of ISIS Across Indonesia
Jarkata Globe

The national and international media continue to report the rapid advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, but now often referred to as the Islamic State. It is creating an opinion here that ISIS as an entity should not deserve support from any walk of life.

In the weeks that followed extensive discussion on the impact of ISIS the Indonesian government decided to officially ban ISIS, arguing that the militant outfit should not be allowed to spread its teachings in the archipelago.

The declaration on the ban of ISIS was made in the presence of high-ranking officials from certain ministries and other government security apparatus including Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa, National Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief Marciano Norman, Justice and Human Rights Minister Amir Syamsuddin, Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Gen. Moeldoko, and National Police chief Gen. Sutarman.

It is not at all clear how ISIS could pose a real threat to the country’s national stability and security nor whether there is one who is perceived to be in charge of the ISIS movement in Indonesia. But the presence of key officials from those ministries and state agencies during the declaration has confirmed the government’s position that ISIS will not be given any room to maneuver itself and spread its teaching here.

Aside from that, the presence of the key officials is also a reflection that the government means to focus on ISIS and that the issue needs to be addressed through effective interagency cooperation.

The policy of countering the ISIS movement, if such a movement has already been far-reaching here, is not only about effective intelligence. It is also about the reliability of interagency cooperation and effectiveness. Weeks after reports that ISIS has garnered support from certain members of society here, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono chaired limited cabinet meetings on the issue, leading up to the announcement of the government’s decision to ban ISIS.

The government realized that closer cooperation, coordination and sharing of information between agencies is indeed necessary if the negative impacts of the ISIS link is to be prevented.

One report had said that the government had from the very beginning monitored the activities of ISIS here. The government is of the opinion that ISIS is an ideology that runs counter to Indonesia’s state ideology of Pancasila on pluralism and religious freedom. The government, however, stopped short of mentioning ISIS as a threat to national security.

The government can make an assessment at any time and they can also create scenarios on what might happen in the future. But there will always be surprises, no matter how carefully the government protects its national security.

This is to say that government is in a position to determine whether ISIS, perhaps inspired by Al Qaeda’s ideology, poses an imminent threat to national security. A series of terrorists acts here, from the first massive Bali bombing in 2002 to the relatively small scale of terrorist activities — not to mention casualties resulted from such an activities — simply started from the spread of improper teaching of Islam.

The case is evidence to the realities that people were being exposed to the dangerous national environment, if one were to believe that ISIS’s link here had a strong basis for any activities prohibited by law.

As ISIS garnered more support from a certain group of societies in many parts of the world, including that from Indonesia, there was reason for the government to be alarmed by a possible jihadist movement run across the country.

What surprised many was that the imprisoned terrorist convict Abu Bakar Ba’asyir officially pledged his allegiance to join the jihadist movement of the militant group.

The militant group of ISIS has metastasized. Perhaps it is against such background that the government has declared the banning of ISIS. The question then is how can one understand the ISIS threat to Indonesia’s national security.

The lineup of officials during the government’s declaration in banning ISIS indicated it as a confirmation that ISIS activities may have some repercussions, short or long term, for national security.

First, as the government strongly believes that ISIS runs counter to Pancasila ideology, ISIS-related activities or movements may jeopardize one of the elements of national security, namely societal security, which emphasized the ability of our society to persist under possible threats of the spread of ISIS teaching.

Second, sociopolitical stability may be eroded, if peace and harmony among the people here, regardless of their ethnic origin and political background, are torn by ISIS ideology.

Security risk resulting from the negative impacts of the spread of ISIS ideology calls for broad security measures to be undertaken. In the case of a real threat to national security posed by ISIS, the government can employ the following regulations: Presidential Instruction Number 2/2013, which emphasizes the cooperative mechanism between civic and security authorities to respond to and resolve domestic security disturbances caused by the ISIS movement; and the Anti-Terrorism Law Number 15/2003, if there is a strong evidence of ISIS terrorism-related activities.

The ISIS issue is already here. In the end, the new government of Indonesia will continue to face and need to address effectively the long-term security implication of the ISIS movement, if the government is not to be seen moving at a snail’s pace to address the issue.

Bantarto Bandoro is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Defense Strategy, Indonesian Defense University and founder of Institute for Defense and Strategic Research (IDSR) in Jakarta.

The Western Media Doesn’t Like Thailand Now

With the Thai economy promising at least in the short term in some accounts, the junta is not totally a bad development in the interim. The military has broken forcibly the stand-off between the pro-Thaksin and anti-Thaksin camps. Does the end justifies the means in Thailand i.e. a junta and its strong government is what Thailand needed with a weak King, a sore loser more urban anti-Thaksin camp and a populist more rural pro-Thaksin camp?

Certainly Western media types think that a chaotic even sporadically violent democracy is better than a stable junta. Not that they are wrong if the junta does not have a plan to transfer to civilian power eventually by October 2015 as promised. However, the junta’s stability is what Thailand needs now. An aside, the pro-Thaksin camp would win again when there is an election and their opponents would take to the streets again.


Five hundred days of dictatorship
Aug 5th 2014, 8:05 by The Economist | BANGKOK

THE ARMY has been the most powerful force in Thai political life since the introduction of constitutional monarchy in 1932. Since its most recent power grab, in a coup d’état sprung on May 22nd, a junta has been busy building a façade of legitimacy—as if to obscure from view their new dictatorship. An interim constitution grants absolutist powers to the military men, who effectively administer the monarchy. It also grants an amnesty for crimes related to the toppling electoral democracy and the tools necessary to ensure that martial law persists. A handpicked bunch will draft a similar piece of paper within the next 120 days. It is unclear whether the expected result, which is to be Thailand’s 18th constitution, will be put to a referendum.

To make it all fly, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, Thailand’s military dictator and prime-minister-in-waiting, had to prostrate himself in front of the 86-year-old king, Bhumibol Adulyadej. The ailing monarch’s blessing was the only available source of legitimacy. Accordingly, the interim charter makes mention of the king no fewer than 38 times. Shunting responsibility to the king in this way is a time-tested trick.

On July 31st the king endorsed the members of a new national assembly, a 200-member strong rubberstamp composed of 105 military officers (including 40 generals, 21 lieutenants-generals, 17 chief air marshals and 14 admirals). Professional politicians were ineligible. The civilian half of the new legislature includes civil servants, academics, ex-senators and figures from the private sector (in all, ten women made the cut). An opening ceremony for the assembly will be chaired by the crown prince on August 7th. One of its tasks will be to give General Prayuth, the man who appointed all legislators, the job of prime minister. Unlike the coup-makers of 2006*, who quickly delegated power to handpicked civilians, General Prayuth and his classmates are intent on retaining complete control.

The army has given itself 500 days or so to establish “genuine democracy” by fiat. It will appoint a 250-member strong National Reform Council and then task it with proposing political, social and economic reforms. The stated point of the exercise is to “create the democracy with the King as the Head of State appropriate to the Thai society”. The key characteristics of such a democracy are supposed to include free and fair elections; an end to corruption, misconduct and inequality; and the impartial enforcement of laws. It all sounds perfectly “appropriate”. But it seems the generals have in mind a few extra characteristics.

For a start, no political comeback for Thaksin Shinawatra or his sister Yingluck, the siblings who won every election since 2001. Without competitive elections, the Shinawatras are powerless, albeit rich. The generals let Ms Yingluck leave Thailand to attend the Mr Thaksin’s birthday party in Paris on July 26th. That puts Ms Yingluck in a position to decide whether to return to Thailand—and face criminal charges—or join Thailand’s long list of exiled former prime ministers.

The junta says there will be a big election in October 2015. Thus far it has refused to say if it will impose any restrictions on the franchise. But it would be a wonder if it didn’t. For the whole point of the coups of 2006 and 2014 has been to overturn the winner-takes-all system which served Mr Thaksin so well, in favour of governance by “moral people” who cannot win elections.

Much of the elite feels offended to hear a spade called a spade. But there can be no mistaking that Thailand’s government has slipped from the reach of any popular majority. The dictatorship which has replaced it will make every effort to outlast the lifespan of the current king.

Most Thai citizens (and most Western governments too) would like to see Thailand emerge someday as a prosperous, democratic republic, a leader within South-East Asia. For them the near-term future looks unpromising. Large parts of the economy are essentially criminal conspiracies based on smuggling, prostitution, gambling and corruption. Research by the World Bank shows that only half of all income shows up in Thailand’s national-accounts data—which is among the lowest rates in Asia.

And while the benefits of Thailand’s economic growth since the 1960s have raised incomes and provided health care and education to most Thais, the pillars of future prosperity look shaky. The things that will be required by further development—rule of law, a well-regulated financial system, transparency of wealth, a strong commitment to a scientific society—are in short supply.

The junta’s very existence represents a rejection of the rule of law. While its commitment to stamp out corruption sounds good, graft is too entrenched to be rooted out by the army alone; like the government it replaced, the officer corps is essentially a business club, serving the country’s elite. The financial system, long under the control of the wealthiest Thais and leading Thai-Chinese business groups, will remain a closed shop. The central bank, which became notorious for its mismanagement of the financial crisis in 1997 and 1998, has since pursued a course that is directly supportive of the wealthy and has significantly slowed growth. Much has been written about the successes of the Thai economy, but Thailand’s record in raising peoples’ standards of living post-1997 is actually worse than that of any other country in East or South-East Asia (with the notable exception of North Korea**). The secretive policies of the Crown Property Bureau, the palace’s investment arm and the biggest conglomerate in Thailand, reflects a deep resistance to transparency. Finally, if freedom of thought and expression are to be the basis of any scientific society—then Thailand will just have to wait.

The forces that are leading the society backwards are now unassailable, according to the letter of the law. They shield themselves from every other kind of criticism by their association with the monarchy. Challenging a state that has been endorsed by the king is socially unacceptable—and now it is a criminal offence, too.

Eventually public opinion will turn against the junta. But a social response to economic failure will take time to develop. Thailand’s economy is short of labour, with nearly full employment. Its fiscal position is enviable by most European and Asian standards.

Yet a meaningful economic recovery in the second half 2014 would be nothing short of a miracle. Imports fell 14% year-on-year in June and industrial output fell 6.6%. Overall production, consumption, investment and tourism all slumped. Investment, which follows demand, will not pick up until the collapse in domestic demand has been reversed. High household debt and consumers’ reluctance to invest their black money are likely to complicate a return to rapid growth. Whatever happens in the next few months, Thailand is likely to be the slowest-growing economy in Asia this year.

At some point the self-appointed leadership is bound to weary of defending itself on the pretext of building a democracy. Most dissenters appear to have resigned themselves to the fact that their views will not matter for a while, perhaps two or three years. Many are too busy simply trying to make ends meet.

To stay in power till the next royal succession, the generals must prove that their brand of authoritarianism can improve the lot of 68m Thais. If they pulled it off, theirs would be the first coup anywhere since the end of the cold war that actually raised the pace of income growth. It will never be known what Thailand could have achieved for itself this decade within a democratic framework. If Thailand’s own history is a reliable guide, abandoning democracy can be expected to lead straight to economic stagnation and exacerbated inequality.

(Picture credit: AFP)

Corrections to this article:
* This clause was changed to refer specifically to the 2006 coup. As a reader pointed out, some of the leaders of previous coups were not so quick to hand over the reins.
** Another reader directed our attention to the case of North Korea, which we had overlooked somehow. Thank you, both.

Malaysians Protest Over 400% Toll Hike By Malaysian Government

The Malaysian Highway Authority’s Johor Causeway toll of cars is now RM 16.50 instead of RM 2.90, amongst other increases for taxis, buses and commercial vehicles. The explanation for the toll was that it was for the maintenance of the JB CIQ and the EDL, the smaller newer highway in JB that connects to the NS highway. Malaysians are angered as those using the EDL but not the Causeway get a free ride, while those who use the Causeway but not the EDL are subsidising for the EDL users.

Furthermore, this toll looks different from the VEP that the Malaysian government wanted to introduce in 2015 in retaliation to the proposed Singapore-side fee increase from $20/day to $25/day for foreign cars driving into Singapore.

The in-out toll will hit Johor residents who work in Singapore as well as commercial vehicles heading into the Singapore market and port, and back. The thousands of bikes entering Singapore daily are exempted for now from the toll so the industry and retail workers biking into Singapore would be unaffected so far. As this is separate from the tit-for-tat VEP by Putrajaya and with Johor re-asserting its economic independence e.g. Iskandar, a simplified explanation is that could be an attempt to dent Singapore’s economy by driving up daily costs of Johor-Singapore commuters and businesses, deterring them from driving south.

Malaysian bus drivers stage ‘strike’ at Johor Checkpoint

SINGAPORE — Malaysian buses ferrying factory workers and school children into Singapore are reported to have staged a strike at the Malaysian Checkpoint at Johor Bahru.

MediaCorp Hotline received at least five calls about the incident early this morning (Aug 1). One of the callers, Mr Tan, said he saw many Malaysian-registered buses ferrying factory workers from Johor stopped their vehicles at Johor Checkpoint, refusing to continue their journey into Singapore at Woodlands.

Mr Tan said the strike by the bus drivers caused heavy traffic congestion at the Johor Checkpoint. Factory workers had to disembark at the Malaysian CIQ (Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Complex) and walk a long distance into Singapore to board buses to their workplace.

Another caller said the congestion at the Malaysian CIQ had also affected school children travelling into Singapore. He said most of them will be late for school this morning. CHANNEL NEWSASIA