A fortnightly snapshot of what’s making headlines in South East Asia.

Power struggle in Malaysian politics

Divisions and shifting alliances have come to characterise Malaysian politics in recent years. Over the last fortnight politics have been particularly turbulent.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s ruling coalition won the key state election in Sabah (Borneo), which was seen as a key test of his popularity. The win comes at a significant time, with Muhyiddin facing a leadership challenge from opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who is claiming that he has the parliamentary majority needed to rule.

But with Malaysia’s king, Sultan Abdullah of Pahang, currently undergoing medical treatment, Anwar’s claim that he has a parliamentary majority cannot be tested until the king is back in action.

There is speculation that some UMNO members will support Anwar in his bid for the prime ministership in return for the pardoning of former prime minister Najib Razak’s corruption charges. This could in turn affect the legal challenge against Anwar’s pardon for the controversial sodomy conviction.

Cambodia demolishes US-built facility at Ream Naval Base

Last year Phnom Penh’s decision to reject a US offer to refurbish Ream Naval Base fuelled rumours of a Chinese military presence in Cambodia. The rejection came despite an initial request from Cambodia for the US to carry out repairs to the base which is situated on the Gulf of Thailand.

This week the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (US think tank) published satellite images that it claims confirm the Cambodian government demolished the tactical headquarters building that the US had built at the Base. The move has been confirmed by Cambodian Defense Minister General Tea Banh, who labelled it a “sovereign” decision.

Ream Naval Base has been a contentious point between Phnom Penh and Washington since the Wall Street Journal reported a on a deal which would allow China to use the base for 30 years.

Protests against labour law in Indonesia

Protests are taking place across parts of Indonesia as citizens protest against President Joko Widodo’s “omnibus” job creation bill.

Critics of the law argue that the revision to more than 70 existing laws intended to accelerate economic reform serve the interests of business and undermine labour protection and environmental regulations.

The law contains clauses which will erode progress made towards the promotion of formal hiring practices in Indonesia—resulting in more people reliant on the informal economy. Global investors have hit out at the legislation, stating that it poses a real threat to the country’s tropical forests.

The government claims the newly passed law will remove red tape, stimulate investment and create jobs—which are leading priorities as the country pursues economic recovery from the impact of coronavirus.


Dr Lucy West is a Senior Research Assistant at the Griffith Asia Institute.