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

Myanmar heads to the polls

On November 8, Myanmar citizens will head to the polls for the country’s second general election since the end of military rule in 2011. The general outlook is expecting a win for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD). At the historic 2015 election, the NLD secured a landslide 77% of seats, ethnic minority parties just over 12% and the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) around 10%.

But remember that regardless of who wins the election, Burmese military officers will still retain 25% of seats in parliament.

As outlined by analysts, there are a number of important questions around this election:

  1. Can Myanmar guarantee the health and security of citizens amid the COVID-19 pandemic?
  2. Will the NLD be able to maintain votes from ethnic minority voters, many of whom have become increasingly dissatisfied with the party?
  3. Will a NLD win mean progress or decline for Myanmar’s quality of democracy?

Observers have already reported an increase in pre-election violence compared to 2015 and ongoing doubts about the prospect of elections being free and fair. In mid-October the country’s election supervisory body announced a list of constituencies where the election will not take place due to security concerns. Consequently, polling in some parts of Rakhine, Shan, Kachin, Kayin and Mon, as well as the Bago region, won’t take place.

Former Singaporean diplomat questions neutrality of Cambodia and Laos

Former Singaporean diplomat Bilahari Kausikan caused controversy this fortnight over his remarks that Southeast Asian countries should consider revoking ASEAN membership for Cambodia and Laos for allowing external influence from China to influence regional affairs.

Kausikan questioned the political neutrality of the two Mekong states … “To state things bluntly, I see Cambodia and Laos teetering precariously on the edge of making a parallel mistake as that which led to very tragic results for their countries in the late 1960s and 1970s”, he said.

Cambodia and Laos are seen as being firmly in China’s orbit. Kausikan also highlighted the nations’ lack of engagement on the South China Sea issue—an enduring issue for the regional bloc.

The Cambodian government mouthpiece, ‘Fresh News’, responded with an open letter reportedly authored by a group of current and former Cambodian diplomats attacking Kausikan and the host institute for promoting the idea that Cambodia was a Chinese “puppet” state.

Typhoon Goni heads for Vietnam after tearing through the Philippines

At the start of the month Typhoon Goni (known locally as Rolly) tore through the Philippines. At least 20 people are reported to have lost their lives, but thanks to an early warning system hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated and 1.07 million tonnes of rice was saved.

The Philippines is still experiencing high coronavirus rates, making the health and economic recovery even more challenging for affected communities. A weakened Goni is expected to hit Vietnam on 5 November. The central-region of Vietnam is still responding to widespread flooding last month from typhoon Molave.


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