1. […] in New Mandala. 13 NOV, […]

  2. […] It has received a lot of attention due to its use of a notorious section of an ancient Buddhist text, the Mahavamsa. I have written about the context of the sermon in an my essay Sitagu Sayadaw and justifiable evils in Buddhism. […]

  3. […] oppressive. It suppresses free speech and individual rights. It invites abuse and enforcement by vigilante groups. But that does not mean Indonesian democracy is destined to become a theocracy in which […]

  4. Mark Woodward says:

    There have always been conservative factions within NU, and among groups and individuals sharing its basic religious teachings.

    It is important to keep the fact that there is not a causal relationship, or even a strong correlation between basic religious orientations and positions on contemporary issues including the politics of pluralism.

    For example, NU and FPI share many basic religious principles including adherence to one of the four recognized Sunni legal schools, Asharite or Maturidite theology and the Sufism of al-Ghazzali and al- Junaid and ritual practices including tahlilan (prayers for the departed) and ziyarah (pilgrimage to the graves of saints.) As far as the politics of pluralism is concerned they could not be more different. On this issue NU Garis Lurus has moved towards the FPI position. As was evident in a February 2018 speech by Sobri Lubis, FPI has soften its rhetoric and no longer calls for killing its opponents. The conservative coalition also includes Salafi oriented groups strongly opposed to the theological and ritual orientations of NU (including NU Garis Lurus) and FPI.

    There is also a strong pluralist movements in Muhammadiyah, which also differs fundamentally from NU on core religious teachings and practices. Muhammadiyah’s teachings are influenced by Salafism including that of Ibn Taymiyyah. Muhammadiyah rejects many devotional practices dear to NU.

    The politics of Islam in the 2019 election will be about the politics of pluralism, not the politics of theology and ritual. In the long run this is a positive development and a sign of a maturing democracy. An alliance based on the politics of pluralism can extend across sectarian lines and also appeal to non-Muslims.

  5. David Fuller says:

    Clay Fuller article “The international sand market, dictators, and criminals”..

    “From 2012 to 2016, Cambodia reported exports of only $275,606 worth of all types of sand to Taiwan. Taiwan meanwhile, reported imports of $32 million worth of silica sand from Cambodia during that same period. The same pattern appeared with other countries. Singapore reportedly imported $752 million in Cambodian sand during that time, but Cambodia claims it only exported $5 million to Singapore.

    The descrepancies above are a gugantic amount of corruption….

  6. […] Timor-Leste is a good example of how a closed-list system discourages politicians from adopting vote-buying strategies. Although East Timorese voters’ willingness to engage in vote buying was high during the 2017 election, little evidence of vote buying has been found. Only 4 per cent of East Timorese report having individually been the target of such handouts. […]

  7. Kevin Hewison says:

    Thank you for this report. Readers might find this paper of some interest: David J.H. Blake & Keith Barney, “Structural Injustice, Slow Violence? The Political Ecology of a ‘Best Practice’ Hydropower Dam in Lao PDR,” Journal of Contemporary Asia. This article is currently available for free download:

  8. J. Sylvester says:

    Thank you for this illuminating article. I’ve worked in a CSO in Laos for several years, and while reading this, one of my main thoughts was “ah, so it’s not just us”. We are really feeling the crush of the forces you describe: international donors turning away from rights-based advocacy work in favour of politically safe topics, while concurrently there are ever-increasing domestic restrictions and bureaucracy. So it was with sadness and frustration that I read that others across the region are facing the same thing. I’m also seeing that the new priority of donors / IFIs is to create an “enabling environment” for the private sector – which often comes with huge funding attached. But none are so interested in creating an enabling and safe environment for civil society. As a consequence (as mentioned in the comment above) many CSOs are indeed ‘rushing’ to maintain funding by following a market-oriented approach, and engaging more with the private sector. But instead of a ‘rush’ I would say many organisations are reluctant – or even forced – to take this path, because the reality is that securing funding is the difference between whether a CSO can continue to exist or has to shut its doors. @DrRosalia I would be happy to discuss further about NGO practices if you’re writing about this topic in a future article.

  9. John Lowrie says:

    This is an incisive examination of Cambodia’s election scene harking back to 1993, as indeed I do with 1998 the first election I observed and worked on. There is one big difference this year from all of those previous election years. There is no hope or optimism, no vision of a better future. Instead the electorate is entreated to “stick to what we have” as to flirt with any other will bring untold disaster. Sadly the CNRP leadership has not risen to the occasion again. The “boycott” tactic is not thought through – again – as anyone with rudimentary knowledge of how Cambodia’s election machinery operates will tell you. All that does is to leave even more unused blank ballot-papers (beside the usual surplus printed ones) available to be marked and counted for the expected results to emerge.
    Such rigging as been observed in previous elections. This year there are no independent trained observers to detect such discrepancies.

    CNRP is of course not the only one to be guilty of the childish “boycott” mentality of a bad loser, even if there is some justification because of being cheated. As this article describes CPP in 1993 adopted the same tactic, as did FUNCINPEC (and Sam Rainsy) in later polls. At least this year there is no cheated losing party to mount demonstrations to be suppressed violently.

    CNRP though does need to recognize that it has a serial boycotting problem. It kept doing the same at the National Assembly. Instead of attending, debating, putting forward amendments, then voting for them – being active before national televised audiences, what did they do? Boycott! In one case they all took off down to the sea-side in Sihanoukville instead of doing the job they were elected for and paid for. That is not leadership. It is not democracy. They should have tried their best to engage, even if bound to lose the vote. That’s how Parliaments work. Then they should return to their constituencies – few Cambodian Parliamentarians do much of this – to explain why they took the line they did; why it matters to constituents, and why the only way to put it right, is to make sure fewer people vote for the ruling party next time round.

    That is grass-roots mobiliisation of democracy. Mu Sochua recently accepted that CNRP ought to have done more of that. In fact that is exactly the advice US advisers gave to Kem Sokha as to how to gain power. He is held in prison on charges of fomenting a revolution on the basis of an audio-tape that doesn’t tell the full story. The only witnesses – the US Advisers – have still not been called as witnesses nor have they spoken up. They should.

    As I said CNRP should try to stay engaged. It is wrong that their party was banned, the same fate of Thaksin Shinatwatra’s successive parties in Thailand, from which CPP got the idea. But there the party re-emerged and will do so again. CNRP could have thrown its lot behind the Grassroots Democracy Party but instead it chose to refuse to come out to play.

    PM Hun Sen will be returned to power. That will be enough for some easing-up of restrictions. More relaxations will surely follow due to pressure from the US and Europe that will have some effect. The question is “Do CNRP leaders have the wherewithal to re-group and to adapt to the new realities?” Or will they stay disengaged and sulk?

  10. Alice Evans says:

    Brilliant article, thank you so much.
    I think there are parallels in Cambodia, with Chinese investment raising costs, creating a form of gentrification, and generating resistance.

  11. This is entirely consistent with what I observed in Cambodia (especially Sihanoukville, which the Chinese all but own outright, and with what I am told is occurring (with Duterte’s blessing) in The Philippines (where the Chinese have a military base — and therefore their Navy and Air Force — on Philippine soil). It takes local, grass-roots outrage to counter Chinese encroachment, as the cancellation of the dam projects in Myanmar demonstrates.

  12. Rosalia Sciortino says:

    Thank you for your comment and indeed I was trying to show how the two are interlinked. In a next article, I hope to pay attention to NGOs practices. On philanthropy (and development aid) in SEA you may want to see this special issue of the Austrian Journal of SEA studies I curated

  13. Abdul Latiff says:

    Currently only Perlis and Pahang remain under “BN”. Sarawak is under the newly formed GPS.

  14. Janus Nolasco says:

    Thank you, David. 🙂 Happy to see my piece in a broader global context. And glad to have been able to contribute to the debate and to understanding what makes President Duterte so popular. I hope I can find time to write another aspect of his political aesthetics apart from the visual.

  15. R. Arnst says:

    Definitely worth reading. While increasing authoritarianism is likely the largest factor in the shrinking space or role for “vibrant” civil societies, the policies and practices of bi-lateral, multi-lateral and private aid agencies certainly deserve closer scrutiny as well, as does the rush by many NGOs to maintain or increase their funding by adopting service-delivery, market-focused, and/or corporate-friendly program approaches.

  16. David Camroux says:

    With this and the interviews in the “Philippines Beyond the cliches” series New Mandala has been spoiling avid affecionados of things Filipino in the last ten days or so. This piece is further proof of how observations of the Philippines can enrich wider comparative research. While Janus Nolasco provides several pertinent insights to enrich the burgeoning literature on President Duterte and the Philippine’s case, he also contributes to the expanding literature on contemporary populism as a worldwide phenomenon. Much of that literature concentrates on the “demand” side of populism while neglecting the “supply” side. To use a phrase applied to Donald Trump: we need to take populist demagogues both literally and seriously.
    The concern with cleanliness linked to modernity expressed by Duterte allows him to reconcile a fundamental contradiction, namely that he claims to be “of” the people and their true champion, while at the same time in his action he is totally disdainful of the unwashed masses. However if those masses are cleansed, with the drug dealers, loiterers, etc literally eliminated, then the “washed masses” are reborn as the worthy people. A concern with cleanliness (linked to modernity) can be found in India with Prime Minister Modi and his campaign against public defecating indeed a serious health issue. The problem is that cleansing of a literal nature can be re-channelled as we have seen in India with the rise of Hindu ethno-nationalism, or in Myanmar with the Bamar/Buddhist ethno-nationalist version to cleansing a country of “ethnic vermin”.

    Full transparency, my colleagues Christophe Jaffrelot and Elise Massicard at Sciences Po have organized over the last year or so a research group on the “New Demagogues” with a concluding colloquium planned for the end of this year. The purpose is to tease out common traits, as well as differences, between populist political leaders such as Chavez, Duterte, Erdogan, Hun Sen, Mahathir, Modi, Putin, Thaksin, etc.

  17. David Camroux says:

    Firstly thank you to Nicole Curato and New Mandela for launching the series” The Philippines beyond the cliché. The Philippines is very much in the headlines ,not necessarily for the best reasons. For example few weeks ago the British Economist devoted its cover story to four demagogues threatening democracy worldwide: Rodrigo Duterte figured alongside Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Viktor Orbán and Vladimir Putin. Given the rise of populism, and the concomitant growth industry in academic research on the subject, the Philippines has now metaphorically joined the World Cup finals as an object of comparative research. Jayeel Cornelio’s interview is very much in this vain, for while he stresses the specific features of the Filipino religious and political experience the global implications of his research are also apparent. Two examples spring to mind. The first concerns the support provided by Evangelicals to such morally depraved individuals as Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte. We have seen how the double tropes of “the ways of the Lord being impenetrable… and the incapacity of mankind to discern God’s will” can be pushed to their limits. It requires a particular kind of theological gymnastics to square personal Christian convictions with support for two such totally ungodly individuals. A second example that Cornelio alludes to both in his interview, but more thoroughly in his important book, is that of young Catholics in the Philippines. In another case, albeit a less dangerous one, of a rather unique form of exegeses they have turned st Paul’s exhortation – “faith without works is dead” – on its head. As long as you do the “works” there is a wide latitude to interpret what the “faith” actually involves.


  19. Rosalia says:

    Thank you for your suggestion and will try to find the chapter as it seems highly relevant to my argument

  20. Erick White says:

    I didn’t ask for a definitive accounting, just suggested that more information would be useful. I also didn’t ask that the event be covered in its entirety, but rather that the discussion include a wider set of voices than just those few emerging in national mass media reporting. Your own argument incorporates a discussion of multiple voices and perspectives; I’m simply asking for that diversity to be expanded further.

    Those suggestions were provoked by the ambitious scope and rather settled nature of the final interpretation offered. We are told in the conclusion that: “With the successful rescue of the young footballers, the central state eventually conquered the wild and harmful periphery, subsuming its power.” This seems like a quite definitive ending to a mere possibility suggested just a bit earlier: “It is almost as if the state-promoted narrative of the rescue operation sought to put an end to the existing myth, and replace it with a conclusion in which the centre is finally able to take over the unruly periphery.”

    It seems to me that we don’t have enough evidence to reach these conclusions yet, however. What exactly are the specific signs – in this case – of this conquering, replacement and ending of local narratives and interpretations? Clearly we have evidence of contrasting and even conflicting narratives. But what indicates that one narrative has displaced and subsumed another?

    Thus the call for gathering more voices and perspectives, and waiting at least for the immediate drama of the rescue itself to resolve one way or the other before concluding which narrative won the boxing match.