New Mandala Associate Editor Mish Khan wades through the week that was in this crazy, chaotic corner of the globe.
This week she brings you the silly, the sublime, secession and a slice of of junk-food heaven from Myanmar, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.
Pizza with a side of political reform
With Myanmar’s middle class bulge comes a market, and everyone wants a slice. Just months after KFC became the first American fast food chain to enter Myanmar, global giant Pizza Hut has followed suit.
On Wednesday night, various celebrities were invited to the restaurant’s dine-in venue. Photos posted to the ‘Pizza Hut Myanmar’ Facebook page boasted captions such as “International brand, international experience” and “When you want to succeed, live to the edge of the crust.”
Simon Arnold, General Manager of Jardine Restaurant Group, who own the rights to world-famous ‘restaurant’ in Myanmar said, “It’s going to be very aspirational, modern and contemporary… It’s a time of change and hope now.”
Just how political is pizza? More than you would think. Myanmar’s opening up leaves it ripe for consumerism. The introduction of KFC in June was welcomed with fanfare, garnering hour long queues and 220,000+ likes on Facebook.
Following this trend, doughnut chain Krispy Kreme plans to make an entrance within the next five years. On this road less travelled, expect some familiar faces.
It’s been a busy fortnight for the Johor royal family in Malaysia.
First, the Sultan raised eyebrows by shelling out millions on a luxurious custom truck comparable to a Transformers character (made in Australia it includes a barbecue pit, two flat-screen plasma TVs and a double bed).
Then bizarrely, the Crown Prince Tunku Ismail stirred criticism by uploading opulent selfies of his new platinum blond hair which he defensively captioned, “Mind your own business… Only God can judge me.”
Now the Prince is under siege for comments made during a recent interview with a Malaysian sporting website. Although speaking about football, the outspoken Tunku managed to squeeze in a grumpy threat that Johor could always secede from the “mess we have in the country right now.”
The Prince, a vocal critic of the incumbent regime and its shortcomings, stated “…we have every right to secede from this country… I’m merely doing my duty.”
In June, Tunku Ismail’s younger brother Tunku Idris Sultan Ibrahim provoked similar tensions after he made a post on Instagram warning Johor remained capable of secession.
Thai Army brings out the keyboard warriors
Thailand’s military announced on Monday it will be forming a new unit, the Army Cyber Centre, to counter online dissent. This follows massive public backlash over controversial government plans to establish an internet firewall, with Internet Freedom advocates heavily criticising the impact of such restrictions on free speech.
Officials stated that the main purpose of the new Army Cyber Centre would be to combat cyber threats in the digital era, and to keep track of information on social media.
However, Gen Sommai added that one of the primary tasks of the security forces is to give protection to the ‘revered and beloved’ Thai monarchy.
This development is concerning in light of Thailand’s notorious and severe lèse majesté laws. Posting, sharing, or clicking on online contents allegedly defaming the monarchy are considered as ‘online criminal offenses’ under Article 112 of the Criminal Code. Offenders under Article 112 face a penalty of three to 15 years imprisonment.
Internet freedom campaigners say they are training hundreds of volunteers for a “cyber war” against censorship, having crashed several government websites under Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks earlier this month.
Indonesia: burning forests, burning bridges
Singapore’s offer of “only one aircraft” to assist Indonesia in combating hazardous forest fires covering the region in haze was “insulting” said Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law and Security Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan last Friday.
The minister defended Indonesia’s slow reaction to the crisis and its late acceptance of foreign aid, stating “I get a headache when people get upset. What are we supposed to do?
“Firstly, we wanted to try and do it on our own. Secondly, we didn’t realise the process would be so long. Thirdly, Singapore offered only one aircraft. It was insulting.”
Earlier in the month, an Indonesian official admitted that Jakarta had initially rejected Singapore’s offers of assistance because despite widespread concern about the deteriorating situation, they did not want Singapore to “claim credit” for solving the problem.
“It is the government that is working hard to resolve (this smog disaster) … So we do not want it to reach the point of them claiming credit for it,” said Indonesian Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung to CNN Indonesia.
Mish Khan is a combined Law and Asian Studies student at the Australian National University and Associate Editor at New Mandala.