The Daily Brief for Thursday, 14 September 2017

The DailyBrief

Thursday September 14, 2017

Indonesian presidential poll: Everyman leader Joko Widodo is riding a populist wave and there is no challenge in sight to his re-election in 2019, John McBeth writes. For a mid-term leader presiding over a worryingly stagnant economy, his rising popularity is an unusual phenomenon. Widodo’s approval rating stands at 68.3% in the latest Center for Strategic and International Studies poll, despite policies that disturb the business community and point the country in the direction of more state and bureaucratic control. Social media-savvy Widodo pursues a brand of populist politics that notably does not rely on good governance, sound planning or an understanding of the outside world. Instead, it rests on what it takes for him to survive and to keep a generally compliant citizenry on his side.

Southeast Asia infrastructure: Laos’ Pak Beng dam on the lower Mekong River, developed by China and supported by Thailand, has divided riparian nations over how best to manage the river’s resources, Tom Fawthrop writes. The US$2.4 billion hydropower project will export 90% of its generated electricity to Thailand. However, the 912-megawatt dam’s plan came under heavy fire during the six-month consultation process organized by the Mekong River Commission – an intergovernmental body that brings together the four riparian states of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam towards the goal of sustainable development of the region’s water resources. The MRC’s panel of experts found many flaws in the dam’s design and a lack of credible environmental impact studies.

India’s bullet train: The US$17 billion Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail (MAHSR) project comes at a time when critics say the money could have gone towards improving basic safety and services, E Jaya Kumar writes. Rail service is critical to the Indian economy and is considered a political hot potato. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe jointly laid the foundation for the project at Sabarmati station in Ahmedabad on Thursday. The inauguration of the hugely expensive project comes at a time when the railways are reeling under a spate of accidents, a situation exacerbated by terrorism fears.

Cambodia crackdown response: Should the West impose sanctions to restore political order? Kongkea Chhoeun asks. The Southeast Asian country’s politics reached a new boiling point with the arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha last week on treason charges. Members of the opposition are calling for the international community to take tough action against the Hun Sen government, but have fallen short of prescribing specific actions. In the event of Western economic sanctions, parts of the Cambodian export sector are most likely to collapse. With this in mind, the West should influence political change by capitalizing on its past efforts aimed at freeing its citizens from penury, but must accept that any meaningful political changes should be brought about from within.

Bangladesh flood devastation: The agriculture-dependent country is facing a severe crisis, Syed Tashfin Chowdhury writes. Nearly 40 million people across Bangladesh, India and Nepal are estimated to have been affected in the annual floods that ravage South Asia every year. Reports indicate that around 800 people have died in the three countries due to the floods, besides causing damage estimated to be in billions of dollars. Bangladesh has borne the brunt of the floods, with two in April and June, and the third one in August. The disaster has affected more than eight million people in Bangladesh by damaging houses, roads, schools and other infrastructure, destroying crops in an agriculture-dependent economy. So far, the flood has claimed nearly 100 lives in Bangladesh.

Asia Times app: Asia Times has launched an app for both iOS- and Android-based devices that delivers the publication’s regular daily news, commentary, blogs and live coverage while also bringing readers added functionality. As we report here, the app, launched on July 25, includes content notification, share and save functions and is free to download from both the Apple Store and Google Play.