BBC News: Asia Business Report

April 20, 2017

Vriens & Partners Senior Associate in Jakarta, Brian Kraft, gives his views on BBC News Asia Business Report on Indonesia-US relations with US Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to Indonesia this week.

Watch full interview here.


Today: “Najib courts Muslim vote with welcome for controversial preacher”

March 29, 2017

Malaysia has rolled out the red carpet for controversial Islamic scholar Ismail Musa Menk, a move that analysts have suggested could be part of efforts by Prime Minister Najib Razak to burnish his Islamic credentials to appeal to middle-class Muslim voters ahead of the general election.

“(Mufti) Menk is popular among middle-class Malaysian Muslims … and if this is to be read as a political motive, then this … will boost Najib’s popularity with that group,” Dr Norshahril Saat, a Fellow at the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute told TODAY.

The Zimbabwe-born Mufti Menk has more than 2.3 million Facebook fans and 1.3 million Twitter followers who regularly share his positive quotes on life.

Mr Asrul Hadi Abdullah, a director with political risk consultancy BowerGroupAsia, told TODAY that Mr Najib’s association with Mufti Menk is in line with Umno’s political Islam narrative to capture the Malay community’s votes, as the scholar is popular with the Malay electorate.

Mr Asrul’s views were echoed by Mr Adib Zalkapli, a political analyst at political risk advisory firm Vriens & Partners, who noted that any association with Mufti Menk is “definitely a vote winner”.

“Najib is not the first politician to employ this strategy and he won’t be the last. (Former opposition leader) Anwar Ibrahim used the same strategy by getting support from Yusuf Qaradawi when he was on trial for sodomy in 2014,” he said in reference to the renowned Islamic scholar and the head of the Qatar-based nternational Union for Muslim Scholars.

Anwar was convicted and jailed for sodomising a former aide, a charge he describes as a politically-motivated attempt to end his career.

To read full article, click here.

The Jakarta Post: “Mainstreaming radicalism — lessons of the West”

February 17, 2017 | Florian Vernaz

Religion is one of the five pillars of Pancasila, the philosophical foundation of the Indonesian state. Indonesia is praised as the perfect example that democracy and religious faith are indeed compatible. Under the leadership of the country’s two largest religious organizations, Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), political Islam has historically rhymed with tolerance and integrity. The late president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid is until today acclaimed for his efforts to uphold the rights of minority groups.

But hardliners have been monopolizing headlines. The eruption of religious fundamentalism into politics reached a high point ahead of the capital’s gubernatorial election — with the campaign against incumbent Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama demanding his imprisonment for alleged blasphemy, resulting in a criminal investigation.

This anti-Ahok movement is often presented as a gathering of radical islamists and “for-hire” demonstrators. This would be a misconceived simplification of the movement, and a dangerous underestimation of the emergence of ultra-conservative populism in Indonesia.

By progressively integrating far-right ideas into mainstream politics, conservative parties took down the wall separating mainstream politics from the socially stigmatized far-right nationalist discourse. The more you concede to far-right movements, the stronger they become.

The Bela Islam movement — and more specifically its treatment by mainstream media and political parties — has achieved just that: bringing far-right populism into mainstream politics and “un-demonizing” the Islam Defenders Front (FPI).

While the current administration is responsible for guaranteeing the independence of the judiciary and electoral processes and to protect the rights of religious minorities, national media also have an important role to play in preventing the normalization and mainstreaming of religious intolerance in the public space, thereby sending radicalism back to the social and political margins.

Florian is Advisor at Vriens & Partners’s Indonesia office.

To read full article, click here.

ABS-CBN News: No more honeymoon period for Trump: analyst

January 20 | ABS-CBN News

Even before he formally assumes office, the honeymoon period for United States President-elect Donald trump was already over, an analyst said Friday.

International business analyst Hans Vriens believes that the honeymoon period is already over for Trump with the decline in his popularity ratings.

“The honeymoon is already over. His popularity has gone down so much already since elections. We have to be very afraid of what’s going to happen and his incoherent view of the world,” Vriens said in a phone interview on “Mornings@ANC.”

Vriens even went as far as advising the real-estate mogul turned president-elect to resign since he is “ill-prepared” to take on the presidency.

“Resign. I mean he’s so ill prepared. I can’t think of anybody who is worse. So I don’t know why he even wants this job,” he said.

At the eve of his inauguration, Trump promised to unify the US and do things that “haven’t been done for our country for many, many decades.” He will seat as the 45th US president, replacing Barack Obama.

The New York Times: “Convicted of Sodomy, Malaysian Opposition Leader Loses Bid for Freedom”

By Mike Ives | December 14, 2016

HONG KONG — A Malaysian court on Wednesday upheld a sodomy conviction for Anwar Ibrahim, the jailed leader of the country’s opposition, bringing to a close a prolonged legal battle and sidelining a charismatic official ahead of an election in which he had hoped to challenge the scandal-ridden prime minister.

A lower court had sentenced Mr. Anwar to five years in prison in 2014, and the Federal Court upheld the sentence last year, prompting Mr. Anwar to call for a review. His lawyers have argued, in part, that the prosecution’s case had been based on a political conspiracy. But the Federal Court rejected their arguments in its decision on Wednesday.

Adib Zalkapli, a political analyst with the Singapore-based consulting firm Vriens & Partners in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, said that the verdict exhausted Mr. Anwar’s legal options and that he would probably not be released from prison until at least June 2018 — after the expected date of the country’s next general election.

“It makes a good opening line to Anwar’s political obituary,” Mr. Zalkapli said.


During a court appearance in the capital in September, Mr. Anwar publicly shook hands with Mr. Mahathir in an attempt to project unity against Mr. Najib, who is now their common opponent.

But James Chin, the director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania in Australia, said that the new alliance between the two men would have been strained had Mr. Anwar been released.

“Mahathir is trying to play the role Anwar was playing: He’s trying to cobble all the opposition parties together as a united front” against Mr. Najib’s governing coalition, Mr. Chin said. “If Anwar comes out of prison, then Mahathir’s role will disappear.”

To read full article, click here.