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.

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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.”

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Targeted Myanmar tycoon may profit from U.S. sanctions changes

Only the day before, the United States had added six of his companies to the Treasury’s blacklist, a move that is unlikely to hamper the tycoon’s business empire significantly.

President Barack Obama’s sanctions policy on Myanmar, updated on Tuesday, aims to strike a balance between targeting individuals without undermining development or deterring U.S. businesses eying the country as it opens up to global trade.

Underlining how tricky that balance is, Law may actually gain commercially from the latest changes, even if they do make it harder for him to portray himself as an internationally accepted businessman close to the new democratic government.

“Though (sanctions) are not meant to have a blanket effect on the country, their intended targets often play outsize roles … controlling critical infrastructure impacting trade and business for ordinary citizens,” said Nyantha Maw Lin, managing director at consultancy Vriens & Partners in Yangon.

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Wall Street Journal: “Aung San Suu Kyi’s Ascent Frays Ties With Myanmar’s Military”

By MYO MYO and SHIBANI MAHTANI | April 7, 2016

YANGON, Myanmar—The creation of a new leadership role for ruling party leader Aung San Suu Kyi, which she began exercising on Thursday by pledging to release political prisoners, has blindsided the military and inflamed her fraught ties with Myanmar’s powerful generals.

Members of Ms. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy cheered the new law elevating her to “state counselor,” signed Wednesday, as a major victory in their first days of leading the government. But many who are aligned with the military characterized the strategy as dangerous for the first civilian-led administrationin half a century.

Nyantha Maw Lin, managing director of Vriens & Partners in Myanmar, said such a response is unlikely. “The NLD and the military are joined at the hip, even as unlikely partners in power,” he said. “Neither side is particularly eager to go back to the way things were.”

But the military’s cooperation is needed on a whole range of issues, including Myanmar’s most intractable problems like that of armed ethnic conflict. The military controls the important ministries of defense, home affairs and border affairs, and plays an integral role in forging a peace deal. The armed forces also control large swaths of the economy.

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