In Southeast Asia last week, battles decreased in Myanmar as the country prepared for its general elections, held on 8 November. However, civilians in Rakhine state continued to flee their homes as a result of military operations. In Thailand, anti-government protests continued though in a downward trend amid government efforts to de-escalate tensions. Meanwhile, an uptick in protests denouncing the French president were recorded in Indonesia in light of his comments pertaining to Islam; this came alongside a slight decrease in demonstrations opposing the Omnibus Law on Job Creation. Finally, in the Philippines, a deadly clash broke out between the Islamist Abu Sayyaf group and state forces.
In Myanmar, clashes between the military and ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) decreased in Myanmar ahead of the 8 November general elections. However, civilian casualties and displacements continue to be reported in Rakhine state amid ongoing shootings, arrests, and interrogations by the military. At least two civilians were shot dead by the military in Rakhine state last week. Meanwhile, 45 fishermen and their families were detained by the military in Kyaukphyu township as part of security operations targeting the United League of Arakan/Arakan Army (ULA/AA) (Narinjara News, 5 November 2020). As a result of the military operations that started on 2 November, hundreds of villagers in Kyaukphyu Township fled their homes last week (Development Media Group, 9 November 2020).
Separately, an explosion went off at the election sub-commission office in Bago region on 6 November, two days before the election. While there were no reports of casualties from the explosion, the incident is viewed as an act of intimidation ahead of the elections. This is at least the second time electoral officers have been targeted with explosives this year. Earlier in September, two grenades were thrown into the home of an electoral official in Naypyitaw. Several other incidents of election-related violence have been recorded across the country since the campaign period began in September. Last week’s explosion follows two incidents of mob violence between supporters of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) and those of the rival Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). The clashes broke out in Sagaing region on 23 October and in Mandalay region on 25 October, where at least one person was killed and another was stabbed, respectively. (For more on elections in Myanmar, see this recent ACLED report entitled 2020 Elections in Myanmar.)
In Thailand, the number of both royalist and anti-government demonstrations continued to decline for the second week in a row. The decrease in anti-government demonstrations comes ahead of yet another mass rally that had been announced for 8 November, during which protesters marched to submit letters to the king; police dispersed protesters with tear gas (Bangkok Post, 9 November 2020). Following a proposal by the government to set up a “reconciliation committee” to de-escalate tensions, protesters last week stated that a precondition to their participation in the proposed panel is the fulfilment of their first demand: the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha (Chiang Rai Times, 5 November 2020). Opposition parties also put forth a similar precondition (Thai PB World, 2 November 2020). While denouncing the panel as a stalling tactic by the government, protesters also reaffirmed their intention to continue pushing for their two other demands: reforms to both the constitution and the monarchy. Notwithstanding protesters’ and opposition parties’ rejection of the panel, the House Speaker plans to move forward with the establishment of the committee on the basis that “conflicting parties” need not participate (Khaosod, 6 November 2020).
The protesters’ explicit lack of willingness to make concessions comes after King Vajiralongkorn made his first public comments about the anti-government movement, wherein he stated, “Thailand is the land of compromise” (Nikkei Asia, 3 November 2020). Nevertheless, the persistence of the protesters as well as authorities’ repeated harassment and intimidation of protesters in recent months indicate that compromise from either side might still be some distance away (Prachatai, 6 November 2020). On 7 November, in a bid to continue galvanizing support for the People’s Party (also known as “The People”) – the main group leading the protest movement – a group of students announced the formation of a new collective called “Free Student” (Matichon, 7 November 2020). Meanwhile, a protest organizer was assaulted by unidentified men, allegedly linked to the government, in Bangkok last week (Thai Rath, 5 November 2020).
In Indonesia, protests against French President Emmanuel Macron increased, while demonstrations against the Omnibus Law on Job creation decreased slightly. Muslim protesters, including members of the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), gathered in about a dozen cities across the country to denounce the French president’s remarks about Islam. Macron’s remarks, including his defense of illustrations of the Prophet Muhammad, have been viewed as “insulting” and “blasphemous” by Muslims around the world. Thousands of protesters gathered at the French Embassy in Central Jakarta on 2 November to demand that Macron retract and apologize for his statements (Channel News Asia, 2 November 2020). They also continue to call for a boycott on French products. These demands were reiterated throughout the week in similar protests denouncing the French president. Stores in East Java and West Kalimantan provinces have joined the global boycott and have pulled French products from their shelves (Anadolu Agency, 4 November 2020).
Meanwhile, there was a slight decrease in protests against the Omnibus Law on Job Creation last week. The decrease came as President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo gave his signature to the law – thereby officially bringing it into effect – on 2 November, a few days before it would have automatically been enacted (Nikkei Asia, 3 November 2020). Based on Indonesia’s legislative process, the law would be enacted a month after its passage by parliament even if the president did not sign it. Opponents of the law fear the detrimental effects it would have on labor and environmental protections. Additionally, critics have been disgruntled about the perceived lack of due process around the review and approval of the law. When Jokowi gave his signature on Monday, the text of the law had increased by about 200 pages since it was initially passed by parliament. It was also reported that several versions of the law with varying lengths had been circulating in the past month. Legal experts who reviewed the legislation last week pointed out that it contained several errors, such as missing clauses (Jakarta Globe, 3 November 2020). This has given rise to further concerns about the legitimacy of the law. The Indonesian Trade Union Confederation (KSPI) – one of the main groups protesting against the legislation – has since filed for a judicial review of the law at the Constitutional Court (Jakarta Globe, 3 November 2020).
Lastly, in the Philippines, a major clash between the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and the military took place off the coast of Sulare Island in the Sulu Sea. Navy forces aided by helicopters opened fire at members of the Islamist group as they were leaving the island. At least seven ASG fighters were reported dead, including Mannul Sawadjaan, the purported emir of the Islamic State in the Philippines and brother of the high profile ASG bombmaker Mundi Sawadjaan. Two other ASG members killed in the incident were also related to the fugitive bombmaker (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 4 November 2020). Authorities have been actively pursuing Sawadjaan and his associates since the deadly 24 August twin bombings in Jolo, Sulu, which he allegedly masterminded (Rappler, 27 August 2020).
Elsewhere in the Philippines, drug-related violence continues to be reported. One particular incident garnered significant attention: the killing of a drug suspect named Vincent Adia in his hospital bed on 5 November. Adia had sustained three head wounds in a vigilante-style shooting earlier that day and was brought to the hospital for treatment. A few hours later, after he had regained consciousness and was recuperating in the emergency room, a masked gunman walked in and shot him twice in the head. Police say this is the most brutal incident of its kind that they have encountered so far (Rappler, 5 November 2020). While police also said that they have yet to establish whether or not the victim was on the government’s list of drug suspects, Adia was found with a sign saying ‘pusher ako’ (‘I am a pusher’) after the first attack, suggesting that he may indeed be on the list (ABS-CBN, 5 November 2020).
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