THE JAKARTA POST
The Jakarta Post is the most widely circulated English-language daily in Indonesia, and second to leading Indonesian daily Kompas in online visits. Founded in 1983, it holds a pro-democracy editorial stance.
Geopolitics
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank and Manon Dambrine

Thailand To Belarus: The Divides Of Democracy Protesters

In two very different parts of the world, seemingly impenetrable authoritarian regimes suddenly appear under siege by popular democratic uprisings. But as protesters take to the streets in Belarus and Thailand — and garner widespread international support — it still remains unclear if they'll be able to turn their mass demonstrations into tangible change.

Flawed democracy, military rule: Thailand, which for years has vacillated between periods of a flourishing if flawed democracy and straight-out military rule, has been run by generals who took over in a 2014 coup and suspended the constitution. The junta has faced sporadic protests, but General-turned-Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's victory for another four-year tem in a sketchy 2019 general election did not cause a major stir, until the recent unrest.

One-man show: In contrast, Belarus has seen next to no bona fide democracy since it became independent following the end of the Soviet Union. President Alexander Lukashenko (who has served for 26 years) recently won reelection in what is widely considered to be a corrupt race that included his opponent fleeing and seeking asylum in Lithuania. Many Belarusians had developed a sense of complacency with the man often described as Europe's last dictator — particularly in defending the small former Soviet country against its neighbor Russia.

What changed in Minsk: But the spark of revolution is drawing supporters from even his traditional base. Belarus's largest protest ever took place last weekend in the capital Minsk.

• Tens of thousands chanted "Resign" and condemned the police brutality that has led to at least two deaths and around 6,700 arrests. Accounts of torture and forced disappearances have only spurred more to join the protests.

• Many state employees have quit their jobs, including members of the government-controlled media, who called it a propaganda arm for Lukashenko.

• Opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya encouraged collective action in a video, saying "We need to stop the violence on the streets of Belarusian cities. I call on the government to stop this and come to the negotiating table."

What changed in Bangkok: Meanwhile last Sunday in the Thai capital, an estimated 10,000 student protesters attended a rally at the Democracy Monument asking for the reform of the country's monarchy.

• The protest, organized by the Free People group — formerly called Free Youth — is the largest anti-government rally since the 2014 coup. Thatthep Ruangprapaikitseree, the group's leader, announced in a statement they will stick to three demands: They want the dissolution of the House of Representatives, a new constitution "based on the will of the people" and "the end of intimidation of critics of the government."

• This movement comes after a month of almost daily protests which took place all around the country; a Harry Potter-themed rally criticizing the monarchy drew global media attention. Dressed as Hogwarts students, the young protesters denounced "lèse-majesté" laws, which ban criticism of the royal family and can lead to 15 years in prison.

Recent protest in Minsk against President Lukashenko. — Photo: Ulf Mauder/DPA/ZUMA

• Like in Belarus, Thai authorities are using the threat of incarceration to silence both movement leaders and those protesting on the front lines.

Eleven activists have already been arrested over the recent protests, but police have said there are arrest warrants for a further 12 people with more under investigation. This past Saturday, the student activist Parit Chiwarak, 22, was arrested on charges of sedition.

• Thai youth are criticizing the establishment itself that is promoting obedience to authorities and tradition. They are also concerned with a worsening financial situation, with the poverty rate jumping from 7.2% to 9.8% between 2015 and 2018.

The pandemic factor: COVID-19 is raising the stakes for both the regimes and protesters in both countries.

• The tourism sector, vital for Thailand's economy, has been severely impacted. With no foreign tourists allowed into the country for months, the crisis caused millions of job losses in hotels and restaurants. According to the Nikkei Asian Review, Thailand recorded its largest economic contraction since 1999 in the quarter ending in June.

• The economy was also an important factor in Belarus: While it experienced economic growth in the first decade of the 2000s, growth especially in industrial sectors has stagnated as public debt to GDP ratios have increased. The economy is now expected to contract 2% this year because of the health crisis and decreased demand for its commodities.

Democratic takeaway: The Belarus protesters have garnered more attention and global support than their counterparts in Thailand. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the president of the European Council have said they want Lukashenko to be held accountable. But the country risks turning into a proxy battlefield in a larger geopolitical landscape, as offers of military assistance from Russia are raising fears of President Vladimir Putin gaining control in the country of nine million people.

The relative diplomatic silence around Thailand since the military takeover in 2014 is a sign that the fate of the country is largely in the hands of its own people and leaders. For those risking their lives for the cause of democracy — in Bangkok, Minsk or myriad places in between — global interest in your country can cut both ways.

Geopolitics

The Latest: Aggressive China, Fukushima Wastewater, Spanish Beach Lessons

Welcome to Tuesday, where Japan is set to release Fukushima wastewater into the sea, Prince Harry remembers his grandpa and Spanish children swap classrooms for lessons on the beach. We've also gone on a world tour of the most random livestreams.

• "Record number" of China jets enter Taiwan air zone: The Taiwanese defense ministry has said that 25 Chinese military jets flew into its air defense zone on Monday. The U.S. has recently warned against an "increasingly aggressive China."

• Japan to release Fukushima wastewater: The Japanese government has announced it will release over 1 million tons of treated contaminated water from the shattered Fukushima nuclear station into the ocean over the next two years. Neighboring countries have expressed "grave concern." This announcement comes ten years after an earthquake and a tsunami destroyed the nuclear facility.

• 42 migrants drown off East African coast: Sixteen children are among the 42 people killed after a boat carrying migrants capsized off Djibouti, the small nation in the Horn of Africa.

• Dozens arrested in new round of Minneapolis protests: At least 40 people have been arrested in Minneapolis in a second night of unrest over the police shooting of a black man. Police said Daunte Wright, 20, was fatally shot after an officer mistook her gun for a Taser during a traffic stop. The incident comes during the second week of the trial in the same city for the police killing of George Floyd.

• New Year festivities cancelled, silent protests held in Myanmar: Pro-democracy protesters have cancelled traditional new year festivities. Small protests were also held in several cities where people showed plancards reading "Save Myanmar" in silence.

• German far-right group on trial for "terror plot": The trial of 11 suspected members of a far-right ‘terror" group starts in Stuttgart. They were arrested in February over accusations of planning attacks on migrants, Muslims and politicians, aimed at sparking a civil war.

• Spanish pupils to get beach lessons: Barefoot and mask-wearing Spanish students are having school at the beach as part of a teaching project to create better air quality for children during the pandemic.

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Geopolitics
Giacomo Tognini

Indonesia 'Deradicalization': Turning Terrorists Into Business Owners

JAKARTA — While Western countries grapple with the question of what to do with militants returning after fighting alongside the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Indonesia has launched a deradicalization program that helps former fighters open their own businesses, according to the Indonesian magazine Tempo.

The program aims to help returning militants and their families, including those who are not themselves terror suspects, become financially independent and reintegrate into society. It was launched by Indonesia's National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) in collaboration with 32 ministries and institutions.

"If they want to learn sewing, they will be sent to tailor shops. If they want to open an online shop selling clothes, they will be coached," BNPT deradicalization director Irfan Idris told Tempo. "They will no longer have to go abroad to commit terrorist acts if the country is taking care of them."

The agency has provided deradicalization training for a 600 militants in the program. A recent group included 15 returning Indonesian citizens, several of whom had spent time in Raqqa, the Islamic State's former capital in Syria.

In June, the BNPT began requiring all Indonesians returning from Syria to enroll in the de-radicalization program. The training includes attending one month of sermons by Muslim religious scholars to counter the Islamic State's ideology, according to Indonesian daily The Jakarta Post.

"The Indonesian government helped us come home," said Nur, a woman who attended the entrepreneurship training. "We will be able to open a business, we can seize this second chance to live normally."

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Indonesia's War On Poachers Hooks Legal Fish Business Too

JAKARTA — The Indonesian government has been waging a war on illegal fishing since the election two years ago of President Joko Widodo, who'd vowed to curtail poaching when he was running for office.

But the crackdown on poachers has damaged legal fishermen as well, leading to a fall in fish exports, fewer jobs, and has devastated the fish processing industry, Indonesian English-language daily the Jakarta Post reports.

Illegal fishing costs the Indonesian economy an estimated $20 billion a year. The minister for maritime affairs and fisheries, Susi Pudjiastuti, has embarked on an expansive assault on illegal fishing that includes burning more than a hundred illegal vessels and banning fishing boats from transferring their catch to ships at sea, the paper notes.

The ban was justified on the grounds that ships often carried the catch to ports in the Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan, and China. Ignoring Indonesian ports meant the local fish processing industry didn't get any business. But the ban also targets companies that were never involved in illegal fishing, Jakarta Post reports.

Burning illegal fishing boat in Indonesia — Photo: Hatazmura/Xinhua

Fish exports collapsed in the last two years, falling from more than $4.5 billion to less than $1.5 billion. In the fishing-dependent eastern Indonesian region of Maluku, the closure of several fishing companies caused unemployment to spike to 7.5%, according to a report from Bank Indonesia, Indonesia's central bank, that was cited by the paper.

Indonesian magazine Tempo writes that the maritime affairs ministry, which announced a plan to build new fish processing facilities in eastern Indonesia, is responding late to the crisis. The new government policy would also aim to provide improved transportation to raise fish prices in the region, which are ten times lower than in capital Jakarta, and lift blue-collar wages, the magazine reports.