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Asia Undercovered: 3 March 2020

This week: Chaos in Malaysia, a new PM in East Timor, and the challenges migrants workers face across Asia.

Bangladesh’s turn towards autocracy

For some reason, Bangladesh gets little attention in Asia. This is despite it being the 5th most populous country on the continent. Unfortunately, the news has not been good. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is likely to become the world’s premier female authoritarian leader, with her Awami Party now having total control over state machinery.

In this piece for East Asia Forum, Ali Riaz explores how Hasina was able to gain so much power, and what it means for the emerging country.


Elections first, due to some big news – Malaysia has a new Prime Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, after a week of backdoor dealings. For outsiders unfamiliar with the various characters and parties, the events of the last week are difficult to understand or follow.

Here are some articles to help. First, this piece from Marc Lourdes newsletter Between the Lines which explains how the ruling coalition, Pakatan Harapan fell apart. Then an explainer from New Naratif that gives some historical context to last week’s moves.

Amazingly, Malaysia wasn’t the only country in Asia to get a new Prime Minister last week. East Timor saw its Prime Minister resign after the collapse of his coalition. Still unclear who might be the next Prime Minister of Asia’s youngest country (Today Online).

Also Undercovered this week

Migrant workers play a crucial role in the Malaysian economy. Yet, they are often left with deplorable living conditions and other travesties. This piece by Jason Thomas for Free Malaysia Today highlights the stories of the people who make the economy tick.

The situation is similar in Hong Kong. Katie McQue writes how the law often fails migrant workers, putting them in vulnerable situations and raising the likelihood of abuse (Global Voices).

I enjoyed this feature in VOA on the fading use of the Cham language and script in southern Cambodia, and efforts to preserve its use.

Indonesia is debating a massive onmibus bill that could transform labor, environmental, and infrastructure law – likely for the worse. Ester Samboh’s guide to this 1028 page bill is worth reading (The Jakarta Post).

Very happy to see the launch of Adani Watch, which focuses on covering one of Asia’s largest companies, long implicated in human rights and environmental abuses. This longform feature explore their involvement in the Southeast Asian palm oil industry. We need more journalism focusing on Asian multinational corporations.


The Australia Indonesia relationship is one of the most important in Asia, when it comes to trade, security, and much much more. In this piece for The Conversation, Martin van der Kamp explores the potential for the two neighbors to collaborate more.

Worth watching – as Thailand aims for piece in its restive south, it may have angered neighboring Malaysia, which could be detrimental to security in the region (Nikkei).

Solutions Stories

This week, a story about Alex Baluyut, a Filipino photojournalist with more than three decades of experience. He has also cooked for thousands as part of his relief work, setting up mobile kitchens in places of needs. An excellent story of a true hero by Juan Pascual in ABS-CBN.

Asia Undercovered: Journalist Nithin Coca’s weekly roundup of the news, events, trends and people changing Asia, but not getting enough attention in the US media.