16 Sep [PREMIUM] Country Updates (2-15 Sep)
|ASEAN Key Economies COVID-19 status as of 12 Sep|
|Country||Share of population fully vaccinated||Share of population partially vaccinated||Total vaccine doses administered||Number of Covid-19 cases*|
Sources: Our World in Data, Worldometer, Singapore’s Ministry of Health. *as of 14 Sep
Easing of Restrictions in Bali (14 Sep)
Following the much improved Covid-19 situation in Indonesia, particularly in Java and Bali, the government has decided to relax social restrictions or PPKM in these two provinces. Regions outside of Java and Bali remain under tight mobility restrictions until 20 September 2021 as cases continue unabated. In Java, certain tourist spots such as Mount Ijen (East Java), the Dieng Volcanic Complex (Central Java) and several other places have reopened for visitors. Visitors must show proof that they have received at least their first dose via the PeduliLindungi application for them to be permitted to enter. The tourist sites are also allowed to operate at a maximum of 25% capacity, in accordance with the PPKM level 2 guidelines.
Besides the reopening of certain areas in Java, some cabinet ministers have raised the possibility of Bali welcoming international tourists but no specific date has been set yet. The reopening of Bali is said to mirror that of Thailand’s Phuket sandbox. For local visitors getting to Bali via air travel, restrictions are still in place as travellers must provide their vaccination certificate and a negative PCR test within 48 hours of departure. For international travellers, the plan is that they must be fully vaccinated, undergo an eight-day quarantine and take three PCR tests before entering Bali. However, Minister of Health Budi Gunadi Sadikin stressed that the government is currently focusing on inoculating at least 70% of the population with the first dose by this November before reopening the country’s border to international travellers. The government would also do a weekly evaluation of Bali’s social mobility restrictions. Individuals caught flouting the restrictions would be dealt with heavy-handedly but no specific punishment has been meted out yet. So far, only 25% of the population has been fully vaccinated and the province aims to have at least 67% of its population fully inoculated by next March for restrictions to be further eased. This appears to be an uphill task as it requires the harnessing of manpower and resources, with vaccine hesitancy and logistical problems further impeding vaccination efforts.
Indonesia raised $1.8 billion from bond buyback; Bank Indonesia pledges to maintain low interest rates (14 Sep)
Indonesia raised $1.84 billion from the sales of bonds in US dollars and euros. The bond buyback move is the first amongst Southeast Asia countries for dollar bonds. Part of the sales will be used to repurchase outstanding dollar bonds. Analysts said the move might be in anticipation of US tapering, to manage liquidity. Indonesia’s fiscal deficit has risen significantly due to an increase in government spending because of the pandemic. Bank Indonesia has been buying bonds directly from the government to limit the rise in interest expenses.
Meanwhile, Bank Indonesia has promised to maintain low interest rates until there are indications of rising price pressures to support the country’s economy. Indonesia’s inflation rate in August was 1.59%, which is lower than BI’s target range of 2% to 4%. The next policy review is slated for 20 September.
Landmark bipartisan cooperation signed (13 Sep)
On 13 September 2021, a historic bipartisan deal between the government and opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan (PH) was struck, further concretising the talks of political stability and institutional reforms that were first broached in a meeting held by PM Ismail Sabri with the opposition bloc last month. The bipartisan agreement is officially coined the “Memorandum of Understanding on Political Stability and Transformation”. The MoU has two primary objectives, which are to effectively manage the Covid-19 crisis and to spur economic recovery through stimulating a conducive investment climate. Apart from aiming to minimise political differences and infighting, the MoU also encapsulates six main proposals which include the refinement of Covid-19 plans, administrative transformation, parliamentary reforms, the Malaysian Agreement of 1963 (MA63), strengthening judicial independence and establishing a steering committee. Prior to signing the MoU, the government has also promised several reforms which are limiting the tenure of Prime Minister to ten years, lowering the voting age to 18 years old, granting Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition leader salary and amenities equivalent of a government minister, enacting an anti-hopping bill and others. These reforms were said to be doled out in exchange for opposition support as the MoU deal came under threat these past few weeks amidst rumours of former Prime Minister Najib Razak being appointed in the cabinet in an advisory capacity.
However, it is still premature to discern anything concrete from the MoU signing as exact details of the opposition’s role and the technicalities of the confidence-and-supply agreement have not been delineated or released publicly. Hence, the MoU deal only signals a symbolic “get-together” between the opposition and ruling government but the specifics of the agreement have not been fully finalised yet. Critics have pointed out that although the bipartisan deal sounds promising, this would mean that the government’s powers would be left unchecked with effectively no opposition. Moreover, if the government fails to manage the pandemic well and revive the economy, the opposition would also risk bearing the brunt of the failure due to the agreement.
Malaysia proposes to raise government debt ceiling to 65% of GDP (14 Sep)
To cope with the economic impact of the pandemic, Malaysia’s cabinet is proposing to raise the government’s statutory debt ceiling to 65% of the country’s GDP. This would be the second increase in the last two years. The debt ceiling was raised to 60% of GDP last year, the first increase since 2009. According to Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz, the cabinet is also proposing to raise the government’s COVID-19 fund by more than $10billion to $26.53 billion. The proposals will be tabled in Parliament in October and look to bolster the country’s public health system, aid businesses, and enhance social welfare measures. The finance ministry has also advised banks to offer an interest-free loan moratorium till December 2021. The government will table its 2022 budget, focused on the country’s post-pandemic recovery, in Parliament next month.
Myanmar shadow government calls for “war” against military rule (7 Sep-ongoing)
The National Unity Government (NUG), Myanmar’s shadow government formed by opponents of military rule, called for a nationwide “people’s defensive war” against the military on 7 September, amid reports of emerging protests and intensifying fighting between the army and ethnic military groups. In his speech, Duwa Lashi La, acting president of the NUG emphasised greater coordination of armed militias and ethnic forces.
The military has brushed off the call for revolt as an attempt to gain international attention, especially since the United Nations General Assembly will be taking place this month. However, in the weekend following the NUG’s announcement, reports of fighting emerged, with at least a dozen civilians killed by junta forces in Magwe, Sagaing and Yangon regions. More than 80 telecom towers owned in a joint venture between the Myanmar military and Vietnam’s Defence Ministry have also been destroyed by civilian resistance forces across the country, stemming from the NUG’s calls for citizens to “target the military junta and its assets in their respective areas”.
Myanmar military supposedly agreed to ceasefire but later denies (6 Sep-7 Sep)
Myanmar is in grave need of humanitarian assistance given its political crisis and worsening pandemic situation. On 5 September, the ASEAN Special Envoy to Myanmar announced that the military-appointed foreign minister, U Wunna Maung Lwin, has accepted his proposal for a ceasefire until the end of the year. The ceasefire was necessary to allow for humanitarian workers and aid to enter the country safely.
However, on 7 September, Major General Zaw Min Tun, a spokesperson for the junta, told the Irrawaddy that U Wunna Maung Lwin did not agree to the ceasefire. Nonetheless, according to the junta spokesperson, the regime will stand by its promise to not block relief assistance or prevent the ASEAN envoy from visiting.
PM Prayuth survives 3rd no-confidence vote over COVID response (4 Sep)
Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha survived his third no-confidence vote on 4 September, along with five of his ministers. The final tally showed 264 lower house members voting to retain the Prime Minister, while 208 cast a vote of no-confidence. Three lawmakers abstained. The vote was prompted by criticisms of the leadership’s poor handling of the pandemic. Despite surviving the no-confidence vote, political pressures on the Prayuth administration are expected to intensify. Pro-democracy protests have returned in recent months, in the forms of larger demonstrations that are violent in nature and other smaller but daily rallies.
In the run-up to Saturday’s vote, there had been rumors of a political plot involving the ruling Palang Pracharat Party to oust PM Prayuth. Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon and Thamanat Prompow, the party’s secretary-general and deputy minister of agriculture and cooperatives, have been suspected of striking a deal with the opposition in light of their unhappiness with the present cabinet lineup. The rumors have however been denied. There was also speculation that Prayuth would dissolve parliament or reshuffle his cabinet once the no-confidence motion was behind him but the Prime Minister has also denied this.
Bangkok will reopen to fully vaccinated tourists in October without need for quarantine (10 Sep)
The Tourism Authority of Thailand has announced that from 1 October, fully vaccinated tourists can travel to Bangkok and four other provinces without going through a 14-day quarantine. This follows the success of the country’s pilot scheme in Phuket and forms part of Thailand’s recovery plan — to reopen its borders and save its battered tourism industry. Authorities also announced that 21 more tourist hotspots will be opening later in October.
The confidence to reopen Bangkok may also be explained by the drop in daily case numbers. On 13 September, the Thai health authorities announced that Thailand had 12,583 new Covid-19 cases, the lowest number of cases since 21 July.
Vietnam plans to reopen tourist destinations; outbreak remains severe in HCMC (9 Sept)
Vietnam hopes to reopen Phu Quoc Island to fully vaccinated foreign visitors in November. This will be the first tourist destination that Vietnam would like to trial for reopening in hopes of reviving an economy suffering from extended lockdowns. All residents on the island will be fully vaccinated in the 6 month trial programme. The concept is similar to Thailand’s opening of its resort island of Phuket. Foreign arrivals to Vietnam dropped to 3.8 million last year from 18 million in 2019.
Vietnam’s vaccination rate of 5.2% remains one of the lowest in the region and the World Health Organization (WHO) has highlighted that this is a critical period for Vietnam in tackling the pandemic. Ho Chi Minh City remains the epicentre of Vietnam’s worst Covid-19 outbreak and has extended restrictions until the end of the month. The country’s capital, Hanoi, as well as the southern industrial hub Binh Duong could see some restrictions eased. More than half of Vietnam’s 98 million population is under lockdown and Prime Minister, Pham Minh Chinh, is now working as the head of the National Steering Committee for Covid-19 Prevention and Control.
Vietnam lowers 2021 growth forecasts due to Covid-19 disruptions (15 Sept)
Vietnam’s Ministry of Planning and Investment announced Vietnam’s GDP could grow between 3.5-4.0% this year. The growth projections are significantly reduced from earlier targets of 6.5%. The downward forecasts are due to the ongoing strict Covid-19 restrictions that have disrupted production and business activities. Vietnam continues to face its worst outbreak with daily cases exceeding 10,000.