20 Aug [PREMIUM] Country Updates (5-18 Aug 2021)
|ASEAN Key Economies COVID-19 status as of 16 Aug|
|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 17 Aug
Muhyiddin’s cabinet resigns (16 Aug)
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and his cabinet submitted their resignation to King Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin on Monday, 16 August, following months of political turmoil and politicking. In his subsequent address to the nation, Muhyiddin acknowledged that he did not command a majority, after 15 UMNO MPs pulled their support. Muhyiddin is the shortest serving Prime Minister in Malaysia’s history. The King has accepted Muhyiddin’s resignation and appointed him as caretaker prime minister until a successor is chosen. The palace released a statement saying the King was against holding an election, given the high number of Covid-19 cases in the country.
Race for the next Prime Minister (16 Aug- present)
Political leaders from all parties met with the King on Tuesday, 17 August, a day after Muhyiddin and his cabinet resigned. The 220 MPs in Parliament were required to submit their preferred choice for Prime Minister to the King by 4pm on Wednesday, 18 August. Two front runners have emerged in the race to become Malaysia’s next Prime Minister: former Deputy Prime Minister Ismail Sabri from UMNO and PKR’s Anwar Ibrahim. Following a UMNO supreme council meeting on Tuesday, the party has announced that all their MPs will be nominating Ismail Sabri as their candidate for Prime Minister. The opposition bloc, Pakatan Harapan, said it will nominate Anwar Ibrahim as their candidate. 111 votes will be required for a candidate to command the majority and be appointed as the next Prime Minister. On Thursday, 19 August, the palace said the King will be meeting with the 114 MPs who signed statutory declarations to support Ismail Sabri as the next Prime Minister. A special meeting of the Malay rulers will be held on Friday to discuss MPs’ votes and the King is likely to announce his decision on the next Prime Minister then.
Jokowi’s State of the Nation address (16 Aug)
Ahead of Indonesia’s Independence Day, President Joko Widodo spoke at the annual State of the Nation address regarding the country’s economic development and Covid-19 status. The pandemic caused Indonesia’s economy to shrink last year but GDP growth in the second quarter this year grew by 7%. However, stricter measures implemented since early July are predicted to adversely impact economic growth for the remaining months. Amongst the structural economic reforms that Jokowi propounded for this year are expediting and making the process of granting investment permits more transparent, enhancing the quality of human capital, continuing to develop infrastructure, and progressing towards a sustainable green economy.
In another speech following the national address, Jokowi proposed a 2022 budget plan that focuses primarily on economic recovery from Covid-19, structural reforms and the reduction of government deficits and debts. The state expenditure for 2022 is capped at US$188 billion, a 1.5% decrease from 2021’s budget amount. The government predicts that the country’s budget deficit for 2022 would be 4.85%, an improvement from this year’s expected deficit of 5.7%. The administration aims to return to a deficit of 3% by 2023. For the healthcare sector, the budget would drop by 21.7% from this year, which amounts to US$17.7 billion whilst the education budget would increase slightly by 0.2% at US$37.6 billion. Lastly, infrastructure spending, a key focus for the Jokowi government, is pegged at US$26.7 billion.
On the Covid-19 front, Jokowi underscored the spirit of mutual cooperation exhibited by every facet of society, particularly between the federal government and state administrations where inter-institutional collaboration is more consolidated. The President also noted Jakarta’s significant progress in reducing new daily cases from over 10,000 in mid-July to 2,500 in August. However, with China providing more than 85% of vaccines to Indonesia, this has prompted Indonesia to develop its own Red-and-White vaccines and medical oxygen to prevent over-reliance on China for such pharmaceutical and medical supplies.
Investments from Singapore to Indonesia increases by 30% (17 Aug)
Singapore continues to be the top foreign investor in Indonesia, with investments rising by 30% in 2020. Despite the difficult economic conditions, investments from Singapore valued at US$9.8 billion, which was invested in 15,088 projects. In the first half of 2021, an additional US$4.7 billion was invested from Singapore investors into 5,226 projects. This accounted for 30% of all foreign investments into Indonesia. Singapore has been the top investor in Indonesia since 2014, with investments across multiple industries such as manufacturing and logistics. Indonesia is Singapore’s seventh largest trading partner, with bilateral trade valuing at US$35.8 billion.
Sources: Business Times
ASEAN Special Envoy’s series of pledges (4 Aug-ongoing)
On 4 August, ASEAN appointed the Second Foreign Minister of Brunei, Erywan Yusof, as its Special Envoy to Myanmar. Upon being appointed, Yusof promised to achieve “more substantive discussion”, as compared to his earlier visit in June, and also confirmed that his next visit would centre around the “cessation of violence, dialogue, and mediation” and that he will be involving all parties.
This implies that as Special Envoy, he will request access to Aung San Suu Kyi and other jailed members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) as well as members of the shadow government to facilitate dialogue. However, experts have noted that it is unlikely that the junta will be agreeable to the idea of negotiating with the ousted leaders and representatives, given that the military has recently branded the shadow government, its People’s Defense Force, and the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) as terrorists.
With skyrocketing Covid-19 numbers in Myanmar adding to a grave political situation, the Special Envoy has also been charged to oversee the provision of a humanitarian package to Myanmar. In September, Yusof will be presenting the progress of his efforts to the ASEAN foreign ministers. This report includes a timeline on the implementation of the five-point consensus.
Rohinya not included in military’s vaccination plans (11 Aug)
The military government has no plans to vaccinate Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine State. While vaccination rollouts have begun in Sittwe township for elderly, healthcare workers, government staff and Buddhist monks, these plans have not been extended to Muslims. The Rohingya are also wary to visit state healthcare facilities to be treated even if they experience Covid-19 symptoms as they have deep fear and distrust in the state.
Presently, an estimated 140,000 displaced Rohingya live in Rakhine state as at least 700,000 Rohignya have fled to Bangladesh in 2017 as a result of military operations. Notably, on 10 August, Bangladesh had begun vaccinating Rohingya refugees living in densely populated camps in Cox’s Bazar. The initial inoculation phase aims to vaccinate 48,000 refugees aged over 55 with Sinopharm vaccines.
Further protests against Prayuth Government (16 Aug-ongoing)
With dissatisfaction over the government’s mismanagement of the Covid-19 crisis and slow vaccination campaign, protesters have resumed their anti-government rallies. This is despite a ban on public gatherings involving more than five individuals. On 16 August, a large group of protesters marched on the Government House, calling for Prime Minister Prayuth’s resignation.
With protests intensifying and becoming increasingly violent, the government has started to adopt a “zero tolerance” policy against dissidents and has arrested at least 10 pro-democracy activists. Notable activists who have been arrested include Parit Chiwarak, who is known by the nickname Penguin, Panupon Jadnok, known as Mike Rayong, Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, known as Pai, and Anon Nampa.
In another effort to clamp down on protests, the government imposed an emergency decree, banning the sharing of false messages that may impact national security on 30 July. However, a court injunction has forced Thailand’s government to revoke the ban after journalists and human rights groups have voiced their criticisms against the government for trying to silence critics and prevent negative reporting.
Thailand securing more vaccines amid pandemic surge (16 Aug)
The Thai government has extended lockdown measures and nighttime curfews for two more weeks to 31 August in hopes of bringing the third wave of Covid-19 under control. Electronics shops, restaurants, IT and mobile shops also remain closed. Following the lockdown, the Office of the National Economic and Social Development Council has revised its economic outlook for 2021, forecasting 0.7-1.2% growth, down from the 1.5% to 2.5% predicted three months ago.
Despite being a regional manufacturer of AstraZeneca’s vaccines, Thailand still experiences a grave vaccine shortage, with only 7.1% of its population fully inoculated so far. It has thus sought to borrow 150,000 doses of the same vaccine from Bhutan, a country of less than 1 million people, with two-thirds of its population already vaccinated, and recording a total of less than 3,000 cases and just three deaths The vaccine swap arrangement will be on the basis that Thailand will send back vaccines to Bhutan later on.
Thailand has also announced that its two Covid-19 vaccines administered using nasal sprays are due to start human trials by end-2021, after promising results in trials involving mice. The trials will also test for protection against the Delta variant.
Vietnam extends HCMC lockdown by a month; seeks to ramp up vaccinations (15 Aug – ongoing)
Vietnam’s daily new infections have plateaued around 8 to 10 thousand for the past week, yet worries remain regarding the average daily death rate of 300. Several southern localities have extended their lockdown measures. Footage of thousands of workers leaving the heavily-affected regions are circulating online. Ho Chi Minh City will lengthen its Directive 16 for a month until mid-September. The authorities have announced goals for this period – including bringing daily new hospitalisations to below 2,000, and giving the first vaccine dose to 70% of those over 18 years old. Quick response teams have been made available to aid any of the 10,000 asymptomatic patients who turn severe while isolating at home. Central hub Da Nang has prohibited people from leaving their homes for a week starting on the 16th, which led to panic-buying and long queues before the ban came into effect. Slow distribution and overly-bureaucratic processes have hindered the provision of financial aid for affected workers in HCMC and Hanoi.
Official figures show that 500 to 600 thousand vaccine doses are being injected daily. However, the doses promised to be delivered in August are slow to arrive, casting doubts on the sustainability of the current vaccination rate. Currently, Vietnam plans to buy another 20 million doses of Pfizer vaccines. Covivax is undergoing phase two trials, and the first clinical trials have begun for ARCT-154, Arcturus Therapeutics’s mRNA vaccine designed to tackle Covid-19 variants.
Vietnam’s maritime industry resilient but manufacturing experiences contraction (17 Aug)
The Vietnam Maritime Association reports a year-on-year increase in movement of goods through the country’s seaports for the first seven months of 2021. Yet social distancing in major Mekong Delta towns is predicted to impede trade activities this month. Limited capacity from domestic container ships coupled with rising shipping costs pose further obstacles. Meanwhile, China has found Covid-19 cases linked to drivers passing through the border gate to Long San province, prompting the temporary closure of the gate. They have been stepping up disinfection and examination of vehicles passing through the borders connected to Vietnam.
As of end July, Vietnam’s manufacturing PMI stood at 45.1, the second straight month of contraction in the manufacturing sector. Nike’s major footwear supplier Feng Tay has decided to extend the suspension of their Vietnamese production units’ operations until the end of August. Just as forewarned, prolonged pandemic pressures in southern localities and low vaccination rate within factory workers is impacting economic recovery. Nonetheless, long term expectations on Vietnam’s economic development remain positive. HCMC-based investment firm VinaCapital predicts that Vietnam will experience a multi-decade surge in its stock market, driven by retail investors.