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Asean Weekly ending 11 Jan'13
Golkar: no decisions on vice presidential candidate until 2014. Golkar executive Hajriyanto Y. Tohari said on January 2 that the party, one of Indonesia’s largest, will not make any major decisions on its 2014 presidential election ticket this year. Party chairman Aburizal Bakrie last year was named Golkar’s presidential candidate, but the decision on a running mate is not likely until after the legislative elections in 2014. Separately, Democratic Party vice chairman Marzuki Alie December 31 said his party, which has seen its popularity plummet in the wake of recent corruption scandals, is considering partnering with former president Megawati Sukarnoputri’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle. Such a coalition would unite two of the country’s three largest parties.
Unions set up groups to monitor minimum wage increase. The Confederation of Indonesian Worker’s Unions (KPSI) will set up complaint stations to monitor a new nationwide minimum wage law that took effect January 1. Under the new law, workers must make at least $228 per month, a 44 percent increase from the previous minimum rate. KPSI secretary-general Muhammad Rusdi announced January 2 that the group will take legal action against companies that violate the law, though it will grant some leeway to small businesses.
Protests in Sumatra upset gold mine plans. Dozens of protestors from the Sumatran village of Telo remain in hiding following violent protests at the Martabe gold mine project in October, during which 1,000 people stormed the complex, according to the Financial Times. Locals remain concerned that waste water from the mine, which is backed by Hong Kong-based G-Resources, will be dumped into the Batang Toru River, fouling water used for agriculture and drinking. G-Resources has created several community development projects to address local concerns and says water from the mine will be fully treated before being dumped into the river. The ongoing drama is being closely watched by foreign investors, who are concerned about increasingly nationalistic policies in Indonesia’s mining sector.
Jokowi addresses Jakarta flooding; may push for public-private partnerships. Recently elected Jakarta governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is exploring several solutions to Jakarta’s perennial flooding, which brought Indonesia’s capital to a standstill December 22 and 23. On December 26 Jokowi proposed that better water catchment projects be required for new construction and on January 3 ordered the city’s Development Planning Board to include a tunnel for water drainage and easing traffic congestion in new development plans. He also said that public-private partnerships could be important components of any solution to the flooding.
Myanmar celebrates first New Year’s countdown; president reflects on 2012. Thousands of people gathered December 31 to celebrate at the Myoma Parade Ground in Yangon, where the city held its first public countdown to the New Year. The celebration lasted six hours and included musical performances, comedy routines, and fireworks. President Thein Sein gave a five-minute national address via radio January 1, reflecting on the reforms of 2012 but saying that much remains to be done. He vowed to create more lines of communication between citizens and the government, and said mutual trust is the most important element of the reform process.
Christmas Day plane crash raises concerns about Myanmar’s air safety. An Air Bagan plane crash-landed on a road in central Myanmar December 25 before catching fire. The crash killed a passenger and a motorcyclist, who was struck by the plane, and injured 11, including foreign tourists. Seventy-one people were on board. Authorities say the pilot mistook the road for a runway due to foggy weather. The crash has raised serious safety concerns about Myanmar’s fledgling airline industry, which is overstretched. Myanmar’s main airport in Yangon is expected to exceed its capacity in 2013.
Vietnam becomes world’s number two rice exporter. Vietnam announced January 3 that it exported nearly 8.4 million tons of rice in 2012, up 10 percent from a year before and second only to India. Thailand fell from the number one spot for the first time in three decades, exporting just 7.6 million tons—35 percent less than a year earlier—after devastating floods in late 2011 and the introduction of a much-criticized government purchasing scheme to artificially inflate rice prices. India exported nearly 10.5 million tons of rice in 2012.
Indian naval vessel docks in Vietnam. An Indian navy ship, the INS Sudarashini, arrived January 1 in Danang in central Vietnam for a three-day visit. The vessel is on a nine-nation goodwill tour of Southeast Asia in an effort to boost emerging defense ties between India and the region. The ship’s crew was greeted by officials from Danang and from Vietnam’s Defense Ministry and navy. On January 3 the Sudarashini continued on to Sihanoukville, Cambodia.
Reproductive Health Law faces challenge in Supreme Court. A Philippine couple filed a suit January 2 in the Supreme Court challenging the newly passed Reproductive Health Law, saying it violates the constitution. The couple, backed by the Catholic Church, asked the Supreme Court to stop the implementation of the law until the case is settled. President Benigno Aquino signed the bill into law December 21. It requires the state to provide information on family planning and access to birth control to couples that request it.
Philippine stock market hits all-time high in first day of 2013 trading. The Philippine Stock Exchange index started the year strong, closing at a then-record 5,860.99 points in the first day of trading January 2. It has continued its climb since, closing January 8 at an all-time high of 6,048.9 points. The upswing was largely due to the “fiscal cliff” deal in the United States, which buoyed markets throughout the world. The Philippines enjoyed robust growth in 2012, reporting January 5 that the economy expanded 7.1 percent in the third quarter—one of the highest rates in Asia.
Transportation and Commerce officials face graft charges. The Anti-Trapo Movement of the Philippines, a prominent corruption watchdog, filed an 80-page complaint with the Office of the Ombudsmen on January 3 alleging that six Department of Transportation and Commerce officials and several anonymous individuals engaged in graft involving a multimillion-dollar development project. The complaint states that the officials manipulated bidding to favor Stradcom Corporation, which has provided IT services to the Land Transportation Office since 1998, in winning a new contract when its current one expires February
11. President Benigno Aquino has made combating graft one of his administration’s top priorities and has received considerable support from civil society.
Thailand’s inflation hit 13-month high in 2012; baht rises to near three-month high. The inflation rate in Thailand rose to a 13-month high in December, as the consumer price index increased 3.6 percent compared to December 2011, according to the Commerce Ministry. The average inflation rate in 2012 was 3 percent and the rate is expected to increase further in 2013 due to rising food prices and a minimum wage increase. The baht appreciated 3.1 percent in 2012 due to regional economic growth.
Rice pledging scheme architect defends program despite Thailand losing top exporter position. Olarn Chaipravat, the Thai economist behind a highly criticized rice pledging scheme, argued January 2 in the Bangkok Post that the government’s policy is necessary to increase farmers’ incomes despite criticisms that it led to losses and declining exports. The scheme purchases rice from farmers at above-market rates, resulting in large stockpiles of rice remaining unsold on the global market. Thailand lost its title as the world’s top rice exporter in 2012 for the first time in three decades, as it was overtaken by India.
Iskandar Investment to develop a massive education complex in Johor. Iskandar Investment is developing an education complex called EduCity in Nusajaya, Johor, that will include 10 campuses, a sports complex, and a student village. The Malaysian government will offer incentives such as a 15 percent flat income tax rate to attract foreign professionals and institutions to EduCity, according to the Iskandar Regional Development Authority. Most education institutions will have only one faculty or department and might not offer transferable credits with their parent institutions, according to a December 23 New York Times report.
Singapore’s Fraser and Neave to extend deadline for Thai bid. Singaporean beverage conglomerate Fraser and Neave (F&N) agreed January 3 to give an extra week for Thai beverage tycoon Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi to submit an improved takeover bid under TCC Assets. TCC Assets has asked for an extension three times since Indonesian rival Overseas Union Enterprise, controlled by the Lippo Group, announced its counterbid for F&N in November. F&N became a takeover target after it sold Tiger Beer-maker Asia Pacific Breweries to Heineken in September.
Five-way election in Punggol East. The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) announced December 27 its interest in contesting the by-election for a single-seat ward in Punggol East that has been vacant since former parliamentary speaker Michael Palmer resigned December 12 following revelations about an extramarital affair. The SDP became the fourth party to enter the race, joining the Workers’ Party, Reform Party, and Singapore Democratic Alliance. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced January 9 that the by-election will take place January 26.
Singapore Polytechnic launches Cyber Wargame Center. Singapore Polytechnic launched a Cyber Wargame Center on January 3 that will train students in cyber defense by immersing them in real-life security scenarios as a part of the institution’s Diploma in Infocomm Security Management Program. The center aims to produce IT professionals capable of protecting Internet users, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs. The facility is a collaborative effort between vendors e-Cop, ST Electronics, and Paraben, and Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore.
South China Sea
China decries Vietnamese law claiming disputed islands. China’s Foreign Ministry on January 2 lambasted a Vietnamese law laying claim to the Paracel Islands, calling the law illegal and reiterating China’s position that it has “indisputable sovereignty” over the archipelago. The law, which came into effect January 1, restates Vietnam’s long-standing claim to the islands. China drove South Vietnamese forces from the western half of the Paracel Islands in 1974, completing its control of the archipelago.
Respected Lao agricultural economist missing. Lao agricultural economist Sombath Somphone is still missing after he was stopped at a police checkpoint in the suburbs of Vientiane December 15. The Lao government has denied any involvement, although police CCTV footage shows that unknown persons stopped Sombath, drove away his jeep, and took him away in a truck in front of a police post in Vientiane. Sombath is well known for his agricultural development work and has been involved in environmental and land rights causes, though friends say that his work is not political.
Stock Exchange of Thailand extends MOU with Lao Securities Exchange. The Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) and Lao Securities Exchange (LSX) agreed December 25 to a second extension of their memorandum of understanding. The 2013–2014 MOU covers human resource training, market surveillance, and business opportunities promotion between the two exchanges. The agreement began in 2008 before the establishment of LSX and aims to deepen financial services relations between the two countries.
Thailand’s Ministry of Transport to build Thai-Laos bridge. Thailand’s Ministry of Transport unveiled a plan to construct a Thai-Laos bridge across the Mekong River between Thailand’s Beung Kan province and Laos’ Bolikhamxai province. The bridge construction will start at the end of 2013, according to Thai minister of transport Sornsa Sansombat. The planned bridge will be the fifth Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge that aims to boost bilateral trade, investment, tourism, and transportation.
Group calls for government compensation for 1975–1999 victims. The Timorese Human Rights Association called on the government December 4 to pass a Law of Reparations that would allow victims of violence and human rights abuses during the Indonesian occupation from 1975 to 1999 to receive compensation from the state. Opposition member of parliament Antonio Bianco said the opposition would support the law, but it would need support from the majority coalition to be passed.
Cambodia battles to save rare dolphin in Mekong. Despite the Cambodian government’s efforts, gill nets continue to be used for fishing as the government struggles to educate locals about the dangers of the nets to rare Irrawaddy dolphins. The Cambodian government in August set up a dolphin protection zone from Kratie to the Lao border that bans gill nets and fish cages in order to prevent the deaths of adult Irrawaddy dolphins. Estimates of the dolphin population range from 85 to 180, according to a December 31 Channel News Asia report.
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