What’s up in each member country
The ten countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) remain as diversified as ever, and if one takes a closer look, offer quite a different array of interesting issues and topics specific to each member.
The ongoing integration effort aside, Asean’s individual members and their ‘internal’ matters – from politics, economy, infrastructure, environment to information technology – often attract Asean watchers to turn to look inside a member country.
InsideOut attempts to bring readers as close as possible to all those peculiarities of those highly diversified members of Asean and wonder how colourful Asean is when the ten countries combine to make it a regional group.
Take for instance Brunei, one of the affluent members of Asean. In this issue we have laid out two short stories on what seems to be a single issue – managing wealth. The first piece is about the growing problem of obesity among well-paid civil servants. The second one looks at how the oil-rich sultanate faces a challenge to build up non-oil industry.
Similarly, the subsection on Cambodia focuses on the issues very specific to the country that is struggling to get out of poverty, forever, if possible. In the case of Indonesia, to leave or not to leave the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, is the problem Asean’s biggest economy must solve on its own.
Adding variety and some food for thought as well, there are short pieces on how Laos is making headlines on the tourism front by unveiling the cave city, and why the military junta in Myanmar is reluctant to let in the necessary global aid and assistance in the wake of a devastating cyclone, etc.
In the subsection on Malaysia, which is apparently witnessing a turning point in politics, the main story makes you wonder if the ruling BN coalition, which has been in power for decades, is finally in trouble holding on to power. The return of Anwar, former deputy prime minister, as the opposition leader, is seen as a threat by his former boss retired premier Mahathir, who asked the BN to take Anwar seriously. In neighbouring Singapore, expats are finding it tough to keep up with the cost of renting apartments.
In the Philippines corner, the lone story tells you how savvy Filipinos are on the cyber front, particularly in using social networks on the Internet. On to Thailand and you have a glimpse of the media in Thailand giving the country’s prime minister (a veteran politician who’s in his 70s) lessons on how to behave I front of reporters and news hounds.
On Vietnam, there are two stories this quarter: the overflowing beer market that is killing small players and the thriving catfish farmers being tempted by high price to breach current contracts for more lucrative ones.
And then there is a lot more on each of the ten member countries.
Find out more ‘inside’ stories – from Brunei to Vietnam in www.aseanaffairs.com. Check them out – by country, by topics which are updated daily. Explore the Country Profiles for all the background information and research. Get all the perspectives out of the Weekly Review and Focus menus. Just register (at no charge), if you have not already done so.
A noisy parliament
The first debate in Malaysia’s new parliament was a mess as it descended into noisy name-calling thanks to a newly emboldened opposition that began to take on the government. Monkey and Bigfoot were two of the epithets used in A rowdy session was marked by lawmakers shouting and gesticulating in heated exchanges across the floor of the chamber where such words as ‘monkey’ and ‘bigfoot’ were the epithets used by the warring MPs. The scenes, broadcast live on television, reflected the new shape of Malaysian politics after Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s governing coalition suffered its worst ever election results last month. The March 8 polls saw his Barisan Nasional coalition, which has ruled the country for the last half century, lose its two-thirds majority in parliament as well as control of five states. The opposition has a total of 82 of parliament’s 222 lawmakers, meaning it can block constitutional amendments, and has vowed to play a vocal role. Who knows a rejuvenated parliament could herald a major change in the way democracy functions in Malaysia. Perhaps all this excitement and debate is good for the country and will mean greater accountability to the people.
Fewer babies, slower development
Dr Narongsak Angkhasuwaphla, Director-General of the Thailand’s Department of Health, was alarmed when he found out how dramatically the country’s birth rate was falling. From a peak of 6.8 percent per household in 1965, Thailand’s birth rate slowed drastically to 1.5 percent in 2008, and the rate could go down to 1.45 by 2025. Such a decline in birth frequency has caused concern as potentially affecting the country’s overall development due to the pending inadequacy of human resources to meet the country’s future economic need. Yet, Dr Narongsak was thankful that the year 2008 nonetheless saw an over-satisfactory rate of birth control at 81 percent - a markedly high rate of birth compared to 1978, when only 53.4 percent of Thai women practiced contraception. The statistical data also shows that the prevention of pregnancy among women with financial security is higher than among poor women.
The first refinery almost on stream
Desperate to meet energy needs expanding at about twice the rate of its booming economy, Vietnam is putting the final touches on its first oil refinery, with a second soon to follow. The facility in central Dung Quat has been on the cards for more than a decade, but political spats, construction delays and even the make-up of the soil at the site have left the project in limbo. Now, with authorities keen to cut imports of petroleum products as energy consumption soars, officials at state-run PetroVietnam and French oil services group Technip say the refinery should be operational by next year. The facility is expected to churn out 6.5 million tonnes a year from 2009 - or a third of the country’s needs. With the economy growing at 8.5 percent in 2007, and energy demand on the rise, authorities are keen to cut down on costly imports. Last year, Vietnam spent eight billion dollars to import 12.55 million tonnes of refined oil. Launched 10 years ago at an initial price of 1.5 billion dollars, Dung Quat finally became a reality in 2005 after several foreign partners including French giant Total pulled out - costing PetroVietnam another billion dollars.
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