Bhargav Reddy – APAC Assistance Operations Assistant
Major Issues In EAST ASIA PACIFIC
THURSDAY, 21 March 2019
New Survey shows narrowing lead. A pre-election survey by Litbang Kompas shows the big lead of President Joko Widodo over his challenger, Prabowo Subianto, has narrowed weeks ahead of the April 17 elections. Widodo though remains 11.8% ahead of Prabowo. The survey was conducted on 2,000 respondents across Indonesia’s 34 provinces between February 22 and March 5. Widodo was favored by 49.2% of respondents, surpassing Prabowo’s 37.4%. In Kompas’ survey in October, Widodo was ahead by 19.9% of Prabowo. The results of the Kompas survey is unique as the latest surveys of other pollsters, including Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting and Australia-based Roy Morgan, show Widodo ahead of Prabowo by about 20 points. The reduced margin of Widodo over Prabowo in the Kompas survey indicates that the outcome of the Indonesia elections remains uncertain.
Terror suspect arrested. Yesterday a counter-terrorism squad arrested a suspected member of pro-Islamic State terrorist group Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) in Berau, East Kalimantan. Authorities said the suspect communicated with several other terrorist suspects earlier arrested in North Sumatra. They said the suspect planned to attack security officers. The arrest of terror suspects indicates that there could be more terrorists in the country who now have more motivation to launch attacks. Terror groups can potentially stage reprisal attacks on security forces or target government establishments. Clients in Indonesia are advised to employ extreme caution. Avoid visiting government offices, security posts, religious sites and other places usually targeted by terrorists.
High voter turnout expected. Surveys by several institutions show that an overwhelming number of people are planning to vote on March 24 which will be Thailand’s first general election in eight years, after the military government delayed elections repeatedly. The Election Commission has reported that on March 17, 87% of the 2.6 million voters who registered for early voters cast their ballots. Voters turnout in Thailand has increased steadily over the decades, from about 60% in the 1990s to 75% in the last election in 2011. The outcome of the election is uncertain. Supporters of the military government, including the Palang Pracharat Party, are expecting that no party will have majority seats in parliament and that the 250-member military-appointed Senate will have a major role in electing Thailand’s next prime minister with the 500-member Lower House.
Peace talks set to begin today. Another round of peace discussion will start in Naypyitaw today. The Myanmar government invited eight armed ethnic groups that have not signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). The eight groups reportedly represent 80% of all ethnic rebels in the country. The government said all eight groups have confirmed their attendance at the peace talks. It is still uncertain who among the eight groups will participate in the peace talks. The rebels reportedly want no less than a federal Myanmar and the redraft of the present military-scripted Constitution. The National League for Democracy-led civilian government is also pushing for amendment of the Constitution. However, the military and the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party are opposed to changing the Constitution. Conflicts between the military and the Arakan Army has been raging in the Rakhine State and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army has threatened to join the Arakan Army. Both the TNLA and the Arakan Army are among the eight groups invited by the government to the peace process. Clients are advised to avoid the Rakhine and its neighboring states as fighting between the military and ethnic rebels intensifies.
Duterte terminates peace process. President Rodrigo Duterte terminated the appointment of all government peace negotiators with the communist rebels yesterday. The peace talks with the Maoist-inspired rebels collapsed in November 2017 after Duterte signed a proclamation formally terminating the discussion with the communist rebels. Duterte accused the Communist Party of the Philippines of insincerity and denounced its armed wing, the New People’s Army, for its continued attacks on government forces and businesses in the countryside. The termination of the peace negotiators highlights the Duterte governments resolve not to re-open peace talks with the communists. The communist rebels will have to wait for the next government for a new chance at peace negotiations. The rebels are expected to stage more attacks in the countryside. Clients in the Philippines are advised to avoid non-essential travel in known communist hotbeds, including the Cagayan region in Northern Luzon, the Bicol region in Southern Luzon and the entire Mindanao island.
EU delegation completes review. A European Union (EU) delegation was in Cambodia for a two-day visit until March 20 as part of the review and monitoring process for the possible withdrawal of the continent’s Everything But Arms (EBA) trade scheme from the country. The EU decided in February to launch a six-month monitoring period to determine whether to continue the trading scheme under which Cambodian exports enter the European market tax-free. The EU threatened to withdraw EBA in response to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s crackdown on his opponents. Any withdrawal of the scheme will be decided by the European Commission by February 2020.