A fortnightly snapshot of what’s making headlines in South East Asia.
Myanmar’s ruling NLD win absolute majority
Official results indicate that Aung San Suu Kyi’s party will enjoy a healthy majority in both houses of parliament. The National League for Democracy (NLD) increased its majority in the Pyithu Hluttaw (lower house) from 255 seats to 258 (out of 330 up for election), and in the Amyotha Hluttaw (upper house) from 135 to 138 (out of 168). The country’s military-aligned opposition and rights groups have however criticised the poll, claiming that elections were neither free or fair.
In what appears to be a gesture of goodwill and possible peace in parts of the country, the NLD has appealed to dozens of ethnic political parties to join an effort to forge a federal union. The appeal, first publicised on the NLD’s Facebook page, states that the next administration will work with ethnic parties no matter how few seats they secure. Opinion on this amongst ethnic leaders and analysts is mixed—some seeing it as a move to establish democratic federalism, some sceptical of the NLD’s authenticity and others taking the opportunity to highlight the demand for greater ethnic minority rights.
Thai lawmakers consider constitutional amendments
Thailand has had 32 constitutions since abolishing absolute monarchy in 1932 in favour of a constitutional monarchy. Since protests began earlier this year, one of the key demands has been amending the constitution—in particular the 2017 additions that granted extra power to the military.
Seven draft constitutional amendments are due to be voted on later this week by the House and Senate, but any changes require a joint vote of both bodies and additional readings. A more desirable outcome for protestors would be the establishment of a constitution drafting committee—a signal from that the government that it is meeting protestor demands for greater transparency. Any reform to the monarchy is likely to be off the table however.
Coronavirus deepens Cambodia’s microfinance debt crisis
Huge microfinancing debts in Cambodia have made headlines before, but as unemployment levels rise and the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic penetrates more deeply, the country’s alarming microfinance debts are back in the spotlight. Last month’s floods have also exacerbated precarious situations for many.
Roughly 2.2 million Cambodians have an outstanding microcredit loan, with an average debt of USD$3,320—roughly twice the country’s annual GDP per capita. It is reported that credit is growing by 40% a year.
With a number of garment factories still closed or producing smaller orders (triggered by export demand shock), migrant workers unable to send money to their families (many returned en masse in March ahead of hard border closures) and with the tourism industry crippled, household debt has ballooned.
Human rights groups have called for Hun Sen’s government to put a freeze on repayments and the release of more than one million land titles held as collateral by lenders.
Dr Lucy West is a Senior Research Assistant at the Griffith Asia Institute.