Prospects fade for ASEAN migrant worker deal – Nikkei Asian Review

JAKARTA — Official crackdowns on emigrants in Malaysia and Thailand have cast further doubt on over prospects that member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations can finalize a long discussed deal on migrant workers’ rights. In June and July around 100,000 mostly Myanmar migrant workers fled Thailand after the military government in Bangkok announced hefty new fines for undocumented workers and their employers. Then, starting July 1, Malaysia made a series of arrests of alleged undocumented migrant workers, affecting more than 3,000 workers and around 60 employers accused of giving work to illegals. These tough actions — though a reprise of previous years’ crackdowns — come as the region’s governments mull proposed enhancements to the 2007 ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, signed in Cebu in the central Philippines during one of Manila’s past tenures as the group’s chair. Two years after the Cebu declaration, ASEAN countries started moves toward a set of region-wide legal norms, but progress has been slow. With Manila again chairing ASEAN this year, there has been a renewed push to address migrant rights — an important social and political issue in the Philippines.

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Race to the bottom for Asia’s sand miners – Nikkei Asian Review

JAKARTA — As Asia’s economies grow and its cities modernize, the region’s voracious appetite for construction materials has driven demand for sand — alongside illegal trade of the commodity — to unprecedented levels. With rapid urbanization and infrastructure expansion, some countries are mining surrounding seas and their river and lake beds at a pace that could have grave implications for the environment. Along with gravel, cement and water, sand is needed to make up the trillions of tons of concrete used so far in laying Asia’s new roads and constructing tens of thousands of urban buildings. Around a third of the world’s land area is classed as desert, but, rounded and smoothed by the heat and wind, desert sand grains are useless for construction. Sand also makes for a bulky, heavy cargo and the high transportation costs mean that sand is usually dug up or dredged relatively close to where it ends up being used. “International trade is limited, unless the two countries in question are close neighbors,” said Zoe Biller, an industry analyst

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Promises and pitfalls in Cambodia’s online business world – Nikkei Asian Review

PHNOM PENH — As he described his search for funding for Khmerload, a digital media company touted as Cambodia’s version of BuzzFeed, chief executive Vichet In recounted an arduous struggle. “We sent an email to 10 [venture capitalists] — no reply. We talked to a few investors — there was no interest. They couldn’t believe we could do an expansion to another country.” Finally, U.S.-based investor 500 Startups, which describes itself as “a global venture capital seed fund,” came up with $200,000, cash that could help the company expand beyond Cambodia and Myanmar, where Myanmarload was launched in 2016. The websites churn out the kind of entertainment and celebrity gossip that was the foundation for the global success of U.S.-based BuzzFeed, a website that mixes entertainment, news and so-called viral content The 500 Startups deal, announced in March, was the first time a Silicon Valley venture capital fund had put its money into a Cambodian “startup,” a term for a newly-established business that nowadays usually refers to a tech, online or smartphone-related enterprise.

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Signs of a slowdown for Phnom Penh – Nikkei Asian Review

PHNOM PENH — Not so long ago, the backdrop in any photo of Phnom Penh landmarks such as the Royal Palace or Independence Monument would have been a low-rise panoply of four- and five-story townhouses. But in one of Southeast Asia’s more visually transformative building booms, dozens of apartment and office blocks have gone up around the Cambodian capital, sending land prices skyward. If not quite the cornerstone of the country’s economic growth, Phnom Penh’s construction boom has at least cemented Cambodia’s already rapid expansion, which has topped 7% most years for the past two decades.

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Cambodian local elections point to a tight parliamentary race – Nikkei Asian Review

PHNOM PENH — Preliminary results in Cambodia’s June 4 local, or commune, elections indicate a narrow win for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party. The CPP took 51% of the popular vote, giving it control of around 1,100 of the country’s 1,646 communes. But nearly half of all voters opted for the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party, suggesting a close fight in next year’s parliamentary elections. The local elections were a dry run for the 2018 poll. Two days before the vote, Hun Sen led a huge CPP rally in Phnom Penh — a rare appearance from a leader previously so confident that he rarely campaigned. The CNRP emulated the CPP later the same day. Tens of thousands of both parties’ supporters rode around the capital in festive convoys of trucks and motorbikes around 5km long.

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Local elections have Cambodians thinking a year ahead – RTÉ World Report

Last Sunday Cambodia’s held local elections saw a narrow win for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party led by Prime Minister Hun Sen. But while the CPP won the popular vote, the opposition saw its share of council seats increase ten-fold from the last local elections held in 2012. The campaign had all the colour and tension of a national election, which Cambodia will stage in a year’s time, with huge final rallies by the CPP and the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party on the Friday before the vote.

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High turnout in Cambodian local elections as opposition poised to gain – Nikkei Asian Review

PHNOM PENH — As Cambodia’s 16 million people awaited official results from Sunday’s local elections, early indications suggested that Cambodian National Rescue Party, the main opposition group, had made significant gains at the ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s expense. As the National Election Committee read out results on local TV, the CNRP estimated that it had won 46% of the popular vote to the CPP’s 51%. Fresh News, a local outlet sympathetic toward the CPP, said that preliminary results showed the CPP winning in 1,163 communes across the country, down from 1,592 five years earlier, with the CNRP winning 482. The elections are widely seen as a test run ahead of next year’s national parliamentary polls, which will decide who forms the next government. At stake are 11,572 local council seats in Cambodia’s 1,646 communes or municipalities. The National Election Committee, an official body, was scheduled to being announcing preliminary results first at 5pm local time, then 7pm, before finally commencing the results announcement at 8:30pm. The delay was blamed on an internet outage.

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Phnom Penh sees huge final campaign rallies ahead of local elections – Nikkei Asian Review

PHNOM PENH — Hundreds of thousands of Cambodians braved scorching sun in the capital on Friday to cheer Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Kem Sokha on the final day of campaigning ahead of Sunday (June 4) when strongly contested commune, or sangkat elections, are being held.

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Cambodia’s local elections seen as national test run – Nikkei Asian Review

PHNOM KROM, Cambodia — Cambodians will vote on June 4 in municipal, or commune, elections widely seen as a gauge for how the both the ruling and opposition parties will fare in national elections scheduled for next year. Twelve parties are vying for the support of nearly 8 million voters in 1,646 communes across the country. The main contest will be between Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party and the biggest opposition group, the Cambodian National Rescue Party, which ultimately hopes to end the CPP’s long run at the helm of government. Only those two main parties are contesting every seat, but smaller groups such as the royalist Funcinpec — as well as the League for Democracy, led by the outspoken Khem Veasna — have realistic hopes of winning seats. Cheang Vannak, a motorcycle mechanic, voted for the CPP in the last national elections in 2013, helping the governing party to a narrow win over the CNRP in a disputed contest. But nodding toward a CNRP party logo on a motorbike parked at the entrance to his roadside garage near Phnom Krom in western Cambodia, he indicated that this time his vote would go to the opposition.

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Booming Southeast Asian vehicle sales drive urban congestion – Nikkei Asian Review/FT

JAKARTA — Vehicle sales in Southeast Asia are set to outpace all other regions of the world during 2017, according to industry research, highlighting surging economic expansion in some parts of the region. But the growing number of new cars and trucks in urban centers is likely to worsen commerce-stifling traffic jams in major cities such as Bangkok, Jakarta and Manila — adding urgency to much needed transport infrastructure upgrades throughout much of the region. BMI Research — part of Fitch Group, a financial information company — has forecast that total vehicle sales in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will grow 8.1% in 2017, a marked increase in the combined 3.1% car sales growth the previous year across the 10 ASEAN countries, and more than double the sales growth rate of 3.7% projected for Asia as a whole in 2017. “Looking at passenger cars specifically, we expect Cambodia, the Philippines and Vietnam to be the best performing autos markets in the ASEAN region in 2017 with forecast growth of 20.4%, 19.2% and 18.0% in passenger car sales respectively,” BMI said in a recent report on the sector, citing “solid economic growth, strong private consumption and tax reform” as drivers of the car sales spike.

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