Asian Insider, April 1: Two governments in Myanmar? Japan on brink of fourth Covid-19 wave

Asian Insider brings you insights into a fast-changing region from our network of correspondents and commentators.

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In today's bulletin: Ousted Myanmar Parliament plans national unity government; Calls for Asean to hold Special Summit; Japan on brink of fourth Covid-19 wave despite several measures; Two dead in fierce state election fight between Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party and West Bengal Chief Minister; Hong Kong’s 'Father of Democracy' Martin Lee, media tycoon Jimmy Lai guilty over protests, and more.

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Ousted Myanmar Parliament plans national unity government

The ousted leaders of Myanmar's Parliament, many of them allies of detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, plan to set up a national unity government in the first week of April. 

A statement issued by them states that the new government will be a coalition of all democratic forces under the terms of the Federal Democracy Charter and a collective leadership. And that caretaker vice-president Mahn Win Khaing Than and acting ministers "will continue to carry out their responsibilities before the formation of the government".

The announcement came as the United Nations Security Council met to discuss the deteriorating situation. During the meeting, China said it wanted a "democratic transition" in military-ruled Myanmar, but ruled out sanctions.

Also read

Myanmar's ethnic armed groups weigh the costs as civil war looms by Indochina Bureau Chief Tan Hui Yee 

Myanmar villagers sheltering by Thai border say they are running out of food

Asian Insider video: Downhill for Asean if it cannot act on Myanmar, says former Thai Foreign Minister

Asean, and Thailand in particular, have a responsibility to convince Myanmar's generals to change course, or risk the grouping losing all credibility, former Thai foreign minister Kasit Piromya, who was in power during the period when Myanmar was transitioning towards a hybrid form of democracy, told The Straits Times. The regional grouping should hold a special summit and appoint a special envoy to speak with the leaders of the military junta.

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Japan on the brink of fourth Covid-19 wave

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga today turned to a new anti-virus "priority measures law" in yet another effort to bring the pandemic under control, with Japan now on the brink of a fourth Covid-19 wave. 

The country is grappling with mounting cases involving mutant strains of the coronavirus and general indifference. This comes less than two weeks after the lifting of a state of emergency that was limited in scope, writes Japan Correspondent Walter Sim.

The law, which was passed by the Diet or parliament in February, is an "emergency-lite" policy that can be targeted at specific areas rather than whole prefectures. It will cover six cities - Osaka City in Osaka; Kobe, Ashiya, Nishinomiya and Amagasaki in Hyogo; and Sendai in Miyagi - from April 5 to May 5. Yet doubts have arisen over the effectiveness of measures.  

Elsewhere

India launches biggest vaccination drive yet against a surging coronavirus

Two dead in fierce state election fight between Narendra Modi and Mamata Banerjee

Two people died as violence escalated in one of the most significant elections taking place in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) hopes to wrest from state Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's All India Trinamool Congress. 

The 66-year-old state Chief Minister is one of India's toughest political leaders and Mr Modi's fierce critic. And the second phase of polling commenced today in 30 constituencies, that include Nandigram where Ms Banerjee is contesting the poll against a former confidante who defected to Modi's BJP, last year. 

In all there will be eight phases of voting. Results will be known on May 2, together with those for state polls in Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry.

Delve deeper

BJP seeks historic win in West Bengal state election by India Correspondent Debarshi Dasgupta 

Arctic route gets a boost from Suez crisis

Asian businesses are heaving a collective sigh of relief with the release of the giant Japanese-owned container vessel Ever Given, after six days of being wedged in one of the world's most crucial waterways - the Suez Canal.

But the massive traffic jam that resulted also highlighted the attractiveness of alternative routes via the North Pole - a shift that carries strategic and commercial implications for South-east Asia.

Russian's Energy Ministry said with a touch of triumph on Monday that the Suez mishap highlighted the safety and sustainability of its own Northern Sea Route (NSR), describing that Arctic passage as "highly secure and competitive in terms of transportation costs as well as reliability in comparison to alternative routes".

It is not a wild statement, entirely, writes Associate editor Ravi Velloor. And what's more, a third Arctic route, in addition to the NSR and Northwest Passage, is projected to open as early as two decades from now.

Delve deeper

Russia pushes Arctic ambitions after Suez jam

Asian markets welcome Biden's US$2 trillion infrastructure plan

Asian markets rallied after US President Joe Biden unveiled his new US$2 trillion (S$2.69 trillion) "once-in-a-generation" investment in transportation, telecoms and energy infrastructure. A healthy US private jobs report also boosted sentiments. And for the moment, markets seem to have pushed concerns over Mr Biden's plans for higher taxes for corporations and the rich, for the proposals to later, analysts said.

In other news

Hong Kong's 'Father of Democracy' Martin Lee, media tycoon Jimmy Lai guilty over protest:  Hong Kong's "father of democracy" Martin Lee and media mogul Jimmy Lai were among a group of opposition activists convicted for attending an unauthorised protest in 2019, in the latest blow to the city's beleaguered opposition. Lee, 82, who helped lead the pro-democracy camp during the former British colony's transition to Chinese rule, was found guilty today in a court in the West Kowloon area.

Malaysia on high alert after attacks in Indonesia: Malaysia's police has stepped security against possible terrorist threats, following two recent attacks in Indonesia - a suicide bombing at a Catholic cathedral in Sulawesi and a gun attack by a woman at the Indonesian police headquarters.

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading The Straits Times and today’s Asian Insider newsletter. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Shefali