Asian Insider, Jan 28: Umno tussle holds key to Muhyiddin’s longevity, Modi’s party seeks more influence

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: Tussle in Umno for party leader holds key to Muhyiddin's longevity, study finds India's Covaxin likely effective against British variant, Modi's party seeks greater influence in state elections, Malaysian rapist jailed 1,050 years, and more.

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Tussle in Umno for party leader holds key to Muhyiddin's longevity

A battle for control of Umno, sparked by a sudden withdrawal of support for Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, will decide not just the fate of Malaysia's grand old party, but the fortunes of the ruling Perikatan Nasional (PN) pact, Malaysia bureau chief Shannon Teoh writes.

Since backing Tan Sri Muhyiddin's palace coup last March, Umno has been the most disgruntled of allies, often loudly demanding a bigger share of PN's spoils. Nearly a year on, scores of Umno divisions have passed resolutions to sever ties with Mr Muhyiddin's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia. And now, two MPs from the party have publicly withdrawn their support for the premier, leaving him with a minority government.

Get your latest Malaysia news here.

India's Covaxin likely effective against British variant: Study

A vaccine developed by India's Bharat Biotech and a government institute is likely to be effective against the British strain of the coronavirus, according to a study on 26 participants shared by the company. The findings on Covaxin, which is in use in India after receiving emergency-use authorisation this month, have been published on the website bioRxiv.

Another study published last week on bioRxiv - which carries research not yet certified by peer review - said the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was also likely to protect against the more infectious virus variant that has now spread around the world. A separate study found that the shot appeared to lose only a small bit of effectiveness against an engineered virus with three key mutations from the new variant found in South Africa.

Meanwhile, Philippines authorities have cleared AstraZeneca's Covid-19 shots for emergency use, paving the way for roll-out next quarter. But misinformation circulating in the country - including a rumour that suggested the vaccine will allow President Rodrigo Duterte to kill people at the push of a button - are deterring people from the idea of inoculation.

Read also:

India says it has contained virus spread, no new cases in fifth of country

New Zealand, Vietnam, Taiwan top Covid-19 performance ranking

Get your latest Covid-19 updates at our dedicated website.

Modi's party seeks greater influence in India's state elections

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party is gearing up for a tough political battle as campaigning gets under way in the southern state of Tamil Nadu and the eastern state of West Bengal, India bureau chief Nirmala Ganapathy reports.

These two states are among the last few left for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to conquer. Riding on Mr Modi's popularity, the party, with its brand of nationalistic and religious politics, has spread its sphere of influence beyond the country's central belt.

In West Bengal, the BJP is seen to have a shot at power, and in Tamil Nadu, it is looking to increase its share of the vote from the 3.7 per cent it got there in 2019. The two states are dissimilar in most ways but have local parties with strong cultural and linguistic influence.

Sea and Gojek target Indonesia's millions without bank access

Sea Ltd and Gojek are snapping up Indonesian lenders in a bid to tap into one of the world's biggest unbanked markets. The buying spree comes as fintech firms set their sights on the country's 175 million Internet users and 83 million people who lack bank access. While Indonesia is by far South-east Asia's biggest fintech market, it is one of the few that do not license digital-only banks. This means acquisitions are the only way into its vast market.

Go deeper: Fintechs' bank-buying spree won't displace Indonesia's big lenders, says Fitch

China warns that Taiwan independence 'means war'

China's Defence Ministry has said that recent military activities in the Taiwan Strait were a response to interference by foreign forces and provocations by forces supporting Taiwan's independence, adding that "independence means war".

Ministry spokesman Wu Qian made the comments in response to a question about stepped-up Chinese military activity in Taiwan's air defence identification zone. Eight Chinese bomber planes and four fighter jets entered the south-western corner of the island's ADIZ last Saturday, Taiwan said.

Over in Hong Kong: New pro-Beijing political party signals China's plans for Hong Kong

In other news...

South Korea's economic growth expected to rebound by mid-2021: South Korean President Moon Jae-in has voiced hopes for his country to become one of the world's top 10 economies this year, saying that economic growth is expected to rebound to pre-Covid-19 levels by the first half of the year. The nation achieved the highest growth rate among members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development last year.

Ant IPO could resume once issues resolved, says China's central bank: Ant Group could resume its plans for an initial public offering once problems are resolved, China's central bank chief said, offering some relief to global investors seeking signs on what the future holds for the world's largest fintech giant.

Google under fire again as Australia targets advertising power: Google's dominance of digital advertising technology in Australia needs to be addressed, the country's competition watchdog said, opening up another front in its battle with the US giant. In some areas of the market, Google takes in 100 per cent of the revenue or ads traded, and that degree of influence means Google "is likely to have the ability and the incentive" to use its own ad tech businesses and distort competition, the regulator said.

Rape of Malaysian teen in police lock-up sparks calls for inquiry: The shocking rape case of a 16-year-old girl while being held by Malaysian police in Sarawak has sparked calls for an independent inquiry and spotlighted, once more, alleged shortcomings of the force. The plan has been repeatedly rejected by police. Meanwhile, also in Malaysia, a man has been sentenced to 1,050 years in jail for raping his stepdaughter.

That's it for today. Thank you for staying with us and check back tomorrow for more stories.


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