Asian Insider, July 20: Singapore's changing political landscape; Hong Kongers weigh options abroad; China blows up dam

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

Hi all,

In today’s bulletin: Singapore's election results show its changing political landscape, Hong Kongers weigh their options overseas as Beijing tightens control over their city, China blows up part of a dam to ease flood risks, and more.

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As Singapore went to the polls earlier this month, there was some expectation of a flight to safety and a surge in vote share for the ruling People's Action Party given the Covid-19 pandemic and a looming recession. But the results showed a significant vote swing of 8.7 percentage points against the party.

The Straits Times' news editor Zakir Hussain looks at how the PAP's vote share has swung in the past and what the most recent one indicates of the political landscape of Singapore and what this means for the ruling party.

A look at the closest contests at this month's General Election suggests that core support for the PAP has been on the decline and could continue on the trajectory, he says. The forces against the party - a stronger, growing opposition and a changing electorate desiring political pluralism - appear stronger than before.

Closer contests can be expected in the future and the ruling party will have to work to win back not just the younger voters but also the middle-aged and middle-income voters to prevent further slide.

See also:

A new political culture is emerging

Leader of the Opposition - a double-edged sword


As Beijing tightens its control over Hong Kong with a national security law, the semi-autonomous city's residents are weighing their options overseas, report The Straits Times' regional correspondents.

Investors from the city are seeking to diversify their assets and buy second homes further from Beijing's reach. Applications for Thailand's long-stay programme, for example, have quadrupled in January to March compared with the same period last year.

Countries in the region, on the other hand, are eyeing taking over some of Hong Kong's role as a financial hub, with some like South Korea hoping to woo financial firms planning to exit the city.

See also:

Global banks scrutinise their Hong Kong clients for pro-democracy ties: Sources

Security law sends jitters through HK's feisty press


As coronavirus cases surged in Hong Kong, civil servants began working from home on Monday (July 20) and the new academic year for schools is pushed to mid-August, reports correspondent Claire Huang.

Health authorities at a briefing on Monday said the city recorded 73 new confirmed cases, with 66 of them local transmissions in mahjong parlours and restaurants. This brings the total number of infections the city has seen so far to 1,985, including 12 deaths.

Health experts have called for tougher measures, with at least one pressing the government to ban people from venturing out. This call comes as Covid-19 testing facilities in the city are swamped.

See also:

Buy Malaysian Products campaign launched to help traders suffering from Covid-19 lockdown blues

'Workation' an emerging trend among Indians unable to holiday abroad


The Malaysian government and international banking giant Goldman Sachs will resume talks this week in Kuala Lumpur in a final bid to hammer out a multibillion-dollar financial settlement over the fiasco at state-owned 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), reports regional correspondent Leslie Lopez.

Top US executives from Goldman Sachs and members of their legal team arrived last Saturday - after obtaining special Malaysian government approval due to coronavirus travel curbs - for the talks with the special task force for the 1MDB recovery campaign led by Attorney-General Idrus Harun.

"The prospects of getting a settlement are strong after both sides have agreed on key parameters in recent weeks that are needed to move forward," said one Malaysian government official close to the situation, without elaborating.

See also:

Even US$3 billion not enough to settle 1MDB case with Goldman, says finance minister


Chinese authorities blew up part of a dam in eastern Anhui province to relieve flood pressure, local media reported, as heavy rains continue to swell rivers across parts of the country.

Rising waters across central and eastern China have left over 140 people dead or missing, and floods have affected almost 24 million since the start of July, according to the ministry of emergency management.

Authorities have adopted measures such as diverting water into back-up reservoirs to keep levels manageable as major rivers and lakes hit record highs. In Anhui, a dam on the Chu river was demolished on Sunday (July 19) as water levels inched close to historic highs. Local authorities said the action was taken to ensure the safety of people living nearby.

See also:

Floods kill scores in India's tea-growing Assam; nine rhinos drown


POLIO IMMUNISATION: The Philippines' Department of Health (DOH) on Monday (July 20) resumed its mass polio immunisation campaign across the country to stem the spread of the infectious disease. The Philippines launched a comprehensive polio outbreak response, including mass polio immunisation rounds, after the disease re-emerged in the country in September last year after nearly two decades.

MALAYSIA VS EU: Malaysia is planning to file a World Trade Organisation (WTO) case against the European Union over its restrictions on palm oil biofuel by this year, Deputy Commodities Minister Willie Mongin said on Monday (July 20). Malaysia is the world's second-largest palm oil producer and exporter.

BEAUTY GOES HI-TECH: South Korea's beauty industry has gone high tech, with more innovative skincare products and home-use devices emerging from the land of K-pop stars with flawless skin, in line with a global trend. Among them is beauty giant Amorepacific which launched the country's first 3D-printed face mask under the brand Iope in April.

That’s it for today. Stay safe and we’ll be back with you tomorrow.

Sui Noi