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The NIAS Neighbourhood Reader Daily Brief #44, 21 July 2023, Friday

Ranil Wickremesinghe in India

Pheu Thai will lead the government formation: says MFP Gen Sec

The NIAS Neighbourhood Reader Daily Brief #44, 21 July 2023, Friday 
Immaculine Joy Paul C, Melvin George, Ryan Marcus and Lakshmi Parimala H

Drug traders halt the import of medicines in the wake of a new provision
On 21 July, The Kathmandu Post reported that the drug traders halted the import of medicines since 17 July, after the new provision was introduced in the new fiscal budget. According to the President of the Nepal Chemists and Druggists Association, Mrigendra Meher Shrestha, , “The new provision creates confusion and hassles for importers.” It mandates mentioning the name, complete address of the manufacturer, importer, country of origin, distributor, and detailed address on the label of the medicines. Considering that Nepal imports nearly 55 per cent of its medicines, the prolonged halt of imports could affect the treatment of patients. An official at the health ministry stated that the importers, in the name of medicines, import costly products at a lower tax, which the new provision puts an end to. (Arjun Poudel, Medicine imports have been halted since Monday, officials term it a ‘stunt’,The Kathmandu Post, 21 July 2023)

Reluctance to get foreign loans puts trouble on the reserves
On 21 July, The Daily Star reported that the reluctance of the private sector to take foreign loans is likely to put pressure on the country’s forex reserves. The central bank has discouraged private sector companies from taking short-term loans due to the strained dollar stockpile, devaluation of the taka, and higher interest rates. The previously rolled-over loans with new credit would now have to depend on the reserves for dollars, putting further pressure on the central bank’s stockpile. Currently, the forex reserves stand at $23.57 billion. The private sector’s foreign loans saw a rise amid the pandemic, owing to low interest rates in the West which began to decline in 2022 with a rise in interest rates. (Rejaul Karim Byron, “Pvt sector’s foreign borrowing: Waning appetite to put pressure on reserves,” The Daily Star, 21 July 2023)

Arakan Army warms junta against ceasefire violations in Rakhine 
On 21 July, The Irrawaddy reported that the Arakan Army (AA) spokesman Khaing Thukha, warned the Myanmar junta regime of violating the ceasefire in Rakhine state. He said: “It [junta regime] has imprisoned civilians on terrorism charges…We constantly ask for their release. It is totally unacceptable that they are jailing them despite our requests. The regime must stop this; otherwise, it might lead to armed conflict.” The fierce conflict between the two lasted from the fall of 2018 till November 2020, followed by a relative calm for the next 18 months. The clashes then reoccurred from August to November 2022. Main roads and waterways were blocked by the junta for two months, disrupting the food and medicine supplies in the state. Junta shelling affected the rice harvests. An unofficial ceasefire to stop arrests, release innocent civilians, and lift restrictions was implemented through the mediation of Mr. Yohei Sasakawa, Japanese envoy to Myanmar. (“Myanmar Junta Ceasefire Deal Violations Could Restart Conflict: AA,” The Irrawaddy, 21 July 2023)

Junta court sentences teacher for 20 years for associating with NUG
On 21 July, The Irrawaddy reported that the Myanmar Junta court at Obo Prison in Mandalay charged a Mandalay school teacher with terrorism and sentenced her to 20 years in prison. A lawyer said to The Irrawaddy: “She was charged with terrorism at Aungmyaythazan District Court and tried by a special court in the prison…There are also co-defendants. I don’t know their sentences.” On 22 March 2022, she was arrested along with four other teachers for being associated with the National Unity Government (NUG). Since February 2022, the school has been providing education from primary to lower-secondary levels to the families who reject the education provided by the junta. (“Myanmar Junta Gives Striking Mandalay Teacher 20-Year Sentence,” The Irrawaddy, 21 July 2021)

Pheu Thai will lead the government formation: says MFP Gen Sec
On 21 July, Move Forward Party (MFP) Secretary-General Chaithawat Tulathon, announced that the party is stepping back for the Pheu Thai Party to take the responsibility of forming the government. On 27 July, Pheu Thai would be proposing the premiership candidate of its own choice. He said: “Our mission is to form a government of the democracy side under a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed by eight parties.” Mr. Chaithawat said that the main objective is not to make Pita Limjaroenrat the next prime minister, but rather to reflect the desire of the people to create a government without the former government bloc and its allies. (“Move Forward steps back for Pheu Thai,” Bangkok Post, 21 July 2021)

Pheu Thai will seek senators’ support in upcoming PM bid 
On 21 July, the Pheu Thai Party announced that they would seek support from the senators in the joint sitting of the House and senators, to select the prime minister. The announcement came hours after the Move Forward Party stepped back from the responsibility of government formation. The four opposition parties - Bhumjaithai, Palang Pracharath, Chartthaipattana and Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party - repeated their stand that they would not support anything that formed an alliance with MFP. Senator Kittisak Rattanawaraha: “Move Forward is a danger to the country and its institutions…As long as Pheu Thai doesn’t divorce Move Forward; senators will never lend their support.” (“Pheu Thai to seek support from Senate, other parties,” Bangkok Post, 21 July 2021)

President’s India visit to bring stronger economic and commercial ties
On 21 July, as President Ranil Wickremesinghe was in India on a two-day official visit, five Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) were signed between India and Sri Lanka. The MoUs include a Memorandum of Cooperation for Economic Development of Projects in the Trincomalee District, renewable energy, an energy permit for the solar power project, a network to network agreement between IPL and Lanka Pay for the UPI application acceptance, and a MoU on animal husbandry. (“Five MoUs signed between India and Sri Lanka,” Daily Mirror, 21 July 2023)

President meets Gautam Adani; discusses ongoing projects in Sri Lanka
On 21 July, Billionaire Gautam Adani said that he met with Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe to explore potential projects in Sri Lanka. Further, they discussed the ongoing development of the Colombo Port West Container Terminal, a 500 MW wind project, and the expansion of renewable energy expertise to produce green hydrogen. Adani Green Energy had previously been issued provisional approval for wind projects in Mannar and Pooneryn with a total investment of over $500 million.(“Gautam Adani meets President to explore green hydrogen projects,” Daily Mirror, 21 July 2023)

MP Ilyas to run for The Democrats’ primary
On 20 July, Hulhudhoo MP Ilyas Labeeb expressed his intention to run for the presidential primary election of the Democrats party. He also requested support from the party members for his candidacy. This move comes after the Democrats, the Jumhoory Party (JP), and the Maldives National Party (MNP) decided to field a common candidate for the presidential election. (“MP Ilyas enters race for Democrats’ presidential ticket,” Sun.mv, 21 July 2023)

Iran denies oil tanker seized by Indonesia
On 21 July, Reuters reported that Iran's oil ministry stated that an oil tanker seized by Indonesia did not belong to Tehran. The ministry remarked that it did not identify the owner of MT Arman 114, suspected of illegal transshipment of crude oil. Additionally, the ministry claimed that such accusations were aimed at creating a negative atmosphere against Iran. ("Iran denies oil on tanker seized by Indonesia belongs to Tehran," Reuters, 21 July 2023)

Afghanistan University exam excludes women
On 21 July, ANI News reported that the university exam in Afghanistan was held without women attending it. The exam was conducted in 11 provinces with more than 24,000 people present. Women criticized the Taliban for not permitting them to attend the exam. The National Examination Authority of Afghanistan stated that the Ministry of Higher Education had only permitted male students to write the exam. ("Afghanistan University entrance exams held without women," ANI News, 21 July 2023)

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