Virus, income disparity top Asean woes

Virus, income disparity top Asean woes

'Political stability' a top Thai concern

People awaiting Covid-19 tests are given a briefing by a medical officer in Suan Luang, Bangkok, on Wednesday. The tests were ordered after an infected person visited the area recently. (Photo by Nutthawat Wicheanbut)
People awaiting Covid-19 tests are given a briefing by a medical officer in Suan Luang, Bangkok, on Wednesday. The tests were ordered after an infected person visited the area recently. (Photo by Nutthawat Wicheanbut)

Thais see the threat to health from the Covid-19 pandemic, unemployment and widening socio-economic gaps as the top challenges facing Southeast Asia, according to a regional survey.

However, more Thais than other nationalities pointed to domestic political instability as one of the top challenges. These are the findings of a survey launched by the Asean Studies Centre at Singapore's ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

The survey was conducted from Nov 18 last year to Jan 10. As many as 1,032 Asean residents with knowledge of regional affairs participated in the survey, which covered regional influence and leadership as well as perceptions of trust and soft power, among other issues. On average, 76% of respondents from the 10 countries said Covid-19 was the top challenge, 63% said unemployment and economic recession, and 40.7% widening socio-economic gaps and rising income disparity.

Almost 65% of Thai respondents said Covid-19 was the main threat followed by 56.5% who named socio-economic gaps and 55% the unemployment rate and economic recession. However, 52.7% said domestic political instability is also among the top challenges.

On the top three concerns of Southeast Asians regarding Asean, two top issues remain unchanged this year. About 71.5% are of the view that "Asean is slow and ineffective, and cannot cope with fluid political and economic developments," the report said. This is an increase from 68.6% of respondents who shared this view last year. This concern about Asean is more pronounced in Thailand (77.1%), Myanmar (75%) and Singapore (74.7%) than Indonesia (66.7%), and Cambodia (61.5%).

"Even with the pandemic, geopolitics is not far from everyone's minds. On the second-ranked concern, 69.1% fear that Asean is becoming an arena of major power competition and its members may become proxies of a major power, a slight drop from last year's 73.2%," the report said. The third-ranked concern is new as it emerged from the Covid-19 pandemic. About 52.4% worry that Asean is unable to overcome pandemic challenges.

On the assessment of their government's response to Covid-19, most (60.7%) approve of their governments' handling of Covid-19. "Thailand is almost equally split with 44.3% in the "approve/strongly approve" category versus 36.7% in "disapprove/strongly disapprove". "This may be a reflection of the Thais' domestic preoccupation with prolonged pro-democracy demonstrations throughout last year," the report said.

About 82.8% said the Thai government adequately implemented public health measures to mitigate the pandemic while 75.9% said scientists have contributed to public policy discussions and the public has heeded their advice. However, when asked about leadership on Covid-19, 32.7% of Southeast Asian respondents picked Singapore as the country that has provided the best leadership to Asean while another 31.1% chose Vietnam as second-best.

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