Asian Insider April 17: Jokowi tipped to win Indonesian election

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

Hi, Today: Incumbent President Joko Widodo ahead in the Indonesian election, good news for China’s economy, Hong Kong’s fairy-tale couple hit by scandal and more.

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ELECTION DAY IN INDONESIA

The official results will not be known for at least a week, but quick counts based on a representative sample of votes are now all pointing to the incumbent president Joko Widodo winning - and doing so with a larger margin than he did in 2014. His rival Prabowo Subianto is once again not going to go down without a fight, challenging the accuracy of the polling agencies.

What's next: The quick counts has been historically accurate and it is now highly unlikely that the election commission will announce official results significantly differ from these numbers. Still the mandate is not so large that Prabowo will not challenge it so expect some days of uncertainty ahead for Indonesia. Mr Joko has been here before, however, and clearly is playing his cards differently. Where he declared victory early last time around, now he is calling for patience and unity.

We are still processing the results. Look out for all the latest at our Indonesia election live blog here.

IS CHINA’ S ECONOMY TURNING AROUND?

China’s economy grew at 6.4 per cent in the first quarter of this year, sparking hopes of a recovery just months after talk of a prolonged slump. Analysts warned, however, that it remains too early to declare this a turning point for the Chinese economy.

The big picture: In January, when China announced 2018 economic figures that amounted to the slowest growth in 28 years, many had feared the worst. With dwindling consumer confidence at home and an ongoing trade war with the US, the Chinese economy was cited as one of the key risks this year. Throughout the first quarter, economies throughout Asia had similarly reported slowing growth as the impact of the slump in China became evident. The improved figures will provide relief though concerns remain over how much of it was down to government stimulus. 

Go deeper: China's Q1 growth unexpectedly steadies, but too early to call clear recovery

HONG KONG FAIRY-TALE HIT BY SCANDAL

With the dust barely settled on one of the largest scandals in K-pop history, now comes a bombshell that is turning heads and dropping jaws in Hong Kong. Canto-pop star Andy Hui issued a public apology to his wife Sammi Cheng, also a Canto-pop star, after the release of a video of him kissing TVB actress Jacqueline Wong in the back of a taxi.

What’s the big deal?  The details of the affair are prosaic by Hollywood movie standards but this affair is making headlines here for two reasons. First, such a public airing of dirty laundry remains a relatively rare occurrence among Asia’s celebrities. And second, Andy Hui and Sammi Cheng are Hong Kong entertainment royalty. They were once hailed as Hong Kong’s last fairy-tale. Today, the happily-ever-after is in jeopardy.

The full story: 'Sorry, Sammi': HK singer Andy Hui apologises after he was caught cheating on pop star wife

REBUILDING NOTRE-DAME

A day after the fire that shocked and united a nation, French President Emmanuel Macron vowed that the Notre-Dame Cathedral would be rebuilt within 5 years. Donations to restore the 850-year-old national landmark had reached some 750 million Euros just 24 hours after the blaze that gutted the spire and the roof.

The rebuilding challenge: Restoring an architecturally complex centuries-old monument is an incredible undertaking. From the research required to replicate the damaged pieces directly to sourcing for materials as close to the original as possible, nothing in this process will be easy. Already there are concerns that there won’t be enough timber similar to the ones damaged nor enough artisans with the required skills to restore the church.

What we still don’t know: Investigators have started questioning witnesses for possible clues as what could have caused the blaze. At the moment, there has been no evidence of foul play.

The politics of it: Our global affairs correspondent Jonathan Eyal notes that the French government’s relationship with its religious national monuments can be awkward, thanks largely to the strict separation of church and state in France. And while no one is pointing the fingers about the cause of the blaze, the government’s quite limited funding for the preservation of monuments will now come under some scrutiny.

Analysis: French government has lukewarm relationship with national symbol
The day after: In Pictures: Aftermath of Notre-Dame Cathedral fire
The list: Great cathedrals that have been lost to fire and war

AND FINALLY, A DOG FOUND SWIMMING 220KM FROM LAND

Oil rig workers off the coast of Thailand have named this dog Boonrod - Thai for “survivor from karma” - after they fished him out of the water some 220km from the coast. No one really knows how he ended paddling for his life so far from shore but one of the rig workers who rescued him will be adopting the pooch once they both get back to shore.

The full story: Dog pulled from sea 220km off Thai coast to be adopted by rescuer

IN OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A University of Minnesota student who said she was raped last August by Mr Richard Liu, the chief executive officer of China's e-commerce retailer JD.com, filed a civil lawsuit against him in a Minneapolis court on Tuesday, nearly four months after prosecutors declined to press criminal charges.

Google has blocked access to the hugely popular video app TikTok in India to comply with a state court's directive to prohibit its downloads, reports Reuters. The move comes hours after a court in southern Tamil Nadu state refused a request by China's Bytedance Technology to suspend a ban on its TikTok app, putting its future in one of its key markets in doubt.

Activity has been detected at North Korea's main nuclear site, suggesting Pyongyang may be reprocessing radioactive material into bomb fuel since the collapse of a summit with Washington, a US monitor said today.

That’s it for today, see you tomorrow.
- Jeremy