Asian Insider April 22: What we know about the Sri Lanka attacks

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


Today: Blasts in Sri Lanka raise big unanswered questions, a states' rights debate rises in Malaysia, Singapore confronts a sexual misconduct problem on campus, Samsung’s Galaxy Fold launch gets put off and more.

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The dust is starting to settle on one of the worst terror attacks in Asia, but a lot remains unknown about the blasts that have killed at least 290 people - mainly in churches and hotels in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo. A curfew that was put in place on Sunday night was lifted on Monday and then reinstated, with reports on the ground saying streets are quieter than normal. A block on access to social media and messaging apps continues to be in place.

Two big unanswered questions: Who and why? No one has come forward to claim responsibility for what must surely be coordinated attacks, nor has there been any clarity about why Catholic churches and luxury hotels were singled out.  

Why it matters: As India Bureau Chief Nirmala Ganapathy - who has experience reporting in Sri Lanka - writes in her analysis, the island nation has never seen significant terrorist activity, with ISIS having very few recruits from the country. In fact, it has been relatively calm after the end of the civil war between the government and separatist Tamil Tigers in 2009. The attacks on Easter Sunday thus raise concerns about  1) the possible rise of a new terror group in Sri Lanka 2) the potential of intervention foreign radical groups and 3) the risk of an outbreak of religious violence.

Go deeper:


-What we know and don't know about the bombings

-Scale of attacks suggests sophisticated planning, training

In pictures: Sri Lanka explosions on Easter Sunday

Eyewitness accounts: 'Where is God?': Sri Lankans stunned as deadly explosions spark war memories

Tourism hit: Tourists flee and tour operators cancel trips as foreigners targeted in deadly attack

Reaction in Sri Lanka: Local Muslim leaders call for 'maximum punishment' for culprits

Reaction around the world: World leaders condemn bombings, express condolences

Head to for all the latest on the attacks.


Among the list of political issues currently brewing in Malaysia, the status of the two states on the island of Borneo - Sabah and Sarawak - appears like an esoteric topic at first glance, but it has deep repercussions.

What is it about:  At the heart of the matter is a question of resources are apportioned to Malaysia’s 13 states. Malaysia’s Constitution currently defines Sabah and Sarawak as two of the country’s 13 states. However, when they first joined the federation, the two states were meant to be “equal partners”- two states that have standing on par with all the other 11 taken as a whole. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad promised to correct that with a Constitutional amendment, but it failed to pass in Parliament.

The big picture: The two states have often played kingmaker in Malaysian elections, with state parties providing enough MPs to a coalition to give it a majority in Parliament. Sarawak could hold its elections as soon as next year and this issue very likely be key in the campaign.

Regional Correspondent Eileen Ng visited both states to get a sense of how that issue is playing out. Read her report from Kuching and Kota Kinabalu here: Futile bid for 'equal partner' status evokes passion in Sabah, Sarawak


It’s been five days since the Indonesian election and while the official results could take up to 35 days to be announced, we do have quick counts from every pollster projecting a victory for incumbent president Joko Widodo. Challenger Prabowo Subianto has, however, claimed victory and accused pollsters of spreading lies - prompting pollsters to defend their work today.

How a quick count works: There are over 800,000 polling places in Indonesia with each station catering to just a few hundred voters. Pollsters typically pick a few thousand of these polling stations to sample, choosing those they consider to be representative. They project their final tallies based on the counts at these stations. On paper, the method is statistically sound and quick counts have accurately predicted the winners of previous election.

The big picture: Mr Prabowo says his own polling shows him winning and until there are official results, Indonesia looks set to stay in its current state of limbo, with two camps behaving like they won.

Full story: Pollsters defend quick-count method for Indonesia election

Background on the election: What happened on April 17 and what's next

Go to our special Indonesia election site for all the latest.


The National University of Singapore is holding a townhall meeting this week to hear feedback on sexual misconduct on campus after outrage over an incident where a student filmed a female student in the shower. Almost 30,000 had signed petitions calling for tougher action to be taken against the perpetrator. The student was asked to write an apology letter and was suspended for a semester but not expelled.

The big picture: There is a sense that this could be a moment of reckoning for one of Asia’s best universities, in much the same way many colleges in the US had previously had to confront the way they handle such cases on campus. That said, it is not yet clear the nature of the or magnitude of the problem. Is this a systemic one that requires an overhaul of the school’s disciplinary system or is it a poorly-handled one-off situation?

Background: NUS to hold townhall meeting on sexual misconduct on campus following complaint over peeping Tom incident


Samsung is postponing events planned for its foldable phone in Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai. The problem? Some reviewers who got early access to review units had those units ultimately fail on them. It is never a good sign when a phone that is mainly screen has a screen that becomes unusable after a few days. The wait for what was one of the most eagerly anticipated pieces of tech this year will go on.


A magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck the central Philippines today, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said. There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage though buildings were reportedly swaying in Manila.

Japan has approved a scheme limiting people's access to casinos and other betting establishments as well as removing cash machines from these locations as part of a plan to stem problems related to gambling. The moves come ahead of the opening of several casinos in the country.

South Korea will celebrate the first anniversary of a landmark summit between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this week - but Pyongyang may not take part, Seoul said today.

Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky swept to victory in Ukraine’s presidential election Sunday, an exit poll showed, as millions of voters weary of war and economic hardship rebuked the ruling elites and ushered in fresh uncertainty for their geopolitically pivotal nation.

That’s all for today. Thanks for reading and see you tomorrow,