Asian Insider March 18: Indonesia's election heats up

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

Greetings!

In today’s Asian Insider:  Indonesia’s poll scene hots up, Japan’s defence ministry approves a new cruise missile and New Zealand is poised to tighten gun control.

INDONESIA'S ELECTION HEATS UP

Election temperatures are warming up in Indonesia, which will hold polls on April 17 to pick a new President and national assembly, and our editors and correspondents have been covering much ground with them.

. Some 8,000 candidates -- a historic high -- are vying for 575 legislative seats while incumbent Joko Widodo faces a familiar challenger, Prabowo Subianto, in the presidential poll. After a lacklustre showing in the first televised vice-presidential face-off, Mr Joko’s running mate Ma’ruf Amin turned in a strong showing against his charismatic opponent Sandiago Uno, says Indonesia Correspondent Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh.

To know more about the crowd-pulling Mr Uno, read his interview with Executive Editor Sumiko Tan

As for the president, Mr Joko is widely regarded as being ahead in the presidential race in most parts of the sprawling archipelago. However, in highly-religious Aceh province, where public floggings are common, retired General Prabowo seems to rule for conservatives, says Regional Correspondent Jeffrey Hutton, who travelled to Banda Aceh.

CRUISE CONTROL

Japan’s Shinzo Abe, poised to be the nation’s longest serving post War leader, has steadily adjusted his nation’s defence posture from its pacifist moorings to one more attuned to meet the challenges of the times, viz, an unpredictable China. Now, the Defence Ministry -- until not too long ago known as the Self Defence Agency -- has made the policy decision to develop the nation's first domestically manufactured air-to-ship long-range cruise missile, to be mounted on fighter jets and capable of attacking a warship from outside of an adversary's range.

The new missile, which is to be developed in response to the rapid advance in the strike capability of the Chinese Navy, will reinforce Japan's deterrence by extending the shooting range to more than 400km. The ministry aims to put the new missile into practical use within a few years, government sources said.

Stand-off defence capability was stipulated in the new National Defence Programme Guidelines adopted by the Japanese Cabinet last December.

NEW ZEALAND GUN LAWS

New Zealand's gun ownership rate is among the highest in the world, even as its murder rate remains low. A previous government in 2017 rejected recommendations from a parliamentary inquiry to tighten the laws. After Friday’s mosque massacres that is poised to change with  Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's Cabinet resolving on Monday to overhaul New Zealand's gun laws.

Ministers had made "in-principle decisions around the reform of our gun laws" and would make an announcement on the proposed changes before Cabinet meets again next Monday, Ms Ardern told reporters. "This ultimately means that within 10 days of this horrific act of terrorism, we will have announced reforms which, I believe, will make our communities safer," she said.

Ms Ardern has indicated that her response to the mosque shootings may echo action taken in Australia, which enacted sweeping reforms after a massacre in 1996 left 35 people dead.

PRIVATE EQUITY RISING

Asia-Pacific private equity deal value and exit value in 2018 reached record levels since 2013, however, the outstanding performance masked worrying signs that point to turbulent times ahead for the market, according to a report by Bain & Company.

The region now represents 26 per cent of the global private equity market - up from nine per cent a decade ago - with US$883 billion in assets under management. But uncertainty lingers, driven by a weakening macro-economic environment, rising interest rates and the growing divide between large funds with strong track records and smaller, less experienced funds.

Deal value in the Asia-Pacific was US$165 billion in 2018, rising from US$159 billion a year ago. China and India dominated deal-making, taking up about 75 per cent of total value. Exits are central to the private equity investing process as firms offload their investment after making a substantial return. Last year, exit value hit US$142 billion, up 39 per cent over the past five-year average. But the total number of private equity exits from investments declined sharply to 402, falling 32 per cent from the past five-year average.

TERRORISTS CANNED

Malaysian authorities have never had much sympathy for Islamic militancy, and even less so since Dr Mahathir Mohamad returned last May to lead the nation again. Its latest sweep, including operations in offshore Sabah island,  has netted 13 suspected Muslim militants allegedly involved in the deadly siege in the town of Marawi in neighbouring Philippines. Six of those held are from the dreaded Abu Sayyaf group, active in the southern Philippines.

Malaysia's national police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun said on Monday that 12 Filipinos and a Malaysian were arrested on March 11 and March 12 in a joint operation involving the Counter Terrorism Division, Special Branch, Sabah police and special forces unit 69 Commando.

On May 23, 2017, about 1,000 gunmen stormed and seized large parts of Marawi in an audacious bid to turn the city into a province of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). What followed was a war that raged for five months.By the time the Philippine military declared victory five months later, more than 1,000 militants, government troops and civilians were dead and half of Marawi lay in ruins.

Meanwhile, China said it had arrested thousands of ‘terrorists’ since 2014.

AND IN CASE YOU MISSED THESE OVER THE WEEKEND

Remember the dark days of the Global Financial Crisis, when Wall Street banks were tottering over the derivatives crisis?. We talked last week with one stalwart whose character and banking skills helped JP Morgan investment bank steer clear of that calamity - Bill Winters, now CEO of Standard Chartered. Winters has been lately under the gun from investors such as Temasek for a sluggish share price and fielded some tough questions from us, including on why he sticks to London when the bank makes most of its money in Asia.

Singapore’s education system is admired, and increasingly, emulated around the world for the quality of the pedagogy and the high-performing students it produces in science and math, particularly. A legacy issue now poised for change is that students get ‘streamed’ early on into express and ‘normal’ streams. While the streaming was fit for purpose in an earlier era it is now deemed to be more useful to recognise skills in specific subjects, and separate students accordingly. Former ST editor Han Fook Kwang has this telling commentary.

To know why streaming was introduced 40 years ago, you could see this.

Have a good week ahead!

-Ravi Velloor