Asian Insider May 22: In Indonesia, unrest “by design”?

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

Hi there,

There’s a whole bunch of developments in Asian elections again, with our main item being the violence that has broken out in Jakarta after the release of official election results yesterday. Away from politics, we look at where it pays to be an expat and the right way to write Japanese names.

Want to get this in your inbox? Sign up here.


After a day of relative calm yesterday as the long-awaited election results were finally announced, there was an outbreak of violence in the Indonesian capital today. A group of some 300 clashed with police on Wednesday morning. The Inspector-General told reporters that 14 vehicles, including three belonging to the police, were set on fire and some 58 “provocateurs” had been arrested. Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan meanwhile said that six people had died and 200 others were injured.

The big picture:  Indonesia, Jakarta especially, has been tense since the April 17 election that featured a rematch between President Joko Widodo and former general Prabowo Subianto. Fears of violence and terror attacks surrounding the official release of the results had prompted foreign missions like the US embassy to issue warnings of a “heightened risk of terrorism”, with the Indonesian government mobilising 32,000 troops to keep peace in the capital. A large protest yesterday, objecting to the results showing president Jokowi had won a second term, ended peacefully but a smaller gathering today turned violent.

Who are the protesters: The protests have predominantly been staged by supporters of Prabowo, though his camp has off late been trying to distance itself from the rallies. The challenger has long maintained he would reject the results if it did not favour him, alleging electoral fraud. Police meanwhile have made it clear they do not believe the protests was an impromptu gathering of voters unhappy with the result. Without actually describing the protesters as paid instigators, the police said the violence took place “an event by design” and added that some envelopes of money were seized.

Our team is on the ground. Read the reports and see videos from the protests here.


Mobile phone carriers around the world are announcing that they are temporarily halting plans to release new Huawei phones as companies and consumers alike try and figure out what the US government measures and Google’s decision to cut ties with the Chinese tech giant will affect them. Huawei, meanwhile has been sounding a defiant note, saying they have been prepared for this scenario. It says it has stockpiled chips and is working on its own software.

Why it matters:  It is early days yet, but there are worries that if this isolation of the Chinese tech giant continues, it could split the tech world into two. That means Huawei and its tech running in parallel with those from the US tech giants with both being incompatible with each other. As Tech Editor Irene Tham writes, that could hark back to the early days of mobile communications where people had to change phones when they travelled as the US used a different mobile network system from Asia and Europe.

Go deeper:

Analysis: Will tech world of the future look like the past?

Latest reports: Two Japanese carriers postpone release of Huawei phones

Other stories on the trade war

President Xi Jinping of China called for the Chinese people to "start again" and begin a modern "long march," invoking a turning point in Communist Party history as the country braces for a protracted trade war with the United States.


Tomorrow, the six-week multi-phase Indian election reaches its apotheosis.  In one day, the hundreds of millions of votes cast in the world’s largest democratic exercise will be counted. Exit polls - released after the last vote has been cast - point to a resounding victory for PM Narendra Modi and his party, the BJP.

How is it counted in one day?

Most of the voting is done on electronic voting machines and counting is done in heavily guarded strongrooms. One machine at a time is placed on a table and an official presses a button to get a readout of votes cast. There is a verification process that involves matching paper ballots to machine results. Each round of counting takes 20 to 25 minutes and the tally from machines around the country is expected to be done in about eight hours.

Further reading on the Indian elections:

Analysis by Associate Editor Ravi Velloor in New Delhi: India poised for critical turning point

Strongrooms and paper trails: How India's 900 million votes will be counted

Why some politicians are demanding elections be moved to non-summer month


Where is the most lucrative place in Asia for expats? According to a new report by consultancy ECA International, that place is Japan. There the average expatriate pay package provided to mid-level employees is a handsome US$386,451 (S$532,104). Japan was second globally and tops in Asia. Other notable Asian cities on the list are India (US$299,728 - 3rd globally) and Hong Kong (US$276,417 - 4th in Asia). Singapore (US$236,258) finished ninth in Asia and 19th globally.

And while the UK (US$421,798) as tops globally, it was still on average better to be an expat in an Asian country, with the US (US$250,028) and Australia (US$266,848) trailing many Asian counterparts.


Has the world been getting Japanese names wrong this whole time? Apparently, that has been the case as Japan’s foreign minister Taro Kono (or Kono Taro) has issued a call for foreign news organisations to place the family name ahead of given names for Japanese names - in the same way it does for Korean and Chinese names. The Chinese President is Xi Jinping (last name Xi placed first) and the South Korean president is Moon Jae-in (last name Moon placed first) but Japan’s PM has typically been referred to in news reports as Shinzo Abe (last name Abe placed last).  Of course, even Japanese organisations have not historically strictly stuck to one format and it’s not yet clear if the whole government supports Kono’s call.

Read the full report from Japan Correspondent Walter SimAbe Shinzo, Kondo Marie, Osaka Naomi: Japan suggests reversing English naming conventions

Other developments:

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s final Brexit gambit was in tatters on Wednesday (May 22) just hours after her offer of a vote on a second referendum and closer trading arrangements failed to win over either opposition lawmakers or many in her own party.

In a rare press conference at the UN in New York, North Korea's UN Ambassador Kim Song demanded the immediate return of the country's second-largest cargo ship, the Wise Honest, and warned the US of consequences on the future of its relations with Pyongyang.

China will prosecute the former deputy party secretary and chairman of luxury liquor maker Kweichow Moutai, the ruling Communist Party's graft-buster said. Yuan Renguo, a former official of the world's largest listed alcohol firm, with market capitalization of 1.12 trillion yuan (S$223.7 billion), has been expelled from the party and removed from all posts, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said on its website.


That’s a wrap for today. Thanks for reading. We’ll be back tomorrow.