Briefs

The Week

Briefs

By: 
Amala Balakrishner
22/04/19, 08:00 am

SINGAPORE (Apr 22): “I’m a kiasu Singaporean. Being first in line for this is a privilege that will never happen again.”Justin Zheng, who was the first in line to eat at US burger chain Shake Shack in Jewel Changi Airport on its April 17 opening day. He started queuing at 4.30am.

Jokowi takes lead in early counting

One of the most massive undertakings in democracy the country has ever seen, the Indonesian elections on April 17 had over 190 million Indonesian voters going to the polls to decide on both their president and parliament — the first for the country. Some 20,000 legislative seats were up for grabs by 245,000 candidates, as voters fanned out to cast their votes in 800,000 polling stations across the country’s 17,000 islands. Incumbent President Joko Widodo (Jokowi), and his running mate, Ma’ruf Amin, were up against long-time rival Prabowo Subianto (whom Jokowi defeated in the previous polls in 2014), and his running mate Sandiaga Uno.

As president, Jokowi has made strides in infrastructure development and social welfare, with the perfectly timed opening of Jakarta’s MRT the highlight of his tenure so far. However, he was criticised for failing to address human rights abuses and corruption. Meanwhile, military man Prabowo is seen as a firm and capable leader who has in the past made his nationalistic and conservative stand quite clear, winning over the highly coveted Muslim conservative bloc. However, Jokowi has also courted the Muslim-conservative vote, with his running mate being the supreme leader of the extremely influential Nahdlatul Ulama and chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council.

The polls have been marred by accusations of “ghost” voters and, recently, a viral video was circulated showing bags of ballot papers found in Malaysia that were pre-marked for Jokowi. There were also concerns about vote-buying and the inundation of voters at overseas polling stations. The latter has reportedly prevented hundreds from voting. As of press time, a quick count showed Jokowi leading in the polls.

The president and his party appear to have improved their leads, compared with the 2014 election. This, observers say, will be viewed positively by markets and investors. However, some economists argue that beyond a short-term boost in sentiment, Jokowi’s re-election is unlikely to alter Indonesia’s economic prospects in the long run.

The official election results will only be released on May 22. — By Pauline Wong

Foxconn’s Gou to run for Taiwan’s presidency

Foxconn Technology Group founder Terry Gou’s announcement that he will be running for Taiwan’s presidency has shaken up a race that will determine the island’s closeness to China. The 68-year-old Taiwanese billionaire will seek the nomination of the China-friendly opposition, the Kuomintang party, and is looking to unseat incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen, whose Democratic Progressive Party advocates a decisive break from mainland China. With a net worth estimated at US$4.4 billion ($5.95 billion), Gou is the third-richest Taiwanese. The self-made tycoon built a massive electronics manufacturing company churning out millions of iPhones and other consumer electronics gadgets on behalf of Apple and other brands. Gou’s entry into the race adds further pressure on Tsai’s incumbency and comes amid her nomination fight within her own party. She has recently cracked down on mainland investments, visitors and other potential sources of political influence in a bid to garner more support. She is also seeking military support from the US.

Nippon Paint acquires rival DuluxGroup

Nippon Paint, controlled by one of Singapore’s wealthiest man, Goh Cheng Liang, is offering US$2.7 billion for Australian paint maker DuluxGroup in another move to consolidate the US$140 billion global paint industry. The offer price of A$9.80 a share is a 28% premium over DuluxGroup’s last traded price before the announcement was made. Tokyo-listed Nippon Paint is 39% owned by Goh’s vehicle, Nippon Paint South-East Asia Group, or Nipsea. He has an estimated fortune of US$8.2 billion. Post-acquisition, Nippon Paint will keep Dulux’s brand and management and run it as a subsidiary.

Revised East Coast Rail Link deal

Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has responded to China’s reduction of the fee for the ECRL from RM66 billion ($21.6 billion) to RM44 billion, saying it is “a solution to our concern”. He is also appreciative of China’s agreement to a 50-50 joint venture to operate the 640km line across Peninsular Malaysia. Mahathir adds that the revised costs provide considerable savings and that the interest payment would be far less, in reference to the government’s claim that taxpayers would have had to shell out RM81 billion in total for the double-tracked rail. The new alignment of the ECRL is shorter than the 688km planned earlier and will have eight fewer stops.

Notre Dame blaze

French President Emmanuel Macron is confident of building an “even more beautiful” Notre Dame within the next five years. His comments come after large parts of the 850-year-old historic cathedral were devastated in a blaze that broke out at around 6.30pm on April 15. Most of its roof and steeple are destroyed, and an unknown number of artefacts and paintings have disappeared. Firefighters managed to save the cathedral’s landmark towers, but Interior Minister Emmanuel Gregoire says it remains “under permanent surveillance because it can still budge”. Authorities say they are ruling out arson and possible terror-related motives as possible causes and are treating the blaze as an accident, for now.

IBM cuts jobs in Singapore

IBM is cutting 600 jobs at a manufacturing site in Singapore that makes high-end servers. The site, at Tampines, cost $90 million to set up. The US technology giant is shifting the production of these servers to Poughkeepsie, New York, as part of its “continual review of the most efficient way to source [its] products”. On April 16, IBM reported yet another quarter of declining revenue and earnings. Singapore will remain its Asia-Pacific headquarters, having been here for the past 66 years. IBM’s other units located in Singapore — such as its Watson Centre, cloud data centre and service units — will continue operating here.

US manufacturing output declines

The US is facing its largest quarterly decrease in production since 2017 as manufacturing output remained unchanged in March following two straight monthly declines. Last month’s manufacturing output was restrained by weak motor vehicle and wood products production, which continued their 0.3% drop from February. These declines are in tandem with a broader slowdown of the US economy. US President Donald Trump has been pushing “America First” policies, which include trade tariffs aimed at protecting domestic factories from unfair foreign competition. The soft manufacturing and slowing economic growth are also a reflection of the ebbing stimulus following the US$1.5 trillion tax cut package and supply chain disruptions that have ensued from the US’ ongoing trade war with China.

China’s economy rebounds in 1Q2019

China’s economy rebounded in the first quarter of the year, with GDP up 6.4% y-o-y. Factory output in March jumped 8.5% y-o-y, while retail sales expanded 8.7% and investments grew 6.3% in the same period. These latest numbers, which are better than expected, gives the Chinese government room for manoeuvre as trade negotiations with the US enter a crucial stage. The better-than-expected GDP numbers are a reversal from as recently as January when the key readings were pointing to a pronounced downturn. US-China trade talks are ongoing.

Former Volkswagen CEO charged

Martin Winterkorn, former CEO of Volkswagen, is among five managers to be charged for their role in the diesel-rigging scandal that dogged the German carmaking giant. They are accused of withholding information on the emission software used in VW diesel cars. The scandal broke in 2015 and involved as many as 11 million diesel cars globally, costing the company about €28 billion ($43 billion) so far.

Jack Ma endorses tech sector’s infamous working hours

Billionaire Jack Ma is encouraging tech workers to embrace the industry’s extreme overtime culture, defying a growing social media backlash. The co-founder of Alibaba Group Holding endorses the sector’s 12-hours-a-day, six-days-a-week routine as de rigueur for passionate young workers. Ma, who is the richest man in China, also dismissed people who want the typical eight-hour-a-day office lifestyle. His statement comes after Chinese tech workers protested labour conditions on online code-sharing community GitHub in March under the banner 996, a term which refers to 9am to 9pm, six-days-a-week work schedule.