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DigiMarCon Singapore 2019 Digital Marketing Conference and Exhibition


Sep 18, 2019Sep 19, 2019

Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre

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10 Bayfront Ave, Singapore


DigiMarCon Singapore

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Digital Marketing Conference & Exhibition – September 18-19, 2019 – Singapore – Marina Bay Sands

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DigiMarCon Singapore 2019 is your chance to …
– Hear from some of the most audacious and thought provoking speakers in the digital marketing industry.
– Gain insight into emerging strategies, the latest innovative technologies, and best practices to move your business to the next level.
– Network with thought leaders, collaborate with your peers and build your network in a beautiful atmosphere.

DigiMarCon Singapore 2019 Digital Marketing Conference & Exhibition will be held from September 18th to 19th, 2019 at the luxurious Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre in Singapore. Whatever your goal is; reinforcing customer loyalty, improving lead generation, increasing sales, or driving stronger consumer engagement, the DigiMarCon Singapore 2019 line up has been specifically designed to help you develop your audience.

Immerse yourself in topics like digital strategy, programmatic advertising, web experience management, usability / design, mobile marketing & retargeting, customer engagement, user acquisition, social media marketing, targeting & optimization, video marketing, data science & big data, web analytics & A/B testing, email marketing, content marketing, conversion rate optimization, search engine optimization, paid search marketing, geo-targeting, predictive analysis & attribution, growth hacking, conversion rate optimization, growth marketing tools, marketing & sales automation, sustainable growth strategies, product marketing & UX / UI and much, much more!

At DigiMarCon Singapore 2019, you will receive all the elements you need to achieve digital marketing success! Conventional thought will be challenged, new ways of thinking will emerge, and you will leave with your head and notebooks full of action items and ideas to lead your agency / team / account to even greater success.

Be a part of DigiMarCon Singapore 2019 and discover how to thrive and succeed as a marketer in a rapidly evolving digital world.

Secure your seat now and take advantage of our discounted super early bird registration rates.

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Finding the right amount of independence for Asia’s central banks


Authors: Adam Triggs and Jake Read, ANU

March 2019 saw Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte move his Budget Secretary, Benjamin Diokno, to govern the central bank. The press was quick to call this a politically motivated interference with the central bank’s independence. The markets were equally quick to shave 1 per cent off the Philippine Peso.

A logo of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (Central Bank of the Philippines) is seen at their headquarters in Manila, Philippines 28 April 2016 (Photo: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco).

Duterte’s decision follows a common trend — the independence of central banks is being challenged to differing degrees and for different reasons in many Asian countries. These include the Philippines, India, Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, Pakistan, Turkey, Russia, and further afield in the United States.

While weakening the independence of central banks can have dangerous long-term consequences, independence is not a universal panacea. There are times when less central bank independence makes sense. Asian governments must learn the difference.

President Duterte is no fan of high interest rates. Diokno, the new central bank governor, appears to agree. He has historically favoured a weaker currency, strong state spending and sees high inflation as ‘tolerable’ in a growing economy. Having leap-frogged three deputy governors in his appointment, he is tipped to loosen the Philippines’ monetary policy stance and is considering a cut to the 18 per cent reserve requirement on banks.

India has similar challenges. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) made headlines in late 2018 when then governor Patel resigned prematurely. The resignation was allegedly due to his refusing government demands to lower interest rates, let state banks increase their power and lending, and to allow the government access to RBI reserves. Patel was quickly replaced with Prime Minister Modi’s former secretary of economic affairs and G20 sherpa, Shaktikanta Das, who announced a 25 basis point cut to the benchmark repo rate. Modi approved — Das then announced another one.

There is a similar pattern across Asia. The Thai finance ministry has publicly traded barbs with the central bank over the direction of interest rates. The Indonesian parliament passed the ‘Prevention and Resolution of Financial System Crisis Law’ in 2016 that, among other things, weakens the autonomy of Bank Indonesia in managing financial crises. In 2013, the Bank of Japan agreed to coordinate its policies with the government — many saw this to be an alarming attack on its independence.

Further afar, President Erdogan criticised Turkey’s central bank for increasing interest rates to reduce inflation, and then claimed the power to appoint the bank’s rate-setters and put his son-in-law in charge of economic policy. We see similar pressures in Pakistan, Russia and the United States where President Trump says he is ‘not even a little bit happy’ with Jerome Powell.

A longer view shows that central bank independence has increased significantly since the 1980s, particularly in emerging economies. But these recent developments could represent the start of a reversal in this long-run trend. Should we be worried?

The seminal paper on central bank independence came from Alberto Alesina and Larry Summers in 1993. It showed that industrialised countries with independent central banks enjoyed lower inflation. Other studies confirmed these findings for advanced and emerging economies using more recent data.

The IMF shows that central bank independence is correlated with lower inflation, improved transparency and higher institutional quality. Jon Simon and Olivier Blanchard show that central bank independence lowers the volatility of GDP and inflation. Gaston Gelos and Yulia Ustyugova found that commodity price shocks have less persistent effects in countries with independent central banks.

But central bank independence exists on a spectrum. Pure-independence may not always be a good thing.

Guy Debelle and Stanley Fisher suggest that central bank independence can follow two models: ‘goal independence’ where the central banker has autonomy over its goals and policy instruments (such as the Federal Reserve or European Central Bank), or ‘instrument independence’ where the central bank sets a policy instrument in pursuit of a goal specified by the government (such as the Bank of England).

The evidence suggests that the operational independence of central banks has significant economic benefits, but the full political independence of central banks appears uncorrelated with economic outcomes.

Adam Posen warns that ‘the impact of central bank independence on economic outcomes is highly overrated’. Larry Summers notes that when the challenge is to increase (not decrease) inflation, more cooperation between central banks and finance ministries is better than less. Willem Buiter argues that the responsibilities and tools that central banks have accumulated, such as macroprudential tools, have made their independence more difficult.

This paints a complex picture for Asia. For countries struggling to increase inflation and boost growth, better cooperation between fiscal and monetary policy may well improve economic outcomes. This may well be important to policy outcomes in Japan. Policy cooperation should not be opposed on the altar of central bank independence if it improves economic outcomes.

Yet there remains no justification for politicians pressuring central banks into using monetary policy instruments to achieve short-term political objectives, as in the Philippines, India and Thailand. History shows this is a dangerous path to tread.

Adam Triggs is Director of Research at the Asian Bureau of Economic Research in the Crawford School of Public Policy, the Australian National University, and a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Jake Read is a research student at the Asian Bureau of Economic Research in the Crawford School of Public Policy, the Australian National University.

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Huawei’s threat to democratisation in Africa


Author: Emeka Umejei, American University of Nigeria

The US-led global campaign against Chinese telecoms equipment giant Huawei has gained traction in some countries in the Global North. US allies such as New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom have all raised concerns about the pliability of Huawei’s 5G network for espionage and surveillance. But little unease is apparent in Africa, with potentially serious consequences for the continent’s political development.

Small toy figures are seen in front of a displayed Huawei and 5G network logo 30 March 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Dado Ruvic).

Concerns hinge on China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law that mandates private companies with ‘headquarters in China to cooperate with intelligence services’. In addition, the arrest of Huawei executive Wang Weijing for espionage activities in Poland has added fuel to the fire within the European Union.

Despite allegations that Huawei could deploy its network to spy for the Chinese government, many African countries are still seeking to attract investment from the company in their information communication technology (ICT) sectors. Africa’s ICT sector needs massive development and Chinese telecoms vendors such as Huawei and ZTE have ‘built most of Africa’s telecoms infrastructure’, according to a 2017 McKinsey report. Africa’s low internet penetration — standing at 35.2 per cent against the world average of 54.4 per cent — makes the continent a favourable destination for Chinese telecoms infrastructure.

Huawei has already partnered with the Exim Bank of China to invest more than US$1billion in digital infrastructure across several countries in Africa. Huawei Marine is building the Pakistan East Africa Cable Express internet system to link South Asia with East Africa and beyond. The Chinese telecoms vendor is also currently holding trials for a rollout of 5G services with Africa’s largest telecommunication firms MTN, Vodacom and Safaricom. It has already partnered with Rain, a South African network operator, to launch the first commercial 5G network in South Africa and probably the first on the continent.

African governments are less concerned about the security implications of Chinese digital infrastructure, despite allegations that Chinese intelligence has spied on the African Union’s headquarters in Addis Ababa. Suggestions that Huawei’s 5G network could be used for espionage and surveillance weighs lightly on many African countries. The Malawian Minister for Communications and Technology reinforced this attitude at the 2019 Mobile World Congress in Spain, telling media that ‘security is a matter of concern if it has been proven. But for now, we just hear speculations from the United States about Huawei over questions of security’.

Two factors account for Huawei’s continued attractiveness in Africa. First is the economic viability of Huawei’s network — it is considered a cheaper source of ICT infrastructure than those of western companies. Second are bilateral relations between African countries and China gaining momentum over time. China plays a vital role in the economies of many African countries, potentially persuading them to extend such engagement to the ICT sector. But the cavalier attitude of African political actors could open opportunities for sophisticated espionage and surveillance.

China promotes a conception of the internet known as cyber sovereignty, where the state has absolute control over the internet. This approach differs significantly from the West’s conception of the internet as a borderless global community. Chinese President Xi Jinping provided a detailed explanation of cyber sovereignty at the second World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, China in 2015: ‘Sovereignty covers all aspects of state-to-state relations, which also includes cyberspace. We should respect the right of individual countries to independently choose their own path of cyber development and model of cyber-regulation and participate in international cyberspace governance on an equal footing’.

The implications of China’s cyber sovereignty are numerous but the most significant is censorship. This was highlighted by Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net 2018 ranking China as the world’s worst abuser of internet freedom for the fourth consecutive year. The report also emphasises that ‘a cohort of countries is moving toward digital authoritarianism by embracing the Chinese model of extensive censorship and automated surveillance systems’. The development of ICT infrastructure able to enforce cyber sovereignty on the African continent raises a red flag in the long term.

Some experts predict that two versions of the internet — following the US and Chinese conceptions — will emerge in a decade’s time. If this happens, Huawei’s digital infrastructure in Africa will align with the Chinese version. Dire consequences for Africa’s transitional democracies would come in the form of regulation of online freedom of expression and political pluralism. Huawei’s ICT infrastructure may be deployed to advance digital authoritarianism on the African continent.

Huawei’s 5G network will remain vital to Africa’s ICT sector in the short-to-medium term. But in the long-term, it could hold troubling consequences for Africa’s transitional democracies. The rise of a hegemonic Chinese internet may result in the reproduction of digital authoritarianism in Africa. Rather than demonising Huawei, which may not attract support in Africa, the United States and its allies should engage with media, civil society organisations and academics on the continent. Through these diverse engagements, the West can exert pressure on African policymakers to come to terms with the long-term implications of Huawei’s network.

Emeka Umejei is a Visiting Assistant Professor in Communication and Multimedia Design at American University of Nigeria.

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Jokowi’s electoral chances and his legacy


Author: Editorial Board, ANU

It’s a sign of how assured most analysts are that Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo (Jokowi), will be re-elected this week that debate is underway about what legacy the former mayor and entrepreneur will leave for Southeast Asia’s most populous country given another term.

Indonesia's presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto speaks during a televised debate with his opponent Joko Widodo in Jakarta, Indonesia, 30 March 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Willy Kurniawan).

Opinion polls released by the most professional survey firms all show Jokowi with a comfortable lead in the run-up to the election. On Wednesday 17 April the presidential elections will, for the first time, be held concurrently with elections for the national parliament and for legislatures in Indonesia’s provinces, cities and districts; all told, 193 million voters will be able to choose from among 245,000 legislative candidates.

But they’ll only be able to choose one of two men to be their next president — and they’re the same two who faced off last time. Once again, Jokowi’s challenger is the populist strongman and former general, Prabowo Subianto, son-in-law of Indonesia’s authoritarian-era President Suharto.

Voters’ choices are limited because Indonesia’s electoral laws include a ‘presidential threshold’, whereby presidential aspirants must gain the support of a coalition of parties controlling 20 per cent of the seats in the national parliament or 25 per cent of the popular vote to be eligible to stand.

Indonesians are increasingly critical of the presidential threshold, which enables party powerbrokers to keep the field closed to newcomers. Indonesia’s open party list system for choosing legislative candidates, meanwhile, contributes to a rampant culture of vote-buying at the grassroots. After the election, we can expect renewed discussions about whether Indonesia’s electoral system is encouraging the variety and quality of candidates demanded by an increasingly diverse and sophisticated electorate.

Indonesia’s challenges need to be seen in perspective. These elections are occurring at a time when democratic political systems across the Asia Pacific are caught in the global tide of scepticism about democratic norms and institutions. Indonesia’s own neighbourhood has recently been the stage for coups, crackdowns, and crimes against humanity.

Despite worries that religious identity politics are coming to dominate Indonesian politics, when it comes time Indonesians want much the same things as voters the world over: jobs, services, and security. Jokowi’s popularity, despite the opposition’s attempts to undermine confidence in him by appealing to religious tensions, owes much to his unremitting focus on delivering tangible benefits to voters.

It’s thus reasonable to see Wednesday’s election as another milestone in a success story for both democratisation and sound economics. After the 1997–98 financial crisis laid waste to the economy, successive generations of technocrats have overseen prudent macroeconomic management and laid the fiscal groundwork for politicians to woo voters with new government programs. In Jokowi’s case this has meant bankrolling a nationwide infrastructure program and putting some flesh on what were, until recently, the bare bones of Indonesia’s social safety net.

The picture is less positive when Indonesia’s political development is benchmarked with what the country can, and should, be achieving if leadership were more principled. In this week’s lead article, Liam Gammon argues that while Jokowi still represents the best option for Indonesia on Wednesday, he’s not the risk-taker that Indonesia needs to fix the country’s corrupt and sclerotic political institutions, bureaucracy and law enforcement apparatus.

Under Jokowi, he writes, ‘institutional reform and human rights languish in the too-hard basket’. The President’s cautious approach to politics has seen him reluctant to go out on a limb for reformist initiatives, instead hoarding his political capital to spend on his signature development programs.

More concerning still is what Gammon and other observers have interpreted as the increasingly illiberal climate under Jokowi. This trend has much to do with factors out of the president’s control, but some of it is due to his own treatment of political adversaries. When forced into a political corner, Gammon writes, the government has shown that it ‘is not above resorting to hard-knuckle tactics and legal harassment to reinforce the President’s electoral position‘.

Meanwhile, Jokowi’s opponent, Prabowo, has ramped up his campaign to discredit the election commission (KPU), with allegations of vote-rigging and ‘massive, structured systematic cheating’. This is a reversion to the form of Prabowo’s last challenge to Jokowi when he also cried foul in the face of electoral defeat and tried to insinuate grounds for challenging the electoral outcome. KPU has admitted problems with the voter list and pledged to work continuously on updating it until election day. The Election Supervisory Board (Bawaslu) has backed KPU. While the election process has not been free of problems, there is no evidence of systematic fraud.

Even his critics would acknowledge that whether Jokowi leaves office this year or at the end of a second term in 2024, he will have a good story to tell on Indonesia’s economic development. It would be a pity if the president’s more enduring legacy is erosion of the hard-won gains of Indonesian democratisation in the pursuit of political advantage. But certainly, whatever the problems, that legacy is in much safer hands with the cautious Jokowi than with the populist Prabowo.

The EAF Editorial Board is located in the Crawford School of Public Policy, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.

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Jokowi still Indonesia’s best bet in this week’s election


Author: Liam Gammon, ANU

When Joko Widodo was first a candidate for Indonesia’s presidency five years ago, one might have looked to his successful career in local government for clues as to how he would lead Southeast Asia’s biggest economy. When he was mayor of Surakarta city and governor of Jakarta, Jokowi — as he’s known in Indonesia — took political risks to combat corruption and improve public services. Many hoped that the reformist brand of populism he pursued in these regions would be a blueprint for his presidency.

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo addresses supporters at a rally at Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta, Indonesia, 13 April 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Edgar Su).

That track record turned out to be an imperfect guide to the sort of president Jokowi would be. Almost as soon as he was sworn in, Jokowi began to disappoint the reformist voters who backed him in the 2014 election. He spent little of his political capital on addressing past human rights abuses and reducing the corruption that pervades state institutions. But he has earnt praise for getting badly-needed infrastructure projects up and running and expanding the social safety net, although his policy agenda is often criticised for reinforcing the statist, protectionist tendencies that have long held back Indonesia’s growth potential.

It’s tempting to dismiss Jokowi as having become a creature of the system. While there’s truth in that, Jokowi remains a sort of outsider.

As he rose to national prominence after becoming governor of Jakarta in 2012, many within Indonesia’s elite resented the emergence of a politician who they saw as a provincial upstart. For his part, Jokowi has kept himself somewhat aloof from the powerbrokers he cuts deals with every day, distinguishing himself from his predecessors by being the first elected president who does not control a political party.

He also hasn’t cultivated and promoted a class of cronies, at least to the extent that many Indonesian politicians typically do, choosing to maintain ad hoc and mutually expedient alliances with the small group of fixers, financiers and enforcers that surround him.

He has seemed content to not put down roots in the political system. His leadership is characterised by a constant effort to play different elite factions off against each other, not allowing any one faction to dominate the others, or to overly dominate him. Political parties, the military, Islamic organisations and the police force have all received the ‘Jokowi treatment’: being given favours — or the cold shoulder — depending on how useful they are to the President in the political stoush of the moment.

The result is a governing style marked by cutting deals with those whose support is electorally beneficial and a sometimes ruthless approach to dealing with recalcitrants. The recent disruption of anti-Jokowi protests, and a series of legal cases against anti-government activists, suggests that the Jokowi government is not above resorting to hard-knuckle tactics and legal harassment to reinforce the President’s electoral position.

The question, then, is what Jokowi wants to use his power for, given that institutional reform and human rights languish in the too-hard basket. The answer is to be found in the high-profile infrastructure projects the President inspects and inaugurates nearly every day, and in the health care and cash transfer cards that Indonesians now carry in their wallets. These infrastructure and social welfare programs are being implemented imperfectly, but few could dispute that ‘Jokowinomics’ is getting results. This, above all else, is where Jokowi sees himself leaving a legacy.

Voters have responded appreciatively. Opinion polls, which are pretty reliable in Indonesia, suggest that on Wednesday he will beat his opponent Prabowo Subianto, the former special forces officer whom he defeated in the 2014 presidential election. Those familiar with Jokowi’s thinking say he is hellbent on achieving a landslide victory, like his predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono did when he was re-elected with over 60 per cent of the vote in 2009.

Jokowi is unlikely to be that lucky. A last-minute scare campaign from religious conservatives, who have long sought to sell Muslim voters on the idea that the President is hostile to Islam, will likely cost Jokowi some votes. So will a small but growing movement of progressive voters refusing to vote at all out of disgust with Jokowi’s broken promises of reform.

Even allowing for these factors, a victory for Prabowo looks unlikely. That is a good thing for Indonesia and its neighbours. For all his shortcomings, Jokowi is a practical and predictable politician. Prabowo, on the other hand, is an authoritarian ideologue with a volatile personality. When faced with domestic political trouble or a diplomatic crisis, he could well fall back on the demagogic nationalist appeals that are his trademark.

Australia and the world, then, should look upon Jokowi’s re-election as the better outcome, something that would lock in stability, pragmatism, and predictability on the economy and foreign relations. The atmosphere of polarisation between the Jokowi and Prabowo camps that has pervaded Indonesian politics since 2014 would also fade somewhat as Prabowo’s party allies seek to cut deals with Jokowi in exchange for representation in the ministry, and the access to the spoils of government that accompanies it.

Still, there are downsides to Jokowi seeing a good result on Wednesday as a vindication of his developmentalist policies and hard-nosed political tactics. Determined to leave an economic legacy, Jokowi will understandably be driven by an impulse to centralise more political authority in his own hands. The central question for the next five years, then, is how much Jokowi is willing to sidestep democratic norms to get there.

Liam Gammon is a research scholar in the Department of Political and Social Change, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University and editor of the ANU’s New Mandala website. He is also a member of the East Asia Forum Editorial Board.

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Prabowo cries foul ahead of Indonesian elections


Authors: Dave McRae, University of Melbourne, and Dirk Tomsa, La Trobe University

As Prabowo Subianto’s hopes of winning Indonesia’s 17 April presidential election appear to have faded, his campaign has ramped up efforts to discredit the election. This is nothing new for Prabowo — five years ago he claimed ‘massive, structured and systematic cheating’ and threatened to withdraw from the election, only to have his challenge thrown out by the Constitutional Court.

Indonesia's presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto speaks during a campaign rally with his running mate Sandiaga Uno in Jakarta, Indonesia, 7 April 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Willy Kurniawan).

Then, his claims of unfairness came only after the Electoral Commission (KPU) had announced the official result. This time, his team have floated accusations of dodgy voter lists and plans to rig the vote count weeks before polling day.

All reputable opinion polls suggest the electoral outlook for Prabowo and his running mate Sandiaga Uno is grim. Incumbent Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo and his running mate Ma’ruf Amin have maintained a double digit lead in even the closest of polls, consistently polling in the low to mid 50s. At the same time, a March 2019 Indikator poll showed each of Prabowo’s coalition partners at or below their 2014 vote count, with the National Mandate Party (PAN) polling well below the electoral threshold of four per cent.

Predictably, Prabowo has questioned the reliability of these polls, asking attendees at his massive Jakarta rally on 6 April, ‘Do you want to be continually cheated? Do you believe the surveys?’ Further muddying the waters, Prabowo’s camp has claimed their own internal polling shows the former general ahead by 62 to 38 per cent. Dubious pollsters such as Puskaptis, an organisation which in 2014 falsely claimed that Prabowo had won the election, have also released results showing him in front.

More prominent though in Prabowo’s recent campaign rhetoric have been efforts to discredit the work of the electoral commission ahead of polling day. Such efforts fall into two categories: allegations floated directly by members of Prabowo’s campaign team and social media hoaxes.

For example, his campaign team has claimed that the voter list contains 17.5 million dubious voters sharing just a few different birthdays and that Jokowi will be installed as president even though Prabowo will win the popular vote. Prominent Prabowo supporters such as his brother Hashim Djojohadikusumo and former PAN chairman Amien Rais have also sought to intimidate Indonesia’s election commission by threatening mass protests, a legal challenge at the Constitutional Court and even a complaint to the United Nations.

Meanwhile, social media hoaxes have claimed that seven containers of pre-filled ballot papers favouring Jokowi were stacked at Jakarta’s port and that KPU servers had been preset for a Jokowi victory. In another online campaign, social media influencers supporting the Prabowo camp sent out an SOS to international observers to supervise the 2019 election in order to guarantee its integrity.

Certainly, Indonesia’s election campaign has not been entirely free of irregularities or controversies. Recently, reports about stray ballots marked in favour of Jokowi emerged from Malaysia — where around 600,000 registered voters live — but the ballots’ authenticity remained unclear at the time of writing. The KPU had already admitted problems with the voter list prior to this, but denies the allegations of systematic fraud. Rather, it has pledged to work continuously on updating the voter list until election day. The Election Supervisory Board (Bawaslu) has also backed the KPU and made it clear that while minor irregularities have indeed occurred in the preparation of the voter list, there is no evidence for systematic fraud on Jokowi’s behalf.

The polls available have also shown little sign that voters believe the claims of unfairness. Recent surveys by Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting (SMRC) and Indikator — albeit conducted prior to reports of the Malaysia case — revealed an overwhelming majority of voters have confidence in the KPU’s ability to conduct the election professionally. Disaggregated results from the Indikator poll demonstrate strong confidence in the KPU and Bawaslu even among Prabowo voters.

So what are the main goals of the Prabowo camp in raising these allegations? There are at least three potential reasons behind this campaign strategy.

First, Prabowo might hope to sway undecided voters by building an overall narrative that the Jokowi administration is dishonest and will do anything to be re-elected. This narrative is tied to earlier accusations that the government was unfairly targeting and prosecuting opposition figures, mobilising village heads and bureaucrats for the campaign, and using misleading statistics to make its performance in government look more impressive.

Second, the spread of fabricated polls could lay the groundwork for a potential legal challenge after the election, either from Prabowo himself — in case the final result in the presidential election is narrower than most polls are currently predicting — or from one of the parties in Prabowo’s coalition that are at risk of failing to clear the four per cent threshold.

Third, Prabowo might be hoping to build up his threat potential in order to pressure Jokowi into protecting his interests if he loses the election by a margin so large that a legal challenge is futile. Despite the polarising effects of the campaign, Indonesia’s long tradition of promiscuous powersharing makes it entirely possible that the two men will seek to collaborate after the election if Jokowi wins a second term. For Prabowo, such collaboration is likely to be more appealing if he can negotiate from a position of relative strength — hence his provocative actions towards the end of the campaign.

Whether Prabowo’s efforts will in the end have the desired effect remains to be seen. What is certain though is that after an initially subdued campaign, the last few weeks once again revealed Prabowo’s true colours. Election day therefore shapes up as another important fork in the road for Indonesian democracy.

Dave McRae is Senior Lecturer in the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne and a co-host of the Talking Indonesia podcast.

Dirk Tomsa is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics, Media and Philosophy at La Trobe University in Melbourne and a co-host of the Talking Indonesia podcast.

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Digital solutions can raise women’s workforce roles


Authors: Timothy Watson and Michelle Le, ANU, and Michael Corliss, University of Canberra

The digital economy is expanding rapidly in Asia, boosting growth and economic opportunities at a time of otherwise disappointing global productivity growth. How then does the digital economy affect opportunities for women to participate in the workforce?

 Women listen as a Samsung employee provides instructions on using their new Galaxy smartphones in Jakarta, 11 April 2014. (Photo: Reuters/Beawiharta).

Between 2000 and 2016 internet users in Asian countries increased from around 6 per cent to almost 54 per cent of the population. This was driven largely by mobile phone penetration, which increased from around 13 subscriptions per 100 people in 2000 to 129 subscriptions per 100 people in 2016. At the same time women’s workforce participation increased across the region, with the average participation rate rising from around 45 per cent of the female population in 2000 to 46.9 per cent in 2016.

Perhaps unsurprisingly we find a significant positive association between internet use and women’s workforce participation. Indeed, our most conservative estimate suggests that growth in internet use can account for an amount equivalent to all of the increase in women’s workforce participation in Asia between 2000 and 2016. However, this result does not necessarily imply that internet use is the cause of increased participation. Some of the increase in internet use in the region is potentially driven by greater levels of women’s workforce participation.

A more formal assessment of the association between internet use and women’s workforce participation needs variables that are strongly related to increases in internet use and unlikely to directly affect women’s participation.

For instance, states typically regulate the internet and traditional media sources in an attempt to control communication that is deemed political or otherwise anti-social — not to restrict the participation of women in the workforce. Variables representing the absence of state control over internet access and, conversely, the presence of state control over traditional media sources, are likely to be positively related to internet use and not directly related to women’s workforce participation.

Using data representing ‘state control over internet access’ and ‘access to foreign information’ in the form of foreign newspapers and television channels as instruments, our research confirms a significant positive association between women’s workforce participation and exogenously determined internet use, at least since 2008. Indeed, we actually find a stronger positive association between internet use and women’s workforce participation using this approach. Our results also provide indirect evidence that freedom of the internet from state interference and the free flow of information online are associated with higher levels of women’s workforce participation in Asia.

Internet use increases the pace of knowledge and technology transfer across borders and helps raise productivity. The World Bank estimates that a 10 percentage point increase in internet use is associated with a 0.77 percentage point increase in GDP growth in high-income countries, and a 1.12 percentage point increase in low and middle income countries.

Between 2000 and 2016 average internet use in Asia increased by a staggering 47.7 percentage points. The resulting increase in output and productivity, combined with changing social attitudes towards women in the workforce, should increase demand for women workers and contribute to higher women’s workforce participation.

The rapid increase in the availability and use of mobile phones in the region has reduced the costs of obtaining information and transactions, lowered the costs of money transfer and financial services, improved access to credit and helped women better coordinate their work and family lives.

Automation and skill-based technological change has also increased the demand for ‘brains’ relative to ‘brawn’, and helped women close participation and pay gaps. In developed economies, the internet increases women’s workforce participation by supporting teleworking and flexible work arrangements, and reducing the time spent on unpaid household labour.

Our findings concerning the significant positive relationship between internet use and women’s workforce participation provide a number of important insights for policymakers.

Current e‑commerce negotiations could provide the most important trade policy contribution to gender equality, relative to other negotiations underway. For example, ambitious outcomes for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) e‑commerce chapter and World Trade Organization negotiations on trade-related aspects of e‑commerce will be important to improve women’s economic empowerment, building on the successful negotiation of the e‑commerce chapter in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

Equally important will be maintaining risk-based approaches to cybersecurity; taking a multi‑stakeholder approach to internet governance; adopting and using international standards for the digital economy; and maintaining a free and open internet. If women are to participate equally in the digital economy, policymakers need to ensure that it is a safe space for women and that human rights apply online as they do offline.

Policymakers should seek to place a gender perspective at the centre of national digital strategies, and to implement policies that improve women’s effective access to digital connectivity and skills. Women need to be able to contribute to the design and implementation of these policies through user or citizen-centred processes. Improving the availability of gender-disaggregated ICT data can help policymakers apply a gender lens to evidence-based digital policy design and evaluation.

Finally, country-specific factors such as cultural, religious and other value systems that influence women’s participation in the workforce must be addressed. The challenge of bridging the digital divide in the region is not simply a matter of providing equal access to digital technology and skills. It is also about changing community attitudes and norms about the appropriate roles for women in society and the digital economy.

Timothy Watson is a Sir Roland Wilson Scholar at the Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University, and a policy adviser in the Economic Division of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australia.

Michael Corliss is a research associate at the Centre for Labour Market Research, University of Canberra, and a visiting fellow at the Tax and Transfer Policy Institute, The Australian National University.

Michelle Le is a Master of Economics student at the Research School of Economics, The Australian National University.

This article is based on the authors’ research, ‘Digitalisation and women’s workforce participation in the Indo-Pacific,’ published in the Australian Journal of Labour Economics, 2018.

This article is abridged from a version that appears in the latest issue of East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘Investing in Women’.

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Who rules China? Representation on the NPC and Central Committee


Authors: Damien Ma and Neil Thomas, MacroPolo

March Madness for China watchers is the ‘Two Sessions’: the annual meetings of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the national committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Yet, from scripted press conferences to rubber stamp approvals, these institutions are often dismissed as political pageantry of little significance. Recent scholarship suggests otherwise.

A teacher gives a lesson on the Chinese National People's Congress (NPC) and People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) with a cutout of a Chinese national emblem at a primary school in Weinan, Shaanxi province, China, 4 March 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Stringer) Rory Truex, political scientist from Princeton, argues that the rote proceedings and staged appearance of the Two Sessions belie the real political significance of the NPC, formally the highest organ of state authority in China. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rewards NPC delegates who, throughout the year, make suggestions that transmit citizen preferences on non-sensitive political issues, such as environmental protection, to central policymakers.

The NPC serves as an information feedback mechanism for the CCP to better ‘serve the people’, placate anti-government sentiment at the grassroots and address grievances from constituencies. It achieves what Truex calls ‘representation within bounds’.

But who does the NPC actually represent? Who are the 2975 NPC delegates who descended on Beijing this March? How do their demographic characteristics compare with the 375 policymakers who comprise the CCP’s all-powerful Central Committee (CC)? Do ethnicity, gender, age and place of ancestry correlate with how far one can go in Chinese politics?

The CC and the NPC have quotas ensuring some equality in the representation of officials who work in different provinces. But many senior officials are not from the provinces in which they work, so officials’ geographic backgrounds are not necessarily equally represented.

For every CC and NPC member, the government publicises their ‘place of ancestry’ — jiguan — which regulations define as ‘the long-term residence of one’s paternal grandfather’. Some jiguan are significantly overrepresented or underrepresented in both institutions.

CC members with paternal ancestors from the wealthy provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Shandong and Beijing are overrepresented by at least 50 per cent relative to their populations. Shandong, China’s second-most populous province, enjoys jiguan representation almost double its relative population size. Shaanxi, the provincial jiguan of President Xi Jinping, is overrepresented by 25 per cent.

NPC representation is on average somewhat more equitable than the CC. But some patterns are reversed in the NPC: politicians with ancestry in Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin are significantly underrepresented compared to the CC and there is much better representation of those from Anhui, Shanxi and Sichuan provinces.

Each of China’s 55 officially recognised ethnic minorities, together constituting 8.5 per cent of the national population, have at least one NPC representative. Even three ethnicities with fewer than 5000 people — the Tatars, Lhoba and Gaoshan — each have an NPC delegate. But in the CC, 38 of the 55 minorities have no representation, including 8.4 million Tujia people. Even some of the 18 ethnicities with CC members remain underrepresented relative to their size, such as the Miao, Manchu, Yi and Zhuang peoples — whose numbers range from 8.7 million to 16.9 million.

Western Chinese minorities such as Tibetans, Uyghurs, Mongols and Hui, are actually overrepresented in the CC. But such appointments are probably intended to co-opt local elites, as those regions’ allegiances to Beijing are a perennial CCP preoccupation. That Han Chinese make up 85.3 per cent of NPC delegates despite forming 91.5 per cent of the national population means almost every minority is overrepresented on the NPC.

Gender is a different story. It is well known that Chinese female politicians tend to hit a glass ceiling and are significantly underrepresented in the CC. The CC is only 8 per cent female, with women comprising less than 5 per cent of full members. In the NPC, female membership is almost 25 per cent, still well short of equality but three times better than the CC. Female representation in the NPC actually narrowly beats the global average for women in parliament and does just better than the US Congress.

Chinese politics is also ageist, in the sense that experience and seniority are often prerequisites for advancement. The average age of all CC members is 58.8 — it’s 59 for US congressional representatives — while for full CC members it is 61.2. NPC delegates are 53.8 on average, in line with the global average age for parliamentarians of 53. Still, the median age in China is 37, so young Chinese are significantly underrepresented, a phenomenon common around the world.

What do these data tell us? The NPC is younger, more female and far more ethnically diverse than the CC — although both fall short of equal representation for women and young people. It seems nearly impossible for ethnic minorities and women to reach the uppermost rung of Chinese politics.

The greater demographic diversity found in the NPC seems to support Truex’s theory that it is an institution that the CCP uses, in the absence of free elections and widespread polling, to collect valuable information about its performance from a wide cross-section of society.

Perhaps a more fundamental finding is that there may be significant inequality of political opportunity for Chinese whose ancestors come from different parts of China. Proportionately far more NPC and CC members trace their lineage to the wealthy east coast than to the poorer southern provinces. So, the person you are most likely to see in the halls of Chinese political power is a fifty-something Han Chinese man who considers himself an east-coaster.

Damien Ma is the Co-Founder and Director of MacroPolo, the Think Tank of the Paulson Institute in Chicago. He is also an Adjunct Lecturer at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @damienics

Neil Thomas is a Research Associate at MacroPolo. You can follow him on Twitter @neilthomas123

A more detailed version of this article originally appeared here at MacroPolo. Data for CC members comes from The Committee, MacroPolo’s digital interactive on Chinese elite politics.

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India–Maldives relations improving despite obstacles


Author: Samatha Mallempati, Indian Council of World Affairs

India–Maldives relations under Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohammed Solih started well. But sustaining the positive momentum will require hard work given complicated domestic politics, external relations and strategic interests.

Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrive ahead of their meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, 17 December 2018 (Photo: Reuters/Adnan Abidi).

The bilateral engagement confronted numerous challenges after the first democratically elected government of the Maldives led by Mohamed Nasheed collapsed in 2012. Since then the country’s political instability has challenged overall security of the Indian Ocean by increasing radicalisation —over 200 Maldivians reportedly joined the Islamic State —and by the granting of non-transparent permissions for foreign investment.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi displeased the previous Maldivian government led by Abulla Yameen, in power from 2013 to 2018, by refusing to visit and his government calling for the release of political prisoners and improvements in the rule of law. The Maldives’ refusal to renew a contract of military helicopters gifted by India and trade diversification demonstrates its dissatisfaction.

But bilateral ties improved after the September 2018 elections ended the Abdulla Yameen government. Ibrahim Mohammed Solih, leader of the Maldives Democratic Party (MDP), was elected President with the support of a coalition. The change of government was welcomed by the international community and generated hopes for an end to corruption, political repression and human rights violations.

The change of government in the Maldives allowed both countries to positively redefine bilateral relationships, as indicated by high level visits. Modi visited the Maldives in September 2018 while Solih made a state visit to India in December 2018. Statements made during the visits underscore the importance of enhancing bilateral relations in trade, energy, security, connectivity, socio-economic developments and cooperation in regional and multilateral forums.

US$4 billion of financial assistance was announced by India for socio-economic development programs in Maldives in an attempt to improve relations. India also announced a US$800 million line of credit to finance infrastructure projects during the visit of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to the Maldives in March 2019. India’s aid to the Maldives increased from Rs 125 crore (US$18.1 million) in 2018–19 budget to Rs 575 crore (US$83.3 million)in 2019–20.

A visa facilitation agreement came into force in March 2019 to boost people to people contacts. Other important agreements include implementation of high-impact community development projects through local bodies and collaboration in energy efficiency, renewable energy, information and communications technology, and electronics.

Solih is speaking of an ‘India first’ policy while India is promoting a ‘neighbourhood first‘ policy. While these appear mutually agreeable, the challenge lies in implementing them, understanding each other’s security and strategic concerns and providing room for dialogue to address those concerns. India’s assistance in setting up a Coastal Surveillance Radar System and participating in the second Defence Cooperation Dialogue in January 2019 aims at cooperation on maritime security and counter terrorism. The Trilateral Maritime Agreement between India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives is in place and trilateral military exercises are held on a regular basis.

But to achieve greater results, both countries need to enhance regional cooperation by using common platforms such as the Indian Ocean RIM Association and the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium. Collaboration through the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation is stalled due to India–Pakistan tensions.

The Maldives’ reliance on China to develop more than US$2.5 billion in infrastructure projects and the resulting accumulation of foreign debt— 40 per cent of the country’s GDP of US$4.866 billion in 2017— is a concern for India. The Maldives supports the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and its debt payment to China alone is close to US$3.4 billion. India is also concerned about any possible future use of civilian facilities for military purposes by China.

The Solih government’s foreign policy and internal political developments in the Maldives will play a role in determining the bilateral relations. The Maldives focusses on external relations to sustain its economy due to limited internal economic opportunities and dependence on imports for essential items. Demonstrating his willingness to engage with the world in a balanced manner, Solih reversed the Yameen government’s withdrawal from the Commonwealth and restored ties with Iran and Qatar. Solih will also not completely abandon China and has extended his support to the BRI.

Former president Nasheed has been vocal against China and Saudi Arabia’s role in the Maldives, but the country is nonetheless looking towards India and Japan for investments to reduce its dependence on China. Pakistan and the United States could also be major trade and development partners.

Internal political developments in the Maldives caused uncertainty for the Solih government. The coalition that brought Solih to power fell apart and contested separately in parliamentary elections that took place on 6 April 2018. The main MDP coalition partner — the Jumhoree Party — has aligned with Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives after Solih’s probing of corruption charges caused friction. Former president Yameen was detained on corruption charges and released. Solih was wary of a possible coup if the MDP failed to win a majority in Parliament.

But having won the parliamentary elections with landslide majority, the time is right for MDP to broaden the horizon of bilateral relations.

Samatha Mallempati is a research fellow at the Indian Council of World Affairs

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Moving beyond regulation to close the gender gap


Author: Sandra Seno-Alday, University of Sydney

Despite strong evidence in favour of gender diversity in organisations, the number of women in boardrooms globally remains low. Patterns of women’s participation in Southeast Asian corporate governance offer critical insights into what needs to be done to harness the benefits of gender diversity in leadership.

31-year-old Haruka Hirokawa (C) and 35-year-old Sayaka Kishi (R) take part in a women-only financial seminar named 'Kinyu Joshi' (Finance Women) in Tokyo, Japan, 4 October 2018 (Photo: Reuters/Issei Kato).

Gender-diverse workplaces enjoy higher levels of employee retention and satisfaction, greater productivity and increased creativity. Analysis of corporate boards in Southeast Asia points to a positive correlation between gender diversity in corporate governance and business performance. Data collected in Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam indicates that women directors are just as influential as men in corporate governance networks. Studies elsewhere show that gender-diverse top management teams lead organisations that are better able to weather business and economic crises.

Despite the economic incentives for organisations to move towards gender-balanced workplaces and leadership, annual report data from the largest publicly listed companies in Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam shows persistently low women’s participation rates, particularly at middle and top management levels.

Similar data on the Asia Pacific shows that Japanese and South Korean women directors comprise only 5 per cent of boards. In most Southeast Asian countries, women occupy between 10 and 19 per cent of board seats. Australia and New Zealand are leaders in the region, with women’s corporate governance participation rates of around 22 per cent and 20 per cent respectively. But these remain far below the 50 per cent threshold representing equal participation.

Policy and regulatory initiatives across the world have led to significant advances in female education participation and completion rates. The latest UN gender statistics show that more women than men attend tertiary education institutions in most major economies in Southeast Asia. Thailand has the highest ratio at 1.44 women-to-men (on par with Australia’s ratio of 1.43). The average proportion of women graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees in Southeast Asia is around 37 per cent. This is higher than the comparable 32 per cent rate in Australia.

Despite success in boosting education rates, women’s labour force participation rates (averaging at around 51 per cent in the Asia Pacific) remain consistently lower in Southeast Asia than men’s labour force participation rates (averaging at around 72 per cent). There are some notable exceptions in Southeast Asia — women’s labour force participation rates in Vietnam and Cambodia are 71 per cent and 77 per cent respectively, significantly higher than Australia’s 60 per cent rate.

Countries that have legislated gender quotas on management boards tend to have higher women’s participation rates in corporate governance. Norway is a world leader in quota legislation and women occupy 47 per cent of board seats in that country. But recent studies show that the impact of quota legislation is mixed at best.

Studies on Scandinavia show that some companies find ways to avoid complying with board quota requirements by changing their legal structure. Deeper investigations have also shown that while women occupy a significant proportion of board seats, in reality a minority of women — so-called ‘Golden Skirts’ — occupy multiple directorships in several companies. This has the effect of artificially inflating the rate of women’s participation in corporate governance.

While legislating gender quotas for boards does have positive effects, the absence of regulation is insufficient to explain the gender leadership gap. Malaysia is the only country in Southeast Asia that has legislated board gender quotas. While the country has a higher rate of women’s participation in corporate governance (14 per cent) compared with other major economies in Southeast Asia, it is Vietnam that has the highest women’s participation rate in the region (19 per cent), which was achieved without imposing board gender quotas.

Research drawing on data from Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines and Vietnam suggests that the persistence of the gender leadership gap is explained by firmly rooted cultural norms and practices concerned with gender roles and expectations. Analysis shows that cultures where gender roles are less defined or less rigid tend to have more women on boards. Cultures where competence and performance are valued over status and where inclusiveness is fostered also have the most gender-diverse corporate boards.

The lesson from these Southeast Asian countries is that informal institutions embodied in culture exert a powerful legitimising influence on the roles that women are able and expected to play in society. These deeply internalised expectations affect not only the decisions that women make with respect to their own career aspirations, but also underpin the organisational policies and regulatory frameworks that govern the socioeconomic activities of men and women.

The first step to increasing gender diversity in leadership is to bring to light these culturally rooted gender biases, allowing gender stereotypes to be challenged both at home and in the workplace. This serves as a starting point for governments and organisations to establish the infrastructure and enabling mechanisms to better support the creation of gender-diverse organisations and leadership teams.

Putting in place a strong regulatory infrastructure to encourage greater women’s economic participation is good, but it is not enough. There is a need to move beyond regulation and focus on changing the fundamental assumptions about women and men that exert a powerful but unconscious influence on women’s pathways to leadership.

Sandra Seno-Alday is a Lecturer in International Business and an Executive Member of the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre (SSEAC) at the University of Sydney.

This article is abridged from a version that appears in the latest issue of East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘Investing in Women‘.

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