Thursday, August 28, 2014

Govt sets up team to temporarily manage Surabaya Zoo

The government has set up a team to temporarily manage Surabaya Zoo, following a decision to revoke the zoo`s operation license.

Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan on Friday revoked the operation license of Surabaya Zoo for failing to meet conservation management standards.

The decision to revoke the license was taken after the ministry had closely monitored the zoo management`s performance since 2008, the minister said here Friday.

The team comprises personnel of the forestry ministry and the East Java Governor`s office.

"The team has to report to the forestry ministry`s director general of forest and natural resource preservation on the zoo management every three months," the minister said.

"In 2008, many animals died there. Moreover, 26 more have died since February 2010, " he said.

Under a new management involving the Surabaya Flora and Fauna Park Association (PTFSS), 26 animals had died in the Surabaya Zoo.

The dead animals included 21 birds, 2 reptiles, one cheetah, a tiger and a lion.

Under the old management, a total of 689 animals had died, consisting of 153 mammals, 193 birds, 113 reptiles, and 230 fishes.

Meanwhile, Surabaya Zoo (KBS) visitors have been asked not to feed the animals for the sake of the wildlife`s wellbeing.

Due to reckless feeding by zoo visitors, eight of the zoo`s animals had become seriously ill and were now still being treated by veterinarians, KBS spokesman Agus Supangkat said in Surabaya Thursday (Aug 15).

The eight animals under medical treatment at KBS are a bison, a camel, a lion, a white tiger, a black bear, two Komodo dragons, and a Sumatran tiger.

"A giraffe is now also sick because it has been without a mating partner for four years," Agus said.

This article originally appeared 20 August in Antara News.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

New posts this week: shift in attitudes needed re AIDS, less kids in our jails, a common future, Elisabeth Pisani's new book

Terrorism has been a major topic in the Indonesian and Australian news as more and more horrifying acts of violence take place due to the Islamic State (now dubbed IS). Indonesia, unlike Australia, is not debating the discursive moral conundrum of intervention, the choice whether or not to get involved militarily, but it is nonetheless presenting a unified and vocal condemnation of the extremists' actions. People are out on social media, Muslim leaders are voicing their opinion and even President SBY had strong words. Indonesia condemns with authority, an authority legitimised by its status as a predominantly moderate Muslim democracy, a role model and success story in Asia and shining example to the Islamic states.

Yet it is also its status as a Muslim majority country grappling with radical elements that renders it vulnerable to inadvertantly providing support for the war from its aspiring jihadists. Where Australia is discussing just how far we are willing to go to limit freedoms in order to prevent terrorism on Aussie soil and how often we are willing to impose ourselves to try to prevent genocide in far off places, Indonesia is faced with homegrown support for IS that is ultimately a product of undealt with sectarian conflict among its different groups that allows extremism to fester. By allowing the persecution of minorities to continue unchallenged, Indonesia will cultivate a presence in wars like those in Syria and Iraq and be closer to far off conflict than it would like to be. We can only hope that the incoming president will also start a national conversation about intervention in Indonesia's own religiously motivated incidents of violence and intolerance and in this way send an unequivocal message to extremists attracted to IS that it won't be involved militarily, one way or the other.

Please enjoy these latest articles:

"Indonesia must do more to fight HIV/AIDS scourge," by Andrew Manners, August 2014.

"Abbott's accidental gift to Indonesian village kids," by Ross Taylor, August 2014.

"Australia and Indonesia are equal stakeholders in a common future," by Nadjib Riphat Kesoema, August 2014.

"The wisdom of a wanderer," by Duncan Graham, August 2014.

In other news:

A Code of Conduct was finally signed. Australia has promised not to 'harm Indonesia's interests'. Whatever that means it is far from a direct promise to curb spying.

For Indonesia Institute members, our annual memberships fees are now due. You can go here to renew your membership or for those interested, join up to be part of a community of people making a difference to Indonesia Australia relations.

Abbott’s accidental ‘gift’ to Indonesian village kids

By Ross Taylor

"Having effectively destroyed the illegal trade in asylum seekers, there now seems to be a good case to expand our formal refugee intake".

Whilst in opposition our (now) prime minister, Tony Abbott promised to ‘stop the boats’ and get the issue ‘off the front pages’ of our newspapers. Love him or loath him, you have to admit the PM, and his immigration minister, Scott Morrison have done exactly what they promised the Australian people they would do.

The paradox with this issue is that the only commentary that still continues over ‘boat people’ is the actions of the Abbott government on humanitarian grounds. And here, the coalition is still receiving criticism for being uncaring to desperate people. Scott Morrison argues however, that preventing hundreds of people from drowning at sea is ‘very humane’. He has a valid point.

But the government’s hard line has produced another humanitarian outcome – albeit somewhat unintended - that has been completely overlooked: the plight of Indonesian children from extremely poor villages throughout the Indonesia archipelago.

During the time of the Gillard government, arrivals of asylum seekers into Australian territory by rickety old boats threatened to overrun the entire border protection system. In its haste to be seen as ‘tough on people smugglers’ the government introduced legislation that would see those involved in the transport of asylum seekers sentenced to mandatory five-year terms in Australian jails. Sounds pretty reasonable one would think, but what happens when the people smugglers seek-out young children from remote Indonesian villages to work as deckhands on these boats? 

The end result was that by 2011 there were over fifty Indonesian children - some as young as 13 years of age - locked up in Australian maximum security prisons as ‘people smugglers’. These kids, most of whom were educated to around year three, were placed in an environment where they were in daily contact with adult male prisoners including murderers, rapists and paedophiles.
The government’s intention was not to intentionally lock-up foreign kids as a result of these new laws; but that is what happened.

The disturbing aspect of this outcome was for the government to simply deny that children from Indonesia had been caught-up in this terrible trade. As a result, some children were incarcerated in maximum security adult prisons in WA for over two years, and without trial!

Can you imagine the reaction here in Australia if a young Australian boy was locked-up in an adult maximum security prison for this amount of time in Java? There would have been outrage at the very least. But young kids from isolated Indonesian villages have very few rights and certainly no voice, and there were at least fifty of them trapped in a justice system gone terribly wrong.

It was only after constant lobbying by a number of caring organisations, and this institute, that the Indonesian government formally took-up the issue with the Gillard government and provided, in many cases, confirmation of the ages of the children; a number of whom were pre-pubescent according to Australian doctors who had examined them.

The then attorney-general Nicola Roxon, facing a diplomatic incident with, and growing anger within, Indonesia belatedly decided to send the children back home. But the damage had been done. Numerous families back in Indonesia had actually thought their children had been lost at sea, or simply had no idea where their sons’ had gone.

The actions of the Gillard government over people smuggling had resulted in the unthinkable actually happening. Poorly crafted and rushed policy saw these kids suffer as no children should; particularly in Australia.

Today, young Indonesian children are not even being approached by the ruthless people smugglers because there is no business to be done. No more ‘fishing’ jobs on offer to children as deckhands. The future child ‘people smugglers’ are now where they should be: in their villages with their parents; a direct result of the Abbott government’s hard line on ‘turning back the boats’.

Even at a senior political level, Indonesian officials acknowledge that since the introduction of the Abbott government boats policy, the flow of asylum seekers coming to Indonesia has slowed dramatically as asylum seekers, who were using Indonesia as a transit point rather than a final destination, realised the back-door into Australia was firmly closed. A ‘win-win’ for both countries, and a huge ‘win’ for the hundreds of Indonesian children who would be otherwise enticed onto these boats by evil people seeking to exploit them for their own gain.

The Abbott government has certainly provided a humanitarian gift to the village children of Indonesia. But what Mr Morrison needs to do now is to expand that ‘humanitarianism’ to assist the thousands of genuine refugees who are currently ‘stuck’ in a number of Asian countries with nowhere to go.

Australia invites around 14,000 refugees into our country each year. Having effectively destroyed the illegal trade in asylum seekers, there now seems to be a good case to expand our formal refugee intake.  

Accepting an increased number of genuine refugees would be a good move for diplomatic relations with Indonesia, and our region. I would also be a decent thing to do for a country that, by any measurement, is able to welcome far more immigrants than it does right now.

Ross B. Taylor AM is the president of the Perth-based Indonesia Institute (Inc).

Australia and Indonesia are ‘equal stakeholders in a common future’

By Nadjib Riphat Kesoema

Indonesia and Australia have come a long way in more than 60 years of diplomatic relations. As Indonesia celebrates the 69th anniversary of its independence this week and welcomes a new leadership, it is timely to revisit the formulation of Indonesia-Australia relations. 

Independence Day serves as an ever-present reminder of the struggles of the founders of the nation who fought bravely for Indonesia’s independence. It also reminds Indonesians of the support extended by Australia to the young republic in the 1940s, which established a bond of friendship and foundation of relations between the two countries.

The bilateral relations have experienced some ups and downs, some generational changes and some political eras. The recent unfortunate developments should serve as reminders for both countries that the relationship should never be taken for granted. It should be patiently nurtured. These issues also remind the two countries of the importance of mutual trust and respect, which are key to a robust and durable relationship.

Those who have kept abreast of the election in Indonesia will better understand that despite all the dynamics, the election has been successfully conducted in a democratic and transparent manner. It proved once again that democracy has firmly taken root in Indonesia — the third-largest democracy in the world. It also confirmed the continuity of the transformation Indonesia has undergone since 1998.

Once a country on the brink of disintegration, now Indonesia is stronger and more united. Once a country near economic bankruptcy, Indonesia today is the world’s 16th-largest economy and a member of the G20. With a large middle class and a young workforce, many have predicted that Indonesia’s economy is set to grow even larger.

Bilateral relations between Indonesia and Australia have a strategic value. The past decade has witnessed strong ties covering various levels and areas under the framework of the Lombok Treaty and the Comprehensive Partnership.

Bilateral trade last year registered $11.2 billion, with the prospect of further expansion as the two countries negotiate the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership. As the two economies continue to expand, opportunities are there for two-way investment in areas such as infrastructure, agriculture, mining and services. Moreover, the two countries can work together to play a greater role in the global supply chain. Undoubtedly, the stronger the economic connectivity established, the stronger bilateral relations will be.

The people-to-people links, including through education, are key in promoting mutual understanding. Australia is home to more than 17,000 Indonesian students. In this regard, Indonesia welcomes the New Colombo Plan — an initiative by the Australian government to promote Asian literacy among Australian youths through education and work experience in Asia, including Indonesia.

Working closely together, both countries have made important contributions to the region and beyond. Indonesia’s role as a passage for Australia to be part of the Asian Century will be particularly relevant. As Australia’s closest neighbour, Indonesia welcomes Australia’s commitment to build stronger ties with Asia. Indonesia and Australia are not just neighbours; we are friends and strategic partners. The message is very clear and simple: Australia and Indonesia have a great future together. We are equal stakeholders in a common future, with much to gain if we get this relationship right, and much to lose if we get it wrong.

The leadership transition in Indonesia in a few months’ time is an important moment for the two countries to reset the relationship towards a closer friendship and stronger partnership based on mutual trust, shared interests and goals. That relationship covers government-to-government, business-to-business and people-to-people links.

The recent situation has served as a learning process to make the relationship more mature and stronger. The long history of Indonesia-Australia relations has proven that, while differences and problems can arise from time to time, Indonesia and Australia have always managed to get through the challenges and even rebuild a stronger and more mature relationship. Indonesia and Australia should move forward to resolve any issues that have distracted the good relations and find opportunities for greater co-operation to ensure the common benefits and interests. There is no option for Indonesia and Australia other than to be good friends and equal partners.

Nadjib Riphat Kesoema is the Indonesian ambassador. His article originally appeared 19 August in The Australian.

Indonesia Must do more to Fight HIV/AIDS Scourge

By Andrew Manners

A recent report claims that Indonesia is losing the fight against HIV, with a dramatic rise in incidences over the past few years. While Jakarta has implemented a number of impressive programmes, a shift in attitude is sorely needed to address the growing crisis.

Experts have warned that Indonesia is losing the fight against HIV, with a significant upsurge in AIDS-related deaths recorded between 2005 and 2013. According to the 2014 UNAIDS Gap Report, released on 16 July, the country is ‘being left behind’ and faces ‘the triple threat of high HIV burden, low treatment coverage and no or little decline in new HIV infections.’ In fact, while incidences of the virus are falling around the world, the spread of HIV has risen across the archipelago. Jakarta insists it is on the right track, but a renewed focus, including a shift in attitude, is sorely needed if the crisis to be addressed successfully. 

A new report by the UNAIDS has identified Indonesia as one of six countries globally that are ‘being left behind’ in the fight against HIV. According to the Geneva-based organisation, Indonesia, along with the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Russia and South Sudan, must do more to improve treatment coverage and reduce a worrying increase in HIV incidences.

The embarrassing comparison to some of the poorest countries in the world was questioned by some Indonesian officials, with Indonesian Health Minister Nafisiah Mboi criticising the details of the report. Yet the overall picture is grim: between 2005 and 2013, the report says, there was almost a 50 per cent increase in new infections in Indonesia, with a 427 per cent rise in AIDS-related deaths during the same period. By contrast, neighbouring countries, including Cambodia, Thailand and Burma/Myanmar all posted steady falls. That means that Indonesia now has the third-largest number of people living with HIV in the region. Just as worrying, too, is the fact that only eight per cent of those living with HIV in Indonesia are using, or have access to, antiretroviral drugs.

Explanations for the upsurge in HIV incidences in Indonesia are not clear-cut. Local HIV/AIDS experts acknowledge the increase in new infections and deaths. But they also point out that the epidemic is a new phenomenon in Indonesia compared to other states in the region; after a rapid spike in infections, they say, numbers are likely to level off. That could prove to be the case. Countries such as Cambodia and Thailand have both managed to rein in the deadly disease after experiencing highly publicised crises in the late 2000s.

Still, that is only a part of the dilemma facing Indonesia. Jakarta has implemented some fine programmes and has important long-standing partnerships with donors, local communities and international organisations. But deep-seated cultural attitudes make it virtually impossible to combat HIV. For instance, although nine per cent of Indonesian sex workers are HIV positive, compared to just 0.3 per cent of the general population, the country has some of the most draconian laws against sex workers in the region; this is despite the fact that criminalisation of sex work is one of the most significant barriers to controlling the transmission of HIV among sex workers. Improving the conditions of sex work, rather than dismissing it as “immoral” and running it underground, is urgently needed.

As 42 per cent of Indonesians with HIV are aged between 20 and 29, making sex education a compulsory subject in Indonesian schools is also vitally important. Unfortunately, the taboo that continues to surround sex means that many young people go without sexual education. As a result, they are often are hopelessly unaware of the dangers. According to a 2011 survey by the Ministry of Health, only 20 per cent of Indonesians aged between 15 and 24 had comprehensive knowledge of HIV. That makes prevention a particularly challenging task for health workers on the front lines.
Similarly, although the HIV rate is devastatingly high among drug users in Indonesia, with more than one-third of all new cases due to intravenous use, many people are slow in seeking help. This is not surprising given the harsh laws against drug use and the discrimination and stigma that surround it. Yet, in nearby Vietnam and China, a gradual shift in attitudes has seen the rollout of a number of drug treatment programmes aimed at reducing the frequency of intravenous drug use. Indonesia would do well to follow suit.

While Jakarta has made some impressive strides to combat HIV in recent years, a shift in attitude, to one that involves helping the most vulnerable, is now needed. Ultimately, no amount of programmes will reverse the worrying increase of HIV incidences in Indonesia if those that are most in need are unable or unwilling to access them. That must change.

Andrew Manners is a Research Analyst in the Indian Ocean Research Programme. His article originally appeared in Future Directions 20 August.

The Wisdom of a Wanderer

By Duncan Graham

Thankfully Elizabeth Pisani is now back at her public health consultancy in London.

Had she remained in Indonesia a chance encounter in some remote village could have tempted some despairing hack to spike her drink with a potion strong enough to scramble her syntax.

How else to make the author of Indonesia Etc., recently released in local bookstores, understand the envy of others? The lady’s an American epidemiologist. What business does a lab rat in a white coat have revealing the archipelago’s mysteries and contradictions with lavish applications of clarity, wit and style?

Note to Immigration: Ban this woman to protect the vapid mutterings of resident writers recycling shadow puppet metaphors and “dark forces” clich├ęs.

Yet Pisani wasn’t always at home among the viruses. Before shaking test tubes she was shaking up Reuters’ office in Jakarta. That was in 1988 when it seemed that sphinx Soeharto would remain forever.

The newbie was 24 and had studied Chinese at Oxford University. She’d backpacked five years earlier and found the republic “somewhat schizophrenic”. She added Indonesian to her other languages.

She was also gifted with gall — an essential quality for all serious reporters. At a cocktail party she confronted Gen. Benny Moerdani and asked if she was being denied access to Aceh because the military was killing civilians.

She got her pass, though looking back such effrontery now makes her feel “queasy”. The general had allegedly overseen the extra-judicial killing of criminals in Java and was “not a man to be crossed lightly”.

Why didn’t her editors superglue this multi-faceted gem to her keyboard? Maybe they felt threatened. Perhaps the journalism on offer didn’t provide sufficient intellectual excitement. Interviewing humbugs is a downside of the job.

So she returned to university and shifted to public health, becoming an international expert on AIDS. In Indonesia she worked with the Health Ministry.

Her 2008 book The Wisdom of Whores was a kick in the groin to those arguing for a moral approach to stop the spread of sex diseases. Unsurprisingly her views haven’t been well received by the “Just Say No” ideologues.

Earlier this decade she took time out from talking AIDS to revisit Indonesia and upload her tales while travelling. Those fortunate enough to have found her blog will be delighted to know her insights have been enhanced and pressed between hard covers.

Unfortunately the book is being promoted as a list of quirky encounters, which is wrong. It’s much deeper and far more substantial; entertaining without being trite, informative yet never tiresome.

The title refers to Indonesia’s Proclamation of Independence. This should have been a magisterial statement hewn from the granite mountains of soaring hopes. Sadly we get foothill prose: “Matters relating to the transfer of power etc. will be executed carefully and as soon as possible.”

“Indonesia has been working on that ‘etc’ ever since,” Pisani notes. Indeed, the 1945 event was momentous and the resolve grand but the document remains a work in progress.

Travel writing is rarely done well. Proof is on Internet sites where tourists rabbit on about their experiences. These tell more about the paucity of visitors’ vocabularies than their appreciation of history and culture. “Superb”, “very nice” and “just lovely” add nothing to our understanding of difference.

That’s not the case with Indonesia Etc. Although built round the author’s 13 months of wanderings west from Papua, the references to her earlier experiences as a reporter, including revisiting interviewees, give her surveys substance.

With her language and people skills she knows how to get inside stories, yet after several months of back country frustrations she was almost ready to give up. Paradoxically, such honesty gives her work more authority.

Twenty years earlier in Aceh she’d been criticized by both sides in the brutal civil war for allegedly biased reporting. Now she sees former enemies embrace and is stunned by the turnaround. “This really did my head in,” she writes. “It’s like a senior Israeli general becoming campaign manager for Hezbollah.”

But this recalibration of relationships is classic Indonesian, and seldom understood by outsiders. Likewise with corruption: “Patronage is the price of unity.” That will jar with Transparency International. “Adat [traditional customary law] and education are incompatible,” will rile anthropologists but this writer can stand her ground.

Anecdotes illuminate wisdoms, reveal truths. Some are funny – like the intel (intelligence) operator who calls her hotel room to ask if she’s seen the skeleton key he lost. Many are just plain sad.

Other arts include the ability to make statistics memorable. On infrastructure: “Even landlocked countries such as Zimbabwe, Switzerland and Botswana reported better access to ports.”

On communications: “Around 64 million Indonesians use Facebook – that’s more than the entire population of the UK. But 80 million live without electricity (all of Germany) and 110 million live on less than two dollars a day (all of Mexico).”

This is the book that probes Indonesia without destroying the allure. It’s written breezily by a “hard-drinking occasional smoker who could flirt at a bar in several languages and was competitive, even in yoga”, yet retains academic authority.

Outraged by some apparently flippant aside? If there’s no supporting reference in the text it will be on her website.

Making this book so valuable is the author’s candor. Yes, the people can be a delight and the land is often lovely, but those who step off the tourist track know other paths are not so pleasant. Her particular dislikes include dissembling politicians and hoons hanging around to exploit the weak.

Pisani is neither Pollyanna nor pessimist. “Like all Bad Boyfriends Indonesia certainly has its downsides,” she writes before taking a swipe at corrupt cops, bastard bureaucrats and capricious governments.

“But Indonesia’s upsides — the openness, the pragmatism, the generosity of its people, their relaxed attitude to life — are ultimately the more seductive traits, and the more important.”

'Indonesia Etc. Exploring the Improbable Nation'
Elizabeth Pisani
Godowin (Lontar) 2014
404 pages

Duncan Graham is a journalist and blog editor on Indonesia Now. His article originally appeared in The Jakarta Post 4 August 2014.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Jokowi Presidency: A Turning Point for Indonesia?

Indonesia Institute media: presentation at Murdoch University with Indonesia Institute President Ross Taylor, 12 August 2014. The topic was a review of the Indonesian election and "where to now under Jokowi?".The institute was invited to participate in the event attended by 76 academics, politicians, and the business community.

Ross addresses a group of participants to talk Indonesia Australia relations in the secondary sector.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tea processing in Pangalengan

Tea farming in the Pangalengan highlands in Bandung, West Java is still done traditionally. This makes Pangalengan a popular tourist destination where visitors can bathe in the hot springs or take a tour of the tea plantations. Pangalengan is also home to thousands of internlly displaced persons who lost their homes in the 2009 earthquake in West Java.

Photos by Colin Singer

New posts this week: how did Indonesia get it so right but India got it so wrong? Terror back in the spotlight again and taking the threat seriously with a new government

Please enjoy this week's latest posts:

"Terrorism returns to our front door," By Ross B. Taylor, August 2014. The caliphate comes to Indonesia and not for the first time. We really need to step up security in our beloved Bali with mutual cooperation. We've done it before and we can do it again.

"Resisting radicalism in the Jokowi era," By Lauren Gumbs, August 2014. We almost forgot about 'rising intolerance' in the heat of the elections. But it's still there and only enhanced by ISIL whose recruitment drive has claimed actors in both Australia and Indonesia. What will Jokowi do to address this problem and was Prabowo enabling Islamic groups?

"A tale of two elections," By Sandeep Ray, August 2014. India went the opposite way to Indonesia, electing a nationalist hard liner with poor human rights credentials. Sandeep outlines why elections in the two biggest demoncracies produced such different outcomes.

Further reading:

Tim Lindsey says Prabowo could create obstructions for Joko.

But he's losing friends fast.

And Muhammadiyah youth can see ISIS for what it is: an attempt to break up the Muslim community. Lucky for Indonesia's civil society voices, rejection of the ideology is loud and public.

A tale of two elections

By Sandeep Ray

This year, two of the world’s largest democracies, India and Indonesia went to the polls within two months of each other.

The winning candidates could not have been more different.

Indonesia’s president-elect is a young, modest, approachable former mayor, who won a hard-fought contest by promising transparency and civic participation in his government. India voted in 63 year-old veteran politician Narendra Modi – reputed to be a Hindu-nationalist hardliner with a penchant for big business. His perceived handicap, strong allegations of complicity in the mass-murder of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, surprisingly did not prevent his meteoric rise in popularity.

While many are bitterly disappointed at Prime Minister Modi’s triumph, he won a free and fair election. Perhaps even more perturbing than Modi’s victory, was the inevitability that he would win – every poll before the elections had predicted it. How is it that Indonesia, only 16 years after the fall of the New Order, was ready to usher in a model democratic leader, while India, in its 16th general election since 1951, chose Modi – a man who leaves a lot to be desired in the realm of secular trust in a country historically polarised by religion?

Indonesia and India had both pushed to create democratic republics in the aftermath of independence. But while Nehru’s Five Year Plans sputtered along slowly, by the late 1950s Sukarno was see-sawing precariously between democracy and autarchy. The mid-1960s saw the nation veering sharply away from a democratic destination as the New Order ascended to power.

India did have its share of anti-democratic spells, most notably Indira Gandhi’s declaration in 1975 of a national emergency suspending many basic civic rights. But otherwise the free and secular model had been generally upheld. And yet in 2014 Indonesia seems to have made a swift and remarkable comeback from the long Suharto years, while India has regressed. One might consider a few broad factors to shed light on this puzzle.

First, for a nation that is frequently and correctly identified as having the largest Muslim population in the world, religion did not factor significantly in the Indonesian elections this year. Cornell University political scientist Tom Pepinsky has conducted longitudinal studies indicating that all other factors remaining the same, religion generally does matter in Indonesian politics – but significantly less so than other considerations such as economy, welfare and corruption.
This changed somewhat in the last years of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s government when extremist Islamist groups were emboldened in their crusades against Christians, liberal Muslims, Shias and the Ahmadiyyas.

And collectively, the four big Islamic parties PPP, PKB, PKS and PAN did make a six per cent gain in the legislative elections in 2014.

Electorally, this however, was not a game changer. In fact, when Prabowo chose to make an issue of religion by guaranteeing ‘the purity of religious teachings’ under his rule, it backfired on him and he hurriedly deleted it from his manifesto. Jokowi sensibly and successfully steered away from the issue of religion.

In contrast, religion has been the over-bearing tone in Indian politics this year. With Modi’s recent promises to rid India of ‘its slave mentality of the last 1000-1200 years’ (he interprets the transition to Islamic rulers in the second millennia as un-Indian), his exhortations to ‘send packing’ illegal Bangladeshi Muslims, and revisionist histories in textbooks being supported by the new ministry, the BJP (Bharatiya Janta Party) has made it clear that it operates within an essentialist Hindu scope.

Skeptics have even viewed Modi’s reputation of being anti-Muslim as having been an electoral advantage. Indeed, a ‘Modi wave’ swept across central and western India. It is however, important to point out that 69 per cent of Indian voters did not vote for Modi. As startling as that sounds, it was often the arithmetic of the first-past-the-post system and not an actual majority vote that led the BJP to their landslide victory of 282 out of 545 seats. An instrumental combination of religious fervor taking hold in electorally strategic states (which had a higher number of seats) was key to a BJP win.
Second, while India certainly has no dearth of renowned scientists, artists, and academics, and has made remarkable leaps in technology, it may surprise many that Indonesia is significantly ahead of India in basic adult literacy.

It is estimated to be 93 per cent for Indonesia and still only about 74 per cent for India.
This achievement is actually in large part due to education policies implemented during the long Suharto years. Some benefits of that incremental advancement were reaped only recently as Indonesia went from autocratic to democratic rule. In functional democracies with a robust literate population, candidates have a better shot at convincing voters of the merits of a self-determined future.

Jokowi reached out to his followers by persuading them that he was creating a political movement where their participation would matter. It worked. A significant number of Indonesians with basic literacy, the group that probably had the most to gain from a new awakening in the government, voted for him. In India, after a decade of weak leadership by the Congress Party, many of Modi’s supporters were persuaded not by the lure of democracy and civic participation but by entrusting their future in what was billed as a heavy-handed ‘big brother’ type leadership.

Unsurprisingly, despite its rising popularity elsewhere in the country in 2014, the BJP was unable to make dents in three large southern states  with high literacy rates – Andhra Pradesh, Kerela and Tamil Nadu (average literacy 90 per cent) – while it swept Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in the ‘Hindi heartland’ (average literacy 69 per cent).

Finally, the persistence of arcane dynastic rule was a deal-breaker for India’s democratic aspirations. In the aftermath of the Congress Party’s walloping at the voting booths (securing only 42 seats or barely eight per cent of the total), Shashi Tharoor, possibly one of the most educated, self-achieving politicians ‘modern’ India has produced – a former UN Secretary-General contender no less— vehemently insisted in an interview that nominating Nehru progeny was ‘not in contradiction’ with the ideals of a modern political party.

‘But this is modern India! What about meritocracy?’ high-decibel television host Rajdeep Sardesai had yelled in exasperation. Indeed, it has taken an absurd degree of insularity and arrogance, ills common to long-running, quasi-feudalistic styled governance, for the Congress Party (and by extension the coalition UPA) not to admit that Nehru scion Rahul Gandhi was hardly a challenge to Narendra Modi. Yet, an alternate candidate in a populous nation with many capable politicians was never seriously considered.

While Indonesia does have its share of family backed politics, it is somewhat in check. Megawati didn’t ride for free on her father’s legacy and Titiek is Suharto’s only offspring who successfully ran for Legislative Council, winning her seat this year. This defeat of New Order hardliner Prabowo, a man with deep pockets, a billionaire brother, and decades-old family connections (he was a Suharto son-in-law) is case in point.

When a secular, former furniture salesman of modest means wins the popular vote over a wealthy ex-army general, especially in Southeast Asia, it is a watershed moment in that nation’s democratic journey. In India, the persistence of non-meritocratic dynastic ambitions, a faltering economy, resurgence of religious sectarianism, a weakened minority, an under-educated populous, and conducive electoral arithmetic – all of these created conditions favorable for a takeover by someone with Modi’s far right-wing credentials.

Is India in peril with Modi in office?

University of Chicago political scientists Lloyd and Susanne Rudolph have long argued that right-wing forces like the BJP tend to become more centrist when in power. Modi certainly realises that to ensure a second term victory he will need to improve on his rather low 31 per cent voter success and that that support will have to come from outside his current base.

Many are hoping that Modi’s incendiary positions were merely election time chest-thumping and that he will veer towards sensible rule. The stock market is up five per cent since he took office in May, and the US and the UK have lifted their visa bans on him.

Outspoken anti-Modi intellectuals like filmmaker Anand Patwardan, economist Amartya Sen and author Arundhati Roy however, continue to express their grave concern that insidious change will gradually envelop the country. They contend that India will increasingly position itself as a nation eager to give industrialists and big-capital a leg-up in a manner that will keep widening the already harrowing gap between the haves and have-nots, while infiltrating the nation-wide judiciary with a pro-Hindutva bias that puts minorities in peril.

Indonesia will need a lot more than an affable, ‘people’s man’ to steer it to a robust democracy. Despite Jokowi’s strong track record as Governor of Jakarta, and his perhaps idealistic intentions, the calculus of coalitions dictate that the power-sharing terrain will remain rife with concessions. His recent plan of outsourcing his cabinet nominations to public opinion polls was more stunt than practicality and has drawn heavy criticism.

Indonesia is currently besieged with financial problems – elevated fuel subsidies and a steep drop in price for many of its basic exports. Unlike Modi who faces limited opposition, Jowkowi has opponents with strong financial influence and ties to old military-styled cronyism waiting to call out on incompetence.

Jokowi has one key asset at the moment however – tremendous adulation from his supporters, reminiscent of independence-era Sukarno. But unlike the charismatic first President of Indonesia, who steered the country with a wayward personal style of governance he labeled ‘guided democracy’, Jokowi seems to be determined to let democracy guide him.

Sandeep Ray is a filmmaker and a doctoral candidate in history at the National University of Singapore. His article originally appeared 8 August in New Mandala.

Resisting radicalism in the Jokowi era

By Lauren Gumbs

For terrorist network ISIL, Indonesia is a natural extension, with a not too stingy share of willing hearts and minds, hungry to put their fervour to a cause. 

The Indonesian government didn’t waste time banning ISIL yet it remains to be seen how serious the new president will take the threat that the militant sect presents to national security in the world’s largest democracy and most populous Muslim nation.

Indonesia, like Australia, has flagged the return of hardened terrorists from what began as civil wars brought on by the Arab Spring but have evolved into religious jihadist wars in Syria and Iraq, spilling violence across the Middle East and hailing international actors via the spread of extremist ideology.

Tony Abbott has taken the potential terrorist threats seriously, abandoning unpopular plans to tinker with the racial discrimination legislation in order to keep the Australian Muslim community onside.
Australians have felt the proximity to extremism and were sickened by the Twitter image of a seven year old Australian boy holding a severed head while in Syria with his terrorist father.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said at least 150 Australian passport holders are or have been involved in fighting in Iraq and Syria.

Yet with just 1.5% of the population identifying as Muslims, Australia is quite a small pool from which to recruit potential terrorists. 

The danger to national security is definitely there but it is low compared with that of Indonesia which, despite strengthening civil society and plural political and economic institutions, has for years been dealing with rising intolerance. 

Terror group Jemaah Islamiyyah (JI) were radicalised in Afghanistan and the wars in Iraq and Syria pose a risk that returned fighters will bring the training and mentality back home. 

Eighty seven percent of Indonesia’s 245 million strong population are Muslim and despite its reputation as a moderate nation, several hard line Islamist groups operate with varying degrees of legitimacy.

Some of these groups have rejected ISIL, such as the majority of Abu Bakar Basyir’s JI while others have pledged allegiance. Unlike Australia, where it is mainly individuals who are taking up the call to arms, in Indonesia support for ISIL seems to coalesce in groups who already have established connections with other hard liners and as it is not illegal to raise funds for jihad or jihadist organisations, it is much easier to generate financial support for such activities.

The next terrorist attack could happen anywhere as rising intolerance bleeds into commiseration with radical Islamic aspirations. But it is not always the established hard line groups who are the ones behind religious based incidences of intolerance and in Indonesia, when even people in authority act intolerantly. 

There are those among the general ‘moderate population’ and un-enlightened political strata who routinely snub the diversity outlined in the Pancasila and perpetuate prejudice against minorities.
The Mayor of Bogor has refused to abide by a Supreme Court order to unblock a church and allow its members to worship and the jailing of atheist Alexander Aan under blasphemy laws made headlines around the world.

Intolerance perpetrated by legitimate authority figures shares religion as the common denominator with vicious sectarian conflicts between majority Sunnis and minorities which saw a group of murderers jailed for just six months, while one of their Ahmadiyah victims who survived, received an arbitrary three month sentence.

These are the sort of challenges Jokowi will have to deal with, plus a petulant Prabowo who still owes debts for Islamic votes and could be willing to keep stoking resentment for the new leader by prolonging opposition, at least in the legislature where Jokowi only controls 20% of the seats.

The change of presidential guard poses a critical juncture for the infiltration and expansion of radicalism, or its suppression and eradication. 

A former Mayor of Solo (known as a hot spot for terror groups), Jokowi is no stranger to dealing with radicalism, but his predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was widely seen as impotent when it came to dealing firmly with extremism and it is hoped that Jokowi will take an unambiguous stand against radicalism and intolerance.

Such threats are fast becoming a disturbing reality for Indonesia which is a magnet for a broad spectrum of radical Islamic discourses from around the world.

The recent elections were not just make or break for democracy, they demonstrated the victory of the rational and moderate majority to preserve sustainable beliefs in the most populous Muslim nation.
Indonesia’s proximity to infectious religious conflict and ever present religious intolerance are challenges that Jokowi will need to address as a matter of national security, as militant groups and individuals test the strength and political will of the new government.

Jokowi becomes president in October, and he will have his hands full getting on with the task of delivering election promises and taking on corruption, but he will also have to put up with attacks from a still smarting opposition who managed to achieve a massive 62.5 million votes.

Joko Widodo won by a good seven million votes, but almost half of the country was gunning for team Prabowo-Hatta and were bitterly disappointed with their loss.  

Prabowo didn’t just bring with him the threat of democratic stagnation; he had the support of four out of five Islamic parties, the votes of mass Islamic organisations and even dubious Islamic groups who were no doubt betting on a more sympathetic environment were Prabowo to win office.

The hard line Front Pembela Indonesia (FPI) and Forum Ukhuwah Islamiya (FUI) pledged their support for Prabowo, believing he would protect the Islamic community’s interests but as Greg Fealy  notes, these and other political party alliances were a matter of mutual benefit more so than ideological alignment.

Prabowo for example is not known as a deeply religious man even though he regularly accused Jokowi of being a fake Muslim in what Joko supporters called a black campaign.

Unfortunately Islamic groups bet on the wrong horse and with Prabowo’s loss went the opportunity for clients to benefit by raising their profiles and gaining legitimacy, in the case of groups like the FPI, being able to tap into the hegemony of the mainstream administration.

A retreat of democracy, excessive nationalism and return to authoritarianism were narrowly escaped by an enthusiastic and slightly mightier civil libertarian, secular, pluralist society but Islamic support on the Prabowo side does not infer that a return to a more orthodox Islamic society was also evaded.
It just means in the push and pull for influence such relationships are diverse and complex and that political rewards tend to trump ideological affiliation. Golkar for one has already distanced itself from Prabowo.

The reassuring election outcome demonstrates a vast community of people who are nowhere near the extreme end of the religious spectrum and while some ministers should be put to pasture once Jokowi makes his debut, most Indonesians are not having a bar of ISIS, rejecting the group on social media and making sure that they are not just banned but denounced as dangerous lunatics.

Prabowo might have confronted terrorism with a similar strongman attitude to Suharto, but he had spun himself a web of Islamic coalitions and would have had patronage duties such as political appointments and dispensations to adhere to, not to mention his own shady past when it comes to human rights.

The reality of IT borne threats like ISIL comes at a time when Indonesia farewells an apathetic government that was often ineffectual in addressing religious intolerance and welcomes the resolve of grassroots, local politician who has in the past defended pluralism in his roles as Governor of Jakarta and Mayor of Solo.

Indonesia is a big, diverse country of passionate believers, but it has a dark side of religious intolerance that will soon become Jokowi’s turn to contain. It would be a good start to initiate counter propaganda campaigns, address international movements of Indonesian citizens to conflict countries and prohibit funding of jihadist organisations, if he can get some new laws past any obstructions Prabowo might throw at him of course.

Lauren is a postgraduate Human Rights student and the Indonesia Institute's Blog Editor.