Sunday, October 12, 2014

Gonging once, gonging twice, three gongs and you're out of presidential elections

Photo by Phil Deschamp

If democracy dies in an Indonesian parliament and there are no supporters around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Michael Bueler is far less cynical about the recent scrapping of direct elections. He says they haven't been quite the panacea they were meant to be anyway.

New posts this week: Bali Bombing anniversary a time for reflection on current situation; Measuring happiness through economic achievements; Still an uneasy situation between Papuans for independence and the Indonesian Government

Welcome back to the Indonesia Institute's blog.

Sunday 12 October marked the 12th anniversary of the 2002 Bali bombing, highlighting the fact that Indonesia and Australia are still addressing ongoing terrorist threats, exacerbated by civil wars in the Middle East. Australia has focused its energy and military power on Middle Eastern wars that many Australians feel simply makes Australia a target. With tensions brewing in our immediate area we should make sure relationships with neighbours like Indonesia are priority number one. Read what one of our members had to say. 

Incidentally, the Bali Bombing brought Australia and Indonesia closer together and we have seen many acts of kindness and humanity emerge from the tragedy. Ross Taylor shares his thoughts on this 12 years on.

Please enjoy more new posts:

"Mending Indo Relations will Help Keep Terror Risk at Bay," by Ross B Taylor, October 2014.
The consensus in Indonesia is a thorough deligitimisation of IS, so let's make sure we are on board with anti-terrorism efforts.

"Indonesia's Future Economic Wellbeing Defined," by Alya Nurshabrina, October 2014.
A must read student essay submitted for ii's writing competition. Does a roaring economy make a difference to the many Indonesians still struggling to get by? Feel free to comment and tell us what you think of Alya's article.

"Not a Democracy," by Desi Anwar, October 2014.
Jokowi's presidential powers have been undermined before his job has even begun, with his term promising to be one of constant blockade and struggle.

"West Papua Independence Activists Accuse Indonesia of using Students as Spies," by Hamish Fitzsimmons, October 2014.
Niggling worries from abroad: the Indonesian Government knows and cares about the proponents of Papuan Independence.

"Why Dialogue Matters for Papua," by Mangadar Situmorang, October 2014.
Papuan self-determination has been an issue for nearly fifty years. Can Jokowi open a meaningful communication channel?

In other news:

Art found in Sulawesi caves was dated 40,000 years old, among the earliest recorded examples of human art.

Indonesia’s Future Economic Well-Being Refined

By Alya Nurshabrina

On 15 August 2014, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) said Indonesia has triumphed by overcoming its economic obstacles and catapulting development to a highly satisfying rate. The first achievement he acknowledged is how Indonesia managed to maintain the stability and condition of macro-economics after the 2008 crisis, when various natural disasters had struck it by surprise. The second is how Indonesia’s growth is comparatively high; in the same period surpassing growth in the USA, Europe and Japan, at an impressive 5.9%. And lastly, SBY proudly announced Indonesia’s debt completion to the IMF, fantastically, four years earlier than planned. According to SBY the economy has never been healthier. Yet the economy is not a person. Behind all the fanfare, is the economy really a true measure of people’s happiness?

Can these achievements guarantee that Indonesia’s economy will always grow stronger? Because in reality so many underprivileged and unemployed citizens still exist in large numbers. Despite his speech on economic improvements, SBY admits that poverty remains the hardest challenge Indonesia has to face in the future. There needs to be a new type of way to effectively reduce the poverty rate, if future governments want to stick to plans of ambitious economic growth.

We should thank Joseph Stiglitz, Amartya Sen, and Jean-Paul Fitoussi for their work (plus former French president Nicolas Sarkozy for setting them up). This trio, in 2010, produced a commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, where in their report they did numerous recalculations of what indicators should be used to mark a country’s prosperity. Stiglitz argued that the measurements currently used to compare the success of countries - GDP, HDI - are not profound or thorough enough, and are thus the reason countries keep going back and forth with growth rates. In addition, old measurements are not focused on the details that differentiate countries, which may be important missing pieces that can help improve their state. These new, radical suggestions are the kind of answers Indonesia that can change the way Indonesia’s prosperity is viewed.

In the commission report, there are two main suggestions regarding GDP-issues, measurement of ‘quality of life’ and ‘sustainable development and environment’. Firstly, related to GDP, both income and consumption should be taken into account rather than just production. This way each country can adjust its own standards of wealth in its regions. This must be supported by emphasizing per household perspectives, as each household’s needs and sense of fulfilment vary from one to another; having enough to get by doesn’t always have to mean being poor, or that one is living under the poverty line. Next the trio tackle the misinterpretations of ‘quality of life’. Here, one of the points that they stress is the importance of measuring key-information; both objective and subjective measurements of people’s conditions and capabilities.
As it stands, current objectivist parameters are incapable of reflecting experience accurately across varying contexts. The spectrum that should be examined has to comprehensively capture all dimensions, from people’s differentiated priorities to social surroundings, and even to hedonic experiences, in order to be able to classify quality of life, and then be applied by the Indonesian government to create policies. Lastly, they also point out that there has to be a clear indicator of environmental damage, and how it is affecting sustainability.
Indonesia is desperate for something fresh, new and uplifting, something to support ongoing growth and of course, address continuing poverty. In reality, even with a massive GDP and having solved IMF debt, the government’s total debt in the course of the last 10 years has risen to Rp1.240 trillion, from Rp1.268 trillion at 2005 to Rp2.508 trillion at June 2014. And yet, the challenges do not stop there. The Global Risk Report 2014 by the World Economic Forum forecasts that global economic risks are the highest in likelihood and impact. Those risks include fiscal crises in key economies, failure of a major financial mechanism or institution, liquidity crises and high unemployment. Therefore it is crucial to start gathering new ideas for new strategies that could be beneficial both domestically and internationally.

The dream of being in the G-10 as an economy giant is still an achievable goal for Indonesia, yet to get there we need a clear track and proper planning instruments that take account of country specific people-centric indicators. Indonesia should contribute to further research of new GDP/quality of life measurements, particularly as the results would be beneficial to other states who feel their experiences and context are not adequately captured. Relying in the current measurement will not just lead to deadlock, but to many undetected, unforeseen problems. If prioritizing integration with other countries to strengthen economic bonds can be easily achieved, then sure enough it will suffice as preparation for future economic risks. If we do not re-adjust how we measure the country’s success and happiness, Indonesia may be in real jeopardy. 

Many of us are optimistic about Indonesia’s next president, to lead the way in designing more effective pro-job and pro-growth policies, and yielding positive sustainability results, We need a new path and new ways of thinking that will allow us to change the mind-set about we measure our economic state and how that relates to happiness and security. So hello Mr. President Joko Widodo, welcome and have fun… We’re counting on you!

Alya is a student at Universitas Katolik Parahyangan, Bandung Indonesia.

Member comments: stay focused on East Asia, not Middle East

By  Peter Dawson

"When media refer to Tony Abbott and ‘other world leaders’ in the context of the events in Ukraine and the Middle East, Australian breasts may swell with pride but could we be fooling ourselves. One of Abbott’s better slogans has been ‘more Jakarta and less Geneva’ but we are now committing resources to these faraway conflicts which, according to some of our best informed commentators, we should approach with caution. Importantly we divert intellectual and policy effort from our own region to these highly complex conflicts which we struggle to understand.   

"Australia has significant expertise in regard to the countries of the East Asian region and especially in regard to South East Asia. These countries are also self-evidently of the most immediate strategic importance to us. The emerging tensions in the region need no emphasis but it will be critically important that we read them correctly and respond appropriately.  The real ‘elephant in the room’ is the aforesaid ‘Jakarta’.  Here we have a new administration under a President who has no experience of or with Australia.  He also has no foreign policy background so will, presumably, rely on advice. His panel of transition advisors is mixed but not particularly reassuring from an Australian viewpoint. How are we handling the development of this relationship which in every sense is far more important than those with either the Ukraine or Iraq?"

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Not a Democracy

By Desi Anwar

At this moment the Indonesian public is right to assume that our hard-won democracy is experiencing a huge setback. That Reformasi, fought for by the students and the public who fed them nasi bungkus in 1998 lies in tatters at the feet of oligarchs whose only intent is to concentrate every drop of political power there is upon themselves, at the expense of the voters and the ordinary people on the street whom they are supposed to be representing.

Using democratic tools, these conniving parliamentarians have not only succeeded in stealing democracy right from under the voters’ noses, but are now making sure that the incoming government, the country’s New Hope, is sufficiently debilitated so that it will find it difficult to move forward, but continue to be shackled to the past.

Looking back, however, democracy in Indonesia has only had the illusion of progress. True, the country enjoys much freedom of the Press, a wonderfully noisy freedom of expressions and a thriving civil society, and yet when it comes to implementing policies that strengthen the country as a democracy and actually fulfilling campaign promises that persuaded the people to take part in elections to begin with, very little has been achieved in the last decade.

Over and over again, election had been used as a means by the oligarchs and the political elite as a cynical means to legitimize their power and influence over the direction of the country. Once, this was in the hands of the strong man and dictator Suharto presiding over a rubber stamp parliament. The advent of democracy simply brought a role reversal.

“The answer to the question why the May reformation has still not shown signs of bearing fruit mainly lies with the understanding of the word reformation itself. For the students and the majority of Indonesians who had successfully removed the person considered responsible for the country’s downfall, reformation practically means revolution. That is, a change in leadership followed by a change in the way the country is run and in the way the government conducts itself: in other words, greater participation of the people in determining the fate of the country and a more open and democratic society.

In reality, what actually happened was the reformation was not the revolution that most people thought it to be, but simply a change in leadership and the reshuffling of the same old personnel where some are removed but the majority retained. So that now, instead of having one difficult but strong and decisive leader to deal with, we have a number of weak contenders noisily jostling for power and popularity, with the incumbent president topping the chart in his quest for public appeal and efforts to please everybody but further destroying the economy in the process.”

These are words I wrote back in July 1998.

Fast forward to 2014, very little has changed. Except this time, there isn’t even the pretense of trying to please the people. Democracy ends when oligarchs take the rein and drag democracy in the mud. People’s power only lasts on the day of the election itself, while for the next five years we are spectators to political spectacles that are really not worth the country’s time and money.

Despite being directly elected, the Indonesian president at the end of the day is a lame duck against a belligerent parliament in hunting season. Outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is proof that the people’s mandate is worth very little in the face of selfish lawmakers. Even before he is sworn in, poor Jokowi’s presidential powers are already being plucked one by one. The next five years promise to be a constant war of attrition.

No amount of social media outrage could change anything if lawful decisions depend on the way lawmakers vote. And the way parliament members vote almost always depends on what they and their party will get out of it. Perhaps the only way they will get the message is if we replay our Reformasi and enact our own Umbrella Revolution.

Desi Anwar is a senior anchor at Metro TV. Her article originally appeared 6 October in the Jakarta Globe.