Saturday, May 16, 2015

Executions: Jokowi’s comedy of errors; or Pandora’s box?

                                                                 By Julia Suryakusuma

|When infants learn to walk, sometimes they stumble and hit themselves on a table or a chair, get hurt and bawl their eyes out. In Indonesia, the traditional way for parents to deal with it is to try to get the child to stop crying by hitting the object the child banged into and scolding it: “Naughty table/chair!”

Sure, it works sometimes, but it’s obviously bad parenting as it doesn’t teach the child to take responsibility for his or her own actions. The parent should say, “Careful, watch out where you’re going so that you don’t hurt yourself.”

I reckon that possibly Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, like many Indonesians, was brought up this way: to blame others, scapegoat and take a simplistic, narrow view of a problem and take short-cut pseudo-solutions. The latest example, of course, is the belief that the death penalty deters drug traffickers. Surely it’s justifiable to do away with a few lives to save that of the 50 daily deaths of drug users?

Jokowi keeps on muttering these figures like a mantra that he believes gives him power.The drug-convict executions was a “comedy of errors” of sorts, a really pathetic and tragic one. They also opened up a Pandora’s Box. Hopefully, they also provide insights about Jokowi, Indonesia and the countries whose citizens were executed.

First of all, is it a question of numbers, or is it a matter of principle? Surveys show that the majority of Indonesians support the death penalty. Well, after all, this is a country where a mob can decide that a chicken thief can be beaten to death.

These days it’s motorcycle thieves who get clobbered. Maybe Indonesians don’t think death is such a big deal. More people get born than die here anyway. Life is cheap and memories short. Remember 1965-66 anyone?

Secondly, does killing the drug traffickers really save the lives of Indonesian drug addicts, or reduce drug trafficking? Of course not (despite Indonesia having one of the toughest drug laws in the world). Deep down inside, even Jokowi knows it doesn’t. How can it, when the death penalty has never yet been used on well-connected, big-time dealers, only on small fry? Lindsay Sandiford, the grandma from the UK, Maria Jane Veloso, the migrant worker from the Philippines, and Serge Areski Atlaoui from France were most likely unwitting pawns.

For now they’re still alive, but with the government mulling over the third batch of executions, who knows how long these three convicts are still free to breath the stench of death on Nusakambangan island, Indonesia’s Alcatraz? But then, the legal system in Indonesia is also famous for being “tajam ke bawah, tumpul ke atas” (sharp for the weak and blunt for the powerful). Well, at least we’re not unique in this respect — not that that’s any comfort.Franz Magnis-Suseno, the Jesuit priest and social-political analyst, has another take: that Indonesia’s legal system is a wani piro one. Wani piro is Javanese for “How much are you willing to pay?, like an auction where the highest bidder wins.

Magnis-Suseno says that our Indonesian wani piro legal system has no business killing people. But it does, in more ways than one. And when it colludes with the other most corrupt institution in Indonesia, the police, what hope does one have for justice? You know what they say about the taste of blood. Like drugs, blood is addictive, especially when it’s connected to power. Is this why Jokowi reactivated the death penalty after the moratorium in his predecessor’s era?

Since coming into power as one of the most populist presidents we’ve ever had (or seem to have), the parties who feel they were instrumental in getting Jokowi the position are trying to pull him here and there. Well, as far as pulling goes, Jokowi is now widely accused of being Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) chairwoman Megawati Sukarnoputri’s puppet and she’s pulling the strings. He certainly did a great job reinforcing this impression when he shamelessly lapped up the public humiliation he received at the recent PDI-P congress when she told him to toe the party line. In the end, it seems that we are still a deeply feudalistic society.

 Jokowi, the self-proclaimed wong ndeso (village hick) is no match for Queen Megawati. Despite getting support from the populist platform and the rhetoric of her late father, she considers herself royalty and sees Jokowi as her subject rather than President of all 250 million Indonesians, herself included.Hence Jokowi’s desperate bid for popularity domestically, by appearing tough on the issue of the executions, despite international condemnation.

It seems so contradictory, though, that he should be so disdainful of external approval after the recent Asian-African Conference, an expensive exercise in putting Indonesia on the map. But then, his thumbing his nose at the West by refusing clemency also put Indonesia on the map: in a shameful way, but never mind.I agree with the views expressed by Pierre Marthinus in his article “Australia lacks cultural competence to understand RI” (The Jakarta Post, May 5).

The title alone says it all. One thing that Western nations fail to understand is that the more you pressure a Javanese (Jokowi is Javanese), the more they will stonewall, especially if the manner is a judgmental, condemnatory and moral posturing way, like Australia’s and France’s. I sincerely think Jokowi is an idealist and that at heart he truly is populist. But when he got thrown into the arena of Indonesian realpolitik, ruled by ruthless, power-hungry wolves and lions, the former popular small town mayor got much more than he bargained for.

So perhaps it’s true what many of us had feared, that Jokowi as President of Indonesia is way over his head and has committed many misguided acts that are at odds with his idealism.

He’s failed several tests miserably and the executions are just the latest of many. For the executed, it’s one failure too many

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