Monday, June 29, 2015

New posts this week: has anything really changed in Papua? Australia and Indonesia need to build social capital in areas that will yield results, and the turn to Jakarta in Australian foreign policy that didn't really materialise

Selamat datang ke blog resmi Indonesia Institute,

Hal pertama minggu ini, saya harus bilang selamat berpuasa kepada semua teman Indonesia Institute. On behalf of the Institute we wish every one good luck with puasa and a happy holiday after all the hard work is over!

Bulan ini President Jokowi menyetujui usulan orang asing untuk memiliki apartemen. Good news! This means non-resident foreigners can get in on the market. However, as it currently stands, property rights are for foreigners are insecure and the fees and charges can get complicated. It's risky business, but if you've got the cash to spare on a luxury apartment over $395k, and you love Indonesia, it could be your chance to own that holiday home.


Please enjoy these posts:

Jokowi's gamble: trading democracy for stability, by Warren Doull, June 2015.

Conversations on an Indonesian train: part 2. by Francis Palmos, June 2015.

More Jakarta and less Geneva: great idea, just bad timing, by Ross Taylor, June 2015.

Searching for trust with Indonesia, by Allan Behm, May 2015.

The president and the Papua powder keg, by Jenny Munro, June 2015.

Extra reading:

It could not have come sooner: mosques are turning the volume down and most residents are thrilled. 

Avoid the temptation of of food aromas during puasa. Or at least be inspired to try.

Another boon for the culture of 'cara proyek': lawmakers can now make proposals for projects funded out of the budget. Mmm more cream for the cat.

Greg Sheridan is dishearteningly pessimistic about Jokowi's fragile reign.

Want to listen to a new Indo band? Meet Silampukau, a Surabyan homegrown duo.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The president and the Papua powder keg

By Jenny Munro

Jokowi’s actions, whether those of the powerless or duplicitous, could lead to disaster in Papua.
Over the past few months the actions of President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo demonstrate that the rhetoric on the troubled provinces of Papua has not matched the reality of policy changes and political moves taking place in Indonesia.
Whether or not the president is deliberately misleading Papuans or powerless to implement progressive change, Jokowi is contributing to tensions amid a military build-up that could spell disaster.
Flashback to May and things seemed a little more promising. Responding to calls for media freedom in Papua, Jokowi announced that foreign journalists would no longer require special permits to visit Papua and West Papua, and that he had informed all the relevant ministers and officials, including the military, of his decision.
Yet within a day of the announcement, two ministers and a high-ranking military official made pronouncements contradicting Jokowi’s decision, effectively stating permits would still be required, and that journalist’s content would have to be screened to ensure ‘balanced’ reporting in line with ‘codes of conduct’.
Critics say that the permit requirement, coupled with intimidation and detention of journalists, has been used to enforce a de facto ban on foreign media in Papua.
That same month, Jokowi pardoned five political prisoners. However, just today Indonesia’s House of Representatives rebuffed the President’s plans to grant more pardons – claiming it could lead to increased calls for separatism.
Jokowi has also recently announced an end to the controversial transmigration program that sees mainly Javanese farmers relocated to Papua and contributes to a feeling among locals of becoming a minority in their own land. But again his ministers publicly contradicted his announcement. These incidents affirmed that there are divergent interests and agendas at work in Indonesian politics.
Jokowi came to his presidential campaign with a reputation for being a humble problem-solver during his time as governor of Jakarta. He turned his attention to Papua, perhaps naively, as a problem worth solving.
After making history as the first presidential candidate to open his campaign in Papua, Jokowi spoke of the need for a new era of openness. His attention to the region left some Papuans and others thinking that he could generate some progress on longstanding grievances. Yet after winning the election, he appointed Ryamizard Ryacudu, a former general, as Minister of Defense, and signed off on far-reaching security policies.
These new policies take the military into more regions of Papua and West Papua, in greater numbers, with permanent bases, and with less oversight from Jakarta — exactly the opposite of what most analysts say is needed to overcome abuses of power. Jokowi also failed to address an incident that occurred in Papua a few weeks after he took his presidential oath when unarmed school students were reportedly shot by police during a protest against military abuses.
Hopes in Jokowi were, for many, dashed, as police began to deny involvement, and there was only silence from the president, affirming what many Papuans had said during the election: that no Indonesian politician would ever really stand up for them.
Jokowi acknowledged Papuans’ feelings of marginalisation within the nation during the 2014 election campaign. Yet he and Foreign Minister Marsudi then spent the first few months of his presidency challenging Papuans’ claims to Melanesian cultural identity, arguing that Papuans have no special relationship to Melanesia; rather, there are about 9.5 million other Melanesians in Indonesia.
This claim emerged as the government redoubled its efforts to thwart Papuans’ bid for member status in the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) — an informal regional organisation in which several member states support Papuan independence. Instead, Jokowi proposed that Indonesia’s ‘five Melanesian provinces’ bid together for member status under Indonesia. Jokowi and Marsudi campaigned against the bid by the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) in the Pacific, dropping millions in ‘aid’ promises in several MSG countries.
Indonesia must be deeply concerned about the prospect of the ULMWP gaining political recognition from the MSG, because politicians such as Jokowi are suddenly eager to embrace the Melanesian heritage that is often the butt of racist taunts and discriminatory practices in Indonesia.
These actions do not seem to fit the pattern of a president who is powerless or naïve. Rather, they show a continuation of practices towards Papua that say one thing and do another, even if Jokowi is bent on saying and doing more than his predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Contradiction, or, some might say, duplicity, continues to define Indonesian governance in Papua, especially in matters of decentralisation and development.
There are government officials, such as Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno, who continue to argue that Indonesia is implementing a ‘welfare’ policy in Papua, not a ‘security’ policy, in the face of potent evidence to the contrary, including statements from within the military.
But these sorts of views are not contradictory if government officials actually believe in the myth of Indonesian benevolence in Papua. Recent comments concerning media freedom similarly reflect this myth, as officials argue that the only real problem in Papua is foreign journalists looking for bad news.
There is a reason why ‘straightening out history’ and ‘telling the truth’ are among Papuan activists and scholars foremost political demands. In the past, an atmosphere of political contradictions, elevated hopes, and high levels of militarisation contributed to the worst documented clashes between indigenous locals and Indonesian migrants in Papua’s history.
The stakes are high for ULMWP activists and their many supporters who have been working towards political recognition by the MSG, which is set to make a decision in the next few days. Jokowi has been fanning the flames of optimism by visiting Papua, and through announcements on media freedom and transmigration. But he and those around him are also working to advance repression, particularly by expanding military powers, putting pressure on the MSG, and arresting activists.
We could give Jokowi the benefit of the doubt, and say that so far his progressive, problem-solving intentions have failed to gain traction because of his lack of political capital. But the end result looks much like a continuing tradition of broken promises, stirring rhetoric, and duplicitous actions.
It is time to look more critically beyond the progress that Jokowi represented when he stood next to rival presidential candidate and former army General Prabowo Subianto. Now, as Jokowi needs to prove his nationalistic, conservative, and pro-security credentials, it seems more likely that Papua is helping him than the other way around.
Jenny Munro is a research fellow in the State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Program (SSGM) at the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, ANU. Jenny's article originally appeared 24 June in New Mandala.

Searching for trust with Indonesia

By Allan Behm

Notwithstanding the evident abilities of our foreign service officers—and they are considerable—Australia’s politicians aren’t natural diplomats. The recent imbroglio regarding Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran put on display Tony Abbott’s and Julie Bishop’s lack of international relationship management skills. Nor were Indonesian President Joko Widodo or his Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi any better.

For the sad truth is that government-to-government relations are conducted at the tactical level, with little evidence of a long-term strategy.

Our bilateral relationship with Jakarta tends to be driven by the vagaries of events, incidents and issues rather than the pursuit of common interests or long-term goals.

Three attitudes characterise Australia’s approach to Indonesia. First, we have a strong sense of Indonesia’s ‘otherness’—a trait identified by Ratih Hardjono in her insightful 1992 book Suku Putihnya Asia: Perjalanan Australia Mencari Jati Dirinya (the White Tribe of Asia: Australia’s Journey to Find its Identity). Second, there’s little sensitivity to the cultural dynamics. For Australia, everything is black and white, whereas for Indonesia there are only shades of gray. And, finally, the instinct of Australian politicians is to play to the domestic audience. Hence the megaphone as Australia’s preferred diplomatic instrument.

And four attitudes characterise Indonesia’s approach to Australia. First, Indonesia is uncertain about what it is and what it stands for. Self-doubt is a national trait. Second, there’s an evident tendency to national introspection. Third, continual suspicion regarding Australia’s motives, to the point of paranoia. And finally, the consequent emergence of a vocal and xenophobic nationalism. Australians are bule (the equivalent of ‘honky’), which has distinct racist overtones.

Among the Jakarta elite, the knockdown nature of Australian politics is just another symptom of the fact that Australians are kurang ajar—Indonesian for ‘boorish—with little appreciation for subtlety. And Julie Bishop’s confession that she exchanged heated words with her Indonesian counterpart only served to reinforce that impression. Halus (meaning ‘refined’) isn’t a term that Indonesians normally associate with Australia.

The core problem in the bilateral relationship is the absence of trust. Generally speaking, governments are not good at building trust, principally because they are more transactional than transformative, driven by the immediate rather than the important, and by the ephemeral rather than substantial long-term goals.

Trust between nations is hard to build, because it is not a consequence of personal relationships between political leaders, but is largely dependent on the strength and integrity of the national institutions—the judicial system, the financial system, the parliament and other representative institutions including the media.

Strong institutions reflect high levels of social capital, and actually contribute to the further generation of social capital.

Australian governments need to focus more on working with Indonesia to strengthen its national institutions. A great KPI for Australia would be to cooperate with Indonesia to lift its Corruption Perception Index from 107th in the world to, say, 50th (equal to Malaysia). And just in case anyone feels smug, Australia ranks 11th—after New Zealand (2nd) and Singapore (7th).

The goal of enhancing the integrity and transparency of the Indonesian armed forces (the TNI) has long driven Australia’s approach to the difficult issue of bilateral military relations. To the extent that the TNI remains subordinate to the Indonesian Parliament, and that it accepts the major premises of civil–military relationship management, Australia’s security is actually enhanced.

But we do need a broader view of ‘security’ if we are to build a stronger and more functional bilateral relationship over time. National security is essentially an artefact of essential internal factors—human security (both personal and community), social security (effective safety nets that reduce social unrest), economic security, the rule of law and the exercise of fundamental freedoms—and critical external factors that derive from a rules-based international system.

If there’s one area in which Australia and Indonesia should cooperate in the security and economic interests of both countries, it’s climate change. This would be low cost/high yield investment. Increasing sea levels and changes in ocean acidity and salinity will have a profound impact on archipelagic states. Work on both mitigation and abatement would reap good returns.

But what has the Australian government done instead? At a time when we are firing rockets into vehicles operated by the ISIS forces in northern Iraq to the tune of over $1bn per year, we cut the development assistance budget.

Of course, the government would be right to say that trust cannot be bought. But it can be invested in. To do so requires strategy and constancy, qualities that have been sadly absent from the Australia–Indonesia relationship over the past decade or so. Indonesia is too important to Australia for things to continue to drift.

Allan Behm is a former head of the International Policy and Strategy Divisions in the Department of Defence. His article originally appeared 20 May in The Strategist.

More Jakarta and less Geneva: Great idea, just bad timing.

 By Ross B. Taylor 

When Tony Abbott made his, ‘More Jakarta and less Geneva’ speech in 2013, it was seen as heralding a new era in Australia-Indonesia relations; a reflection of views held by Paul Keating in 1994 when the then Prime Minister said, ‘No country is more important to Australia than Indonesia.’

With Indonesia’s economy poised to pass that of Australia within ten years, a 245 million population including over 90 million young people and an annual growth rate of 7-8% it made sense to acknowledge that Indonesia was critically important to Australia, not only in trade and business but also for our long-term security and regional stability.

Today, the relationship between Australia and Indonesia is at an all-time low; ministers hardly talk to each other, with many Australians seeing their Indonesian neighbours through the eyes of suspicion, whilst Indonesians see Australia through the eyes of mendiamkan - or roughly translated, to just leave in peace or silence.

Perhaps the biggest – yet forgivable – mistake made by Mr Abbott when he made the ‘More Jakarta’ reference, was to assume that the acknowledgment of Jakarta’s importance to Australia would be reciprocated in the longer-term. With Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono – affectionately known as SBY - as President of Indonesia, and his articulate and savvy Foreign Minister, Dr Marty Natalegawa directing regional and foreign policy, there was every reason to assume that both nations had a genuine and critical interest in being good and trusting neighbours.

SBY’s son had studied at Curtin University in Perth and the President and Foreign Minister had a good understanding of Australia Both were highly respected and admired by the international community, despite the huge disappointment in SBY’s performance domestically throughout Indonesia.

Another of Mr Abbott’s memorable quotes in 2013 was that the Federal Coalition was a government whose relationship with Indonesia would be one of, ‘no surprises and (one that was based upon) mutual trust’.

Then the spying scandal broke in late 2013, resulting in a strong and angry reaction from Jakarta. There was more to come, with the first boat turn-back taking place in 2014.

Australia ‘got out of jail’ on both issues thanks to SBY’s desire to complete his term as Indonesia’s president with the bi-lateral relationship with Australia on good terms, and also that boat turn-backs were – apart from not being particularly big news in Indonesia – actually helping Jakarta control the inflow of Middle-Eastern asylum seekers who were using Indonesia as the primary transit point.

As the 2014 elections in Indonesia drew closer it became clear that this comfortable relationship was going to change, and with the emergence of a new President, Joko Widodo, an uncertain and far more fragile era had arrived.

Jokowi, as he is widely known throughout Indonesia, was elected with a strong mandate from the people, but that is about as far as the good news went given that he had little support from the national parliament and even less support from his own party, the PDI-P, headed by former president Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Suddenly our Foreign Minister couldn’t pick-up the phone to ‘Pak Marty’ anymore, as we saw only too clearly during the Bali Nine execution debacle, and Mr Abbott, with his shirt–fronting Anglo Saxon style of leadership was coming face-to-face with a new Indonesian leader who was very Javanese: Reserved, gracious but with a long memory.
It was no surprise to the Abbott government, that the Jokowi leadership would reveal a more conservative, nationalistic, and inward looking Indonesia. What wasn’t predicted however, was just how inexperienced and politically weak the Jokowi Government would be, and how soon after the election this would test the bi-lateral relationship with Australia.

Today, the signs are worrying. Indonesia’s economy has slowed to around 4.9%; hardly enough to provide enough jobs for students entering the workforce. The skills-match between students and the work place needs are also poorly aligned. Protection of the agriculture sector – that employs over 45 million people – will ensure the continuance of mainly subsistence farming and a future challenge for Indonesia to even feed itself.

The failure of the President to protect the Corruption Eradication Commission, or KPK, is disturbing. The KPK represents Indonesia’s only hope of really pushing-on with the critical issue of addressing corruption, and a weakened KPK is another worrying development The emergence of the military into civilian life and a National Police that seems to be completely disinterested in the directions or views of the President, all add to the concerns about the Jokowi leadership.

Meanwhile, at a grass-roots level, there is still widespread support throughout Indonesia for their president, and business people from North Asia seem to be embracing the new environment better than most Western countries. Indonesia is looking north, not south, for investment and trade relations.

Therefore, the temptation must be great for our government to simply allow the bi-lateral relationship to ‘bumble’ along for now. But here lies the dilemma for Australia: We probably need Indonesia more than Indonesia needs us at present. Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population and it is also democratically stable, reinforcing Australia’s strategic interest for Indonesia to continue to progress economically and politically.

The rise-and rise of China in the region demands close co-operation between Indonesia and Australia, and the emergence of ISIS-backed terrorist groups within Indonesia pose a serious threat to Australia and the one million Australians who visit Bali every year. The close relations between the Australian Federal Police that was developed post-Bali bombings with their Indonesia counterparts (POLRI) will need to be maintained and cultivated to ensure both countries keep their citizens safe from the scourge of ISIS. Most of Australia's resource and manufactured exports pass through Indonesian territorial waters to our north; something we conveniently overlook as we see the Indonesian navy as potential enemies rather than partners.

‘More Jakarta and less Geneva’ was an important vision for the incoming Abbott government, but with the emergence of a new, nationalistic and a more Asia-focused government in Indonesia, we can no longer assume that our mission to fully engage with our close neighbour will be reciprocated.

Ross Taylor AM is the President of the Perth-based Indonesia Institute (Inc)

Conversations on an Indonesian train: part 2

The executions of drug smugglers in April 2015 created a mild climate of fear and loathing and discernible unease in both Indonesia and Australia, and perhaps a second thought on holiday plans for Bali. Yet young Australian travelers have a reputation for being headstrong and daring which strikes fear into parents who take headlines too seriously as their offspring venture into places politicians and noisy radio commentators tell us are dangerous and customs, appearances and language are quite uncivilized. Thus it was natural for me as a twenty-one-year old on a Lokantara Fellowship in the relatively new Republic of Indonesia to take a train through the southern Sumatra provinces that in 1961 were supposedly simmering with discontent and threatening more armed insurrections against the central government in Djakarta. According to the news headlines outside Indonesia, and foreign correspondents based in the capital, the soldiers of the Permesta breakaway rebellion were still hiding in the Sumatran jungles ready to pounce on anyone from the main island of Java and especially nosey foreigners.

Wishing to learn a Sumatran dialect, and to see my first pepper tree in the Lampung area, I accepted a poorly paid assignment from Molly Bondan, the famous Australian working in the Indonesian Foreign Office, to write a chapter on Transmigration for their upcoming 1962 Year Book, to be sent to embassies abroad. Moving people from overcrowded Java to sparsely populated areas was then thought to be the answer to the growth of poverty on Java, but later it was recognized as just moving poverty from one location to another.

Molly was the fearless Australian lady who had married Bondan, an Indonesian intellectual the Dutch in Australia had called “a dangerous brigand” and had exiled to Boven Digul prison camp in West New Guinea, with Dr. Mohammad Hatta, Indonesia’s future first Vice-President and other nationalist leaders. They had transferred Bondan to Brisbane, ahead of the Japanese occupation. Far from being a brigand, Bondan was a pipe-smoking, placid idealist who aspired to establishing an apprentice training scheme for Indonesian youths to learn trades in the new Republic, copying training systems he learned in Brisbane.   

Molly was then a senior translator for President Sukarno and the Foreign Office, where my first tutor young Alex Alatas worked. In later life he was Foreign Minister in the Suharto cabinet after nationalizing his name to Ali. Molly and Alex saw no harm in sending me into the Sumatran jungle, but did ask me to avoid discussing politics. The Year Book in my library today reminds me of my trip and how important it is to travel inland, so to speak, even when headlines suggest otherwise. We were not dealing with the China-inspired, anti-Western Communist Party thugs who came onto the scene a few years later, but rebels who had demanded Sumatra and the Celebes form their own breakaway state.

My advance for this assignment was around US$5 for the train ride from Teluk Betung in the south, to historic Palembang, with a stopover in a (then) small town of Batu Raja to write the story. Indonesian teachers at university were fearful for my safety, telling me armed rebels attacked anyone representing the Javanese central government and they were especially hateful of foreigners.

No proof was ever given for these claims of rebels hiding in the jungle, and none of my university peers had ever set foot in Sumatra. I was travelling into danger.

For about US$2 I travelled peacefully by overnight bus to a ferry that took me over the Sunda Strait, passing the old Krakatoa volcano and landing me at Teluk Betung where I was to board the 0700 train at Teluk, to go north into danger.

Yet, a strange peace pervaded the little town and the platform area. No one else seemed anxious that we were on the frontline in a supposed civil war. The steam train puffed gently awaiting a start, but the passengers for this three-carriage train were in the canteen, playing cards, drinking coffee, and generally lazing about. They soon got over the surprise of seeing a foreign student in their midst, asked my origins, my family’s size, what Australians had for breakfast and were puzzled that I wished to know about Transmigration, which none of them had heard about. Time ticked by, and my fears of missing the train, not in view from the canteen, were evident to them. “It won’t go without us. This is Hamid, the driver, with us now.” Hamid’s uncle, a key player in this railway schedule it seemed, finally arrived with a “titipan”, a new word for me meaning a present for someone faraway. Hamid’s wife was sending it to her family in Palembang, the alleged nest of anti-Jakarta rebels. Not a gun or a secret message, but a twine-bound package of Lampung coffee and pepper, both said to be “more expensive up in Palembang.”

Good manners suggested Hamid remain for a coffee before we departed. The timetable said the train was an ‘Express Teluk-Palembang’ stopping only at Batu Raja, but it stopped a dozen times between stations, arriving at Batu Raja an hour or more late. The Chief Administrator of the town met me, but he was in no hurry to take me to see the Javanese newcomers living in the jungle. He had arranged for a group of colorfully dressed prominent locals, with no apparent livelihoods to attend to, to welcome me. For two days I was taken around town in a horse drawn, decorated buggy and introduced as a “person from the Foreign Office” and given sumptuous food and exquisite fruit. There were numerous references to how little revenue Djakarta gave to the Lampung area and there were broad hints things were definitely heading for an armed showdown. On day three the Chief took me to a huge clearing in the jungle where an entire Javanese town of one thousand inhabitants, small shops, school and teachers had been shipped from an overcrowded area in Central Java, leaving me to my work.

The Javanese immediately claimed me as one of their own because I spoke with a Javanese accent I had shamelessly copied from President Sukarno. They were homesick and a little tired of the rather grating Malay of the Lampung locals, darkly suggesting that the jungle surrounding them was the home of anti-Java rebels. I felt duty bound to stay the night with these friendly people who fed me delicious Yam snacks and coffee, entertained me with a brief shadow play, saying there was no wayang in ‘uncivilized Lampung!’ They pressed me for extended descriptions of green paddy fields and idyllic life in rural Java and my halting descriptions of rich red volcanic soil and vistas of extensive fields during harvests that contrasted sharply with their jungle-edge existence. My hosts’ unpaved street had been replicated from the original, arranged so everyone had the same neighbors they had grown up with in their village on Java.

Such was the spirit of nostalgia abroad that when they learned I had lived briefly in a Kuningan district village not far from their birthplace, they pressed me to linger on my laudatory descriptions of the polite people living a peaceful life, the green rice fields and picturesque backdrop scenes of volcanoes, which contrasted sharply with the dull green thick jungle that now surrounded them. The women asked me to visit again, and please bring them some jamu village all-cure medicine packets the local Sumatran bumpkins were yet to learn about.

Next morning, back in the village chief’s house in Batu Raja, I was up early and back in a Western frame of mind, to ensure I would be on time for the 0830 train. Worry, worry! I was uneasy, yet my host seemed relaxed about the train’s arrival time. It would be a bit late, he said. But being a gracious host, he delivered me to the station and seemed truly bewildered when we arrived to find the train ready to depart right on 0830. Travelling north through magnificent green jungle, the other dozen or so passengers in my compartment soon knew my name and how many children my mother had, my father’s home village, whether he smoked, and any news about tall buildings in the capital city of Djakarta. I told them of my assignment, but none of them knew or seemed interested in the transmigration settlements. Relieved we were now on our way, I praised their railway system, saying we had departed Batu Raja precisely at 0830, as the timetable had said.  This sent them into howls of friendly laughter, some of them almost paralytic as the joke ran up and down the length of the carriage for a couple of side-splitting minutes before my companions seated across from me politely explained that I was on yesterday’s train! Mine would be in tomorrow morning. Perhaps.

A very slow day later the entire train was halted, in danger of being swept off the rails by floodwaters. The rails ahead and behind us were inundated. We had to catch fresh rainwater by holding cups out the window. We slept or talked our way through the utterly boring three-day delay, but some of the conversations changed in tone to anti-Java, anti-central government complaints. Secrets were unfolding as my companions decided I was now safely one of them, with shared travelling woes. Many of them admitted to being sympathetic to the rebellion and would introduce me to certain insurrection leaders when we got to Palembang.

I was suffering hunger pains whereas they were not, so they showed me how to smoke a kretek clove cigarette. That cured the hunger pains. But hours dragged by very slowly. By day, baboons and colorful birds came by to stare in at us, but had turned away when realizing we had no food to give them. Every snack, every grain of rice, even a large bag of rambutan fruit, had been shared around and long gone by day two. The nights were a string of nerve-tingling hours. In rare breaks between sheet-rain downpours pounding the steel roof, wildlife howls and snarling sent vibrations of fear through our semi-dozing bodies. In those restless, dark hours, I saw several men quietly unpack their traditional sarongs and pull them over their heads to escape into their personal spaces. 

We were all disheveled, exhausted and desperate for a decent meal and a mandi bath when we finally got into Palembang station, four days late. By now I was considered one of their rebel sympathizing gang, so I joined my group in a shared taxi ride in a roofless, beaten up Morris Minor, to a small hotel.

In a little café out front several Makassar businessmen, friends to my group and also rebels to the anti-Java cause, were apparently plotting the government’s downfall, between long sessions of cards and coffee and cigarettes. There was a lot of secretive mumbling, so I was hoping to hear a gunshot of two. I walked a few kilometers to the edge of town, a thrill-seeking adventure to the frontline in this civil war, but found only a group of mature women, happily grading pepper and mending fishing nets. They gifted me a small parcel of peppercorns and refused payment.

The war, it seemed, was an occasional event, perhaps deeper in the jungle, for the evenings were peaceful and life idyllic for me. I comfortably paid my hotel and food costs and finally bought a packet or two of kretek cigarettes to share around. The Makassar rebels also claimed me as their own, giving me their name cards and demanding I visit when next in the Celebes. On the second delightful morning, as I sat with the plotters in the sunshine outside our losmen bed and breakfast, a uniformed Javanese military intelligence officer, who introduced himself as Captain Hasan, called for me, bringing a Garuda ticket for me on the next day’s flight out to Djakarta. The Captain was firm that it was time for me to return home. He knew most of the rebels and joined us for a coffee, promising to pick me up next day. On the way to the airport, in a jeep, he told me he couldn’t engage the rebels in armed warfare because they were mostly old friends. Nor would they shoot at him, because he knew their relatives, and they were always pressing for news from their sons in jungle hideouts.

Even me, myself, the officer said complaining, I have to share profits from rubber smuggling to Singapore because Djakarta has not paid me for months. His wife, too, was in dire straits. She was a primary school teacher who had not been paid for months. When the money did come it was enough for just a few days.

When I stepped off the plane at the little Kemayoran airport in the capital, I had expected to see another military officer waiting for me, perhaps to grill me about the rebels and their jungle hideouts. But no one cared that I had just emerged from a great adventure. As I rode a becak to town I had the feeling I had been gone for months and that I knew something the people around me didn’t know, or were too busy to bother learning. That was the key to the revolt. Djakarta politicians didn’t have time to give the outer islands much thought, so the outer islanders had taken matters into their own hands. Palembang had become an independent, self-financing trade center, to survive.

A very old story, in a new Republic.

When delivering my Transmigration article and photos to the Pejambon Avenue headquarters of the Foreign Office, Molly and Ali Alatas thanked me profusely and asked if I had I seen any signs of anti-Djakarta rebels.

I confessed I had been deeply involved in a very civil, civil war.

Dr Francis Palmos, historian and former foreign correspondent, opened the first newspaper bureau in the new Republic of Indonesia in December 1964, the era of Guided Democracy. His Indonesian history interest began in Surabaya when a translator for the original Java Postin 1961. His book Surabaya 1945: Sacred Territory, a comprehensive history based on Indonesian documents of the first days of the Republic, was formally presented to the East Java government in 2011. In 2012 Frank was awarded the symbolic Keys to Surabaya City for this work, which is being translated in time for this year’s 10 November ceremonies.

Jokowi’s gamble: trading democracy for stability

By Warren Doull

In his first nine months, Indonesia’s president Joko Widowo (Jokowi) has overseen a remarkable resurgence of military power over Indonesian society. The military now has agreements in place to distribute fertiliser to farmers, guard prisons, and assist the national anti-narcotics agency.Talks are underway to also give it a role assisting the Corruption Eradication Commission and the ministries of transportation and fisheries, Earlier this month, the military launched a new counter-terrorism squad which some fear may compete with existing police-controlled counter-terrorism squads. The military even seems to be weakening civil society, by conducting a nationwide campaign to tell Indonesia’s youth that Indonesian NGOs and civil society organisations could be vehicles of foreign interests. Why is Jokowi making these concessions?

Jokowi is allowing this resurgence because he knows he is not in a position to confront powerful institutions. He is a civilian president with no money and almost no experience or networks in national politics. He is a president who doesn’t even control his own political party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, known by its Indonesian initials, PDI-P. His main source of support, the Indonesian public, is only heard in elections, scheduled for every five years.

As he took up his precarious position as Indonesia’s new chief executive last October, Jokowi seems to have assessed that the biggest threats to his presidency were the very institutions that are supposed to safeguard security and democracy: the military, the police and political parties like the PDI-P. He immediately started making concessions to them, hoping these concessions would win him sufficient stability to push through reforms in other areas: tackling the oil mafia, the illegal logging industry, and foreign threats while improving the social security net. These concessions are Jokowi’s gamble.
In November 2014, President Jokowi approved military plans to build two new army commands: one in Papua and the other in Sulawesi. Weeks later, he announced an 18% increase in the annual police budget. In January, he nominated Budi Gunawan as Indonesia’s new national police chief. 
Nominating Gunawan seemed aimed at pleasing the PDIP and senior police rather than pleasing the public, as Gunawan was under investigation for corruption. When Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission questioned the nomination of Gunawan, Jokowi stood by while the police force brought trumped up charges against the Corruption Eradication Commission’s leaders and had them replaced with cronies.

While courting his new ‘friends’, Jokowi also began to choose his enemies. By November 2014, he was taking steps against Indonesia’s powerful oil mafia. He cut government subsidies for gasoline and diesel, which mafia had often sold abroad, and he established an “anti-energy mafia committee” chaired by respected academic Faisal Basri. He was also taking on the illegal logging industry, imposing a six-month moratorium on the issuance of all forest-exploitation permits. At the same time, Jokowi was identifying new foreign adversaries and taking them on. He was burning encroaching fishing vessels and re-activating the death penalty for international drug smugglers. Jokowi also took on opposition parties, who said his health cards and smart cards to expand social welfare were insufficiently explained and unclearly financed.

Jokowi in recent months has remained consistent with his choice of enemies. In May 2015, his anti-energy mafia committee succeeded in disbanding three corrupt government institutions: Pertamina Energy Trading Limited (PETRAL) and two of its subsidiaries. In the same month, Jokowi renewed the moratorium on granting logging concessions. After executing six drug smugglers, including five foreigners, in January 2015, Jokowi’s government went ahead with executing eight more, including seven foreigners, in April 2015.

Jokowi in recent months has also remained consistent with his choice of friends. He allowed the widely distrusted Budi Gunawan to be appointed as deputy police chief, while the position of police chief went to Badrodin Haiti, a man whose corruption history was almost as shady as Budi Gunawan’s. He even stood by while the corrupt national police asserted their right to ‘help’ select new commissioners for the Corruption Eradication Commission and while the chief of detectives refused to give a wealth report to the Corruption Eradication Commission. These concessions have allowed his relationship with PDIP and senior police to remain on manageable terms.
Jokowi’s recent concessions to the military are an attempt to befriend an institution that has played a role in the early departures of two previous civilian presidents, Habibie in 1999 and Wahid in 2001. These concessions are also an attempt to empower the military as a counterbalance to the increasingly arrogant police force.

Through this acquiescent approach, Jokowi is not unlike his party matron, former president Megawati, who also made huge concessions to the military to help stabilize her presidency. And when Megawati established the Corruption Eradication Commission in 2003, she kept the police happy by appointing a crony former police officer, Taufiequrahman Ruki, as one of its leaders. To placate the police, Jokowi has brought Ruki back as a leader of the Corruption Eradication Commission in 2015.

So here’s the gamble. By allowing the resurgence of the police force and military as major players in Indonesian politics, and making concessions to powerful parliamentary groups like PDIP, can Jokowi buy enough peace to pass through reforms in other areas? Environmental groups have expressed doubts about Jokowi’s ability to protect forests. Earlier this year, they noted that while rates of illegal logging have declined steadily in recent years, the legalised conversion of forests to plantations for palm oil has gone through the roof.They aren’t feeling very safe either, since one environmental activist was murdered in Jambi province in March 2015 and another in Jakarta in May 2015. The oil mafia does not seem too concerned at this stage about Jokowi’s anti-energy mafia committee. Jokowi’s anti-energy mafia committee can only be considered effective once the oil mafia, through its proxies in the national parliament and in other institutions, begins to fight back.

Other reforms are having mixed success. The rear-guard action against foreign threats has taken unexpected twists. A recent attempt to force all expatriates to pass a Bahasa Indonesia proficiency test was only abandoned after protest. A decision to ban transactions and invoicing in US dollars is scheduled to come into effect on 1 July 2015 but its impact on Indonesia’s economy may not be positive.The most positive reform has been the introduction of health cards and smart cards to improve access to health and social welfare services for the poor. Distribution has accelerated in recent months after the Indonesian parliament passed Jokowi’s budget in January 2015.

No civilian president has ever served out a full five-year term in Indonesia. Jokowi, by acquiescing to powerful institutions, may be the first. He is currently on track for a legacy of improved social services for the very poor, and that’s a huge step. But will Jokowi’s era of Megawati-inspired ‘stability’ only be achieved through steps backwards in law enforcement, environmental protection, international relations and Indonesian democracy?

Warren Doull is a pseudonym. Warren worked for UNTAET in Timor-Leste in 2001-2002 and has also lived and worked extensively in Indonesia. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

New posts this week: The Hon Paul Grigson is back in Jakarta, sex segregation on buses, grass roots perspectives on the train, and addressing lost opportunities because of visa strangleholds.

Selamat datang,

Minggu ini kami lihat Ambassador Paul Grigson kembali ke pos dia setelah ketegangan hubungan Aus-Indo lagi. Dia kembali dengan tenang dan mungkin berharap untuk medapatkan banyak hal dilakukan sebelum cegukan berikutnya mempengaruhi kerja antara kedua negara kita. And we know there will be another hiccup. It's inevitable really, but it's how we deal with it and move forward that matters.

Tolong menikmati artikel yang baru:

Sex-segregation on Jakarta's buses is working, but is it right?, by Catriona Croft-Cusworth, June 2015.

Conversations on an Indonesian train, by Francis Palmos, June 2015.

More Jakarta and less Geneva. Great idea, just bad timing. by Ross B Taylor, June 2015.

Petrol subsidy cuts: taming a tricky beast, by Iona Main, June 2015.

Terbitkan Tanah Keramat untuk Arek Suroboyo, by Jawa Pos, June 2015.

Bali Nine executions: Australia's ambassador returns to Jakarta, by The Guardian, June 2015.

Heard the news?

Chris Barnes has been appointed as the Western Australian Government's regional Director to Indonesia, and will take-up his post later this month.

Chris has worked in Indonesia previously and was also a past National President of the Australia-Indonesia Business Council (AIBC).

Ross Taylor, President of the Perth-based Indonesia Institute (Inc) worked alongside Chris Barnes as his National Vice-President for three years.

"Chris is a complete professional," said Ross. "He is articulate, highly strategic and a very good thinker. He has an enormous range of very high-level contacts in both Indonesia and Australia and as such will serve WA, and Australia-Indonesia relations, well."