Saturday, January 26, 2019

Ba’asyir’s bizarre on/off release disrupts Jokowi’s campaign.

Indonesia’s announcement that it would release 80-year old Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, the spiritual leader of the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), after serving two-thirds of his 15-year sentence for supporting a terrorist training camp in Aceh, took many by surprise. JI was responsible for string of attacks around in Indonesia, including the 2000 Christmas Eve church bombings and 2002 bomb attack in Bali that claimed 202 lives.

The decision to release Ba’asyir was certainly a very strange one. It is not unusual for Indonesia to release prisoners who are of good behaviour and have served three quarters of their sentence (reduced by the many remissions available in the Indonesian system). After all, Australian drugs offenders Schappelle Corby and Renae Lawrence both benefitted from the laws that allow this.

But it is very unusual to give early release to an unrepentant terrorism offender who refuses to swear loyalty to the Indonesian republic. Ba’asyir, consistent with his life-long commitment to Islamic revolution in Indonesia, reportedly refuses to do this, even though the law generally requires it for terrorist convict to be eligible for early release (see, for example, Minister of Law and Human Rights Regulation 3 of 2018).

Ba’asyir’s lawyers therefore asked President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to issue a special presidential decision to override the law in Ba’asyir’s case for “humanitarian” reasons. Why did Jokowi agree to do this, as was announced on 18 January?

His decision can only be understood in the context of the presidential election campaign now underway ahead of elections on 17 April.

The Jokowi campaign and the coalition of parties that support his bid for re-election are deeply concerned to protect him from the allegations of being insufficiently Islamic. These come mainly from conservative Muslim supporters of Jokowi’s opponent, Prabowo Subianto. These slurs were deployed against Jokowi when he first campaigned for the presidency in 2014, when he was even accused of being a closet Christian, and of Chinese descent.

This was why his coalition forced on Jokowi a running mate he did not really want, Ma’ruf Amin, the highly conservative head of the peak national Islamic body, the Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI).

All this gave traction to calls for Ba’asyir’s release, which has been urged on Jokowi by Yusril Ihza Mahendra. As well as being the chair of a small Islamic political party, PBB (the Crescent Star Party), Mahendra is one of Jokowi’s lawyers and an advisor to his campaign.

It is just as important that the release from prison of Basuki Tjahaya Purnama, known as Ahok, the ethnic Chinese Christian former governor of Jakarta was scheduled to occur today. He has now served his two-year sentence for blaspheming Islam during his failed campaign for re-election in 2016.

Ahok was deputy to Jokowi, when Jokowi was governor of Jakarta, and the two are still closely associated in the minds of many voters, even though Jokowi abandoned Ahok to his fate long ago. It seems Jokowi’s campaign thought that releasing notorious Islamist Ba’asyir might counter the attacks on Jokowi that Ahok’s release will likely trigger.

In these circumstances, it is not surprising that vice presidential candidate Amin welcomed the decision to release Ba’asyir, saying it showed a “high regard for humanitarianism”.

In fact, the decision fits a pattern – Jokowi has gradually developed a reputation for being willing to do almost anything to secure votes, and for being not all that concerned about legal process.

But this time he seems to have gone too far in his anxiety to defend himself from hardliner critics. Not everyone around Jokowi was happy with his bizarre decision to give special treatment to a committed enemy of the Indonesian state, a leading propagandist for extremist violence who pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State in 2014.

In particular, Indonesia’s powerful Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, former general and former armed forces chief Wiranto, seemed to spit the dummy. He announced on 21 January that he would ‘coordinate a review of all aspects’ of the proposed release, at Jokowi’s request – doubtless a request made only after huge pressure from Wiranto and his supporters.

At a press conference on Monday night, Wiranto emphasised the need for his review to consider the national ideology, Pancasila, and the “unitary state of Indonesia”, and the law. This suggested to many observers that the government was preparing for an embarrassing backflip.

Sure enough, on 22 January, Jokowi announced that, while he will wait for the results of the review, he will no longer support early release for Ba’asyir if he refuses to swear loyalty to Indonesia and the Pancasila – even though this refusal was the very reason why a special presidential decision was proposed in the first place.

This debacle is a reminder that while Islamist hardliners have been highly effective in exploiting the Ahok debacle and the hyper-charged atmosphere of a national election campaign, there are still powerful nationalist forces within government who have always regarded them as an existential threat.

The armed forces have sometimes flirted with Islamists but they are ultimately unwilling to tolerate challenges to the integrity of the republic and the Pancasila, which they see as co-identical and inviolable.

Jokowi’s campaign seems have miscalculated badly. Rather than cleverly pre-empting attacks on their candidate, they have guaranteed them, while also embarrassing him and exposing deep rifts in his government.

A different version of this article was also published in The Age(link is external) and Sydney Morning Herald.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Questioning early release of Ba'asyir

  • By Carrisa Tehputri

  • President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has ordered the Law and Human Rights Ministry to prepare for the early release of Abu Bakar Ba’asyir for “humanitarian reasons”, taking into account his age and deteriorating health.

This decision has surprised many, considering Ba’asyir is notorious for his repeated involvement in terrorism and his endorsement of radical Islam. Significantly, the United Nations placed him on its list of international terrorists. 

He is known to be the spiritual leader of Jamaah Islamiyah, which was responsible for several terrorist attacks and assassinations in Southeast Asia and is linked to other terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. 

In Indonesia, Ba’asyir himself is well known as the mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombing, an attack so grave it attracted overwhelming international attention. 

The attack not only killed and injured more than 400 people, it also destroyed the livelihoods of millions of Balinese as a result of travel bans and the deteriorating state of tourism there. 

Ba’asyir was actually offered parole in 2018 on condition that he would declare loyalty to Pancasila and vow not to repeat his crimes, compulsory requirements for inmates convicted of terrorism charges according to the regulation. 

Insisting on his innocence and his belief that Pancasila is against Islam, he refused the offer. In contradiction of the importance of those two requirements, a few months later he was offered this unconditional release based on compassion and humanitarian reasons.

Now the question is: Is his compassionate release really justifiable, considering the gravity of his crime and the repetitive nature of his actions and taking into account that over the years his support for radical Islam never faded? 

Ba’asyir has openly refused to declare his allegiance to Pancasila and Indonesia and, in fact, in July 2014 he publicly declared his allegiance to Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State movement, and his support for a caliphate.

Despite his notoriety for his repeated crimes, Ba’asyir had his sentence reduced. 

In 2003, he was sentenced to three years in prison for immigration violations possibly related to terrorism, but the sentence was reduced to 20 months because of good behavior. 

In October 2005, he was found guilty of involvement in the 2002 Bali bombing and was sentenced to two and half years of imprisonment, but this was eventually cut by four months and 15 days. 

After his release in 2006 he pledged himself to a campaign to impose sharia. In October 2008, Ba’asyir also announced his intention to start Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid, a new Islamic group in Indonesia, which was later put in the United States terrorism list. 

In December 2010, Ba’asyir was again arrested and charged with involvement in plans for terrorist actions and military training in Aceh. 

He was convicted in June 2011 for supporting a terrorist training camp and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

His repeated imprisonment does not represent good behavior or a promising future in which he would at least not pose a threat to the larger society. His persistence over the years only proves to us that his allegiance to radicalism has never died and the fact that he is currently more than 80 years old would not change that. 

Ideology doesn’t age the same way the body does; it never dies.

Furthermore, if deteriorating health and old age are really the reasons, do more than 4,000 other elderly inmates aged 65 years and older in Indonesia stand the same chance? Are they also to receive early compassionate release, or are their cases to be forgotten because they are just anonymous, unknown inmates in the system? 

Is it really fair to release one inmate who has such a long and dangerous track record, but to keep 4,000 others incarcerated, regardless of their health conditions and the fact that their days are also numbered?

The law is supposed to be fair and universal. Everyone is equal before the law, according to the Constitution. 

While Ba’asyir is getting his early release, Meiliana, a woman from North Sumatra, is serving 18 months’ imprisonment for merely complaining to her neighbor that the adzan (call to prayers) from her local mosque was too loud. 

Likewise, crosses are broken in graveyards, Ahmadi mosques and Buddhist viharas are burned to ashes and Javanese new year offerings are destroyed, but the President remains silent.
The writer is a public policy researcher based in Abu Dhabi.

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Indonesian economy: In search of dynamism.

By Hal Hill, ANU
Indonesia has achieved almost 20 years of continuous economic growth.
The country navigated the 2008 global financial crisis with little difficulty and effectively weathered the emerging market volatilities of 2018. It has adjusted to the end of the China-driven commodity boom more effectively than the commodity-exporting members of the now-forgotten BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) group.
Despite this record, the economy isn’t growing fast enough to meet the growing aspirations of its people or to make significant inroads into poverty — a challenge compounded by the sizeable increase in inequality this century. The new normal is 5 per cent growth. While that’s faster than the global economy, it’s well behind contemporary Asian frontiers set by India, China, Vietnam and even the Philippines.
It’s also well short of President Jokowi’s 2014 election campaign pledge of 7 per cent growth. The difference matters: 7 per cent growth implies a quadrupling of real per capita incomes every 28 years, whereas 5 per cent growth delivers just a doubling every 23 years.
Why isn’t Indonesia growing as fast as the two Asian giants and some of its neighbours? Jokowi had the misfortune of coming to office just as the commodity boom was ending. Government and businesses were being forced to adjust to the end of a decade of easy growth. Some slowing down in the economic momentum was inevitable. But four years on, economic growth has yet to accelerate despite a moderate increase in commodity prices and the ongoing income effects of the boom.
The factors explaining this lack of economic dynamism are mainly domestic.
There is more or less a consensus around the desirability of appointing highly competent technocratic professionals to run the two key macroeconomic agencies, the Ministry of Finance and Bank Indonesia. As a result, Indonesia’s macroeconomic policy framework is functioning effectively. There has been an impressive fiscal consolidation since the crisis, the flexible exchange rate regime is working well, and the financial sector is now much better supervised and regulated.
But microeconomic reform — trade and investment policy, the business environment, the sectors, and labour and social policy — is basically in the hands of the political parties and subject to the rules of the political market place. ‘Veto players’ proliferate in a system where the president governs by consensus in the legislature, manages a diverse ‘rainbow cabinet’, presides over more than 500 subnational leaders and occasionally is checked by an unpredictable judiciary.
The result is that the sweeping economic policy reforms and institutional innovations needed for faster economic growth (and that were the government’s response to the fading of the earlier boom in the 1980s) are more or less off the agenda.
Jokowi came to office with a reputation as a ‘can-do’ politician. There was optimism following his first major economic policy decision, which was to substantially reduce the petroleum subsidies that had been crippling the government’s budget. This freed up fiscal space for desperately needed infrastructure investments, as well as an ambitious social policy agenda.
Jokowi’s well-known impatience with bureaucracy is also facilitating ongoing regulatory simplifications. The country is ascending the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings, the most widely used business environment indicator. Among the 190 jurisdictions, Indonesia has risen from 114 when Jokowi took office to its current ranking of 73.
The fact that Indonesia elected an ‘outsider’ of modest means to the highest office reflects admirably on the country’s democratic progress. But one result of this background is that Jokowi has led from behind on the big issues of economic nationalism and reform.
Take his trade ministers, for example. The three in his administration have ranged from an ultra-nationalist to a liberal reformer to something in-between. As a result, significant trade policy reform is on the backburner. The country’s large state-enterprise sector too remains basically unreformed and is seen as an ‘agent of development’ despite its indifferent commercial record and (for some) compromised governance structure.
Of course, there are small steps here and there. Elements of the 16 reform packages introduced by the Jokowi administration have been useful at the margins. Capable reforming cabinet members, such as the current head of the Investment Board, are able to take some small steps. But in the grand scheme of things these are not enough to accelerate growth.
There can also be no doubting the President’s sincerity in social policy reform, including in the form of conditional cash transfers and improved access to education and health facilities. But the country’s fiscal policy space is severely limiting the scope for these much-needed services. The subsidies have crept back, the tax effort remains an anaemic 12 per cent of GDP (despite the much-heralded 2016 tax amnesty) and there are large unfunded spending commitments in practically all areas of social policy.
The 2019 election campaign is now under way, but the economic debates are mainly about symbols and slogans. A Jokowi victory would almost certainly usher in more of the same. It would not be a reformist administration, but it would be pragmatic, cautious and focussed on infrastructure. Perhaps Jokowi would be bolder in a second (and final) term. He might also follow the well-established political dictum of administering any tough medicine early in the term, as he did almost immediately after his 2014 election victory.
What are the implications for the region? Indonesia will be fully occupied by elections in 2019. Jokowi has also shown little interest in international affairs, except in cases where business deals are in prospect. Although Indonesia has had some of ASEAN’s most creative thinkers on regional affairs, mainly associated with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, the country is unlikely to adopt a leadership role in regional and international commercial diplomacy, from ASEAN and RCEP to climate change and other pressing global challenges.

Hal Hill is the HW Arndt Professor Emeritus of Southeast Asian Economies at The Australian National University.This article is part of an EAF special feature series on 2018 in review and the year ahead.These issues are discussed in more detail in the author’s ‘Asia’s Third Giant: A Survey of the Indonesian Economy‘, The Economic Record, December 2018.

Shared interests, heritage, bring RI and South Pacific closer.

By Ida Bagus Made Bimantara 

If I go, theres just no telling how far I’ll go.” declared Moana, the charming Polynesian character from the 2016 Disney animation film. A similar analogy was used by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo at the Archipelagic and Island State conference in Manado, North Sulawesi last November.

            There is no telling how far the partnership between Indonesia and South Pacific island countries can go.

            Located in the same Pacific region, with a common heritage and sharing similar challenges, the interests of Indonesia and the South Pacific naturally align. These are the foundation for Indonesias future engagement with the region.

            Indonesias easternmost provinces jut and form a natural sea and land bridge into the southwest and northwest of the South Pacific. Comprising many islands facing the constant threat of natural disasters and climate change, Indonesia and South Pacific countries face the challenge of connecting the islands throughout the vast ocean.

            Indonesia is a multi-ethnic and multicultural country, mostly including those with Austronesian or Melanesian origin. The Austronesian family includes the languages spoken by Indonesians and Malays, Malagasy, Filipinos, as well as Polynesian peoples including Maori, Samoan, Tongan and Hawaiian.

            Similarly, Pacific islanders are mainly of Polynesian or Melanesian descent. Melanesian descendants in Fiji, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Solomon Islands and Vanuatu make up 94 percent of the South Pacific population and 92 percent of its gross domestic product.
            Indonesia, as a middle-income developing country experiences varying rates of economic growth among its provinces. Likewise, the South Pacific region experiences uneven and fluctuating rates of economic growth. Some countries enjoy growth of between 3 and 4 percent while others grow below 3 percent.

            Early last year, Indonesias commitment to the South Pacific was outlined by President Jokowi in a directive to his top diplomats to focus less on obtaining international assistance and more on giving international assistance to those countries in need including in the South Pacific. Indonesia is thus committed to “graduate” out of aid receipt and create an international assistance program of its own.
            Over the past few years, Indonesia has provided modest assistance to countries struck by natural disasters or humanitarian crises, including US$5 million for Fiji and $2 million for Vanuatu after typhoons Winston and Pam. Other forms of cooperation that Indonesia is engaging with Pacific island countries include protocol and security training for PNG as host of the latest summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and various programs to share experience and knowledge.

            In the years to come, Indonesias international development program, currently in its infancy, is set to gain a significant boost commensurate with the countrys growing wealth. Last year, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi announced a plan to form an Indonesian aid agency with an initial fund of about $100 million. This single agency will be responsible for managing international assistance for natural disasters, humanitarian crises and other challenges in the region including the South Pacific. The agency will also bring together technical cooperation and capacity building programs that many Indonesian agencies now have with a number of Pacific island nations.

            Furthermore, there is ample room to improve Indonesias modest economic relationship with the South Pacific. Total trade between Indonesia and all the Pacific island countries in 2017 was $450 million, an improvement of $140 million from 2016. The largest contributors for the increase were from PNG and the Solomon Islands. Indonesia has a long way to go to catch up with the regions biggest trading and development partners: Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and the United States.

            Currently only a few Indonesian companies have a presence in the South Pacific, including construction company Audie Pacific in Fiji and Emtek Media in PNG. In the next two decades, improvements in connectivity between the easternmost parts of Indonesia and the South Pacific will be key to Indonesias attempts to expand its trade and investment footprint in the region.

            Such improvements are already happening. The improved and more frequent air links between Mount Hagen and Port Moresby in PNG and Jayapura in Papua are opening up business and personal connections between Indonesia and PNG and the rest of the South Pacific. The expansion and upgrade of 24 strategic ports, including the ports of Bitung in North Sulawesi and Sorong in West Papua, will further cut costs for both domestic and international freight.

            As connectivity between the regions improves even further, the tyranny of distance will be eroded. It is this confluence of events and initiatives that should be on top of our thinking as we shape the kind of cooperation and partnership that Indonesia should have with the South Pacific island countries. A partnership that encompasses all the sectors that will greatly impact peoples livelihoods. A partnership that takes advantage of each others strengths and opportunities while filling the remaining gaps.

            In her journey, Moana saw the line where the sky meets the sea which called her to explore further. That line on our common horizon is waiting for all Pacific islanders and Indonesians to see and explore.

The author is deputy director for East Asia and the Pacific at the Foreign Ministry of Indonesia. The views expressed are his own