Posts Tagged ‘Widodo’

After 50 Years — Is Asean Still Needed?

December 27, 2017

Unless member states can put their common causes above their narrow internal political interests, global powers such as China, India and the US will continue to run roughshod over their agenda


Does the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) still matter after half a century? Against the backdrop of global and regional politics, with security and economic architecture oscillating unpredictably in search of a new equilibrium, this question takes on greater importance today than it did when the organisation was founded in 1967 at the height of the cold war.

In the next decade, Asean’s destiny depends on how adroitly it positions its norms, values, and purpose in an increasingly uncertain world, where an Asia dominated by China cannot be foreclosed.

Chinese-controlled North Island, part of the Paracel Islands group in the South China Sea. Photo: Reuters

The South China Sea test

In particular, the South China Sea disputes are a severe test of Asean’s unity, purpose and resolve. China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei all have competing claims over the strategic waterway where an estimated US$5 trillion in global trade passes through annually. It is also home to rich fishing grounds and an indeterminate wealth of oil, gas and other natural resources in the deep seabed.

China insists on bilateral deals with other nations, leveraging on its size and clout. This can complicate sovereignty disputes given the web of overlapping territorial claims. The importance of a multilateral agreement cannot be understated, and whether Asean member states can think and act collectively is an ongoing challenge.

Asean turns 50? Wake me when it’s over

Earlier this year, a framework agreement between China and Asean on the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea marked a significant step forward in cooling tensions in the region, where the test of wills and military gamesmanship have often threatened to boil over.

To be clear, the COC will not resolve the long-standing disputes over the South China Sea. But it will provide an agreed, rules-based framework for disputants to engage each other and prevent differences from spiralling into overt conflict.

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak attends the 19th Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit. Photo: Reuters

Negotiations for the COC are likely to commence in 2018, and Singapore – Asean chair for 2018 – will seek to ride on the momentum to nudge member states and China towards a good start and steady progress.

Regardless, Asean’s relationship with China and the United States should not be defined narrowly by the South China Sea. Instead, claimant states and the US must not lose sight of the larger picture and the greater benefit that comes from substantive cooperation on multiple fronts. To do so, Asean has to catalyse collective and purposeful engagement on the South China Sea by all stakeholders.

Resolution, if even possible, will take decades, but it is crucial that the territorial disputes do not get in the way of regional progress and development as well as peace and stability.

Asean and China have moved on – didn’t Vietnam get the memo?

Trust – and confidence – building are critical in seeking common ground on the South China Sea. The COC is fundamentally about confidence building. This can facilitate exploring bold modes of cooperation in the disputed waters. Rather than a high stakes, winner-takes-all approach, claimant states can engage in path-breaking resource sharing and collective responsibility in keeping the waterway open and safe.

Given the apparent competing interests and objectives, it will be a delicate balancing act. But there is no alternative to China and the US engaging purposefully with Asean and with each other. This can also give renewed impetus to “Asean centrality” – the notion that Asean’s focus stays fixed on Southeast Asian affairs, particularly with respect to security matters.

However, Asean centrality is increasingly moulded by external players. In the years ahead, how resilient and robust Asean’s norms, values, and purpose are will determine whether Asean remains relevant and effective as the regional organisation for Southeast Asia.

Economic Integration

During Asean’s 40th anniversary in 2007, amid growing concerns of organisational atrophy and irrelevance, the Asean Charter came into being. This constitutional document was intended to herald greater achievements such as the “Asean Community”, which comprises the economic, political-security, and socio-cultural communities.

Over the past decade, however, Asean’s community building has been patchy at best, often taking a back seat in the face of member-states’ domestic priorities. Even the touted establishment of the Asean Economic Community in 2015, a major milestone in the regional economic integration blueprint, failed to mask the reality that economic integration remains an aspiration. Probably the only clear success thus far has been the reduction of tariffs among member countries – about 99 per cent of tariff lines have been reduced to zero.

Filipino activists clash with riot police during a protest rally in Manila, Philippines, during the Asean Summit. Photo: EPA

Asean needs to urgently unleash its economic potential so that it is in control of its economic destiny, and not reliant on China’s growth and America’s largesse. In 2014, Asean was the third largest economy in Asia and the seventh largest in the world. Asean’s combined gross domestic product is likely to reach US$8.1 trillion in 2030, up from the current US$2.6 trillion. This will make Asean the fourth-largest economy in the world.

Exclusive: Widodo’s peace formula for South China Sea

Asean and its member states have to keep their eyes on the prize; peace and stability as prerequisites for sustained growth, development and prosperity. This means enhancing Asean’s relevance in regional geopolitics and capitalising on the growing middle-class economy of the Asia-Pacific.

Asean will have to raise the level of practical cooperation between the region and major powers, including China, the US, Japan and India, all of which are Asean’s dialogue partners. Economic cooperation can help foster deeper ties and develop cross-cutting stakes in Southeast Asia. Asean and its stakeholders must not lose sight of that, even as economic nationalism rears its ugly head globally.

Existential irrelevance

In 1967, the forward-looking leaders of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand recognised that there was much to be gained from the limited pooling of their countries’ sovereignties through Asean. The alliance has since grown from five to 10 member states with the inclusion of Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

In his memoirs, Singapore’s first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, who was a strong proponent of Asean, had presciently put forth that Asean’s unspoken objective “was to gain strength through solidarity ahead of the power vacuum that would come with an impending British and later a possible US withdrawal”. The geopolitical realities and challenges have evolved and are evolving two generations on. Even if there is no US withdrawal, a new China-dominant security and economic order is already in the making and challenging the status quo that Asean has become complacently accustomed to.

President Donald Trump, left, shakes hands with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte at an Asean Summit dinner in Manila, Philippines. Photo: AP

China’s status, power and rise is accompanied by a more assertive and ambitious foreign policy under President Xi Jinping, made abundantly clear at October’s 19th Communist Party National Congress. US President Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy posture inevitably casts grave doubts on American resolve and commitment to the region’s security and interests, which for long has been taken for granted in Southeast Asia.

As anti-US feeling grows in Cambodia, China cashes in

This apparent waxing and waning of Chinese and American power respectively puts Asean in uncharted territory. How it negotiates the US-China power politics will determine whether Asean is central or peripheral in its own backyard.

Despite past successes, an irrelevant Asean is not a foregone conclusion. Singapore’s Foreign Minister S. Rajaratnam had said at Asean’s founding that, “if Asean does not hang together, they shall be hung separately”. To be nimble, relevant, and effective, Asean member states must resist individual and collective navel-gazing, and instead recommit to regional solidarity through being a visionary and cohesive bloc.


Eugene K B Tan is associate professor of law at the School of Law, Singapore Management University


Thousands of Indonesians Hold Anti-Communist Protest in Capital — “President Joko Widodo is the son of communists and was not a Muslim”

September 29, 2017

JAKARTA — Several thousand protesters led by hardline Islamist groups held a rally on Friday outside Indonesia’s parliament to protest against what they called a growing threat from communism in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.

Rows of police stood behind barbed wire with water cannons at the ready, but the rally was peaceful and the number of protesters far smaller than the estimated tens of thousands expected by organisers and police.

Some protesters prayed and unfurled banners rejecting communism and also a government decree targeting large organisations that was used to disband the Islamist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia.

“The country is giving space to communists and their activities,” said one protester, Mohamad Khairudin, 42, who had travelled from Surabaya, the country’s second largest city.

“Members of parliament have communist sympathies. And at the same time they are limiting space for Islamic organisations and criminalising ulama (scholars).”

 Image result for Protest in Jakarta, anti-communist, September 29, 2017, photos

Khairudin said he tended to believe reports on social media that President Joko Widodo was the son of communists and was not a Muslim, but did not provide any evidence of this or of a rise in communism.

Widodo has denied having any communist ties.

Communism remains an emotive issue in Indonesia and the protest took place on the eve of the 52nd anniversary of the murder of six army generals and a young lieutenant by rebel armed forces personnel, which prompted the retaliatory slaughter of at least 500,000 alleged communists.

The massacres ushered in more than 30 years of authoritarian rule under Suharto, the former general who led the communist purge.

 20,000 security personnel guard anti-communist rally in Jakarta

Indonesia’s Communist Party (PKI), once one of the world’s largest, remains outlawed, however, and there appears to be little evidence of a Marxist ideology taking hold in Indonesia.

Just 12 percent of respondents to a September survey of 1,220 Indonesians believed the party was making a comeback now.

Analysts and government advisers said the fomenting of a “red scare” was aimed at Indonesia’s reformist president Widodo, who has previously been falsely accused of being the descendant of communists.

Related image

“We support parliament in ridding itself of PKI,” Slamet Maarif, one of the rally organisers told the crowd, accusing the government of oppressive measures and of creating a gulf between the state and Islam with a decree banning some organisations.

Friday’s rally has been organised by hardline Islamist groups, such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI).

The FPI led huge rallies last year that successfully demanded the jailing for blasphemy of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian who was Jakarta’s governor at the time.

(Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)


Military personnel raid cafe in South Jakarta suspected of harboring communist sympathies

  • The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Fri, September 29, 2017 | 01:14 pm

Military personnel raid cafe in South Jakarta suspected of harboring communist sympathies A South Jakarta 0504 Military District personnel is seen with the confiscated red flag at the Garasi 66 cafe in South Jakarta on Thursday. (Courtesy of Kodim 0504 Jakarta Selatan/File)

Military personnel have confiscated a flag marked with the hammer and sickle logo, the symbol of communism, from a cafe in South Jakarta.

Nearby residents reported the flag to the authorities, South Jakarta 0504 Military District commander Let. Col. Inf. Ade Rony Wijaya said on Friday.

“We took the flag away on Thursday. The logo was small and placed in red fabric,” Ade said as quoted by

The military cooperated with Public Order Agency personnel, the head of the neighborhood unit (RT) and some members of local youth organization Karang Taruna in the raid on the Garasi 66 cafe on Jl. Pangeran Antasari.

The banner was found installed at the window in the room of the cafe’s owner, Burdani, who is being investigated by military officers.

“We see no specific intent. Burdani travels a lot to many countries. He thought it was the flag of China,” Ade said.

Burdani was released after his identity was recorded by officers.

The issue of a communist revival in the country is in the spotlight once more.

Hundreds of anti-communists besieged the office of the Foundation of the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute (YLBHI) on Sept. 17, accusing the organization of putting on a gathering associated with the now-defunct Indonesian Communist Party. (yon)

After Political Storm, Indonesia President Faces Economic Clouds

September 4, 2017

JAKARTA — During the first months of this year, President Joko Widodo was an embattled leader grappling with Indonesia’s most serious political and religious tensions in two decades. Now, he has come through the storm looking stronger than ever.

His popularity is near record highs and, thanks to deft maneuvers against foes trying to exploit a blasphemy case against one of his allies, Widodo has stamped his authority on the ruling coalition, parliament and the security forces.

The quietly spoken former furniture salesman may have proved his political mettle, but his next challenge is an economy that refuses to respond to conventional policies to fire up growth. That could dent his re-election chances in 2019, especially with a budget that won’t stretch to lavish government spending.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, suit

President Joko Widodo

Senior government officials worry that Widodo has been distracted by the battles with political opponents and taken his eye off the economy.

“We are suffering from bad policy right now … if we don’t fix it or we don’t regain the initiative I could easily see GDP growth going down, and is that a risk you want to take?” said one senior government official, who asked not to be identified.

According to a June survey, nearly 60 percent of people polled were satisfied with Widodo’s performance, almost an all-time high. But the poll also showed high expectations that he would deliver on promises to revive the lackluster economy.

“If he doesn’t perform on the economy, that would give ammunition to the opposition to challenge Jokowi in 2019,” said Djayadi Hanan of the Saiful Mujani Research Center, a Jakarta-based pollster, using the president’s nickname.


Indonesia’s GDP growth has shambled at around 5 percent for the past two years, too low to lift the country out of the middle-income trap, largely because domestic consumption – once the engine of the economy – and bank lending have been sluggish.

An unexpected cut in interest rates last month highlighted the struggle to lift growth despite government initiatives, including a tax amnesty program, an infrastructure drive, and a series of regulatory tweaks designed to make business easier.

The government has little fiscal room to breathe life into the economy: the budget deficit is already close to a legally mandated ceiling of 3 percent of GDP and parliament could impeach Widodo if he allowed the deficit to run past that limit.

David Sumual, chief economist at Indonesia’s Bank Central Asia, said a hike in electricity tariffs and slow disbursement of subsidies to farmers have weakened the purchasing power of middle- to lower-income households. Meanwhile, higher-income groups are worried that the government is pushing for aggressive tax reform that will leave them less well off.

“The problem now is confidence in the prospect of the economy. People don’t want to spend,” Sumual said.

In his state-of-the-nation address last month, Widodo pledged to tackle income inequality by cutting red tape and making land acquisition easier to accelerate infrastructure projects. And last week he urged his cabinet to focus on attracting investment to boost growth and create jobs.

But two officials who spoke to Reuters said they worried he was not matching his rhetoric with bold steps that need to be taken now for growth to be marching higher next year, when campaigning for the 2019 presidential election will begin.

On the to-do list remains finding a way to rein in the overbearing dominance of state-owned enterprises on the economy, which was singled out by the World Bank in July as something preventing private funds flowing in.

In addition, there is a need to speed up efforts to tackle a tortuous regulatory and licensing regime to lift investment, an area where Widodo said last week, during the launch of a new policy package, “there’s so much we have to improve, so much to fix”.


Just months ago, Widodo appeared to be fighting for his political survival as political opponents joined forces with radical Islamist groups to foment popular fury over alleged blasphemous comments made by Widodo’s ally Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the former Christian governor of Jakarta.

Amid massive protests in central Jakarta, there were rumors of treason plots and even a military takeover.

Beating the drum of Indonesia’s “unity in diversity” motto, Widodo embarked on a frenzy of public appearances at military barracks, the homes of both political rivals and allies, and at moderate Islamic boarding schools – all aimed at projecting an image of unity and control.

“He has been busy in the past six to eight months fighting back against destabilizing forces,” said Endy Bayuni, editor-in-chief of the most widely read English daily, the Jakarta Post.

“He’s showed that he is very much in control of the situation and has become even more mature as a politician.”

Widodo’s latest move to regain political authority took aim at hardline Islamist groups. By executive decree, he banned Hizb-ut Tahrir, a group that calls for Indonesia to be ruled by Islamic sharia law, saying its ambitions ran counter to the country’s secular ideology.

Such political dominance could provide Widodo with a false sense of security, the senior government official said.

“The dark side of the story is … the economy,” he said. “I think the biggest threat now, potentially – and it’s the flip side of the incredibly strong political position he is in – would be complacency.”

(Editing by Ed Davies and Alex Richardson)

Indonesian Human Rights Monitor: Military role in counterterrorism not needed

May 30, 2017

Military role in counterterrorism not needed: Imparsial

Police officers stand guard outside a building during a raid conducted by a team from the National Police’s counterterrorism squad Densus 88 on a shop house in Cemani, Sukoharjo, Central Java, on May 29, 2016. (Antara/Mohammad Ayudha)

By Nurul Fitri Ramadhani and Margareth S. Aritonang
The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Tue, May 30, 2017 | 07:03 pm

Human rights watchdog Imparsial has lambasted the proposal to grant the Indonesian Military (TNI) an official counterterrorism role, saying it will not only lead to an overlap of duty with the National Police, but also put the country’s democracy and human rights protection at risk.

“Direct involvement from the military will violate the principle of civil supremacy and cause problems with our criminal justice system. It will be a setback to our program of reform. The military should only have responsibilities in the area of state defense,” Imparsial director Al Araf said on Tuesday.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said on Monday that the country needed a stronger antiterrorism law and the TNI should be given a greater role in the country’s war against terrorism. He made the statement following the twin bomb attack in Kampung Melayu, East Jakarta, on May 24 that claimed the lives of three police officers and injured more than a dozen people.

The House of Representatives is currently deliberating the amendment of the 2003 Terrorism Law. There has not been yet agreements on a number of crucial articles including the TNI’s role in counterterrorism. Currently, counterterrorism arrests and investigations must be under the coordination of the National Police.

Al Araf argued that there was an insufficient legal basis to ensure the military would not commit human rights violations when arresting terrorism suspects if it was granted such powers. Moreover, he added, there was no guarantee the TNI would obey the rulings of civilian courts given that it has its own military court, the transparency of which is still in question. (rin)

ASEAN Leaders Make China the Big Winner (Anyone Interested in Rule of Law Lost)

April 30, 2017
President Rodrigo Duterte (C) presides over the plenary session among ASEAN leaders, including Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. Photos from ASEAN poo

And the winner at the ASEAN summit is… China.

The ruling of the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, invalidating Beijing’s nine-dash-line claim in the South China Sea, was the elephant in the room at the 30th summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

This was thanks to the summit chair himself, who will likely maintain his love fest with Beijing at the next ASEAN summit in November. It will take another decade before the Philippines chairs ASEAN again. By that time, China would have occupied parts of Palawan and Zambales with the Philippines’ blessing.

What was on the ASEAN agenda was the war on illegal drugs. Not a condemnation of ASEAN chair President Duterte’s vicious war, but support for a strong regional response, and genuine interest from several leaders in taking a page from Dirty Rody’s playbook.

Really, what did Duterte critics expect from ASEAN? It’s an old boys’ club of autocrats with different ideas, to put it mildly, about human rights.

Even Myanmar’s democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who attended the summit as her nation’s official representative, refrained from criticizing the host country’s president and ASEAN chair, upholding not human rights but the grouping’s cherished principle of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.

When certain ASEAN leaders opened their mouths during their Manila visit, it was not to express concern about Duterte’s version of a dirty war, but to ask him for pointers on how to go about it.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, whose government has been executing drug traffickers including foreigners, said he saw “so much in common” with Duterte; the two appear to have hit it off.

With warnings that the Abu Sayyaf and its kindred spirits have been touched by the Islamic State and are now augmenting their kidnapping profits with drug money, ASEAN leaders were undoubtedly all ears when Duterte called for a strong and coordinated regional response to what he said was a growing drug menace.

Last Friday, Widodo reportedly told Duterte: “I believe that you and I are driven by healthy common sense and by love for our people.”

Southeast Asia is the perfect region for the current ASEAN chair.

*      *      *

ASEAN is no stranger to the drug menace. The border regions of three of its member states host the Golden Triangle, Afghanistan’s rival in opium production. The drug menace has fostered deadly violence, corruption and other crimes even beyond the triangle that straddles Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. Even Suu Kyi probably acknowledges the gravity of the problem in her country.

Du30 is not the first ASEAN leader to launch a blood-soaked campaign against the drug scourge. In the recent past, Thailand’s Thaksin Shinawatra cracked down on a booming trade in methamphetamine (their shabu), promising to eradicate the menace in three months. In those three months, 2,275 people were killed in Thaksin’s ruthless war.

Following Thaksin’s ouster, the Thai junta ordered a probe of the drug killings. A special committee concluded that up to 1,400 of the 2,500 fatalities attributed to the campaign had no links to drugs, but failed to establish Thaksin’s direct hand in the deaths.

Duterte might get off in the same way in case he faces investigation when his presidency is over. For all his cussing and public endorsements of short cuts to eliminating the drug menace, Duterte the lawyer is careful to maintain a degree of deniability in the extrajudicial killings attributed to his drug war.

Thaksin’s merciless war did not eliminate the drug problem in his country, but this has never deterred strongmen from adopting an iron hand approach in dealing with the menace.

Civil libertarians should worry that Duterte is actually inspiring other world leaders to take a harder approach to the drug problem and criminality without fear of losing popular support.

Even the leader of the free world seems impressed, ignoring a flood of critical reporting and unflattering commentary on Duterte by the western media. But then that’s Donald Trump, no fan of mass media, Latino narcos and other troublemakers. Trump likes Du30 so much he called and invited the Philippine President to the White House.

*      *      *

Looking on the bright side, that was a seamless summit hosting in Metro Manila, so Duterte is also a winner. Even if he dropped the ball on the South China Sea and is selling out the nation to Beijing, the President was on his best behavior with state guests and proved to be a gracious host. It shouldn’t be too hard for him to grow into a statesman, although he might think, where’s the fun in that?

There was horrid traffic on the eve of the start of the ASEAN summit. But generally, implementing a “stop-and-go” traffic scheme for VIPs instead of blocking off road lanes or entire boulevards for the duration of the event caused minimal disruption. The scheme should henceforth serve as a model for future international hostings in Metro Manila.

Rerouting especially of trucks combined with staggered holidays (from Thursday for government workers, and from Friday for the private sector) also helped. It seemed like the Holy Week break in Metro Manila as people took advantage of the long weekend and went to the provinces.

With the break extended until today for Labor Day, Metro Manila remained relatively empty until yesterday as ASEAN delegates left. One of our editors was pleasantly surprised to have his early morning Air Asia flight from Cebu arrive at the NAIA domestic terminal an unprecedented 20 minutes early.

I didn’t hear of street people being rounded up and hidden from foreign visitors’ sight; people still slept along the Baywalk seawall and Roxas Boulevard bushes every night during the ASEAN gathering. It’s a developing country and it’s silly to try to hide extreme poverty in our midst.

Outside Metro Manila, there were no Abu Sayyaf terrorist bombings or kidnapping of foreigners. But Du30s communist friends in the New People’s Army killed a cop in a raid on a police station in Maddela town in Quirino and, worse, attacked Lapanday facilities in his home city of Davao on the day of the summit. Really, Du30 should see when he’s being jerked around by his so-called friends.

These include those who give him crumbs to back his drug war while grabbing Philippine territory. At the ASEAN summit, Duterte handed them a resounding victory.

Image may contain: one or more people, sky, ocean, cloud, outdoor, water and nature
A fisherman at the General Santos Fish Port carries a yellowfin tuna caught in the South China Sea. Fishermen say the fish they catch now are smaller than before.  Credit Adam Dean, National Geographic


FILE — In this Dec. 24, 2015, photo, provided by Filipino fisherman Renato Etac, a Chinese Coast Guard boat approaches Filipino fishermen near Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Scarborough Shoal has always been part of the Philippines, by international law. China says it is happy to control fishing in the South China Sea. Credit: Renato Etac

No automatic alt text available.

On July 12, 2016 a ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague said China’s nine-dash line claim (shown above) was invalid and not recognized in international law.

Despite all this:

Indonesia: After the voters turn out the ethnic Chinese governor of Jakarta — Is Joko Widodo next?

April 23, 2017

Victory in Jakarta gives the president’s rivals a new lease of life, but they need to drain some of the poison they have injected into politics


23 APR 2017

With its colonial architecture and neat parks, Jakarta’s Menteng district has long been the leafy redoubt of the country’s powerful.

But on Wednesday last week, power shifted slightly, to one modest bungalow on a cul-de-sac two blocks from the governor’s residence. This was the personal political headquarters of failed presidential candidate Subianto Prabowo, and where the incoming governor of Jakarta, Anies Baswedan, a close ally, accepted his own stunning election victory.

“Our journey is still long,” Baswedan told the ecstatic crowd that had gathered in the front courtyard.

“We will bring justice.”

Chairman of Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) Party Prabowo Subianto. Photo: EPA

Justice how and for whom may be unclear, but one possible recipient, at least in his own mind, may be Prabowo. He was vanquished in 2014’s presidential election by the upstart former governor of Jakarta, Joko Widodo. Baswedan’s win is being read as the first step on his political comeback to challenge Widodo in 2019.

And while there is no guarantee the public will countenance such a race, no other challenger seems in the offing. One way or another, Baswedan’s victory means Prabowo’s star is back in the ascendant.

What’s driving anti-Ahok Muslims to Jakarta’s polls?

This rehabilitation is helped in part because of whom Baswedan beat: Basuki Tjahaha Purnama, a close ally of Widodo’s, known colloquially as “Ahok”.

“This result will give a boost to Prabowo and the opposition to challenge Widodo’s authority,” said Philips Vermonte, a researcher at Jakarta think tank the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

As a former son-in-law of dictator Suharto, as well as being a three-star general and a member of Javanese aristocracy, Prabowo had the connections, the name and the resources to launch his bid for the presidency back in 2014.

Anies Baswedan (right) hugs his running mate Sandiaga Uno after exit polls in Jakarta. Photo: EPA

For his part Widodo, a former furniture exporter who joked that he had the face of a street food hawker, had one thing that Prabowo didn’t: Jakarta. Governing in Jakarta and in the smallish town of Surakarta, in Central Java, gave Widodo a national profile. In Surakarta he tidied up the streets and introduced health and education for the poor. In Jakarta he kicked off construction of the country’s first MRT and fixed up the ports, and saw to the city’s annual flooding, that would paralyse the capital for days every rainy season.

Will race and religion decide Jakarta’s vote on ethnic Chinese governor?

Basuki, who was Widodo’s deputy when he was elected governor in 2012, moved into the governor’s mansion in 2014 after his former boss was elected president. Had he won last week, he would have been the first ethnic Chinese elected to public office in Indonesia.

It was not to be. Instead, Baswedan’s victory brings those infrastructure achievements into Prabowo’s orbit just as the construction wraps up. In Jakarta, where average traffic speeds are a few kilometers an hour at peak times, the MRT will begin taking passengers just weeks before Indonesians head to the polls in 2019.

Anies Baswedan, Jakarta’s governor-elect. Photo: EPA

“These are lighthouse projects that shine out to the rest of the country,” Vermonte said.

“They will boost Prabowo’s profile.”

Before that can happen, Baswedan and his running mate, Sandiaga Uno, will need to work fast to drain some of the poison they helped to inject into local politics.

During the campaign, Baswedan, previously seen as a moderate, seized on claims by hardliners that Basuki, a Christian, insulted the Koran. During a campaign stop on the string of islands off Jakarta’s coast in September, Basuki joked with locals that Islamic conservatives were lying when they claimed that Muslims were forbidden from voting for non-believers. To many it was an innocuous quip. But hardliners insisted Basuki meant the Koran lied.

The plight of Chinese Indonesians: distrusted in Jakarta, forgotten in China

Basuki had been riding high in the polls. But when Baswedan appeared at mosques and other rallies to make the case that a non-Muslim had offended the faith, his fortunes waned and never recovered. Police charged Basuki with blasphemy days after an estimated 500,000 took to the streets of Jakarta in December demanding his arrest.

Baswedan’s win fanned media coverage that Indonesia’s reputation for religious tolerance was under threat.

Supporters of Anies Baswedan react as he leads the count in Jakarta. Photo: Reuters

Douglas Ramage, managing director for Indonesia for business risk firm Bower Group Asia, said the spectre of Islamic conservatives taking control of Indonesia’s most important city may undermine the investment case for Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.

“The immediate impact of the election is the harm this does to Indonesia’s brand relative to its neighbours when newspapers are claiming Islamic extremists are making advances here.”

Ramage and others say it is far from clear whether Baswedan and Uno will follow through on some of the extreme demands of their conservative backers. Fluent English speakers and regulars at international conferences, Baswedan and Uno seem an unlikely pair to ban alcohol and force the capital’s Muslim women to wear headscarves, or hijab. The pair were reliable sources for foreign media before they entered politics.

As Jakarta governor faces trial for insulting Islam, is Indonesia about to unravel?

“Sandi Uno declaring Sharia law? Come on! He’s about as urbane as you get,” said Shinta Kamdani, chief executive of property and energy conglomerate Shintesa Group.

Even so, Kamdani, an ethnic Chinese Indonesian, is not blind to the campaign’s religious and racial overtones. Accounting for just 2 per cent of the population, ethnic Chinese are among the country’s richest, controlling an outsized share of its wealth. Kamdani says her company wants proof the next administration won’t play to racial and religious sentiment in office.

“This potential for segregation worries us going forward,” Kamdani said. “We want to see what they do on the gap between rich and poor, and not play on the differences between religious and ethnic groups.”

Basuki ‘Ahok’ Tjahaja Purnama. Photo: EPA

For his part, Baswedan has promised to respect the capital’s diversity, calling his vanquished foe a “son of the nation”. Full election results are not expected before May, but random sampling of results already in suggest Baswedan and Uno won nearly 60 per cent of the vote.

The incoming administration will have some time to consider its next move. It won’t take office until October. Analysts expect that once they do, many of the reforms of the Widodo-Basuki years, such as shifting the city’s budgeting and purchasing online for public scrutiny, will live on because they are popular.

But for Widodo, also known as “Jokowi”, the outlook is less sanguine. He may find his room to manoeuvre narrows, Vermonte said. He has two years left. But effectively he may only have one. That’s a narrow window to boost economic growth to 7 per cent a year, as promised, from the 5 per cent now.

Gerindra, Prabowo’s political vehicle, which has the third-most seats in parliament, will want to stymie reforms and spending on initiatives that favour the incumbent, Vermonte said, adding: “Jokowi is running out of time.”

Pence praises moderate Islam in Indonesia in bid to heal divisions

April 20, 2017


© POOL/AFP | US Vice President Mike Pence (L) listens to Indonesian President Joko Widodo during their meeting at Merdeka Palace in Jakarta

JAKARTA (AFP) – US Vice President Mike Pence Thursday praised Indonesia’s moderate form of Islam as “an inspiration” at the start of a visit to the Muslim-majority country seen as a bid by his administration to heal divisions with the Islamic world.

It came ahead of a visit by Pence to the largest mosque in Indonesia, which has the world’s biggest Muslim population, where he will hold a multi-faith dialogue.

His visit represents the most high-profile outreach to Muslims by the Donald Trump administration since the brash billionaire came to office and echoes a similar trip by Barack and Michelle Obama in 2010.

Since becoming president almost 100 days ago, Trump has hosted leaders from majority-Muslim Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

But his administration has also tried to ban travellers from several Muslim-majority nations, citing concerns about terrorism — an effort currently being challenged in US courts.

As a presidential candidate, Trump often appeared to flirt with the far right as he railed against “radical Islamic terrorism”.

Pence arrived at the presidential palace in Jakarta for talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo to a colourful official welcome by hundreds of schoolchildren in regional dress.

Indonesia, where most practice a moderate form of Islam, has long been held up as an example of a successful Muslim democracy where followers of the faith live largely peacefully alongside religious minorities.

After talks with Widodo, Pence said: “Indonesia’s tradition of moderate Islam is frankly an inspiration to the world and we commend you and your people.

“In your nation as in mine, religion unifies, it doesn?t divide.”

– Tolerant Islam under threat –

But his optimistic words came as Indonesia’s traditionally inclusive Islam is under threat from the rising influence of hardliners and an increasing trend towards more conservative forms of the faith.

On Wednesday Jakarta’s Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama was defeated in a run-off election to lead the capital by a Muslim challenger who was accused of pandering to hardliners to win votes.

Purnama, known by his nickname Ahok, lost after his once-unassailable lead in opinion polls was dented by allegations he committed blasphemy, claims that sparked mass protests led by radical groups but were seen by his supporters as unfair and politically motivated.

Pence is currently on a tour of South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and Australia that is aimed at smoothing some of the rougher edges of Trump’s rhetoric.

In South Korea and Japan, Pence played down protectionist declarations of “America first” and reaffirmed US treaty commitments to the security of the two countries as tensions rise over Pyongyang’s nuclear programme.

Pence’s Muslim outreach in Indonesia has been welcomed locally, with Maruf Amin, the head of the Indonesian Ulema Council, the country’s top Muslim clerical body, saying he hopes that it “indicates a change in attitude” towards Islam.

But it is unlikely to be enough to assuage fears that the Trump administration is anti-Islam.

“President Trump’s hostile pronouncements on Islam and Muslims have done considerable damage to his reputation in the Islamic world. It would take more than a visit to repair the damage,” said Fawaz Gerges, an expert on the Middle East and Islam from the London School of Economics.

After his talks with Widodo, Pence also said that the US was committed to building a stronger defence partnership with Indonesia to combat the threat of terrorism.

Indonesia has long struggled with Islamic militancy, and in January last year suffered a suicide and gun attack claimed by the Islamic State group that left four assailants and four civilians dead.

He also pledged to uphold the “fundamental freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea. Indonesian and Chinese vessels have clashed repeatedly in recent times in waters near Indonesia’s Natuna Islands, on the fringes of the disputed waters.

Widodo, who wants more foreign investment as he seeks to boost Southeast Asia’s top economy, said the leaders had focused on “the US commitment to enhance the strategic partnership with Indonesia, focusing on cooperation and investment”.

Election in Indonesian capital heads for run-off after tense campaign

February 15, 2017


Wed Feb 15, 2017 | 6:28am EST

By Fergus Jensen and Eveline Danubrata | JAKARTA

The race to become governor of Indonesia’s capital was heading for a second round between the incumbent Christian and a Muslim former education minister after neither appeared to win a majority in a Wednesday election.

The Jakarta poll has been overshadowed by religious tensions, with Islamist-led protests against Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian, and calls for voters to choose a Muslim leader for the city.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, camera

Analysts say divisions could linger and even deepen as the vote, which is also being widely seen as a proxy battle for the next presidential election, in 2019, appeared to be heading for a second round, according to unofficial sample vote counts.

Purnama is backed by President Joko Widodo’s ruling party.

His main rival, former education minister Anies Baswedan, is backed by a retired general, Prabowo Subianto, who is promising a comeback to the national stage after losing to Widodo in the 2014 presidential vote.

“There would be tension that will be stored until 2019, because of course all this is not really against Purnama, it’s against Widodo. Prabowo is coming in now,” said Wimar Witoelar, a Jakarta-based political analyst.

Purnama had secured 43.08 percent of the votes, just ahead of Baswedan on 40.14 percent, based on a quick sample count of about 95 percent of the vote by private polling firm SMRC.

The other candidate, Agus Yudhoyono, the son of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was in third place with 16.78 percent. Other pollsters showed similar results.

A candidate needs to get more than 50 percent of the votes in the first round to win outright.

The earliest a second round will be held is April.

Governor of Indonesia’s capital Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (L) shows his ballot as he stands beside his wife Veronica Tan during an election for Jakarta’s governor in Jakarta, Indonesia, February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Beawiharta

The General Elections Commission is expected to announce official results in around two weeks.


Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population but is officially secular and home to minority Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and other communities.

Overshadowing the campaign has been Purnama’s trial for allegedly insulting the Koran in connection with remarks he made about how people vote.

He denies the charge.

The trial, which began in December, seemed to dent his support initially but more recently he has rebounded in opinion polls, helped by middle class approval of his efforts to improve the bureaucracy and tackle traffic jams and flooding.

Baswedan, who was dropped from Widodo’s cabinet after a reshuffle in mid-2016, has largely stayed out of the headlines as the other two candidates – Purnama and Yudhoyono – fought a bitter campaign.

But Baswedan’s strategy of targeting the Islamic vote, at a time when conservative Muslim groups were urging voters to shun a non-Muslim leader, gave him a late boost, analysts say.

“The votes may have shifted from Yudhoyono to Baswedan,” said Irine Gayatri, a political analyst at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.

Ethnicity and religion would likely again be major issues in a second round, Gayatri said.

The president said he hoped for an easing of tension.

“We hope that everybody can return as a family after these elections,” Widodo said after casting his vote.

Purnama, dressed in his signature checkered shirt, met cheering supporters at his campaign headquarters.

“The struggle is not over,” he told them. “Everyone wants just one round but we’re grateful to have come at least this far.”

Baswedan said his campaign for a second round would focus on policies.

“We will focus on programs, about jobs, about quality education, needs that are important and urgent for families and people in Jakarta,” he told reporters.

The votes in Jakarta and scores of other regions in the world’s third-largest democracy were peaceful and mostly running without hitches, police said.

(Additional reporting by Jakarta bureau.; Writing by Ed Davies and Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)


Governor of Indonesia’s capital Basuki Tjahaja Purnama talks to reporters after casting his ballot during an election for Jakarta’s governor in Jakarta, Indonesia, February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Beawiharta

Indonesia: Religious tensions in Jakarta poll race

February 12, 2017

Image may contain: 6 people, people sitting

Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, candidate for Jakarta governor and son of former Indonesia president Susilo Bambang. Reuters photo

Financial Times (FT)

FEBRUARY 11, 2017

By Ben Bland in Jakarta

Indonesian army major Agus Yudhoyono was training with his men in Australia last September when he got the call he says he had long been groomed.


It was his father, former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, phoning to say it was time to quit the army, enter politics and lead their dynasty forward.

Propelled by his father’s support, the 38-year-old political novice and Harvard graduate is the frontrunner in Wednesday’s election for Jakarta governor, one of Indonesia’s most powerful political offices. With a budget bigger than those of many ministries and carrying wide powers, the job is seen as a potential stepping stone to the presidency of Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.

“I was shocked because I never thought I’d leave the army so soon,” Mr Yudhoyono tells the Financial Times as he sips coffee after a morning campaigning in the capital of the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation. “But I’m grateful to have a mentor like my father.”

Mr Yudhoyono has been helped to the top of the polls by his father’s skill in exploiting the woes of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the incumbent governor. A member of Indonesia’s minority ethnic Chinese community and a Christian, Mr Purnama is on trial for insulting Islam.

The former president, who led the country from 2004 to 2014, was at the forefront of calls for Mr Purnama to be prosecuted after the governor suggested in a speech in September that voters were being deceived by hardliners, who had cited a Koranic verse as evidence that they should not vote for a non-Muslim. Mr Purnama, seen as short-tempered but hard-working, had been the overwhelming favourite to win re-election. But his popularity, already eroded by his ruthless evictions of slum-dwellers in a drive to overhaul the dilapidated capital, has sunk since he was charged with blasphemy in November

Related article Indonesia: A nation’s tolerance on trial Religious and ethnic tensions on the rise as Jakarta governor fights blasphemy charge Mr Yudhoyono, who is backed by a coalition between several Islamic parties and his father’s Democrat party, and Anies Baswedan, an Islamic intellectual and rival election candidate, believe they have a good chance of ousting Mr Purnama.

The election is about much more than winning a mandate to clean up fetid canals and manage crippling traffic congestion in this chaotic city of 10m people, where luxury apartments nestle alongside sprawling slums.

The previous incumbent was Joko Widodo, who was elected president in 2014 after just two years in the job. Mr Yudhoyono’s supporters hope he can emulate Mr Widodo’s rapid rise, using the Jakarta governorship as a springboard to challenge the president in the 2019 presidential election. Similarly, Prabowo Subianto, Mr Widodo’s rival in the 2014 presidential race and Mr Baswedan’s main backer, believes a victory for his man will boost his own chances in 2019.

Image may contain: 1 person, suit

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo delivers a speech in front of parliament. Barcroft Images

Mr Baswedan has turned sharply against Mr Widodo since the president sacked him as education minister in July. He has attacked the president’s nuts and bolts approach of pursuing economic development project-by-project rather than by presenting a grand vision, and his “work, work, work” slogan.

“In the last few years, we don’t appreciate the importance of ideas and words, only action,” he says. The blend of racial and religious divisions, a controversial trial and the involvement of political heavyweights has made for a heated campaign — and one which has boosted once-marginal radical Islamist groups.

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, people walking and outdoor

Thousands of people clash with anti-riot police during a rally demanding Jakarta’s Christian governor resign. Photograph by Jefta Images – Barcroft Images

Islamists drew hundreds of thousands to two rallies against Mr Purnama in Jakarta at the end of last year, and Muhammad Rizieq Shihab, spiritual leader of the Islam Defenders Front, a small hardline group with a violent history, has gone from being a fringe figure to dominating the headlines.

“Jakarta has become so polarised because those behind Mr Purnama have been painted as anti-Islam,” says Charlotte Setijadi, research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. “It’s not just about religion and ethnicity, this is part of greater political power play. But it’s a dangerous precedent for the future of pluralism in Indonesia.”

If no candidate gets more than 50 per cent of the vote on Wednesday, an outcome most pollsters think highly likely in a three-horse race, the top two candidates will face a run-off in April. Mr Purnama’s prospects look weak. Even if he makes it through to the second round, analysts such as Ms Setijadi believe that Muslim voters will unite behind his opponent. In the unlikely event that he wins, Mr Purnama could face a prison sentence of up to five years if found guilty of blasphemy.

Mr Yudhoyono denies that he and his father have stirred the pot of religious hatred, insisting that Mr Purnama is to blame for upsetting voters because of his comments about the Koran and the slum evictions. The former military officer, who served in Indonesia’s Aceh province in 2002 during the long-running civil war and has a masters degree from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, is pitching himself as a soldier-scholar with the empathy for ordinary people that the abrasive Mr Purnama lacks.

“Evictions will increase poverty, frustration and trauma,” he says. “I’m here to defend people’s rights, especially marginalised people. They want a figure with the human touch.”


Leaders of Indionesia, Japan Forge Plans For Rail Lines, Port Development, Infrastructure and Energy Projects

January 15, 2017


Indonesian President Joko Widodo (L) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe inspect the honour guards during a welcoming ceremony at the Bogor Palace, West Java, Indonesia January 15, 2017. REUTERS/Beawiharta
By Heru Asprihanto and Eveline Danubrata | BOGOR, INDONESIA

Indonesia and Japan have agreed to step up maritime security and start discussions on a major railway project to link the Southeast Asian nation’s capital and second-biggest city, the leaders of both countries said on Sunday.

Japan has historically been one of Indonesia’s biggest investors, but was dealt a blow in 2015 when President Joko Widodo’s government awarded China a high-speed train project linking Jakarta with the city of Bandung in West Java.

Tensions around railway deals seemed to have eased on Sunday, when Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said after meeting Widodo in Bogor, south of Jakarta, that Japan will cooperate with Indonesia to build infrastructure in the railway and other sectors.

The two leaders also discussed North Korea, with Abe saying its development of nuclear capability and missiles has reached “a new level of threat”.

North Korea said last week it can test launch an intercontinental ballistic missile at any time from any location set by leader Kim Jong Un, adding the United States’ hostile policy was to blame for its arms development.

On South China Sea, Abe said that Japan asserts the importance of the principle of upholding the law and solving a dispute peacefully.

“The issue of South China Sea has drawn the attention of the international community and directly affects the peace in the region,” Abe said.

Maritime security cooperation is of utmost importance for fellow maritime nations, Japan and Indonesia, he said.

“Japan will actively encourage cooperation in maritime security and the development of the remote islands in Indonesia.”

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion worth of trade passes each year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the sea.


While Indonesia is not part of the dispute over claims in the South China Sea, it objects to China’s claim to waters around the Natuna Islands.


At an estimated cost of $5.5 billion, the Jakarta-Bandung line was seen in 2015 as a coup for China, which is vying for influence in the region under its “One Belt, One Road” policy and has ambitions to be a global train supplier.

The roughly 600-km (400-mile) Jakarta-Surabaya project is likely to cost less than the Jakarta-Bandung rail as the speed of the trains is slower and most of the land has been secured, according to Indonesia’s transport minister.

The minister told Reuters in October that the government had invited Japan to work on the Jakarta-Surabaya project, which is aimed at slashing journey times between the capital and the East Java city by more than half to around five hours.

Japan and Indonesia also plan to develop the Masela gas block in Indonesia’s Maluku Province and Patimban port in West Java, Widodo said on Sunday.

On other regional issues, Abe said North Korea’s kidnapping of Japanese citizens is a very important challenge for his administration to resolve.

Pyongyang admitted in 2002 to kidnapping 13 Japanese citizens decades ago. Abe has made resolving the emotive issue a signature pledge of his political career.

(Reporting by Jakarta newsroom and Heru Asprihanto; Additional reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Writing by Eveline Danubrata; Editing by Clelia Oziel)