Jokowi’s visit shows the Australia-Indonesia relationship is strong, but faultlines remain



AAP/Rick Rycroft

Colin Brown, Griffith University

Indonesian President Joko Widodo – Jokowi – has shown himself to be generally less interested in international affairs than his predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY). He has also been less committed to the Indonesia-Australia relationship.

Nonetheless, Australia’s invitation to Jokowi to address the parliament, and his acceptance of that invitation, suggests the bilateral relationship is strong, at least at the governmental level.

Both Morrison and Jokowi referred in their parliamentary addresses to the fact this year marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Australia and Indonesia. Morrison reflected backwards, noting Australia had been an early supporter of Indonesian independence, and had been chosen by Indonesia to represent its interests on a UN committee involved with the Indonesia-Dutch dispute then underway.

Jokowi chose to look forward, to 2050 and the 100th anniversary of the start of diplomatic relations. He identified four major steps he suggested the two countries should take together to strengthen their bilateral relationship, and to contribute to regional peace and security.

Two of these steps were fairly predictable recitations of established policy.

The first was cooperation in furthering democracy, respect for human rights, counter-terrorism and anti-radicalisation strategies. He spoke against identity politics, disputing the idea it was cultural clashes that divided the world. Implementation of these principles remains fraught with difficulties, but the parameters of the problems are well-known in Jakarta and Canberra.

Second, Jokowi argued for free and fair trade, both bilaterally and regionally, in the face of increasing protectionism. Here he welcomed the conclusion of the Indonesia Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, which he described as opening opportunities for economic growth in both countries.




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But there were two other steps Jokowi wanted the two countries to take, which were perhaps different from what might have been expected.

First, he called for collaboration on protection of the environment. Some of his remarks were predictable, such as protection of forests and rivers. But he also argued for collaboration on lowering carbon emissions and handling climate change.

Jokowi did not explain what he had in mind with joint action to lower carbon emissions, or managing climate change. Indonesia is a major exporter of coal, and annual forest fires have substantially reduced forest cover. Its political and business leaders are even more divided than those in Australia on climate-related issues and how to deal with them.

What Australia and Indonesia seem to share, it might cynically be suggested, is internal disagreement over the nature of the problem being faced, and steps that might be taken to address it.

Second, Jokowi called for Australia and Indonesia to be “anchors for development programs” in the Pacific region.

Like Australia, Indonesia has recently been paying increased attention to the nations of the South Pacific. Last October, it established the Indonesian Agency for International Development, with a focus on the South Pacific. Speaking at the launch of the agency, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi noted assistance had already been provided to Tuvalu, Nauru, Solomon Islands, Kiribati and Fiji, as well as Myanmar and the Philippines.

Australia’s renewed interest in the South Pacific is linked to the increased Chinese presence in the region. But Indonesia’s concern is less with China than with the status of its easternmost provinces of West Papua and Papua. The movement seeking the independence of this region from Indonesia has its greatest support in the south Pacific, particularly in Vanuatu, though support has also come from Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands.




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Indonesia has formally denied the establishment of the agency was aimed at countering international criticism of Indonesia’s position in Papua. But the suspicion there is a link will be hard to shake off.

Australia’s formal position on the Papuan provinces is made clear in the 2006 Lombok Treaty, which committed each party to supporting the territorial integrity of the other, and not providing support to separatist movements. There is, though, considerable support for Papuan separatism in the Australian community, reflected in the parliament particularly by the Greens. The Greens’ new leader, Adam Bandt, is reported to have told Jokowi, after his address:

Thank you for your speech, thanks for your comments on climate change, now please get something done on West Papua.

There is nothing new in the dilemma facing the Australian government on Papua, but the increased Indonesian focus on the Pacific region could well provide more opportunities for the two countries to differ than to work together effectively.

Finally, Jokowi’s speech was notable for what he did not say.

There was no mention of China’s increasingly activist foreign and defence policy position, especially in the South China Sea. However, given the issue was explicitly considered in the joint statement of the two leaders, the president may have deemed that sufficient.

The other significant omission was any mention of easing conditions for the issuing of visas to Indonesians to visit Australia. This had been widely discussed in Indonesia before the president left for Australia. Scott Morrison did commit to reviewing the visa situation, but Jokowi would be well advised not to hold his breath.The Conversation

Colin Brown, Adjunct Professor, Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Jakarta riots reveal Indonesia’s deep divisions on religion and politics


Tim Lindsey, University of Melbourne

The violent riots that shook Jakarta last week led to at least six deaths, over 700 injured and more than 200 arrests. Demonstrations and rallies are common in Indonesia, but street violence like this had not been seen since the fall of Soeharto in 1998.

Protests began peacefully in front of the Elections Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu) on May 20, after the General Elections Commission (KPU) made the surprise decision to release its official count at 3am that morning.

By 9pm on Tuesday, rioters supporting the defeated presidential candidate, former general Prabowo Subianto, (including some apparently linked to Islamic State) were burning cars and buildings, and using rocks, petrol bombs and fireworks to attack police.

Security forces responded with tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets. They claim not to have used real bullets, although families of at least two victims claim they died of bullet wounds and the National Police Hospital says autopsies show four died this way.




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The violence was repeated the next night and spread beyond Jakarta, with incidents in East Java and Potianak (Kalimantan) as well. The government called in the army to help control the situation. Obviously deeply concerned, it took the extraordinary step of slowing down the internet to obstruct the sharing of provocative material across social media sites. Two nights later, the government seemed to have the situation under control.

On Friday, Prabowo’s campaign lodged protests against the election results with the Constitutional Court. They argue that the convincing 10%-plus margin of victory of his rival, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, was fraudulently obtained. To date, they have not been able to produce convincing evidence to back this up.

If, as likely, the court rejects the petition to annul Jokowi’s win, that may well spark another round of rioting. This is particularly so because Prabowo’s camp has been saying for weeks that the court is biased in favour of the government.

But even if the rioting starts up again, it is very unlikely to topple Jokowi, given the government, police and army seem to have closed ranks behind him.

Many members of the elite do not particularly like Jokowi, a provincial politician who made a spectacular leap to the presidency five years ago and remains somewhat of an outsider. But he has the huge advantage of incumbency. Leaders of the bureaucracy and security forces owe their positions, wealth and power to his administration. They fear being replaced in the purge of senior positions that would follow if Prabowo somehow took over.

Many members of Indonesia’s elite do not particularly like President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo, but he has the huge advantage of incumbency.
Mast Irham/EPA/AAP

Even though Prabowo’s fourth bid to become president seems doomed and Jokowi is doubtless confident of being sworn in on October 20, that does not mean Jokowi’s second and final five-year term will be smooth sailing. The riots seem to have fizzled out, but they are the product of tensions over the place of Islam in Indonesian life and what is now a deep cleavage in Indonesian politics.

How the fall of Ahok started it all

To explain how this has happened, we need to go back to 2017 and the major crisis of Jokowi’s first term: the prosecution and conviction for blasphemy of then Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (known as Ahok, or BTP, as he now prefers).

Ahok had been the deputy governor under Jokowi and stepped up when Jokowi resigned to run for the presidency. An ethnic Chinese Christian governor was seen as unacceptable to hardline Islamists. They used comments about the Qur’an made by Ahok while campaigning for re-election to launch a massive and bitter populist campaign against him. Hundreds of thousands took part in rallies that targeted Ahok and, eventually, his former friend and close colleague, Jokowi, at one stage even marching on the palace.

After Ahok’s fall, some of the Muslim organisations that had formed the so-called “212 movement” to tear him down began aggressively targeting Jokowi. In response, Jokowi has taken tough measures against them, including giving himself new powers to ban civil society groups. He also backed criminal charges against figures he saw as leading public criticism of his government.

As a result, the disgruntled Islamist conservatives who loathe Jokowi lined up behind Prabowo, the only alternative candidate.

This split meant that many members of the world’s largest Muslim organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), which is generally more tolerant of religious difference, sided with Jokowi, particularly after he chose NU leader Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate.




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The world’s second-largest Muslim organisation, Muhammadiyah, traditionally NU’s rival, was officially neutral. But many of its members clearly sided with Prabowo. So did other, more conservative, Muslim organisations, such as the Islamist PKS party, and more extreme groups like the thuggish Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) – and, of course, the 212 alumni.

The result was a vicious social media campaign, full of trolling, hoaxes and conspiracy theories, fake news and online vilification. Rumours that Jokowi is a closet Christian from a communist family were circulated once again.

The election thus polarised Indonesia, reviving old divisions in an atmosphere of renewed anxiety about ethnic and religious identity. Jokowi prevailed in Javanese communities linked to NU and in areas where non-Muslims are a majority or a large minority, like Papua, Bali, East Nusa Tenggara and North Sulawesi.

On the other hand, majority Muslim outer islands often associated with Muhammadiyah largely fell to Prabowo, such as West Sumatra. Likewise, Prabowo took back South Sulawesi, Southeast Sulawesi, Bengkulu and Jambi from Jokowi, who won them in 2014.

West Java tells the story. Although part of Java, it has never been a NU stronghold but is seen as historically a centre for Islamist conservatism. It went for Prabowo. Jakarta, urban and more urbane, but on the cusp of West Java, was split.

Divisions show no sign of healing

Prabowo’s defeat does not spell the end of his supporters’ aspirations for a less tolerant Indonesia that privileges their brand of Islam. The election’s geopolitical polarisation is likely to be a continuing source of problems for Jokowi in the years ahead.

With NU in the vice-presidential office and very likely to continue its stranglehold on the Ministry of Religious Affairs, resentment from Muhammadiyah, PKS and others will be maintained. It will play out in conflicts in the legislature and in and around government.

The tough measures Jokowi’s administration – obviously worried – deployed in recent weeks to try to head off the riots has only exacerbated the situation. Former general Wiranto, now coordinating minister for politics, law and security, ominously formed a team to investigate “unconstitutional behavior”.

Twenty or so people linked to Prabowo, including two former generals, have been arrested on charges including treason and weapons smuggling. At one stage a warrant was issued to bring Prabowo himself in for questioning (although this was quickly rescinded).

These measures reflect a wider trend towards so-called “soft authoritarianism” in Jokowi’s administration, which has concerned many Indonesian and foreign observers. It also feeds the narrative promoted by his Islamist opponents of a president willing to use the full force of the state to marginalise them, and that simply entrenches the battlelines.

Jokowi is a pragmatic politician who values stability and cohesion above most other things. Once the riots die down, Jokowi’s instinct will be to “buy in” the Muslim right and Prabowo’s core supporters. He may do this by offering them positions in the incoming administration or access to resources.

If that doesn’t work, we can expect more trouble ahead.The Conversation

Tim Lindsey, Malcolm Smith Professor of Asian Law and Director of the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Joko Widodo looks set to win the Indonesia election. Now, the real power struggle begins



File 20190418 139088 1xer4y0.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Joko Widowo (centre, left) and his running mate, Ma’ruf Amin celebrate with supporters after the ‘quick count’ results showed him the likely winner of the presidential election.
Mast Irham/EPA

Tim Lindsey, University of Melbourne

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo (known as “Jokowi”) looks poised to win another five years in office by a convincing margin.

Official results from Wednesday’s election won’t be released by Indonesia’s General Elections Commission (KPU) until 22 May, but the usually reliable “quick count” results produced by six private polling groups suggest Jokowi may have won by as much as 10% of the vote (54% to 45%). This is hardly a surprise, as polling in the months leading up the vote never had his lead lower than double digits.

This is the second election defeat for former general Prabowo Subianto, who also ran against Jokowi in the last presidential race in 2014. It is also likely the end of Prabowo’s aspirations to follow his former father-in-law, Soeharto, the authoritarian ruler of Indonesia for three decades, to the Presidential Palace. But that doesn’t mean Prabowo will go quietly.




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For weeks, he has claimed the elections were rigged, alleging widespread fraud. He has called on his supporters to take action if he loses, saying they should be prepared to “come out onto the streets” for a month if necessary.

It is certainly true that there have been problems with this election, but that was always going to be the case.

When the Constitutional Court ruled that Indonesia’s presidential election had to be held simultaneously with local, provincial and national legislative elections this year, it imposed a huge burden on the hardworking KPU. On Wednesday, 193 million eligible voters were asked to choose from over 300,000 candidates from 16 parties for 20,528 seats across 34 provinces and more than 17,000 islands.

Under these circumstances, it would have been surprising if there were no irregularities. Among the allegations being levied by Prabowo’s campaign have been manipulation of the electoral rolls, millions of “ghost voters”, ballot box stuffing and widespread attempts to buy votes with cash and gift handouts.

As in previous elections, many of these allegations will end up in the Constitutional Court. This is where Prabowo is expected to file a challenge to reverse the result of the presidential ballot, just as he did, without success, in 2014. The nine judges on the court will probably be overwhelmed by hundreds of cases, and the chief justice has warned they will not be decided until early August at best, with legislative disputes given priority over the presidential ballot.

But it is unlikely the court will end up sending Prabowo to the palace. The margin of victory looks too big to be overcome by challenging voting irregularities.

So why bother sending his supporters into the streets? The answer probably has lot to do with the real struggle for power that begins today.

Jockeying for positions in the new administration

Indonesia has a political system that loosely resembles America’s, in that the president appoints his cabinet from outside the legislature. But in Indonesia, the ministries have traditionally been treated as cash cows to be milked.

Jokowi, who has proved utterly pragmatic as a politician, will have no choice but to spend the next few months negotiating the allocation of ministries with the powerful oligarchs who wield great power and influence in Indonesia’s corrupt political system. These include hugely wealthy businessmen, some of whom “own” their own political parties, or control major media groups – or both. They will want to recoup their investments in the election campaigning, plus profits.

These negotiations will be complicated by the fact that, once again, no party looks likely to win an outright majority in the legislature. A governing coalition will somehow have to be pieced together, with political threats neutralised by offers of positions of power in the legislature or administration. A lot of minor parties have failed to meet the new higher threshold for seats in the legislature, so how all this will play out is unpredictable.




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But Jokowi will likely end up brokering a broad legislative alliance. Just as in his last administration, and former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s administration before that, the Cabinet will probably be largely filled by proxies of oligarchs and powerful politicians. There will likely only be a few lonely technocrats to bear the burden of policy making.

Prabowo and his party, Gerindra, know the haggling has already begun, but they are in a difficult position. According to the “quick count” results, Prabowo looks certain to lose again, and although Gerindra is poised to come in second in the national legislature, it scored just under 13%, well behind Jokowi’s party, the PDI-P, with 20%.

Prabowo and Gerindra’s campaigns have also drained vast sums from the personal fortunes of Prabowo’s family and his vice-presidential candidate, Sandiaga Uno. Gerindra’s second place finish in the legislature is about the only political capital Prabowo has left – unless, of course, his die-hard supporters are marching in the streets protesting Jokowi’s victory.

This will be easy for Prabowo to arrange among his core supporters of conservative Islamists. The Islamists have strongly backed him largely because he is the only alternative to Jokowi, whom they despise as a major obstacle to their aspirations to push Indonesia in a more conservative Islamic direction. They will be all too eager to protest, giving Prabowo the leverage he wants to try to win places in the new administration for his party, inner circle and proxies.

Whether Prabowo succeeds in winning concessions from Jokowi will be another question, of course. If he does, he will eventually distance himself from the street protesters.

Australia’s limited clout in Indonesia

What does all this mean for Australia-Indonesia relations? In the final analysis, not much.

Jokowi is an inward-looking politician with limited interest in international relations. He has made it clear that it doesn’t see the relationship with Australia as “special” in the way Yudhoyono did; that is not likely to change now.

And Australia has limited clout in Indonesia. Despite our proximity, we have slashed our aid to Indonesia, are a low-ranked trading partner, and invest more in New Zealand, Luxembourg and smaller Southeast Asian nations than we do in Indonesia. We are not an important player in Indonesia’s political and economic decision-making.

Of course, the recently signed Indonesia-Australia free-trade agreement (IA-CEPA) is intended to change that by giving both countries greater access to each other’s markets. But don’t hold your breath. The agreement has yet to be ratified, and for all its rhetoric of deregulation, Indonesia remains heavily protectionist.




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Despite the fact that neither came close to winning a majority in the legislative elections, Jokowi and Prabowo’s parties will be important powers in the new legislature, and both are nationalist and often suspicious of foreign influence. It is by no means certain the free-trade agreement will be quickly ratified. It may well face major amendments or simply be put on hold, like a number of other international agreements inked by past administrations that still await ratification.

Like much else in Indonesia today, the outcome depends heavily on the intra-elite back-room horse-trading and deal-making that will be happening quietly behind closed doors for weeks to come, while court challenges and noisy protesters in the streets get all the attention.The Conversation

Tim Lindsey, Malcolm Smith Professor of Asian Law and Director of the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.