Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte: saviour or madman?

When Rodrigo Duterte warned people, “don’t vote for me because it will be bloody”, he won the Philippine presidency by a landslide with 16.6 million votes. He had tapped into public anger, fear and helplessness against rising crime.

After two months in office, Duterte’s drug war has resulted in 1,900 deaths – 750 of them caused by policemen who said they acted in “self-defence” during “buy and bust” operations. The rest of the dead, murdered by unidentified men, are considered “deaths under investigation”, Police Director General Ronald de la Rosa told a Senate probe this week. Government critics say “DUIs” are extrajudicial or vigilante killings.

These unexplained killings have been laid at Duterte’s doorstep, since he has repeatedly encouraged killings as a way to solve nagging problems. Two years ago, while mayor of Davao City, he told rice smugglers to stop or “I will really kill you, I’m not joking.”

On August 18, he told citizens who were being made to go back and forth by government officials for processing their papers, “shoot them. I’ll take care of you, really”.

Now he seems to be turning the gun on China. A week later, giving his strongest statement yet against the country, which claims nearly all of the South China Sea, he warned that an invasion by China would “be bloody and we will not give it to them easily”.

Before this, he had called China’s Xi Jinping (習近平) “a great president”.

Murder and death are two themes that run through Duterte’s administration.

To employers who continue to practice “contractualisation”, or firing workers after five months to avoid making them permanent staff, Duterte said: “You choose: Stop contractualisation or I will kill you. I am the president.” Duterte’s office means he is immune from any legal suit.

Apparently seeing the shock register on the faces of the audience, Duterte added: “Ah, that’s just hyperbole.”

Taking a cue from the president, his new customs commissioner, ex-marine officer Nicanor Faeldon, told the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry last month what he would do with corrupt customs personnel who were costing the bureau 300 million pesos in taxes daily. “If I cannot touch them legally,” he said, “I will have to start shooting them one by one.”

Duterte was the first local politician to make killings a key campaign platform.

During his campaign sorties, the 71-year-old veteran politician repeatedly promised, to ecstatic standing-room-only crowds, that the fish in Manila Bay would grow fat from feeding on criminal corpses.

Although he told his former law school classmates after getting elected that he didn’t mind retiring with “the reputation of Idi Amin” – who was accused of murdering up to half a million people in Uganda – Duterte bristled when an international human rights group warned his “drug war” could turn into genocide. “Genocide is when you kill people for no reason at all,” he fumed.

He became furious when Agnes Callamard, UN rapporteur on summary executions, criticised last week Duterte’s bounty offer for “dead or alive” drug dealers and his shoot-to-kill order against politicians involved.

“My order is shoot to kill,” Duterte said. “I don’t care about human rights. Believe me. I don’t give a s**t about what they will say.”

Callamard said: “Directives of this nature are irresponsible in the extreme and amount to incitement to violence and killing, a crime under international law.”

Apparently Duterte did care about what the UN thought.

Two days later, during a 3am press conference, he blasted the UN and threatened to pull the country from it and form a new group that might include China. Anyway, he said, the UN was useless. It had not ended wars and “had not done any good for the Philippines”.

Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay had to give an assurance that the pull-out would not happen. Yasay excused the president’s outburst saying: “The president was tired, disappointed, hungry when he made the statement.” Duterte then contradicted Yasay by saying he was just joking.

Duterte reserved his special venom for Senator Leila de Lima who had insisted on conducting a probe into extrajudicial killings this week and who had linked him to “Davao Death Squads” in 2009.

Duterte branded De Lima “immoral” for having an affair with her driver-bodyguard, whom he claimed was her conduit for pay-offs from jailed drug traffickers while she was still secretary of justice. On August 24, Duterte gleefully told reporters that De Lima – a legally separated woman – had found a new lover. Duterte named him even though he said this man was not involved in drug dealing.

De Lima admitted that she and her former driver-bodyguard were once close but strongly denied any drug links.

There is a case for believing the administration has been intent all along on death as a policy. The government has made no provision for accommodating the flood of drug addicts who, terrified by Duterte’s threats, have turned themselves in. Some sources say as many as half a million have already surrendered. Rather than be put in rehabilitation centres the addicts who surrendered were ordered to go back home, after their names and addresses were noted.

Duterte, his aides and supporters look at the growing body count and don’t see a massacre. They see progress. DUIs are simply collateral damage in the attainment of a good thing, which is to eradicate crime, give every Filipino a comfortable and safe life and bring economic progress to the nation.

This week, as a Senate probe on “extrajudicial killings” got underway and the police finally gave official statistics on the kill rate, Duterte said: “We are 104 million [population], you [care] about – how many? – 1,600 being killed. You’re not even sure how many died in police encounters, how many committed suicide, how many were killed out of anger by others?”

His rage was understandable. He had promised to transform the nation into a booming Davao City, a pocket of peace in the country’s troubled south, where foreign investors flocked. Few residents there questioned Duterte’s extreme approach while he was mayor for more than 21 years.

Ernesto Pernia, former lead economist at the Asian Development Bank and now Duterte’s economic planning secretary, called the killings “a necessary evil” on the path to development.

Pernia blamed the media for giving foreign investors a biased, negative view of the administration’s war on drugs.

He said: “The problem is the only ones interviewed by media are those ... whose husband or child has been killed...we should also try to get the view of others who approve of what’s happening and see it as really, see it as you know, maybe a necessary evil that has to happen in the pursuit of greater good.”

He further said: “It’s better that there are no killings. And also, we have to realise that our justice system is dysfunctional. I think that should also be made known ... the Supreme Court should know that. They have to shape up before we can really, you know, follow due process.”

Just how dysfunctional the country’s justice system is, President Duterte knows all too intimately. During his press conference on August 21, he disclosed that while he worked as a city prosecutor in Davao City, “we planted evidence”.

Duterte is an unabashed admirer of the country’s late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, whom he calls “the best president ever” despite massive human rights violations during Marcos’ 14-year dictatorship.

Duterte’s father Vicente worked for Marcos right inside Malacanang Palace after a stint as governor of Davao province.

But he died a broken man when he was accused in court of wrongdoing.

Duterte has said in various interviews that his father’s sudden death caused him to straighten out his own life. He has admitted being a problem child who was twice expelled from school and often punished by his mother because he got into various scrapes and fights.

Jesus Dureza, his former classmate, recalled that Duterte had been expelled from the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Davao for throwing paper aeroplanes and for smearing a priest’s cassock with ink.

Dureza, now the presidential peace adviser, fondly calls Duterte “the Punisher”. He told of how Duterte once confronted a street hoodlum who was staging rumbles just outside their all boys’ school.

“We climbed over the barbed wire fence of the school in the dead of night and he looked all over for the guy whom he found in a bar. He simply went over to the guy, told him to stop it and punched him. Then we ran away while the gang pursued us,” Dureza told This Week in Asia.

“We had nothing to do with the rumble. We did not even know the guy. He [Duterte] simply punched him. He had the mindset of a punisher even when he was that young,” Dureza recalled.

It was only in December last year that Duterte disclosed why he was a troubled youth. He said, when he was 14 or 15, an American priest had sexually abused him. “It was a case of fondling – you know what – which he did during confession, that’s how we lost our innocence… It happened during our generation, two years ahead of us and two years following us.”


 “It was a sort of sexual awakening for each of us,” said Duterte, whose endless womanising had ended his 15-year marriage to Elizabeth Zimmerman.

Court records of the “declaration of nullity” of their marriage, due to Duterte’s psychological incapacity, cited a psychologist’s report saying that Duterte suffered from “Antisocial Narcissistic Personality Disorder”.

The report claimed that Duterte had the “inability for loyalty and commitment, gross indifference to others’ needs and feelings, heightened by a lack of capacity for remorse and guilt.”

The report also described Duterte as “a highly impulsive individual who has difficulty controlling his urges and emotions. He is unable to reflect on the consequences of his actions.”

Duterte himself has said he is “bipolar”.

A psychology professor – who agreed to be interviewed on condition of anonymity for fear of what might befall him if he spoke out – said he had not seen a copy of the psychological report.

But he said that based on Duterte’s actions, such as threatening to pull out of the UN, Duterte “has elements of immaturity, when he gets frustrated he is easily provoked. He has poor impulse control”.

“He also has a very large ego, so much so that you cannot cross him, you cannot imply he might be wrong,” he added.

Such traits are possibly affecting presidential decisions, the psychologist added.

“For instance, his anger against drugs: how well thought-out are his ideas? He acts on his ideas without thinking through the consequences.”

The psychologist said that one positive effect of such traits was “the boldness of his actions and some of them seem to be right. What is worrisome is, they don’t seem to come from deep reflection”.

How does one deal with such a personality? The psychologist has this advice: “I think he would respond to flattery.”

South China Morning Post

For the first time in 500 years, Asia is in the ascendant. The West, tired, overstretched and in stately decline, is gradually becoming a bystander on the margins

With China's accession to the title of world's largest economy, there is growing anxiety in the West about how to retain influence and primacy, not just in Asia, but globally.

China would have the world believe it has nothing to fear. But the recent display of histrionics after an international court of arbitration ruled that China's expansive claims in the South China Sea had no basis in law, has fuelled this anxiety. China sent bombers aloft over disputed islands and threatened to declare an Air Defense Zone -- and then did not.

But the larger point is that for the first time in 500 years, Asia is in the ascendant. The West, tired, overstretched and in stately decline, is gradually becoming a bystander on the margins. Sure, to quote U.S. President Barack Obama, the U.S. might still be the "greatest nation on earth," but Republican Party presidential nominee Donald Trump may strike closer to the truth when he says he aims to "make America great again."

The metrics of geopolitical power are subjective. Asia now spends more on weapons than Europe does, but Asia's armed forces have less experience projecting power. The majority of wars that afflict the world are being fought in the Middle East and Africa, mostly entangling the West, not Asia, where peace generally reigns despite protracted internal conflicts on the margins.

All the same, the West is rattled, afraid on the one hand that it may be too late to contain China, and on the other worried that it stands to lose out commercially once confrontation ensues. Such is the handwringing that preoccupies Gideon Rachman, international affairs columnist for the Financial Times, whose new book, "Easternization: War and Peace in the Asian Century," is intended as a wake-up call to Western policymakers.

The "easternization" concept poses an important question. How does the West manage the inevitable shift in the world's center of economic and, eventually, political gravity to the East? This trend, after all, has been an evolving reality for almost two decades. What will a world overshadowed by Chinese capital, Chinese lending institutions, Chinese-built infrastructure, and Chinese technology look like? Is Huawei the Apple of tomorrow? Will the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank launched by China in 2014 supplant the World Bank that the U.S. launched to help rebuild the world after World War II?

The problem is that exhorting former Western powers and alliances to bulk up and confront a rising China plays into arcane containment strategies that are more likely to provoke conflict. The Philippines was encouraged to take its case to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague, and was financially supported in doing so by Western governments eager to check China's emerging primacy. Using the cloak of rule of law does not make this strategy any less apparent.

China is on the cusp of projecting more than military-backed power. Its tech companies are producing services like Wechat, Weibo and Didi for consumers that rival and in some cases outsmart their Western counterparts like Uber, Facebook and Twitter. Chinese state media broadcaster CCTV has put in place a global network of news gathering that is well financed and producing deeper coverage of news in Africa, the Americas and Asia than either CNN or the BBC.

Much of China's current trajectory looks like America's rise to industrial power in the last century. Often it seems that China is reading from an American playbook from the 1960s by ignoring the rules and insisting on treating everyone bilaterally. It is only with the rise of China that Washington has started favoring multilateral forums in Asia for critical trade and security issues - preferably excluding China. The Trans-Pacific Partnership that is the cornerstone of Obama's so-called "pivot to Asia" does not include China.

Like the U.S., China's military sees potential scope for operating globally. A senior People's Liberation Army officer wrote recently that he envisaged China's next war on land - not in Asia, but perhaps in Africa or the Middle East where China has valuable resource access and increasing numbers of workers to protect.

But is the West really so threatened by the rise of powers in the East? Would a more militarily capable Japan, together with a unified Korea, not help maintain a balance of security in the East without having to rely on the U.S.?

For one thing, there is no parallel as yet with the transatlantic alliance, for all its woes. Frankly, it stretches credulity to imagine Russia and China sustaining a deep strategic embrace, as Rachman hints at in his book. The two countries have tried to shape a Eurasian strategy over the past 15 years through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, an attempted Asian version of the NATO alliance, which Chinese officials say is deeply mired in mutual suspicion between Moscow and Beijing. Japan is also problematic because the horrors of the Pacific War are still fresh in the collective memories of people in China and the Koreas.

India is touted as a coming global power, and indeed provides hope for those who fear easternization that it will help check China's ambitions. Much comfort in the West is drawn from India's democracy, even though some of the values that underpin the way India is governed are thoroughly illiberal. But India is for now a fair weather ally, its foreign policy still shackled to Nehruvian principles that lay stress on the near neighborhood and the security of the subcontinent rather than Asia writ large.

A visceral fear is that China, along with a more nationalistic Japan, a more assertive South Korea and an aggrieved Russia, will interfere with and reset the institutional center of gravity established by the Western powers after World War II through the Bretton Woods institutions. China is already the second largest financial contributor to the United Nations after the U.S., and is keen to play a more proactive role on the Security Council instead of hiding behind Russia's positions.

But it was the launch of the AIIB in 2014, in which China has the majority stake, that really turned heads. In addition to its Asian membership, the U.S. was unable to prevent the U.K. and other European countries from joining, in what was a clear break with the postwar order laid down 70 years ago.

A pro-democracy protester in Hong Kong holds a portrait of Chinese human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, demanding his release. © Reuters

One of the biggest fears staked out in the easternization thesis is the decline of the primacy of the Western way of doing things, in the liberal notions that underpin humanitarianism, financial transparency and political discourse. The erosion of the power that supports these values is forcing the fringes of Europe, such as Turkey, as well as much of Africa and the Middle East, to look East. This is something of an overstatement, since English remains the primary language of commerce and diplomacy and global systems of exchange and standardization are all located in the West -- as Rachman puts it, "much of the world is still wired through the West."

For those of us in Asia, the central question is whether peace and security will prevail, whatever the dominant power equation and however the internet is controlled. Some fret that only with continued U.S. dominance is peace assured. China is doing a bad job of convincing us otherwise with its aggressive posturing in the South China Sea and table-thumping tactics at regional multilateral forums.

Longer term, the answer is that Asia needs to replicate the interlocking framework of alliances and agreements that still underwrites peace and security on either side of the Atlantic. China needs to be drawn in, not excluded -- and yes, that may mean China needs to be in the lead, however scary that appears to be in the region, or in Washington, Brussels and other Western capitals.

But for this to happen, Asia needs to extricate itself completely from the lingering post-colonial order that casts all issues of sovereignty and security in a Western strategic frame. We may not need to wait much longer, for the larger problem highlighted in easternization is not so much the rise of the East but the decline of the West.

Michael Vatikiotis is Asia regional director at the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue.

Indonesia Religious Discrimination Harms Education Rights - religious freedom guarantees in Indonesia’s Constitution will remain empty promises

In this June 14, 2015, photo, residents of Bukit Duri, South Jakarta, hold up a sign saying they refuse to accept any activities carried out by the Ahmadiyah community, a Muslim minority sect. (Antara Photo/Akbar Nugroho
Zulfa Nur Rohman, a student at a vocational public school in Semarang, Central Java, failed the 11th grade because of his religious faith. School administrators informed Zulfa, an adherent of a Javanese traditional faith Hayu Ningrat, that he cannot continue on to grade 12 because he refused to participate in “the practice of reading the Quran and performing prayer” in a mandatory Islamic studies class.

Zulfa is a victim of the pernicious and routine bureaucratic discrimination against religious minorities in Indonesia.

Indonesia’s 1965 blasphemy law permits only six officially protected religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. But government statistics indicate that Indonesia has 245 native religions with more than 400,000 adherents.

They are victims of regulations that discriminate against religious minorities, ranging from the provision of official identification cards, birth and marriage certificates, religious education and access to other government services.

Like all parents in Indonesia, Zulfa’s parents had to register his faith when enrolling him in kindergarten. Because Hayu Ningrat was not an officially permitted option, they opted to register him as a Muslim. School officials contended that Zulfa’s  official identification as a Muslim obligated him to fully participate in his Islamic studies class and that his refusal to do so required him to repeat 11th grade, including Islamic studies. Zulfa always did the non-practicing studies until grade 11 when he was asked to pray and to recite the shahada.

The school’s principal, Sudarmanto, had no qualms about the school’s decision to penalize Zulfa for refusing to participate in Muslim prayer practice.

“I reminded his parents if he keeps on refusing to pray, his religion score will be zero and he cannot move to grade 12,” Sudarmanto told Tempo.  Zulfa has refused to attend school while education administrators evaluate his parents’ appeal of the decision.

Indonesian government policies have encouraged discriminatory religious teaching in the country’s public school system. Then-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2007 issued a government regulation that placed religious education under the domain of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. It gave the ministry parity with the Ministry of Education in formulating educational policy. Yudhoyono also introduced a requirement that all schools, both public and private, must provide devotional education in the six officially recognized religions from kindergarten to university. That directive automatically excluded minority religions such as Zulfa’s Hayu Ningrat.

In 2010, then-minister of religious affairs Suryadharma Ali issued a directive requiring schools to provide a teacher of one of the six officially recognized religions in every school that has at least 15 students belonging to one of those religions. That rule excludes students from religious minorities having education about their own faiths.

Indonesian law likewise excludes Muslim minorities — notably the Shia and Ahmadiyah — from access to teachers of their religious faith in public schools. These minority communities have been subject to intimidation and physical attack  by militant Islamists in the conservative Sunni provinces of West Java, Aceh and West Sumatra with the complicity of government officials and security forces.

State-sanctioned religious discrimination is likely to plague Zulfa long after he eventually graduates from high school. When he turns 17, he will be able to apply for an official national ID card. Although Indonesian law has since 2006 not required Indonesians to officially declare a religion in order to receive a national ID card, many civil servants still do not know of the new law and deny  the cards to religious minorities if they refuse to choose one of the six religions.

Members of religious minorities who opt to leave blank the ID card’s religion column can be accused by government officials of being an atheist — which is punishable under the blasphemy law. If they select one of the six religions now offered, regardless of their own religious beliefs, they can be accused of falsifying their identity.

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and his cabinet should review and repeal all of Indonesia’s discriminatory regulations against religious minorities. Until Zulfa and the thousands of other members of religious minorities have the same rights as those who belong to the officially recognized religions, the religious freedom guarantees in Indonesia’s Constitution will remain empty promises.

Andreas Harsono is Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch.


Questions over Jokowi’s political independence -Jokowi and the Luhut factor

Without networks within the military, and having no effective power over the political parties, President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) has been constrained in his political manoeuvres. To combat this, Jokowi has installed retired army generals to important civilian posts as coordinating ministers, defence minister and head of state intelligence. The inclusion of a considerable number of former military officers in his administration has been Jokowi’s way to balance the influence of the oligarchs that supported him during his presidential campaign.

Arguably, one of the most significant appointments that Jokowi has made is the appointment of Luhut Binsar Panjaitan, a former Suharto era four-star special forces general.

Luhut’s appointment was important for Jokowi for several reasons. Other than providing a crucial channel to the military, Luhut has served to enforce some measure of discipline in the Cabinet. His presence is important for Jokowi to help him consolidate power. Some ministers have mocked Jokowi’s inability to rule, which showed their lack of respect for the president. In addressing political incoherence within Jokowi’s Cabinet, Luhut remarked that it is forbidden for state institutions, ministers or agencies to contradict the president.

Luhut asserted that ministers or state agencies are required to keep the president informed before making public statements. Jokowi justified these dispositions as a way to unify differing voices and interests within his Cabinet.

Luhut is also important to help him balance various oligarchic interests. One interesting strategy was Luhut’s endorsement last year of Rizal Ramli as the Coordinating Minister of Maritime Affairs. Rizal Ramli has a reputation as a controversial critic and Jokowi’s decision to position him in a very strategic and central ministry has left many wondering whether it was a deliberate strategy against the oligarchs.

Since he assumed the position, Rizal Ramli has devoted significant attention to criticising projects that are related to the interests of several oligarchs. The high-profile feuds included his public attack of Vice President Jusuf Kalla in August 2015 over the 35,000 megawatt electrical generator project that Kalla was proposing. Rizal Ramli also publicly attacked Sudirman Said, who was closely associated with Kalla, over the Freeport fiasco and the Masela gas field controversies.

Sudirman Said and Rizal Ramli were dismissed in the last reshuffle, providing Jokowi the opportunity to bring in a professional, Arcandra Tahar, to replace Sudirman Said. But the new minister was himself swiftly replaced after he was found to possess a US passport. Following this, Jokowi entrusted Luhut to temporarily cover Arcandra’s position.

Luhut’s strong connection with Setya Novanto, the newly appointed leader of the Functional Groups Party (Golkar), also increased leverage for Jokowi as he has an option to switch from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) led by Megawati Sukarnoputri to Golkar for the next presidential election. Setya was previously Speaker of the House of Representatives (DPR), but he resigned after the controversy surrounding the renewal of a contract with an affiliate of US-based Freeport-McMoRan that operates the world’s largest gold mine and third-largest copper mine. Setya was heard on tape asking for a share in a power plant in Papua in return for his role to persuade Jokowi and Luhut, his trusted adviser, to extend the Freeport contract.

Despite all these high-profile conflicts, Setya, with the strong endorsement of Luhut, was elected as the head of one of the most prominent political parties in Indonesia — Golkar — during its recent election. Although the election process during Golkar’s convention was allegedly mired in money politics, Setya’s election was applauded by the president. In return, Setya overturned Golkar’s neutral position to be one of Jokowi’s coalition supporters, adding a significant boost to Jokowi’s position.

Luhut’s powerful role in the Jokowi administration signifies the fundamental benefits gained by the president to solidify his political powerbase. Yet it has also aroused questions over Jokowi’s political independence.

Jokowi’s latest decision to move Luhut to a less prestigious position, as the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs, has been seen by many as a sign of Jokowi’s growing wariness of Luhut’s overt influence in Cabinet. This is viewed as a display of Jokowi’s power designed to show that he is still the man in charge of his administration.

Although the appointment of Luhut appears to have diluted the overwhelming control that PDI-P had over him, Jokowi did not abandon his relations with his own party. In fact this relationship is important to deter Luhut’s growing influence in his Cabinet. In the beginning, Jokowi intended to make Luhut a ‘super minister’ by giving him dual positions as the Presidential Chief of Staff and Coordinating Minister of Politics, Law and Security. But the position of Chief of Staff was later given to Teten Masduki, an Indonesian anti-corruption activist, who has warm relations with Megawati. Jokowi appointed Pramono Anung, Megawati’s trusted man, as Cabinet Secretary so that Anung could bridge communication with the party.

This balancing act has shown that while Luhut’s presence is pivotal, it is essential for Jokowi to stay loyal to PDI-P. This will continue over the course of his administration, unless he is able to form his own party in the next election.

Emirza Adi Syailendra is a Research Analyst in the Indonesia Programme of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University. This is part of a series on the Jokowi presidency.


Friday, August 26, 2016

Obama's effect in Indonesian public engagement: Is it enough? Considering Obama’s own personal popularity in Indonesia, this is an opportunity wasted

As Barack Obama ends his presidency in early 2017, he would have left a meaningful legacy on US-Indonesia ties. As part of the Obama administration’s strategy of “rebalancing” to the Asia-Pacific, the US government has been improving its public engagement in the region, including Indonesia. However, compared to its engagement commitment to other Asian countries, US public engagement in Indonesia remains behind. Considering Obama’s own personal popularity in Indonesia, this is an opportunity wasted.

Obama came to power during a period of global discontent with US leadership. The administration of his predecessor, George W. Bush, was deemed aggressive and unilateralist, and left terrible perceptions of the US throughout the world. While Jakarta and Washington made special efforts to improve and expand security ties, many Indonesians were angered by Bush’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the treatment of Islamist militants in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

When Obama came to power in 2009, his “Hope” campaign invoked enthusiasm that went beyond US borders. Tales of Barry’s childhood in Menteng Dalam were enough to inspire movies and even a statue of Obama in Jakarta. His image and popularity were significant factors that improved public perceptions of the US in Indonesia. According to Pew Global Research, favorable US perceptions in Indonesia jumped from 37% in 2008 to 63% in 2009. Beyond his charisma, many Indonesians admired Obama for his willingness to “reach out” to the Muslim world and reinvigorate the multilateral institutions that the Bush administration ignored.

Public engagement, particularly people-to-people relations, has been a key feature of the 2010 US-Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership, which upgraded ties between Washington and Jakarta. In recent years, the Obama administration has increased funding for public diplomacy, with public diplomacy efforts in Indonesia receiving the 11th highest funding.

Indonesia and the US have worked together on a series of initiatives that are pertained to shared values, such as human rights, democracy, and open governance. Through these institutions, both governments have engaged civil society actors to participate. For instance, Indonesian civil society actors have been keen actors in the US-formed multilateral initiative, Open Government Partnership, in which they work together with the US and Indonesian governments, on matters of government transparency and accountability. The Bali Democracy Forum, an initiative founded by the Indonesian government for best-practice sharing of democratic governance, is another avenue in which the two governments engage civil society actors.

Youths have been a key focus of the Obama government, which seeks to provide opportunities to them through scholarship and exchanges. In 2013, Obama launched the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI), an initiative that promotes education and civic engagement. The YSEALI embraces 500 exceptional young leaders annually from Indonesia and other ASEAN countries with the aim of not only deepening US collaboration with young leaders, but also fostering community building among youth in ASEAN. Education has also been a focus, with the Obama administration establishing the US-Indonesia Joint Council on Higher Education Partnership in 2010 to foster understanding and collaboration between both countries through various educational, cultural, and youth engagement programs.


Despite increasing US public engagement in Indonesia, there remains considerable limitations.

First, US public engagement has primarily focused in the field of education. But even then, there is an apparent lack of grassroots inclusion.

For instance, since 1998, PT Freeport Indonesia has collaborated with Fulbright to fund graduate study scholarships for eastern Indonesian students. However, this program is only open to two individuals annually. Fulbright also provides some other programs, such as the Fulbright-DIKTI scholarship and the Fulbright-KEMLU scholarship, but they are only eligible for young academics and diplomats, respectively. The expectation is that US-graduated diplomats and scholars would project and disseminate the knowledge they have garnered to society and help create an environment of mutual understanding. This argument was vindicated during the New Order era with the “Berkeley Mafia”, whose members assumed key cabinet posts and leveraged industrial policy as well as tightened US-Indonesia economic relations.

Second, engagement of the Indonesian public remains behind that of many other Asian powers.

The 2015 Joint Statement between the US and Indonesia under President Joko Widodo as the watershed of the Comprehensive Partnership is yet to stipulate a tangible target and strategy for advancing people-to-people engagement. In comparison, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Chinese State Councillor Liu Yandong have signed the “US-China People to People Exchange” in 2012, which launched the “100,000 Strong” Initiative to encourage private sector student exchanges and encourage 100,000 American students to study in China. Similarly, in India, India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development and the US University Grants Commission have launched a project to establish an additional 200 community colleges in India. The goal of the program is to reach 40 million students, especially those studying to enter such professions as healthcare, hospitality, and automotive industry. Considering the seismic importance to maintaining positive perceptions of the US in India and China, it is understandable why US public engagement in these countries is much larger than that in Indonesia. Nonetheless, considering Indonesia’s growing strategic and economic importance, commitment on strengthening public engagement in Indonesia has remained far behind.

US engagement of Indonesia under Obama has overall been lacking, particularly considering the attention that nearby neighbors have received through public engagement projects. Obama’s most important legacy to US perceptions in Indonesia is himself. Through his popularity, charisma, and personal connection to Indonesia, Obama has successfully captured the hearts of many Indonesians—a feat that few foreign leaders can claim to accomplish. Nonetheless, his popularity does not guarantee the longevity of positive US perceptions in Indonesia.

The US and Indonesia should formulate a concrete strategy to enhance people-to-people relations in order to maintain a stable and strong relationship. Only this way can we ensure that strong ties between Jakarta and Washington translate into positive perceptions of the US in Indonesia.



Trissia Wijaya is a MEXT’s scholar at the Graduate School of International Relations at Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan. Her research interests primarily lie in international relations in the Asia-Pacific and foreign policy.  

Gatra Priyandita is a PhD candidate at the School of Political and Social Change of the Australian National University, Canberra, Australia. His research focuses on Indonesian public diplomacy and domestic politics in the post-Suharto era.

New Indonesian Cabinet line-up, nine new faces

The new faces in the Cabinet are Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto, Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Villages, Disadvantaged Regions and Transmigration Minister Eko Putro Sanjoyo, Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi, Culture and Education Minister Muhadjir Effendy, Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita, Trade Minister Airlangga Hartarto, Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Archandra Tahar and Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform Minister Asman Abnur.

Who’s who in the new corridors of power


“An old soldier never stops fighting,” Wiranto once said. This sentence rings true as on Wednesday, the retired Army general, was appointed as coordinating political, legal and security affairs minister, replacing Luhut Pandjaitan.Wiranto is known as a military figure with a high-flying, but extremely controversial, career. Born to a poor family in Yogyakarta on April 4, 1947, Wiranto graduated from the National Military Academy in 1968.Twenty years later, he was appointed as a key aide to then president Soeharto from 1987 to 1991. This was a prestigious position during the New Order regime. Afterward, his career took off as he was picked to serve in many strategic positions in the military. Finally, he held the top position as the commander of the Indonesian Military (then ABRI, now TNI) from February 1998 to October 1999.At the end of the New Order and the beginning of the reform era, the country underwent a transition from presidents Soeharto to Habibie. At that time, Wiranto served as the defense and security minister concurrent with his role as ABRI chief.The reform era was a time of great turbulence in the country. Wiranto, as ABRI chief, was therefore implicated in kidnappings and other abuses conducted by the Army. He was also allegedly involved, at least indirectly, in human rights violations in the Trisakti and Semanggi I and II shootings of student activists in 1998.During the presidency of Abdurrahman Wahid he was dismissed from his position as defense and security minister in 2000 amid allegations of human rights violations in East Timor.Prosecutors say he played a key role in facilitating severe human rights abuses by the military during Indonesia’s violent withdrawal from East Timor (now Timor Leste) during which more than 2,000 Timorese died. However, he has repeatedly denied all charges against him.UN and domestic groups have accused Wiranto of committing crimes against humanity. He was also included in the list of suspected war criminals and was prohibited from entering the US.Despite his controversial history, however, he has sufficient charm and charisma to earn him a limited amount of electoral support. He has made several attempts to get into the State Palace, running in the 2004 presidential election, unsuccessfully, as Golkar’s candidate.After that, he formed the Hanura Party with several retired Army generals and has served as the party’s chairman. In the 2009 presidential election, Wiranto ran for vice-president as Jusuf Kalla’s running mate.In 2014, Wiranto tried to run for president again with running mate media tycoon Hary Tanoesoedibjo but failed to garner enough support from other political parties to nominate himself. Hanura later joined with the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) to nominate then presidential candidate Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. His political efforts finally paid off, to a certain degree, on Wednesday when he was finally able to return to the Palace in his role as close aide of Jokowi, with his dark past presumably behind him. (win)

Sri Mulyani

New Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati is not only the most senior woman at the World Bank, she is, according to Forbes magazine, one of the world’s most powerful women. She is also a mother of three.These facts speak louder than words about her qualities. The reform-minded “iron” lady, who calls herself “tough”, earned her reputation when leading the finance ministry from 2005 to 2010, during which she was known for instigating bureaucratic reforms, including at the deeply entrenched tax office by setting up a new code of ethics and set of sanctions.Sri Mulyani opposed calls for the closure of the Indonesian Stock Exchange to halt a nosedive in shares of Bumi Resources, partly owned by politically-wired tycoon Aburizal Bakrie. She also imposed a travel ban on a number of coal-mining executives after a dispute over the companies’ reluctance to pay government fees.Her efforts in pushing through reforms may have earned her enemies or yielded dislike in some parties. In 2010, she stepped down from her post amid a heated bailout scandal of Bank Century, in which she became the target of an opposition campaign accusing her and former vice president Boediono of abusing their authority during the Rp 6.7 trillion bailout. Sri Mulyani joined the World Bank in 2010. Prior to departing to Washington DC, in a public lecture at the RitzCarlton Hotel in Jakarta, she said in her speech: “I’ll be back.”And back she is. Six years on, she will be faced with challenges that include a weak economy that has grown less than expected and complicated state revenue collection efforts at a time when Jokowi’s administration needs a hefty amount of funds to push through infrastructure projects.At the World Bank Sri Mulyani was respected as someone whose understanding of clients’ needs shaped strategy for a better and bigger World Bank Group, said Jim Yong-kim, the Bank’s president. “I have personally come to rely on Sri Mulyani for her wise advice and insightful counsel, and I will greatly miss her voice on the Senior Management Team,” Jim wrote in an official farewell letter. (Prima Wirayani and Esther Samboh)

Archandra Tahar

While the condition of Indonesia’s oil and gas sector remains grim as a result of plunging energy prices, one long-time player may be able to spruce things up.Boasting degrees in mechanical and marine engineering, 45-year-old Archandra Tahar, served as president of Houston-based offshore technologies and consulting company Petroneering before being summoned by Jokowi to take on the mantle of energy and mineral resources minister.Archandra received access into Jokowi from his friend, PDI-P rising-star politician Darmawan Prasodjo -- a key member of Jokowi’s 2014 presidential campaign team.Archandra has spent more than 20 years in the oil and gas sector, with stints as principal at Horson Wison Deepwater and as principal and president of the Asia Pacific department for AGR Deepwater Development System. Furthermore, he holds several international patents in offshore fields.Archandra’s background is expected to be reflected in his commitment to bringing in new technology in order to increase oil and gas production, and to ensure energy security in the future.“Three things we hope to focus on in the energy and minerals sector is first, technology as the backbone, second, human resources and third, we must make the process more accountable,” he said after his inauguration ceremony. Oil and gas exploration in particular, has suffered under low commodity prices. Industry players await with bated breath the changes Archandra may bring with him. Executives of Pupuk Indonesia Energi (PIE), a subsidiary of state-owned fertilizer firm Pupuk Indonesia Holding Company (PIHC), for example, expect that the new energy minister could help reduce the high price of gas, which is the biggest expense of the fertilizer industry.According to Petroengineering’s website, Archandra’s company has worked with state oil and gas firm Pertamina, BP and ExxonMobil. (Fedina S. Sundaryani and Grace D. Amianti)

Budi Karya Sumadi

Spending his entire career as a professional, Budi Karya Sumadi has been brushing shoulders with Jokowi since the latter served as governor of Jakarta between 2012 and 2014.Prior to his appointment as transportation minister, Budi, 59, served as president director of state airport operator Angkasa Pura (AP) II for a little more than a year.He recently found himself in the media spotlight in regards to the high-profile expansion of Terminal 3 at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, the country’s largest and busiest airport. The operation of the terminal, initially slated to be launched in June, has been delayed after it failed to secure a greenlight from the then Transportation Minister Ignasius Jonan due to a number of technical hurdles.After securing his degree in architecture from Gadjah Mada University, also Jokowi’s alma mater, Budi started his career as an architect at the Jakarta-based construction firm Pembangunan Jaya in 1982.Since then, he has dedicated himself to the property business for more than 25 years. He assumed the position of president director of publicly listed Pembangunan Jaya Ancol in 2004 and served in that position for nine years. Other companies where he has held board of director positions include Jaya Garden Polis, Jaya Real Property and Jaya Land.One of his career highlights was in the Jakarta provincial administration-owned Jakarta Propertindo (Jakpro), where he served as president director from 2013 to 2015. During his time in Jakpro, Budi supported Jokowi’s regreening and city park construction programs in Pluit Dam, North Jakarta, while the latter served as governor. Commenting on his new position, Budi said that his long experience as a professional would help his leadership at the Transportation Ministry.“We are talking about technicalities, like those related to human resources and finance, which I’m already familiar with,” he said. He also revealed that the President had asked him to improve the country’s connectivity and manage transportation operators. (Farida Susanty)

Enggartiasto Lukita

Born 64 years ago in the West Java city of Cirebon, Enggartiasto “Enggar” Lukita is a property businessman and a veteran politician, having served in the Golkar Party for over three decades.In 2013, Enggar jumped ship to the NasDem Party and has become a key member of the relatively young party. Following Jokowi’s inauguration as the country’s seventh president, Enggar was rumored to join Jokowi’s Cabinet as one of his economic ministers despite his alleged involvement in the 1999 Bank Indonesia liquidity support scandal.Lawyer Petrus Selestinus, coordinator of the Indonesian Democracy Defense Team, accused Enggar in 2014 of receiving funds from Bank Bali graft convict and fugitive Djoko S. Tjandra. Petrus still to this day maintains Enggar received the funds, which he said were detailed in Djoko’s dossier.“President Jokowi should review and reconsider Enggar. [The President] cannot be surrounded by people who are potentially involved in graft,” Petrus said. Others who were implicated in the case include former House of Representatives speaker Setya Novanto, now Golkar Party chairman, who was quickly acquitted of all charges.Enggar has repeatedly denied the accusations and claims an audit by multinational service network PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) supports his position.Despite the accusation, Enggar has remained untouched and has been a NasDem Party lawmaker since 2014. Enggar, who graduated from the English department at the Bandung Teacher Training Institute (now the Indonesian University of Education), has built up a successful real estate and property business. He started his career in the industry in 1977 as a staffer to a director at PT Bangun Tjipta Sarana, where just two years later he was promoted as the company’s head of personnel.He continued to pursue his career in the company until he became president director in 1986. Enggar would continue his reign as president director in a number of companies, namely PT Supradinakarya Multijaya Group, PT Citrasari Inti, PT Kartika Karisma Indah and PT Kemang Pratama. In his capacity as Golkar politician, Enggar has served as lawmaker for four terms from 1997 to 2014, during which time he served on various commissions, including those overseeing defense, foreign affairs, agriculture, maritime affairs, forestry and transportation. (Dewanti A. Wardhani)

Eko Putro Sandjojo

National Awakening Party (PKB) politician Eko Putro Sandjojo was chosen to be the villages, disadvantaged regions and transmigration minister, replacing his fellow politician Marwan Jafar.Eko is no stranger to Jokowi’s administration. He had previously served in Jokowi’s transition team shortly after Jokowi was elected President in 2014. The team was tasked with preparing a smooth transition from then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to Jokowi.Eko was born on May 21, 1965, in Jakarta. He graduated from the Polytechnic University of Indonesia and pursued a Bachelor’s degree at the University of Kentucky, Lexington, US, in 1991, majoring in electrical engineering. He received a Master’s of business administration from the IPMI International Business School in 1993. After graduating, he worked at PT Indonesia Farming from 1994 to 1997 as a general manager.Besides currently serving as a general treasurer of the PKB, Eko has also held strategic positions in various companies.In 1997, he joined a publicly listed agribusiness company PT Sierad Produce and became its president director from 2005 to 2006. Then he moved to PT Humpuss, a publicly listed shipping firm owned by former president Soeharto’s youngest son Hutomo “Tommy” Mandala Putra. He became the company’s president director in 2007. Next, he went back to Sierad and served as the firm’s president director in 2009. (win)

Muhadjir Effendy

Muhadjir Effendy officially replaced Anies Baswedan to become the culture and education minister. Muhadjir was born on July 29, 1956, in Madiun, East Java. The former rector received his bachelor’s degree from IKIP Malang in 1982.Afterward, he earned his master’s degree from Gadjah Mada University (UGM) majoring in public administration in 1996. In 2008, he received his PhD in military sociology from Airlangga University, in Surabaya, East Java.He has also done a short course in military and defense studies at the Pentagon, the US, and a short course on higher education management at Victoria University, Canada.Muhadjir started his career at the Muhammadiyah University in Malang (UMM) as an intern. He rose slowly in his career to become a lecturer and later assistant to the rector in 1984.In 1996, he was elected as UMM’s vice rector before finally being appointed as rector in 2000. Muhadjir has served as rector for three periods from 2000 to 2004, 2004 to 2008, and from 2008 to February this year. Besides having worked as a lecturer for the School of Social and Political Sciences in UMM, he was also a lecturer for the School of Education at the State University of Malang (UM).Not restricting himself to the education field, Muhadjir was also known as an active columnist who often wrote on topics related to religion, education, politics and the military in mass media, scientific journals and books.Books that Muhadjir has written about educational or military affairs include University and Students Life in 1989, The State of Education in 1992, Equilibrium Society: Walking the Changes in Balance in 2002, Humanity Paedagogy: A Multidimensional Reflection in 2004, Military Professionalism in 2008, and Military Character and Profession: A Phenomenology Study in 2009.Muhadjir has also been active in the management of several institutions such as serving as the chairman of Muhammadiyah, chairman of the Central Agency for Private Islamic Universities Cooperation (BKS-PTIS), chairman of the Association of Families of Indonesian Islamic Students (KB PII) in East Java, and vice chairman of the Indonesian Association for the Development of Social Sciences (HIPIIS).Muhadjir was also a member of the expert council of the Indonesian Association of Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI) and a member of the board of the East Java Regional Research. (win)

Airlangga Hartarto

An engineer by training, Airlangga has successfully paved his way through Indonesian politics as a part of the Golkar Party, the country’s oldest and second-largest political party.Airlangga, 53, is the son of Hartato Sastrosoenarto, who served as a minister for former president Soeharto for three consecutive terms, 15 years in total. His father, also an engineer, served as industry minister for two terms and then later became the coordinating production and distribution minister. Airlangga was undertaking his third consecutive term as a Golkar Party legislator before his appointment as Industry Minister. Earlier this year, it was thought by many that the father of eight would run as a candidate for the party’s chairmanship. Ultimately, the chairmanship was won by former speaker of the House of Representatives, Setya Novanto.In his second term as a legislator in the 2009-2014 period, Airlangga chaired House Commission VI overseeing industry, trade, investment and state-owned enterprises. During his tenure, he introduced the 2014 Industry Law.Airlangga received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Gadjah Mada University in 1987. Although he failed to complete his master’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania, Airlangga later went on to receive two master’s degrees from Monash University and Melbourne University.Airlangga is the first and currently only Golkar Party representative in Jokowi’s Cabinet. House Speaker Ade Komaruddin, a Golkar Party member, said Airlangga was “the right man for the job”. (Dewanti A. Wardhani)

Asman Abnur

Asman Abnur, a senior National Mandate Party (PAN) politician, has replaced Yuddy Chrisnandi as the administrative and bureaucratic reform minister, with the main task of reforming bureaucracy and managing civil servants. Asman was born in Pariaman, West Sumatra, on Feb. 2, 1961. He completed his primary and secondary education in Riau province and moved to Padang to study for his undergraduate degree in economics. After finishing his bachelor’s degree, he moved to Surabaya, East Java, to pursue a master’s degree at Airlangga University until 2004.Asman is a prominent businessman. He has experience developing a wide range of businesses including several gas stations, a number of restaurants, pharmacies, fitness centers, banks and money changers.Given his business background, he has been entrusted with various positions, including chairman of the Indonesian Young Entrepreneurs Association (HIPMI) and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin) in Batam. Currently, he manages his business activities in Batam, Singapore and Jakarta.Asman started his political career in 2001 as a city councilor in Batam. A few months later, he was elected deputy mayor of Batam from 2001 to 2004. He chaired the investigation team of the Batam Free Trade Zone (FTZ) from 2000 until 2004.Asman was elected to the House of Representatives, representing Riau, in 2004 and was appointed vice chairman of House Commission XI for the period of 2004 to 2009. At the same time, he served as general treasurer for PAN. Since 2014 he has served as deputy chair for House Commission X for education and sports. The Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung said that Asman was well experienced to deal with the bureaucracy.