Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Indonesia another perspective

Indonesian Exceptionalism
Over 100 million Indonesians went to the polls this month as the
world's largest Muslim-majority nation held legislative
elections on April 9. This is the third national election cycle
since the democratization process began just a decade ago. It is
also the first election in which voters cast ballots for
individual legislators within a party slate, rather than merely
voting for a political party itself. While this represents a
major step toward making government directly accountable to
voters, the process is also certain to produce a significant
number of disgruntled candidates whose failure to attain a seat
in the legislature may now be blamed on something other than
internal party politics.
As it turns out, there is good reason for disappointment with
the implementation of this year's election. The political
parties managed themselves rather well throughout the campaign
period; however the National Election Commission apparently made
grave errors in setting up the polls. It has become apparent
that a huge number of eligible names may have been left off
voter rolls. Credible accusations of vote fraud also remain to
be addressed. As a result, there is some question as to whether
all of the country's leading political parties will sign off on
vote tallies once the counting is concluded on May 9.
But before we rush to support some disenfranchised political
set, it is important to understand the overall thrust of the
election results. By all accounts, incumbent President Susilo
Bambang Yudhoyono will almost certainly emerge the victor. His
Democrat Party is projected to have won a plurality in the
legislative election with approximately 20% of the vote. This is
nearly a three-fold increase above his party's fledgling
performance in 2004. Moreover, polls gauging the popularity of
candidates for the upcoming presidential election on July 8
identify Mr. Yudhoyono as the undisputed favorite ahead of all
other challengers by at least 35 percentage points in an open
race. Gauged against individual contenders in hypothetical
two-candidate races, the president's popularity increases
In the next position in the popularity polls is former President
Megawati Sukarnoputri, who held the nation's highest office from
July 2001 to October 2004. Her Indonesian Democratic Party of
Struggle (PDI-P) is known for its defiant stand against the
Soeharto government in 1996 as well as consistent leadership in
nationalist politics. PDI-P is projected to tie for second place
in the legislative election with Golkar. As the political
apparatus that orchestrated elections during the era of
authoritarian politics, Golkar's experience enabled it to win a
plurality of the vote in 2004. Its aging leaders now appear
rudderless however in spite of their partnership in Mr.
Yudhoyono's current ruling coalition. Each of these
second-string parties appears to have mustered only around 14%
of the vote this year, representing a decline since 2004 of
approximately four percentage points for Megawati's PDI-P and a
dismal seven point loss for Golkar.
Islamic political parties also experienced devastating setbacks
in this election. Overall, support for Islamic parties declined
from some 31% of the vote in 2004 to perhaps 20% this year.
Although the conservative Justice and Prosperity Party (PKS)
managed to gain a percentage point or so with 8.5% of the votes
projected, it fell far shy of its 20% target. Several smaller
Islamic parties appear to have suffered complete collapse as
their failure to secure at least 2.5% of the vote means they
will not be awarded seats in the legislature and will not be
eligible to contest the next national election in 2014. This
appears to be the fate of the ultra-conservative Crescent Star
Party (PBB), which has reportedly been knocking on the doors of
secular party offices this week in an effort to once again
reduce the minimum vote threshold needed for party survival.
Aside from President Yudhoyono's growing popularity and the
declining fortunes of political Islam, this election tells us
some profound things about Indonesian society. In particular, to
sum up the current state of Indonesian politics in a word, it
appears that Indonesians have grown increasingly pragmatic in
their approach to politics.
The nation's first democratic election in 1955 resulted in the
emergence of four relatively distinct political blocks with
nationalists, Islamic modernists, Islamic traditionalists, and
communists each earning between 16% and 22% of the vote. These
groupings reflected the deep social and cultural divisions that
animated politics for decades and led to the deadly polarization
of the mid-1960s.
The present election reveals little trace of an ideologically
divided nation. On the contrary, even experienced observers of
Indonesian politics are hard pressed to describe just how
Golkar, PDI-P and the Democrat Party differ beyond some minor
economic policy positions and of course the character of the
individuals involved. Each party is considered nationalist,
committed to Indonesia's official ideology of Pancasila, more or
less pro-business, and ostensibly anti-graft. Each also has some
track record of accommodating powerful religious lobbies when
party interests are at stake.
The fourth contender, the Islamic PKS, distinguishes itself as
the party of dakwah (Islamic preaching). However, as public
opinion polls have suggested public frustration with divisive
religious politics, PKS has moderated its approach and has
attempted to woo voters by presenting itself in increasingly
nationalistic terms.
In broad brush strokes, what this election thus suggests about
Indonesian society is that the emotional draw of ideology,
religion, charismatic leadership, and social controversy has
begun to decline as concerns about good governance, fiscal
accountability, and government professionalism have risen. The
problem that Indonesia faces no longer stems from its past
social and cultural divisions. Rather, the danger at hand
reflects the fragmentation of a political elite that has yet to
understand the interests of voters while failing to grasp the
nature of the new democratic playing field.
The fact is that it is hard to read this election as anything
other than a significant vote of confidence in President
Yudhoyono’s ability to govern—in spite of his party's current
weakness in the legislature. Most of the major political players
appear to have accepted this fact and are moving forward with
the coalition-building process through which they will nominate
candidates for the presidential election.
There will certainly be numerous disputes over legislative party
seats in the coming months. Indeed, it has quickly become clear
that the election of 2009 will be remembered as a serious test
of Indonesia's young democracy. But there is already a legal
precedent in place for handling election disputes in the courts.
Before any of Indonesia's major politicians decide to reject the
election results outright and lead their supporters into the
streets in protest, I suggest a whirlwind tour of the region.
Indonesia's expanding sense of democracy stands in sharp
contrast to several of its nearest Southeast Asian neighbors.
Across the Straights in Malaysia, for example, a new prime
minister has taken office amid a ban on opposition newspapers
and accusations of extra-constitutional political manipulation
in the northern state of Perak. In Thailand, a state of
emergency continues in the capital as democratic institutions
have been set aside in apparent favor of street demonstrations.
We've heard much about the world's largest Muslim-majority
nation in recent years and how it has come to stand out as a
model of democratic stability. We know that direct elections
have been instituted at the provincial, district, and municipal
levels across the country since 2005. But now with the nation
facing a growing political crisis, let us hope Indonesia's
current and former leaders can demonstrate to the world that all
of this talk about "Indonesian exceptionalism" really has some
Far Eastern Economic Review
by Richard Kraince
Richard Kraince is Research Professor of Southeast Asian
Humanities at the College of Mexico in Mexico City.

1 comment:

  1. Military air strikes hit own troops, civilians in South

    Maguindanao folk complain of indiscriminate Armed Forces operations

    COTABATO CITY: The indiscriminate air strikes by the Philippine Air Force (PAF) and artillery fires from the contingent of the Philippines Army in Maguindanao-embattled towns reportedly hit undetermined number of Army soldiers and innocent civilians, a source from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said on Wednesday.

    According to the MILF source, the PAF used OV-10 bomber planes, while the Army artillery battalion used 105mm and 155mm mortars in bombarding suspected MILF targets along the marsh lands within the towns of Datu Piang, Datu Saudi, Guindulungan and Talayan, all of Maguindanao province.

    Government soldiers were allegedly hit at Barangay Barrio Muslim, Guindulungan and Barangay Nimao, Datu Piang by shrapnel from the aerial bombings and artillery strikes of both the Air force and the Army.

    The Manila Times tried to get in touch with Lt. Col. Jonathan Ponce, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division based in Camp Siongco in Awang, Maguindanao, to get the side of the military. However, Ponce did not reply to the text message requested for his comments on the allegation of the MILF that not only civilians, but also Army soldiers were hit by the indiscriminate firing of their fellow soldiers.

    The MILF’s report that was also posted in the rebel’s website said the military concentrated its relentless and indiscriminate artillery bombardment in areas that included civilian communities in the towns of Datu Unsay, Datu Saudi, Shariff Aguak, Mamasapano, Rajah Buayan, Datu Piang, Guindulungan and Talayan.

    Kamid Afdal, 54 years old, and his son Jainon Kamid, nine years old, who were at Barangay Pikeg, Datu Unsay, were killed and wounded, respectively by the artillery shelling believed to be fired from the 64th Infantry Battalion Command Post at Crossing Salvo, Datu Unsay, according to the MILF source.

    Civilians have complained of the indiscriminate military operations that have resulted in many deaths and injuries, as well as massive evacuation of innocent residents.

    The MILF also accused the military of burning civilian houses in the towns of Shariff Aguak, Ma-masapano and Datu Saudi. But the military has not yet given any comment regarding this burning of civilian houses.

    The MILF hierarchy under the chairman of its Central Committee Al Haj Murad Ebrahim lamented that government officials and authorities that should serve and protect their people had been silent all along on these alleged atrocities being committed by government soldiers.

    The air and artillery offensives by the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Maguindanao entered its 12th day as of Wednesday.

    But most of all socio-economic activities of the people and also the schooling of the children who are forced to live with their parents at the evacuation sites have been hindered due to the fighting between the MILF rebels and the military in some of the embattled towns of Maguindanao since August last year.