Saturday, October 9, 2010

Indonesian President Missed the Big Picture Yet Again in Canceling His Visit to Netherlands

Could President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s skin be any thinner? Once again the president has lashed out after perceiving an incident as a personal transgression against him. And once again, he seemed clueless about the larger picture.

Last month, Yudhoyono gave a tongue lashing to an official from Telkomsel in West Java after a technical glitch ended a teleconference he was chairing.

This week, he blasted the Netherlands and its judicial system, and also canceled a state visit, because some has-been Indonesian separatist group filed a case against him in a Dutch human rights court.

It didn’t matter that the sudden cancellation was a massive insult to Dutch Queen Beatrix, or that The Hague District Court summarily rejected the case or that Yudhoyono has diplomatic immunity.

Giving credence to critics who called him paranoid for claiming last year that the Bank Century scandal was being used to topple his government, the president said there might be an attempt to arrest him during his state visit.

The key word here is “him.” Wouldn’t the first state visit to the Netherlands by an Indonesian president in some 40 years benefit the country, even if there were protesters there?

Yudhoyono tried to further justify his behavior by saying The Hague District Court acted unethically in setting a hearing on the human rights lawsuit for the day after it was filed. Unethically?

That’s a strong word coming from someone whose country’s judiciary is so rotten that verdicts often favor the highest bidder.

Yudhoyono also claimed that the court set a world record for holding a hearing after a lawsuit was filed — one day.

Where did that come from?

Was it as fast as Yudhoyono moved to sign a presidential order in September 2009 to temporarily replace anticorruption officials Chandra Hamzah and Bibit Samad Rianto after they were charged in a bogus police graft investigation?

Diplomatic affronts aside, what’s really disturbing about the canceled state visit is that Yudhoyono doesn’t seem to understand the real issue — or is continuing to ignore it.

The South Maluku Republic’s lawsuit was about the alleged torture of at least 21 of its members by a counterterrorism unit during Yudhoyono’s visit to Maluku in August.

The separatist group had also filed another report on human rights abuses after activists were arrested and allegedly tortured for performing a traditional war dance and unfurling an outlawed independence flag in front of Yudhoyono during his visit to Ambon in 2007.

While it’s far-fetched to attempt to jail the president for torture allegedly carried out by the police, he reportedly did tell police during the 2007 incident to heavily punish the protesters.

So why didn’t he at least acknowledge the serious allegations in the lawsuit as he was canceling his state visit, given that the two alleged incidents of torture in Maluku were related to his trips there?

Maybe Yudhoyono doesn’t feel personally affronted by the torture allegations, or is oblivious to them.

Speaking of oblivious, how about lawmaker Mahfudz Siddiq trying to place the blame on the Dutch government for allowing an anti-Yudhoyono protest as well as the lawsuit.

Pardon me, but in democratic countries governments don’t arrest and ban protesters for exercising their rights of free speech and assembly, and they don’t meddle in the judicial system.

This confusion about democracy is apparently spreading like a flu bug at the House of Representatives.

House Speaker Marzuki Alie on Thursday said that Indonesia was more democratic than the United States because of the religious and ethnic diversity of its cabinet.

As an example, Alie said the United States had only recently elected a Muslim.

I can only assume he wasn’t talking about Barack Obama, who is a Christian, but Keith Ellison, who was elected to the House of Representatives in 2006.

Four years ago is not that recent, but in any event, numerous Muslims have been elected to smaller offices in US states.

They key word there is “elected.” The members of Yudhoyono’s cabinet, as ethnically and religiously diverse as they are, were not elected.

They were appointed and many of them are unqualified to hold their jobs. If cabinet members were elected, I doubt many of them would still be ministers.

There’s also the little problem of radical Islamist sympathies seeping into Yudhoyono’s cabinet.

Despite pleas from interfaith groups and Muslim scholars to go easy on the Ahmadiyah sect, Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali has continued his campaign to ban the group.

And despite calls for the repeal of a controversial regulation on houses of worship, Ali and Ministry of Home Affairs officials are drafting a law that will only lead to more discriminatory treatment against Christians.

And let’s not forget Comr. Gen. Timur Pradopo, the sole candidate to become the next National Police chief.

He apparently wants to invite the Islamic Defenders Front to help provide security in Jakarta and across Indonesia.

What is going on here? Last week, I warned that Indonesia’s moral compass is seriously out of whack.

This week, it’s even more so. But what’s even more disturbing is the lack of public outrage.

In 2006, author and former dissident Pramoedya Ananta Toer predicted a second revolution was coming to Indonesia.

As fanciful as that may have sounded coming during the reformasi era, the country’s powerful leadership is increasingly isolated and oblivious to the public’s wishes, impunity and injustice are rising, and more than 100 million people live on $2 a day or less.

To me, these sound like key ingredients to the kind of revolution Pramoedya was talking about.

By Joe Cochrane Jakarta Globe contributing editor.

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