Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tempers Flare in Indonesia Over Australia Spy Scandal

Indonesian media demanded Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott apologize over the country’s alleged efforts to wiretap President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and other prominent public officials on Wednesday as nationalist lawmakers took a hard-line stance against Australia, calling for harsh diplomatic sanctions over the spying allegations.

An illustration of Abbott dressed in stereotypical outback attire and listening to Yudhoyono’s phone conversation through a wall appeared on the front page of the Indonesian newspaper Tempo on Wednesday under the headline “Australian Public Urges Abbott to Apologize.”

Inside, an editorial written by SCTV reporter Raymond Kaya said that the two nations would be embroiled in a “war of pride” if Australia continued its refusal to apologize for the incident. The op/ed appeared in the newspaper as Indonesia suspended cooperation with Australia on a number of key fronts, including efforts to stem the flow of asylum seekers heading for Australian shores. The move will likely rile conservatives in Australia, many of whom supported Abbott’s hard-line anti-asylum seeker policies calling for stricter border control.

Indonesia’s largest newspaper Kompas drafted harsher criticisms of Australia, calling the nation “not a good neighbor,” in an editorial that said the wiretapping of First Lady Ani Yudhoyono’s phone was “inappropriate.”

“Australia’s intelligence was in violation and intruded into private affairs,” it read.

The newspaper’s editorial board demanded the two nations be treated equally during diplomatic disputes, explaining that Indonesia was “not an inferior nation” that could be pushed around.
“Does Australia not need Indonesia as a neighbor because they have [other] allies or a strong protector like the US?” the newspaper wrote.

The spy scandal placed serious strain on Indonesia-Australia relations, inspiring nationalist rhetoric in the House of Representatives as diplomatic ties dropped to their lowest point since the nation backed East Timor’s 1999 independence referendum.

“In the end, Australia will bear the loss, not [Indonesia],” said Agus Gumiwang, the deputy commissioner with House Commission I, adding that he was attempting to set up a delegation to visit US whistleblower Edward Snowden, the source of the wiretapping allegations, in Russia.
“We are trying to get Commission I to meet with Snowden,” he said.

The Golkar Party’s Poempida Hidayatulloh called for diplomatic sanctions against Australia and increased spending on the nation’s own intelligence programs.

“In solving this problem, just getting angry is not enough,” Poempida said. “This is the time we should leave this loser mentality behind, especially concerning foreign countries. This is the time for Indonesia to remain tough and show the world that we cannot be humiliated.”

International incidents often provide Indonesian lawmakers with a soapbox to air hard-line nationalist rhetoric bordering on the hysterical.

Democratic Party firebrand Ruhut Sitompul once responded to allegations that Malaysia had claimed a traditional Indonesian dance by threatening to bomb the country in a manner reminiscent of former president Sukarno’s konfrontasi with Malaysia.

“Once in a while, I think it’s necessary that we bomb [Malaysia] as a form of shock therapy,” the Democratic Party politician said. “Otherwise they will keep oppressing us. There’s no need for diplomacy — they always find excuses.”

With a legislative election in sight, politicians will likely grab every chance to score points. Voters are widely disillusioned with Yudhoyono, who has been seen as soft on issues including corruption and religious tolerance, and with his ruling party’s involvement in several high-profile graft cases. The party last polled below 10 percent.

As critics continue to accuse the president of inaction in the twilight of his second term, feelings of nostalgia for the iron-fisted reign of former president Gen. Suharto have taken hold in some corners of Indonesia. Stickers bearing a smiling Suharto asking “It was nicer in my era, right?” have begun to appear on cars in the capital.

It’s this sentiment, observers said, that may push some voters toward candidates such as former Kopassus special forces commander Prabowo Subianto, a controversial figure in Indonesian politics who some see as the anti-Yudhoyono: a strong leader with nationalist leanings.
On Wednesday, Yudhoyono’s stern words to Canberra found an audience in Jakarta, inspiring even long-time critics of the central government like Deputy House Speaker Priyo Budi Santoso to applaud the president’s decision to suspend cooperation with Australia.

Yudhoyono seems to believe that the two nations will work through this scandal, stating “This is a serious [legal] matter… [but] more importantly, if we think clearly, this is related to morals and ethics between best friends, neighbors and partners that actually have a good relationship.”
Those comments seem to indicate that the State Palace is eager for relations to return to business as usual, but for at least one lawmaker the clock is ticking.

“If Abbott does not apologize by [Thursday] night,” Ramadhan Pohan, of the Democratic Party, told the Indonesian news portal ”I predict that it will be the last night of Indonesia and Australia’s friendship.” ‘Jakarta Globe’

1 comment:

  1. Indonesia’s National Intelligence Agency’s (BIN) deputy of communication and information Bambang Wiyono refused on Wednesday to comment on allegations that the agency had spied on Australia about 14 years ago.
    The Australian media has run reports quoting former BIN chief AM Hendropriyono’s comments claimed to be made on an Australian TV program in 2004. Hendropriyono reportedly admitted that BIN had tapped Australian military officers’ and politicians’ phone calls during the 1999 East Timor crisis.
    Bambang said he was aware about the news reports but refused to comment. “[The alleged tapping] was a very long time ago. I need to check on old data […] I will get back to you soon,” he told The Jakarta Post when contacted on Wednesday afternoon.
    He had not reported back or replied to the Post’s messages as of Wednesday evening. His phone also appeared to be inactive.
    As well as his admission about the tapping, Hendropriyono is also reported to have said that BIN had unsuccessfully attempted to recruit Australian officials as double agents, reported.