Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Ruinous Pitfalls of a Divided Indonesia

Prabowo Subianto’s, left, next move in challenging President-Elect Joko Widodo’s right to the nation’s highest office.

President-Elect Joko Widodo faces a barrage of potentially damaging problems even before he officially enters office ‘United We Stand’:

Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo has been officially declared the winner of Indonesia’s hard-fought presidential election on July 9, and in his victory speech he called for the country to unite after a deeply divisive election that has seen his rival, Prabowo Subianto, challenge the decision.

Joko knows exactly how divided Indonesian society became over the people’s decision to choose the best political figure to lead the country for the next five years. Joko also knows that the different political choices of the members of his opposing camp seemed to be what caused a rift in the archipelago.

It is normal, then, for Joko to ask the Indonesian people to unite and start with a new and cooperative political life. To Joko, a united Indonesia will have to be based on the continued nurturing of democracy in the country.

This would perhaps be the most important domestic challenge Joko may face during his presidency.

As president-elect, Joko has begun to realize that if he moves alone in leading the country for the next five years, he can face many of the common dangers that may jeopardize the real fabric of the country in the long term. He may experience a “bumping over crisis and change.”

When calling the Indonesian people to unite, and to demonstrate his serious intention of uniting the country, Joko should have cited the story of two men trying break a bundle of sticks: however hard they tried, neither of them could break the bundle. But when they untied it, they had no trouble breaking the individual sticks.

The message derived from this story is crystal clear: that a harmonious, national political life needs to be worked out together, regardless of political orientation and background.

If Joko can really show his new prescriptions for reuniting Indonesia, and if his leadership can bring the people to build mutual trust and understanding, then the country can achieve what it wants, at least for the next five years.

What cannot be achieved by a single soul can be achieved by the combine efforts of the masses.

Joko’s call for unity sounds like a bright idea to start making a much better and stronger Indonesia, but it will be difficult to achieve. His road to the State Palace will not automatically see the disappearance of the myriad of problems the country currently faces, from poverty and conflict over land rights to labor unrest and religious violence and flashpoints in Papua and Aceh — not to mention the residual problems from the presidential election.

The country’s post-election political condition will still be in a vulnerable state as Prabowo’s camp continues to challenge the General Elections Commission (KPU) decision. And it’s not impossible that people will align themselves to Prabowo’s cause suggesting a more severe, if not deadly, conflict among society.

Perhaps, what one fears is that the post-presidential era will witness the dawn of a tug-of-war — a continuation of an open political, if not physical, clash between supporters of the two opposing political camps. This may, in turn, cause an erosion of trust and further disarray within the system.

Now that Joko has done enough to secure Indonesia’s highest office, he must start thinking of the best political, economic and perhaps security formulas to ensure that the country does not fall apart. His job as leader is to convince the people that what he will do what is best not just for the political parties that he represents, but for the Indonesian people at large.

The public policies Joko may initiate in the next five years will certainly be scrutinized by the people, if not by the opposition coalition.

Joko must realize the relatively small size of his coalition, which will control only 37 percent of legislative seats when the new House of Representatives goes into session on Oct. 1 — provided that the coalition led by Prabowo holds together.

This suggests the vulnerability of his presidential position if his basic national policies fail to garner political support from the House. The “Gus Dur fiasco” may then repeat itself.

Whether Joko’s call for unity is effective and whether people from all walks of life can clearly hear his call, Joko must realize from the very beginning that a critical weakness within Indonesian society is that its people are not strongly motivated to achieve unity as a nation. Sometimes the public mood is far too defensive — if not conservative — and disinclined to truly move forward.

This may lead one to conclude the problems Indonesia faces will not disappear even if Joko is perceived to able to maintain unity, if not a transition toward a full-fledged democracy. The fractures within society may have already run too deep.

Joko spoke of his aspiration for Indonesia to be an axis of global maritime trade as one of the key policies of his economic plan for a more self-reliant and sovereign Indonesia. But such a doctrine will certainly provide no strategic gains for the nation if Joko fails to eventually prevent Indonesia from falling deeper into a well of more acute problems. His call for the country to reunite would, instead, turn into a fractured society.

If this is the case, the expression “united we stand, divided we fall” comes to mind, suggesting the dangerous scenario: unless the Indonesian people are united, they will fall into pieces. In the end, one could then ask what kind of knowledge will contribute the most to understanding Joko’s prescription for Indonesia’s various problems in the next five years.

Bantarto Bandoro is a senior lecturer at the School of Defense Strategy at the Indonesian Defense University, and founder of the Institute for Defense and Strategic Research (IDSR) in Jakarta. (Reuters Photos) 


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