DUNCAN GRAHAM . Can young voices get into elders’ ears?

Dec 11, 2019

Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s Cabinet selection has been met with widespread dismay by liberal progressives. There have been some weird choices noted here https://johnmenadue.com/duncan-graham-dont-cry-for-me-indonesia/

The most disturbing was making Widodo’s bitter and brutal rival Prabowo Subianto, 68, Defence Minister, even though the former general with a suspect human rights record had been decisively rejected by the electorate.

Suddenly and surprisingly there’s been a reaction: Concerns about the Cabinet have been heard behind Jakarta’s White House walls.

Widodo has now put seven young advisers on his payroll, including three women. Some have been educated overseas and worked on Internet startups. These social media wizards are supposed to offset the oldies’ stamp-and-envelope thinking with fresh solutions.

Great idea, but it’s unlikely the postulants can prise the oligarchs’ arthritic hands off Indonesia’s steering wheel. The Republic is driven by an elite and complex cluster of feudal, business, military and religious families presiding over a culture where youth is expected to respect age, however ignorant the elder.

The neophytes will not be noticed unless they can brawl like street fighters in the political rubble of a society that’s only had some form of democracy this century.

Fadli Zon, chair of Widodo’s coalition party Gerindra, was reported tagging the appointments a ‘decoration … tantamount to waste.’

The oldest Gen Y sparkler is 36, the youngest 23. Their boss used Instagram to call them ‘my partners in discussion every month, every week or every day … I can look for out-of-the-box ideas and leaping breakthroughs towards development’.

The newbies should have lots to say. They can feel the community’s pulse better than most in a country where the median age is 28 – though the leaders are around four decades older.

The term KKN (Korupsi, Kolusi, Nepotisme) was widely used last century to describe the 32-year administration of the dictator and kleptocrat Soeharto who was forced to quit in 1998.

KKN was condemned by the revolutionaries of that time and by the young supporters of Widodo in his first election win in 2014, but the evildoers have survived and are now launching counter offensives.

Their most recent success has been in getting the President to tick laws rushed through Parliament this year to castrate the Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (Corruption Eradication Commission – KPK) the nation’s most admired agency.

It runs parallel to the police and had wide powers to investigate and prosecute. Since 2002 the KPK has helped jail about 1,000 senior public servants and politicians caught backing their utes up to the Treasury’s loading bays.

The public cheered – the villains plotted revenge and are now emboldened with success.

Stage two of the back-to-the past plan is stopping direct elections, the system responsible for elevating commoner Widodo to the Palace.

Better that onerous task is left to the professional politicians who know the right person. Widodo says he wants the law retained; he constitutionally can’t stand again so his views get flicked aside.

His handpicked smarties will probably agree the people’s voice should rule and the KPK be strengthened. They would know how the late Lee Kuan Yew stamped out corruption (though not nepotism) in Singapore by being ruthless and running a one-party state.

However they won’t get their briefing papers past Megawati Soekarnoputri, 72, even though she’s currently best placed to lead the charge for reform.

The uncrowned queen of Indonesia and a former president runs the Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan (Democratic Party of Struggle – PDI-P) like Xi Jinping controls the Communist Party in China. Widodo is a PDI-P member and gets treated as a functionary.

Mega is the daughter of first president Soekarno; she’s also mother of Puan Maharani, 46. Mum wants her youngest child, currently Speaker of the People’s Representative Council, to be the next president.

The genes of Granddad’s charisma weren’t passed on to his heirs. Puan, who was born after the nation’s founder died in 1970, is not the brightest object in Jakarta’s firmament of decaying stars. She’ll fail to fulfil her supposed destiny if the voters have their say – so best they don’t.

The ginger group might also suggest that religious instruction be toned down in public education leaving more time for the essentials which lead to jobs.

Such recommendations would head straight to the bin of Vice President Ma’ruf Amin, 76. He’s a hard right anti-pluralist Islamic scholar who helped organise the huge 2012 rallies against the Christian ethnic Chinese Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok).

The charge was blasphemy. It put Ahok behind bars for two years and the nation’s reputation for religious tolerance back two decades. A noted can-do guy famous for trampling toes, he’s now been partially rehabilitated by Widodo as President Commissioner of Pertamina, the nation’s monopoly oil company.

Team 2020 is also expected to raise concerns that Widodo has yet to meet his promise to hold inquiries into the army-organised 1965 killings of 500,000 plus real or imagined Communists, clearing the way for reconciliation.

This memo will never get past Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, 72, another former general and now Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs. He was previously the Presidential Chief of Staff and is known to be Widodo’s whisperer. He’ll certainly shield the military from any investigation of the genocide.

Then there’s education – something the advisers know better than the advised as their experiences are fresh. Like all concerned Indonesians they would have been distressed with the latest findings of the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

These continue to show atrocious performances in science, reading and maths compared with same age kids in 79 countries, including neighbours like Malaysia and Thailand.

At 35 Nadiem Makarim, former dotcom entrepreneur and now Education and Culture Minister, should keep his door ajar for Widodo’s consultants. But the Harvard Business School graduate’s response to the PISA results has been disappointing – bland words and no plan:

‘(They’re a) valuable input for evaluating and improving the quality of education in Indonesia. We have to have the courage to change and improve. In accordance with the President’s directive to create great human resources, we will continue to try and make breakthroughs.’

Education experts claim the answer is to recruit exceptional teachers and reward them well, but that would need a revolution. Most are government employees, poorly paid but with a pension after retirement in their 50s. There are more than three million.

The old simile of social change being as tricky as maneuvering a megatanker in a cramped port isn’t up to the task. The schooling system needs to be attacked like Pearl Harbour and then rebuilt.

Indonesians will soon be able to judge Widodo’s team. The most incandescent will quit for something worthwhile rather than waste the next five years trying to demolish the KKN fortress with toothpicks.

Duncan Graham is an Australian journalist writing from Indonesia.

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