Though it started well earlier this year, the signals now flashing from across the Arafura Sea are no longer cheering. The world’s third largest democracy celebrated a successful poll in April when the voters made their wishes clear. Since then Indonesia’s politicians have ignored the electors and set about imposing agendas never revealed during the campaign.The key word in Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s Kabinet Indonesia Maju is Advance. It would be better labeled Mundur – Retreat.
An effective democracy goes beyond a fleeting link twixt elector and candidate. The ballot-box encounter is just the start. Connections between voters and their reps should continue through the parliament’s life.
Hey ho. That ideal is being torched in Indonesia faster than the jungles of Kalimantan are being slashed and burned for palm oil plantations.
How do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways. The most obvious is the promotion to Cabinet of Widodo’s brutal and relentless rival Prabowo Subianto, already covered by this website: https://johnmenadue.com/duncan-graham-threatening-unity-by-seeking-harmony/
Just to recap: Subianto makes Shakespeare’s Coriolanus look like a crowd extra. The former son-in-law of second President Soeharto and one-time Special Forces commander knows he’s born to rule – and so should the mob.
He was kicked out of the army in 1998 for ‘misinterpreting orders’ and thrashed twice in his bid for the top job. Now the patrician has so intimidated plebeian Widodo that the loser has won the Defence portfolio. He’s in charge of a reported AU $13 billion arms-procurement budget where the opportunities for graft will be limitless.
Technically he’s answerable to a civilian, former Constitutional Court chief Mohammad Mahfud, now Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs. Few expect Subianto to respect protocols.
Some think Widodo is following the apparent advice of Chinese general Sun Tzu who lived six centuries BC: ‘Keep friends close and enemies closer’. Unlikely, as the President is not known to be a philosopher, historian or profound thinker.
A prime example: When announcing his Cabinet he gave Subianto a job description which redefines carte blanche: ‘I believe I don’t have to tell him about his job ─ he knows more than I do.’
As the autocrat hasn’t held a swagger stick for two decades and never been in government, this implies the President thinks Subianto naturally understands advances in weapon technologies by virtue of being a macho-man.
Alternatively it suggests Widodo thinks a military drone is a soldier who won’t stop talking. So although Commander-in-Chief he prefers the pre-feminist eyelid-fluttering line: What would Little Me know of Big Boys’ toys?
In the last few days there’ve been photos of the overweight Subianto being saluted on Java’s parade grounds. These contrasted with pix of slim Widodo dancing with a line of Papuans in traditional costume.
Unless Subianto, 68, is felled by a stroke – his early campaign appearances suggested he may have been struck last year – expect him to be President in 2024. Widodo is legally prevented from serving a third term so politically can use his five-year term to stamp his authority. That’s not his style.
In this imagined future Subianto will be elected by the legislature, not the people. This is the ‘reform’ now openly sought by all major parties whose members detest having to ingratiate themselves to get the wee folk’s votes.
After announcing his Cabinet, Widodo left the mice to play and headed to the western end of New Guinea Island, an Indonesian province. He opened a bridge, pondered the creation of another province and sidestepped questions about two months of rioting by Melanesian activists who claim they’re treated ‘like monkeys’ by the Javanese.
We don’t know how many have been killed, wounded and made homeless by the violence because foreign journalists are banned. Local scribes have courageously reported scores have died; their ability to keep focusing may be curtailed by proposed lese majeste laws which would cheer Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
While Widodo was doing some nimble footwork in the Papuan dust, back in the Big Durian new Attorney General Sanitiar Burhanuddin, a former State prosecutor, called on the firing squads to start greasing their Pindad SS2 rifles.
There have been no executions for the past two years. Malaysia is reportedly intent on demolishing the colonial gallows. There are more than 300 waiting to be strapped to stakes in clearings behind Indonesian barracks, according to Amnesty International. Many are convicted drug dealers.
When Widodo played Tough Guy by ignoring Australian pleas to stay the shooting of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in 2015, he claimed their deaths were necessary to kill the drug trade. The wretched business thrives still.
Another distraction from Widodo’s plans to boost infrastructure and reform education came when Bahlil Lahadalia, the Minister Chair of the Investment Coordinating Board, pronounced an immediate halt to all nickel exports.
The Jakarta Post reported the announcement was ‘riddled with nationalistic rhetoric’ and said his statement was based on ‘a collective awareness [among
stakeholders] as children of the nation’.
A day later came fresh news: The ban is just for two weeks. It will be fully implemented next year. Corporates noted that policy on the run did not speed attempts to build trust in the race to win international business credibility.
More than half the Republic’s population of almost 270 million is female – only five of the 38-member Cabinet are women. By these standards PM Scott Morrison’s seven in 23 looks splendidly progressive.
Six retired generals now run ministries, including religious affairs and health. Here Widodo’s judgment is again shown as flawed. He appointed Army doctor Terawan Agus Putranto as Minister while knowing the Medical Association had recommended a year’s suspension for an ethics violation.
Putranto had been promoting a controversial and untested stroke treatment called ‘brain wash therapy’. More correctly titled ‘intra-arterial cerebral flushing’, it uses the anticoagulant heparin.
Now comes another health hurt, this time to wallets with a doubling of premiums paid for government health insurance as doctors and hospitals claw for more. Millions are expected to quit the scheme creating even greater fiscal sickness.
Widodo was heralded as a reformer and man of the people when first elected in 2014. A small businessman from a regional town, free of ties to the military, he was the Heavy Metal fan and biker feeling the Post Millennials’ vibes.
They thought him woke, a defender of human rights and democracy – independent, divorced from last century’s oppressive oligarchy, ready to make their nation famous for innovation, not corruption.
They were wrong. They feel betrayed. They may not stay quiet.
Duncan Graham is an Australian journalist writing from Indonesia.