The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Sunday, November 16, 2014


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(First published in The Jakarta Post 16 November 2014)

Monday, November 10, 2014


The Year of Essential Reading                                

An election year doesn’t just bloom politicians – it also fertilizes a flowering of books.  So far this year two excellent additions: Elizabeth Pisani’s Indonesia Etc [review published in The Jakarta Post 4 August 2014] and Australian journalist Hamish McDonald’s Demokrasi.
The books are different yet complementary.  One is an anecdotal tour of the archipelago using the micro to illuminate the macro, this one a crisp, more formal historical, social and political state-of-the nation account. Both are essential reads for anyone interested in this complex and curious country.
McDonald was a foreign correspondent in Jakarta between 1975 and 1978. In 1980 he earned his reporter’s Medal of Honor by being banned for writing Suharto’s Indonesia, a book reviewed at the time as ‘solid, well-written and balanced … a combination that is rare.’
The same qualities are present in Demokrasi, making it an ideal resource except for one crippling omission – no chapter notes.  This is strange because McDonald is now with the Australian National University; academics are ferocious about referencing, however notable the writer and lucid the writing.
McDonald, a mite bashfully, explains Demokrasi is “a quick overview …and in some aspects has been streamlined for ease of reading.” Possible translation: We’ve cut references to keep costs down. Suggestion:  Put the sources on a dedicated website.
This book was written before the inauguration of President Joko [Jokowi] Widodo but remains current with much background on him and his failed rival, Prabowo Subianto.  This includes the allegation that Prabowo once told ethnic Chinese businessman Sofyan Wanandi, that he was ready ‘to drive all the Chinese out of the country, even if that sets the economy back 20 or 30 years.’ 
Sofyan, also known as Sofjan, helped start the anti-communist think tank Centre for Strategic and International Studies [CSIS] in 1971, and offered advice to the Soeharto government till 1988. 
McDonald wrote this book helped by a fellowship and room at the CSIS in Jakarta, but also spent time in the provinces, including four days in West Papua, though restricted to the capital Jayapura.
A stupid decision by the military because it meant the author had to rely on the views of others who believe a slow genocide is underway through warfare and transmigration from Java, making the Papuans a minority in their own land. Had McDonald been allowed free access he might have come to different conclusions.
This is a book to help fit together the complex pieces of the sleazy and corrupt jigsaw of Jakarta politics.  For example, it reminds that Vice President Jusuf Kalla was mired in vote buying during the 2004 Golkar conference.
President Jokowi was helped to become Jakarta Governor by Prabowo, which partly explains the old general’s surly opposition. McDonald reports that despite Jokowi’s “perceived disregard for political guile … [he] paid careful homage to entrenched power groups”. 
These included the Special Forces unit Kopassus; when soldiers were accused of breaking into a jail in 2013 and killing four prisoners, Jokowi visited their headquarters as “a gesture of support.”
Nothing is quite what it seems in Indonesian politics where candidates jettison principles according to the wind direction, marry into each other’s families like medieval European royalty and go party shopping; if rebuffed they just start their own fiefdoms and tack on the word ‘democratic’.
Western palates are not always appropriate to savor this noodle bowl of power. In commenting on the Muhammadiyah organization McDonald writes: “Labels are difficult:  Orthodox does not necessarily mean conservative; ‘progressive’ or ‘modernist’ can also look orthodox and revivalist.”
So let’s add a new word to English: ‘Demokrasi’ - the Indonesian way of doing democracy. 
The chapter on religion opens with a marvellously contradictory image – pious young men reading the Koran before a suggestive portrait of the goddess Nyai Loro Kidul, the so-called Queen of the South Sea.
This synthesis of traditional beliefs with an imported faith has helped create a largely tolerant society, though pockets of hate remain.  Strangely Indonesia’s position as the largest Muslim nation by population “is not matched by its authority on religious or Middle East questions. It remains a receiver of wisdom from the Arab world, rather than a messenger of multi-religious tolerance.”
Why?  That’s a question for another book.
The challenge facing Western writers is to find the genuinely positive aspects of Indonesia.  It’s easy to focus on the negatives - appalling neglect of the infrastructure, corruption that corrodes everyone’s lives, a dysfunctional public service, persistent and debilitating poverty and an absence of basic services. Just one figure tells much - 14 per cent of urban dwellers don’t have access to toilets.
Though McDonald doesn’t shy from the faults and flaws he’s usually optimistic, even amidst illegal land clearing, the despair of conservationists everywhere: “The picture is a familiar one; good intentions and policies at the top undermined by a lack of enforcement capacity on the ground and by the corruption of the agencies supposed to monitor and guard the forests.  Still the approach [mapping to determine protection zones] cannot be written off.”
Indonesia hasn’t fallen apart. It’s not Egypt. It’s not Thailand. Terrorism has so far been contained. The media is so free some outlets publish manufactured stories.  Democracy seems to have survived. Despite the bitter election campaign and fears of blood in the streets, the election and inauguration went well.
McDonald wraps up his book with “an old Jakarta saying: ‘Anyone who thinks he understands the situation is sadly mistaken’.” He’s right. For outsiders the Indonesian journey is serpentine. It scales peaks and crevasses. It diverts. It is never ending.
Some of American poet T S Eliot’s verse could have been written for Indonesia: ‘We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time’.
Demokrasi – Indonesia in the 21st Century                                                                                  
by Hamish McDonald                                                                                                     
Published by Black Inc, Melbourne                                                                                         
(First published in The Jakarta Post 10 November 2014)

Saturday, November 08, 2014


Two neighbors, two systems, one dream                            
The 5 November State Memorial Service for the late Gough Whitlam, 98, Prime Minister of Australia between 1972 and 1975, revives memories of a time similar to this year’s rise of Joko (Jokowi) Widodo as the Republic’s seventh President.
The election that brought the Whitlam Labor Government to power ended a 23-year rule by conservative forces.  Like Jokowi’s ‘Mental Revolution’, Whitlam’s ‘It’s Time’ campaign excited optimistic reformers desperate for a fairer, more equal nation that respected its minorities.
As with Jokowi, it was the idealistic young who embraced the revolution and demanded much of their leader.
Fate decreed that Whitlam had only three years to deliver; maybe he had a premonition that his haters would never rest.  Certainly he understood the need for haste.
Australian troops were immediately pulled out of the Vietnam War; the White Australia immigration policy (widely and rightly despised in Indonesia) was shredded; Australia’s sphere of influence was redrawn to include Asia. Racial discrimination was outlawed.
Fault-free divorce dampened down much of the ugliness of marriage disintegration.  Benefits previously restricted to widows were made available to solo Moms. Equal pay gave independence. The right of women to break free from abusive relationships without being stigmatised by poverty had a huge impact on society,
In indigenous affairs the great changes included the recognition of Aboriginal land rights.
 Was it the incompetence of Whitlam’s clumsy ministers which crashed his government?  Many failed to understand the subtleties of administration and how to handle hostile bureaucrats, believing enthusiasm trumps management. Or was it the ruthless right determined to evict socialists trampling their sacred turf?
In a worrying reminder of allegations that America’s Central Intelligence Agency was involved in the 1965 coup that brought down President Soekarno, it has long been hinted that the CIA’s hand was also behind the dismissal of Whitlam ten years later because Australia was drifting away from US influence.
In 1975 Whitlam’s government fell because, like Jokowi’s today, it did not have a majority in Parliament – in this case the Senate.
Elements of the Establishment had been outraged by Whitlam’s election, just as they are with Jokowi getting his slippers under the Presidential bed.  However Whitlam was not a lad from the riverbank but a government lawyer’s son, splendidly schooled and raised in Canberra, the political heart of Australia.
After serving in the Air Force for four years and reaching the rank of Flight Lieutenant he worked as a lawyer before entering Parliament in 1952.
These credentials should have made him acceptable, but the Tories considered Whitlam a class traitor by joining Labor, traditionally the party for battlers with dirt under their fingernails. 
In a riveting panegyric at the Sydney Town Hall service, Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson said:
I don't know why someone with this old man's upper middle-class background could carry such a burning conviction that the barriers of class and race of the Australia of his upbringing and maturation should be torn down and replaced with the unapologetic principle of equality.”
Like President Jokowi, Whitlam stood apart.  Although some saw him as imperious (it can be difficult talking up to a man 1.94 meters tall), and he could be intimidating, he was able to communicate at all levels, addressing most as ‘comrades’ whatever their rank.
Like Jokowi he also had great sense of self-deprecating humor.
But here the similarities end, for Whitlam had oratory. As with President Soekarno Australia’s 21st Prime Minister was a skilled and erudite public speaker who drew huge crowds.  So far President Jokowi has not learned how to mesmerise and inspire the masses while still retaining his common-man charisma.
Those who heard Whitlam knew they were in the presence of a visionary determined to make a difference for his nation.  This was never just another self-server mouthing platitudes.  Proof is that thousands gathered in Sydney to remember a man who lost government almost 40 years ago, yet whose legacy lives on.
Australia’s political history can be dated BW and AW, before and after Whitlam.
Among the mourner-celebrants was actress Cate Blanchett, just a child when Whitlam was elected. In another skin-tingling speech the double Oscar-winner said her international career had been shaped because her health care and university education had been free (a policy abandoned by later governments), and Whitlam had understood the importance of culture.
I am the product of an Australia that engages with the globe and engages honestly with its history and its indigenous peoples,” she said.  “I am a small part of Australia's coming of age.”

She recalled Whitlam saying: ‘All other objectives of a Labor government – social reform, justice and equity in the provision of welfare services and educational opportunities – have as their goal the creation of a society in which the arts and the appreciation of spiritual and intellectual values can flourish.’

Whitlam’s speechwriter Graham Freudenberg, who wrote a biography titled A Certain Grandeur, talked about “the Whitlam touch …that lives on in the way we think about Australia, in the way we see the world. You would go the barricades with such a man.” 
Does Indonesia’s new leader have such a touch?  Will citizens go to the barricades for Jokowi should his opponents combine to topple?  In this culture is it necessary to have a certain grandeur?
Or are Indonesia and its politics altogether different from the country next door and the only thing we share is a dream for betterment?
(Malang-based journalist Duncan Graham was a media secretary in the Whitlam ministry.)
(First published in The Jakarta Post 8 November 2014)

He touches still the millions  – who share his vision for a more equal Australia, a more independent, inclusive, generous and tolerant Australia. And a nation confident of its future in our region and the world.
You will forgive an old man's pride, but the last time he performed that little gesture of his was in 2001, as we entered the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, the scene of his triumph 30 years before.
But his great stage was the House of Representatives – stage, pulpit, arena. For a decade, he won memorable victories in the House of Representatives.
In 1975, he fought his mightiest fight, in defence of the House of Representatives, and suffered his worst defeat, on the verge of victory. First and last, Gough Whitlam was the member for Werriwa. More than a place in outer Western Sydney.
To him, modern Australia in the making – with all its growing inequalities in "schools, hospitals, cities"- his shorthand for all the social conditions for decent Australian living, including, dare I mention, sewerage in the suburbs.
He saw that only the nation's Parliament and the nation's government could bring quality and equality to areas of Australian life, where Canberra had never before dared or cared. From Werriwa too, came his magnificent obsession with electoral equality, one vote, one value.
He believed with a passion, that this nation of immigrants must crash through the barriers of intolerance and prejudice about birth or background, race or religion. This was a new voice, new themes, a new agenda for Australia.
The Whitlam agenda remains part of the Australian agenda. 
"Contemporary relevance, comrade" – that was his watchword. And if ever he soared too high – or too long – there was always the other member for Werriwa, Margaret, to bring him back to earth.
And Mick Young. "The fun is where I am, Mungo". 
The irrepressible Mungo McCallum had asked him if he missed the fun of Canberra, when Bob Hawke sent him to liven up Paris. Gough was very serious about making us laugh. Not least at himself, and his ego.
There was a lot of laughter in the Whitlam years. Some tears too. But always, energy, urgency, enthusiasm. For the high and noble calling of political service. Drive and purpose for his party and his country. 
He believed profoundly in the Australian Labor Party as the mainstay of Australian democracy and equality. And always, there was the sense of living Australian history. And making it.
In his rich and mellow autumn, he worried occasionally lest he be like King Charles, remembered mainly for losing his head.
Your tributes – your presence here today – attest his true place in the hearts of his fellow Australians.
Paul Keating is right: "There was an Australia before Whitlam, and there was a different Australia after Whitlam".
He was the bridge. Within the wonderful continuity of our national life –our long parliamentary democracy underpinned by strong political parties– Gough Whitlam built a bridge.
As he put it in 1972: "Between the habits and fears of the past and the hopes and demands of the future". Optimism, enthusiasm, confidence – over fear, prejudice, conformity.
That is his enduring message to the men and women of Australia.
Graham Freudenberg was Gough Whitlam's speechwriter.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014


The Happy Theologian 


Studying other religions hasn’t led to a dilution of Zainal Abidin Bagir’s faith.

“My experiences and reading of concepts from Buddhism and Christianity have enriched my understanding of Islam,” said the Director of the Center for Religious and Cross-Cultural Studies [CRCS] at Yogyakarta’s Gadjah Mada University [UGM].

“Many religious leaders fear that people will change their beliefs if they learn about other faiths. They are suspicious and fear competition.  They make everything political.

“It’s probably a cliché, but dialogue dispels concerns. It’s unfortunate that our education system puts children in boxes based on faith.  When we group students on the basis of their interests and not their religion they are motivated to understand more.

“We don’t need to preach pluralism.  When there’s open space it becomes natural.”

This year Dr Bagir has been a visiting lecturer at the Victoria University of Wellington.  It’s the second time he’s been in New Zealand, having been involved in an inter-faith conference several years ago.

He’s been running two undergraduate units – Islam in the Contemporary World and Political Islam. An earlier unit on Democracy and Pluralism raised questions like: ‘When religion is said to be compatible with democracy, does it refer only to the liberal kind? Can democracy live with a conservative religion? If diversity is a mark of today’s democracy, what kind of pluralism is required by a pluralist democratic polity?’

Back at UGM he teaches postgraduates in the academic study of religion, and the philosophy of science and religion and contemporary issues.  He said there were no restrictions on class discussions because his students knew what to expect and were attracted by inquiry.

However In 2012 the university banned Canadian liberal Muslim author Irshad Manji from speaking at the CRCS after threats of violence from extremists.

The prohibition angered Dr Bagir and others who condemned the decision. “Better some shattered glass than our broken integrity,” he said.  “We should not give leeway to people who claim to represent certain religious views.  If it’s a crime, it’s a crime. [Since then a new rector has been elected.]

“If I could give a message to president elect Joko Widodo then it’s to re-establish the rule of law and give equality to all citizens, to support their human rights regardless of religion.  By not acting against intolerance we privilege intolerance.”

Dr Bagir’s early interest was mathematics, a subject he studied for his first degree before switching to religious studies.  “I thought I needed to learn about other things,” he said. “I was more interested in intellectual issues. Moving from maths to philosophy was not so big a jump as people imagine.”

He was born in Solo, Central Java, to “well-off, though not rich” parents with a batik factory. It was a liberal family where his father, a writer on faith issues who later opened a free school, encouraged broad discussion of religion among his eight children. 

This upbringing nurtured an inquiring mind, which led the young man away from calculus and into philosophy.  As a teenager he started to wrestle with the troubling ‘what’s it all about?’ and ‘why am I here?’ questions of life.

He moved to the West Java capital so he could study at the prestigious Institut Teknologi Bandung [ITB] – a tertiary educator with “a better intellectual atmosphere and the opportunity to be critical.” 

That was in 1984 when he was 18 and General Soeharto’s Orde Baru [New Order] government exercised total control.  In that year the military opened fire on anti-government protestors at Tanjung Priok in Jakarta, officially killing 24, though this figure is disputed. 

There were allegations that a Christian soldier entering a mosque while wearing boots had triggered rioting. At the time the media was strictly controlled but the ITB students were getting information about the incident through underground publications.  It was a disturbing discovery about the reality of religion and politics.

At ITB Dr Bagir came across the work of British philosopher and Nobel prizewinner Bertrand Russell.  He also started out as a mathematician, publishing the classic Principles of Mathematics when he was 31.  Later he became a famous leader of anti-war protests.

Like Russell Dr Bagir was drawn to logic.  He won a scholarship to study for a master’s degree at the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization in Kuala Lumpur, and then went to the US, taking a doctorate at Indiana University.

In 2005 his book Science and Religion in the Post Colonial World: Interfaith Perspectives was published in English, though most of his writings are in Indonesian.  Four years later he was appointed Indonesian associate for an UNESCO Chair in Inter-religious and Intercultural Relations.

One of the major differences between Indonesia and the West is the separation of faith and state. Dr Bagir said he recognized the difficulty in changing government policy on matters like the inclusion of religion on citizens’ identification cards but said the option to put ‘other’ on the cards was already available. 

However he acknowledged this was not always easy in small communities where officials made Islam the default religion for the non-religious. The assumption that a person who didn’t follow a religion was a communist, or had no morality, still persisted.

“This is the result of more than 30 years of government propaganda and the indoctrination of generations of schoolchildren,” he said.

“I’m a pluralist, though not in the MUI [Indonesian Ulema Council] sense.”  In 2005 the MUI issued a fatwa, or prohibition, against pluralism defined as seeing all religions as equal.

“Not all religions are the same, but we need to respect diversity.  It contributes to the richness of life.  All the major religions accept submission to the will of God.

“My father once asked me to do ‘what makes you happy’.  Religion should be about doing good to others, how you deal with other people.  That’s more important than faith as a personal issue.”  

(First published in The Jakarta Post 5 November 2014)

Monday, November 03, 2014


Kalimantan – why care?   

Looking for Borneo is wrongly titled.  It should have been called Looking After Borneo – because it’s really – as veteran travel writer Bill Dalton says in the foreword –   “a call to action, a plea to save this special place from the ravages of development.”
Fair enough – the lush photos and quirky paintings, the splendid layout and care for detail    make this a fine addition to Green literature. The plight of orang-utans facing fast death by firearm or slow extinction through loss of habitat is reason enough for attention.
But if these things are so important, why are the Australasian contributors to this lovely book living in Bali and Lombok? Their commitments to Kalimantan are genuine, but like US forces in Syria, their boots aren’t on the ground where their talents might be even more effective.
Readers who can’t get to Borneo, the world’s third largest island can maintain their concerns by buying this book, as the author cheekily suggests, though not for personal gain.
None of the contributors got paid.  Should there be any profits these will go to three charities – two of them in Kalimantan.
 Looking for Borneo is also a handy resource with a list of internet links under the heading What Else Can You Do? Good idea, but how effective are these likely to be against the big dollar developers clearing the bush for palm plantations, deaf to the conservationists’ concerns.
Here’s an answer, though hopefully more a reinforcement for urgent action than passive acceptance:  This review was written under a blanket of haze blown across the Java Sea from the illegal burning of forest trash in Kalimantan, a practise that was supposed to have been halted long  ago, yet continues every year to smother this country and its neighbors.
Another reality: Borneo, Asia’s largest island, is shared by three nations – Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia, the latter controlling almost three quarters of the land mass.  In 2007 the tripartite Heart of Borneo Conservation Agreement was declared at the urgings of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Splendid decision - but this year the WWF reported that 10 per cent of the supposedly protected forest cover of what it calls ‘Asia’s last great rainforest’ has been put to the chainsaw since pen scratched paper.

Last year education consultant Dr Mark Heyward published Crazy Little Heaven, an account of a 17 day cross-Kalimantan journey with a few mates taken almost two decades earlier. Looking for Borneo is an extension and enlargement, embellishing Heyward’s earlier prose with photos by David Metcalf, landscapes so juicy the sap runs, portraits so clear the sweat has odor.
Then there’s Khan Wilson’s surrealist artwork featuring manga-eyed maidens, their tilted heads resting on well-upholstered bosoms,
These are also supposed to have been inspired by Heyward’s words, though the link is tenuous and the colors more interior than exterior.  The style is Bali-spa hedonistic and repetitious, but the pictures are joyous enough even though out of place.

Another addition is a 14-track CD featuring the skilled guitar work and composition of polymath Heyward, mainly in what Dalton labels ‘kampong folk rock’. Party stuff rather than gentle listening, though the ballads, when allowed to rise above the backing, encourage contemplation.
So altogether a substantial package assembled for good reasons. The problem is structure.  The early parts of the book don’t coalesce despite Borneo being the central theme.  The words are about a man’s brief mid-life venture into the heart of the unknown (real and personal) with a few mates last century – a tale already told in his earlier book
It’s a pity that Heyward didn’t revisit his walkabout and record his impressions anew now his vision has matured and understanding broadened.  Then readers would have before and after examples to aggravate their wrath at the despoliation.
Towards the end we get the hard update:  “East Kalimantan is the province with the highest gross regional product in Indonesia, yet a quarter of a million of its people are classified as poor.”
Heyward canvasses eco-tourism, a ban on new plantations and boycotting palm oil products as possible solutions, but rightly recognizes there’ll be no change without “strong political will … and better law enforcement.”
Looking at how national parks are managed in the rest of the world might help, but not all overseas strategies survive transplantation to countries where the politics are brutally corrupt and where personal gain regularly trumps national interest.
 Indonesian solutions have to be found for Indonesian problems – and if the powers in Jakarta don’t care about their environment and citizens, then why should others?
Maybe it’s too late.  Heyward says the Dayaks are already divided between urban dwellers and bush people; missionaries have planted alien faiths; technology and a cash economy are impacting on forest folk along with cultures everywhere.
No doubt some will prefer clicking files in air-conditioned offices to blowpiping proboscis   monkeys in the dripping canopy, but if their environment is preserved the Dayaks will have the chance to choose how and where they live, a basic human right.
It’s not just the traditional occupiers and users of Borneo’s riches who will then benefit.  The whole world will literally breathe easier if this great green lung survives. That makes it a matter too important to leave to the cabals in Menteng, so they also need to read this book.
Looking for Borneo                                                                                                                   
by Mark Heyward, David Metcalf and Khan Wilson                                                    
Published by Creatavision Publishing 2014   168 pages

(First published in The Jakarta Post 3 November 2014)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Oligarchs with a country     

Has Indonesia’s new president Joko (Jokowi) Widodo read the ancient works of Chinese general Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War?
In personal interviews with local media questions have focussed on his breakfasts and wife Iriana’s dress.  Like her husband she is no fashionista, preferring plain and simple, which will infuriate the establishment’s elaborately coiffed ice matrons shouldering Gucci bags of sharpened hatpins.
There has been no interest in what books are on the couple’s bedside table, probably because the reporters – like many Indonesians – are not great readers of anything longer than a 140 character tweet.
Nonetheless Indonesia’s seventh president seems to understand the value of a quote attributed to the warrior who lived five centuries before Christ:  Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.
How else to explain Jokowi singling out his ‘friend’ Prabowo Subianto for applause during the 20 October Presidential inauguration ceremony? The former general with a black human-rights record was Jokowi’s bitter opponent in the 9 July direct election.  Prabowo still runs a ruthless campaign to unseat the man who beat him for the top job by eight million votes.
Another answer is that Jokowi is Javanese, an ethnic group that believes in harmony and prefers to say ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’ to avoid embarrassment, even when the negative is meant – a trait that can drive naïve Westerners nuts. Perhaps the gesture went some way to placating a man with boiling anger and cash enough to create havoc and destroy the people’s choice.  It certainly put Jokowi on the high moral ground, if such a position exists in politics.
If Jokowi truly considers his rival a friend, what constitutes an enemy?  Prabowo’s campaign trawled pits of slime in bids to destroy Jokowi, claiming he was a Christian planning to eradicate Islam, a communist Chinese born in Singapore and had fathered an illegitimate son.  By comparison, the Liberal’s campaign against PM Julia Gillard was sweet and civilised.
Prabowo, who is not a parliamentarian, has assembled a coalition of parties that outnumber Jokowi’s supporters in the national legislature.  This group has already passed an anti-democracy law cancelling regional elections in favour of Jakarta selecting district governors, regents and mayors.
This was the system used by the authoritarian General Suharto who led the nation for 32 years; he was also Prabowo’s former father-in-law.
Jokowi was a furniture trader from a small town in Central Java before being elected as local mayor, then governor of Jakarta by popular vote – an impossible political journey in the future should the new law stand.
He has no known family connections with Jakarta’s military, business, high-born or religious elite, qualities that make him attractive to ordinary Indonesians, but poison to the corrupt and powerful bent on retrieving their authority.
Commented Driyarkara School of Philosophy academic B Herry-Priyono in The Jakarta Post: ‘Most countries have oligarchs, but in Indonesia the oligarchs have a country. They have been lording it over us for so long, arresting the nation from its march toward the common good.
Six days after his inauguration, and numerous false starts, Jokowi unwrapped his 34-member ‘Working Cabinet’, after the Corruption Eradication Commission had recommended the exclusion of eight candidates.
The ceremony on the Presidential Palace lawn had the ministry in identical white shirts. It was less than dignified; many ministers dashed across the grass to get in line, though such behaviour was clearly beneath human development and culture minister Puan Maharani; the ambitious but unpopular granddaughter of first president Sukarno just strode.
 She could afford to take her time: Her mum is Megawati Sukarnoputri, the proud and stubborn leader of the PDIP-Party that sponsored Jokowi after advisors persuaded her not to stand for president, having been rejected by the electorate in the 2004 and 2009 elections.  She and Puan gave him little support, reportedly saying he was only a ‘party official’.  There’s much talk that she’s the puppet master.
Foreign minister Retno Marsudi is a career diplomat and former Ambassador to the Netherlands, the first woman to hold the top job. Nine ministers have business backgrounds and nine are academics, including Adelaide University PhD graduate Pratikno, rector of Yogyakarta’s University Gadjah Mada.  He’s the new State Secretary. Jokowi is a UGM science graduate, and so is Retno.
A major concern is the selection of former general Ryamizard Ryacudu, a noted hardliner and minister when Megawati was the fifth president.  Human rights groups have condemned his promotion, alleging a bad record in Aceh where unsuccessful attempts were made to destroy local rebels through overwhelming brute force.
Unlike the Westminster system, ministers can be drawn from anywhere and are not always politicians or active members of parties.  The response from the Jakarta commentariat to the Cabinet has been lukewarm, tinted with concern, largely because 14 politicians have been included, apparently for supporting the PDI-P rather than for their expertise and achievements, as promised in earlier Jokowi statements.
Jokowi and his Cabinet will need to ride the bureaucracy hard or the planned reforms to the nation’s economy and infrastructure will never take root. Indonesia’s 4.5 million khaki-uniformed bureaucrats are skilled in obfuscation, doing what they want, not what the politicians direct.  Yes, Minister could have been written for Indonesia.
The President will also need to nip at the heels of some ministers, reminding them they’re there to serve, not be served.
This month Indonesia scaled the peak of inflated expectations in the hype cycle; from now on our northern neighbour will be heading to the trough of disillusionment before the government rises to the plateau of productivity.
Along the way beware the oligarchs. They never forget and seldom forgive. 

(First published in On Line Opinion, 29 October 2014.  For comments:

Monday, October 20, 2014



“Most countries have oligarchs, but in Indonesia the oligarchs have a country. They have been lording it over us for so long, arresting the nation from its march toward the common good.

That neat piece of prose by Driyarkara School of Philosophy academic B Herry-Priyono in  The Jakarta Post brought a thoughtful touch to the 20 October inauguration of Indonesia’s seventh president, Joko (Jokowi) Widodo.

The pomp was low key and the organisation professional.  Some of the old guard looked sour, but at least they came.  There weren’t too many uniforms.

The event went smoothly despite predictions of a boycott by Jokowi’s rival, former general Prabowo Subianto whose presence was formally recognised and applauded during the 90 minute event. This was despite the bully, who took more than three months to concede defeat, having no position equal to the assembled politicians, diplomats and world leaders – plus partners. 

Jokowi even called Prabowo, who has spent the past few months slandering, insulting and undermining him at every turn, his ‘friend’. What more evil has to be done to become an enemy?
But this is Java, so perhaps it went some way to placating a man with anger and dollars enough to create havoc and destroy the people’s choice.

Before the anthems,  protocols and a conga-line of handshakers,  a jocular Jokowi chatted with reporters and showed off his family, with his eldest son Gibran Rakabuming Raka, giving a splendid performance of surliness.  Maybe that’s his Australian education rubbing off.

The body language and brief comments by his other two kids and wife Iriana also showed they’d rather be elsewhere.  Fair enough – she married a timber trader, not a leader of the nation. Did anyone ask her if she ever wanted to be First Lady? No, but they did comment on her hairdo and ask what shoes she’d wear, a question I didn’t hear being put to her husband.

When Pak Jokowi started his speech it seemed it would be another faltering performance.  Then, suddenly, President Jokowi emerged, speaking strongly and moving with dignity.  Some people are born to rule – others grow into the job.
But beware the oligarchs. They never forget and seldom forgive.  And whatever the President might say, they are no friends of reform and democracy.

Statement seen on Facebook:

We, the People, have spoken. Hear our voice.
You were not chosen to gather riches for yourself, or for your family and friends.
You were not chosen to ride in big cars swaggering through our crowded streets, sweeping us aside like rubbish.
You were not chosen to make secret deals with VIPs in fancy hotels while we wait for the crumbs from your table.
You were not chosen to sell our motherland, our heritage, our future.
You were chosen to lead us to a land where equality, fairness and justice flourish. You are us and we are you.
Forget us and you will betray yourself and our beloved nation.
We, the People, have spoken. 
Hear our voice.

Feel a little pity for Greg Sheridan.
The foreign editor for a once worthy newspaper, he now sees himself as the Expert on Indonesia.  In some quarters, namely those owned by his boss Rupert Murdoch, he is described as being ‘most influential.’
Sheridan isn’t just another hack in the scrum with a battered tape recorder and ripped notebook.  This is a man who walks on the other side of the security fence.
Last year he told The Jakarta Post that Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott had been his friend for almost 40 years, asking his readers to “keep an open mind about our new prime minister … who comes to Indonesia … full of goodwill.”
In case some might think Sheridan had left The Australian and joined his friend’s PR office he added that he also loves Indonesia.  These honeyed words got him interviews with former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, but not Jokowi.
It was bad enough that Jokowi’s advisers bestowed a one-on-one interview to The New York Times, but they also included Australia’s Fairfax Media, publishers of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.
In brief, Sheridan was scooped.
Like Probowo he then threw a hissy fit, condemning the Fairfax story and trying to cap it with one of his own – an interview with “one of the most senior officials in Indonesia.”
As this person wasn’t named we can only assume he’s as ‘most influential’ with the new government as Sheridan.


The Cabinet.  Who's in, who's out.  Selected by merit or through the old mates' club?  Details expected 21 October.