Asia in Review Archive (2018)


Date of AiR edition

News summary

Web links

4 December 2018

Major Muslim rally in Jakarta, also attended by Prabowo Subianto

(ls) Tens of thousands of Indonesian Muslims held a rally in Jakarta on Sunday led by groups who had agitated to remove the city’s Christian governor Ahok in 2016. Organizers called their movement a “reunion”. The rally was attended by former general, Prabowo Subianto, who will confront President Joko Widodo in next year’s presidential election. Widodo, who is a popular moderate, has chosen a 75-year-old Islamic cleric, Ma’ruf Amin, as his running mate in the election. [Reuters]

Observers say that religion, in particular Islam, will become an even more important political issue in the April 2019 election. Proving the point, the ethnic Chinese Protestant leader of the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), Grace Natalie, was summoned by the police for seven hours of questioning after saying that her party would not support discriminatory local laws based on “the Bible or sharia” and that forced closures of places of worship should end. [South China Morning Post 1]

Meanwhile, the Indonesian government presented a new app that lets the public report suspected cases of religious heresy. Users of the app can report groups practicing unrecognized faiths or unorthodox interpretations of Indonesia’s six officially recognized religions which are Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. [South China Morning Post 2]

4 December 2018

Indonesia: Judges arrested for suspicion of bribery:

(cc) The Corruption Eradiction Commission (KPK) arrested several persons in relation to an investigation on alleged bribery including two South Jakarta District Court judges and a court clerk. According to the KPK’s deputy chairman Alexander Marwata, “the illicit funds in question allegedly were paid to influence the judges handling a certain case at the South Jakarta District Court” and US$34,281 were seized during the operation. The Supreme Court has started a judicial reform more than fifteen years ago, but the recent arrests raised interrogations regarding it efficiency. Indeed, from 2010 to May 2018 at least 18 judges were prosecuted in cases related to corruption. On Wednesday, the KPK urged the Supreme Court to improve the management system to prevent bribery. [The Jakarta Post 1] [The Jakarta Post 2]

4 December 2018

Inaugural Indian Navy-Indonesian Navy Bilateral Exercise

(jk) The Indian Navy joined the Indonesian Navy in the first iteration of a new naval exercise earlier last month in a sign of more interest in defence cooperation with Southeast Asia and Indonesia in particular. In May, Modi and Widodo have upgraded their countries’ relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership and also agreed for India to develop the strategically located port on the Indonesian island of Sabang, in the northern part of the Malacca Strait. [JagranRosh]

27 November 2018

Agreement on Cyber Security Pact between Indonesia and the United-States

(cc) On November 20, Indonesia’s police chief and US Deputy Attorney-General agreed on a cyber security pact on the sidelines of the Interpol General Assembly in Dubai focusing on cyber security. The agreement aims at strengthening bilateral cooperation against transnational cyber and financial crime and comes shortly after the adoption of the Asean-US Leaders’ Statement on Cyber-security Cooperation. The pact included training of the Indonesian police officers by their American counterparts. [Straits Times]

30 October 2018

Indonesia to review China’s BRI projects if Prabowo beats Widodo

(jk) According to the brother and campaign leader of General Probowo who will again run in the presidential elections against incumbent Joko Widodo next year, the general would re-consider and scrutinise many of the Chinese-Indonesian infrastructure deals that have been struck under the Belt and Road initiative. [SCMP]

While it is possible that he would like to review some projects for their economic feasibility, it is also obvious that the campaign is trying to take a page out of Malaysia’s book, where a critical stance towards Chinese investments has helped Pakatan Harapan to score an unlikely electoral victory. Nonetheless, the circumstances are (as of yet) different as the direction of critique in Malaysia was against the corruption of the government first and against China second.



30 October 2018

Indonesia: KPK arrests executives of palm firms in relation to a bribery case

(cc) The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), again, has arrested seven people including the vice president director of Sinar Mas Agro and Edy Saputra Suradja, chief executive of PT Binasawit Abadi Pratama in relation to a bribery case. The two companies Sinar Mas Agro and Binasawit are affiliated to the palm oil giant Golden Agri-Resources Ltd.

The case concerns the bribing of local lawmakers to avoid an investigation into Binasawit’s plantation permits and palm processing waste near Lake Sembuluh in Seruyan district in Borneo Island. 240 million rupiah have been confiscated by the KPK.  Golden Agri stated that the company will fully cooperate in the investigation. [Reuters]

23 October 2018

Nine persons arrested in relation to corruption in “Shenzhen of Indonesia” project

(cc) Indonesia’s corruption agency (KPK) has arrested nine persons for bribery in a corruption investigation related to the gigantic real estate project Meikarta near Jakarta led by the Lippo Group. The “Shenzhen of Indonesia” is a $21 billion project and Lippo Group’s biggest project so far. [Reuters]

16 October 2018

Can ASEAN benefit from the US-China Trade War?

(jk) The ongoing trade war between China and the US could lead to long term economic shifts in Asia. Some producers have already shifted their production to countries outside of mainland China, in order to be able to keep exporting to the US without being hit by new tariffs. Possible beneficiaries of these shift are a number of ASEAN countries that can offer low cost production and a tariff-free export to the US market. [SCMP]

Economic cooperation flourishes despite political tensions, too. Some mainland Chinese electronic companies have shifted production to Taiwan to avoid country of origin based tariffs. Vietnam has become China’s biggest trading partner within ASEAN. In June 2018, China- Vietnam economic turnover hit $11.2 billion. Much more than the $9.3 billion between China and Malaysia, which previously held the title of China’s largest ASEAN trade partner. [Business Inquirer] China is already the largest trading partner with every ASEAN country and despite some readjustments, the Belt and Road initiative will likely see numbers grow.

At the same time, at the plenary session of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings hosted by Indonesia, Indonesian President Joko Widodo urged global central bankers and finance ministers on Friday to guard against growing risks amidst the trade war. In a clearly less optimistic tone, he referred to concerns the trade row could upend global supply chains, and in turn, result in decreasing international trade and investment. [SCMP]

9 October 2018

Sulawesi: Death toll keeps rising after earthquake and tsunami

(cc) Ten days after a considerable earthquake and tsunami that hit the island of Sulawesi the official death toll is 1,944 but the national disaster agency said it could rise up to 5, 000 as many people are still missing and bodies keep being recovered. Nevertheless, rescue workers will stop their research on Thursday. While classes have not re-started yet, children in Palu began going back to school to help cleaning up and to collect data on the number of kids who will be returning. [Reuters] [The Straits Times]

The United Nations released its Central Sulawesi Earthquake Response Plan seeking 50 million dollars for “immediate relief”. The plan was constructed in collaboration with the Indonesian government and intends to aid 191, 000 persons in the next three months. [Aljazeera]

2 October 2018

How to help Indonesia’s earthquake victims

(jk) The devastation from the 7.4-magnitude earthquake and the ensuing tsunami in Palu and Donggala, Central Sulawesi, on Friday is becoming more and more obvious as the death toll keeps rising – the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) announced 832 deaths on Sunday afternoon [Jakarta Post I], but the number is certain to rise and other sources already cite over 1000 deceased [Strait Times].

In addition to the well-known international disaster relief organisations, the Jakarta Post has published details of some local organisations and initiatives to which donations can be made. [Jakarta Post II]

2 October 2018

Indonesian voters appear tolerant towards corruption

(jk) The Indonesian Supreme Court ruled in September on a regulation supposed to bar corruption convicts from campaigning and contesting in the upcoming legislative election. The regulation was issued by the General Election Commission (KPU), but according to the ruling, contradicted a 2017 election law and had therefore to be withdrawn. [Jakarta Post]

The court’s decision worked in favour of nearly 40 candidates who are running for a seat and are largely backed by Indonesia’s political parties. A survey released by the Indonesia Survey Institute last week shows that they are also supported by many voters, with nearly 30% stating that they are indifferent or in fact in favour of corruption.

While some anti-corruption activists claim it is often the lack of knowledge about the respective candidates record or convictions, other analysts hold that a society based around patronage will always be more accepting of corrupt officials. Measures like marking convictions next to a candidate’s name on a ballot paper would not necessarily change a voter’s mind. Government institutions seem to work in similar ways with nearly 2500 ex-graft convicts still employed as civil servants. [SCMP]

2 October 2018

Weekly “fake news” briefings in Indonesia

(jk) Indonesia’s Communications Minister has announced that the government will hold weekly fake news briefings in another attempt to tackle the problem of digital literacy and increase the society’s resilience against fake messages and hoax news.

A 70-member strong team will screen the news each week and then brief the public of its findings, alongside with facts explaining why the “fake” stories are indeed “fake”. [CNBC]

25 September 2018

Presidential election campaigns kicked off early in Indonesia

(ls) Campaigning for Indonesia’s presidential election in April 2019 kicked off on Sunday, pitting incumbent Joko Widodo against former military general Prabowo Subianto. Jokowi is ahead in current polls, but he is facing challenges over his economic record, with the Indonesian rupiah at two-decade lows. Prabowo, who lost to Jokowi in 2014, was a top military figure in the chaotic months before dictator Suharto was toppled by student protests in 1998. He was later discharged from the military. Campaigning is likely to focus on the economy, inequality, identity politics and rising intolerance across the sprawling Southeast Asian archipelago. [Straits Times]

The most incendiary attacks have targeted Jokowi’s religion and ethnicity, such as false accusations that he is a Christian and the son of Chinese communists. In response, Jokowi chose as his running mate a conservative cleric from Indonesia’s largest Muslim group, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), which has around 40 million members. By contrast, conservative Prabowo chose Sandiaga Uno, a U.S.-educated businessman who ran successfully last year to be Jakarta’s vice governor, before resigning to be his running mate. [Reuters]

When elected in 2014, Jokowi was not from the political elite or an ex-general, but rather a furniture salesman turned mayor hailing from the central Javanese city of Solo. Nevertheless, many observers have perceived setbacks for democracy during his tenure. The blasphemy conviction of former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama in May 2017, who was once Jokowi’s own deputy, is seen as emblematic of the growing influence of right-wing religious groups and the shrinking space for free speech. [Voice of America]

18 September 2018

Sri Lanka-Indonesia relations: Deepening economic cooperation

(jm) At the World Economic Forum (WEF) on ASEAN in Hanoi, the Indonesian President and the Sri Lankan Prime Minister agreed on strengthening cooperation in the industrial sector to improve economic growth of the two countries. Indonesia offered to build a “complete package” of railway facilities and infrastructure in Sri Lanka. In addition to the railroad sector, the Governments of Indonesia and Sri Lanka also followed up on previous agreements in the trade sector. One of them is the joint efforts of the two countries to export ready-made garments to the European Union. [Ada Derana]

4 September 2018

Indonesian court rules on another controversial blasphemy case

(jk) An Indonesian woman has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for complaining about the noise of the Islamic call to prayer coming from a mosque near her home. The woman – a Buddhist of Chinese descent, had asked for the volume to be turned down. The incident that had happened in 2016 triggered riots in Northern Sumatra, leading to the burning and damaging of several Buddhist monasteries and temples. [Jakarta Globe 1]

The court decision that was made at the end of last month was met with some criticism, including from Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia’s pre-eminent Islamic organisation that officially campaigns for a ‘moderate’ Islam in Indonesia (for more details on NU today, see [New Mandala]). Their criticism, that a complaint about the volume of a mosque’s speakers does not constitute an expression of hate or hostility towards a certain group or religion, was milder than that of Amnesty International, calling the decision an attack on freedom of expression and an example of the arbitrary use of blasphemy laws. [ Jakarta Globe 2]

More than 100,000 people have signed an online petition against a court decision. On a related note, although not directly linked to this specific case, the judge who has presided over this hearing has been implicated in a corruption case currently investigated by Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). [The Strait Times]

According to another analysis, a particularly worrisome aspect of the case was the initial pressure and apparent political power of the local Muslim organisation that had called for blasphemy charges to be brought against the woman. In fact, a local Muslim council labelling the actions as blasphemy has been used in the trial as “evidence” and was cited by the judges as such. [The Interpreter]

4 September 2018

Update: Indonesian court decision on raped then jailed teenager revoked

(jk) In a case previously reported in AiR, a 15-year-old Indonesian girl who was raped by her older brother and then sentenced to jail for having an abortion has been freed after her lawyers had petitioned the verdict. [The Strait Times]

28 August 2018

Indonesian minister, Widodo ally, resigns over corruption charges

(ls) Indonesia’s Social Affairs Minister and top Golkar Party politician Idrus Marham resigned after he had been implicated in an embezzlement case related to the development of a coal-powered plant. He is the first member of President Joko Widodo’s cabinet to be named a suspect in a graft investigation. With Idrus, Widodo loses a key ally. His appointment was seen as a move by the president to secure support from Golkar for his bid for re-election next year. [The Straits Times]

21 August 2018

Indonesia: Violent “clean-up” by police ahead of Asian Games

(ls) Amnesty International reports that Indonesian police have killed dozens of people in efforts to make the country safe for the Asian Games held in Jakarta and Palembang from 18 August to 2 September. According to the report, many of these killings occurred during police operations explicitly devised to prepare the cities for hosting the multi-sport event. Before one “Public Safety Operation” that took place in July, high ranking police officials publicly announced that their personnel would take “firm actions”, including shooting on-sight anyone who resisted arrest or attacked police officers: “if they fight the officers during the arrest then have no doubt, just shoot them.” [Amnesty International]

14 August 2018

Indonesia: Running mates for 2019 Presidential elections

(jk) The Indonesian President has last week decided to make 75-year-old Islamic scholar Ma’ruf Amin his running mate for next year’s presidential election. Amin is the head of the Indonesian Ulema Council, the top Muslim clerical body in Indonesia (see “Who is Ma’ruf Amin?”). [Jakarta Post]

In 2017, he played a crucial role in the divisive Jakarta governor elections, that saw ethnic Chinese Christian candidate “Ahok” lose to Anies Baswedan, who was close to hard-line Islamist groups who have supported his bid. Amin had publicly accused Ahok of insulting the Koran and later testified against him in a trial that resulted in a two year prison sentence for Ahok on charges of blasphemy. Back then, Jokowi had supported Ahok’s bid for re-election in Jakarta and Baswedan’s win was also a win for Prabowo Subianto, who supported him back then and was already tipped to run against Jokowi in the upcoming presidential elections. Making Amin his running mate for 2019 can be viewed as a reaction to that loss and is in part meant to make sure Jokowi appeals to the traditional Muslim vote for the presidential elections. [SCMP]

Prabowo has announced his running mate to be Jakarta deputy governor Sandiaga Uno which already puts strains on the alliance AiR has mentioned in last week’s edition with former President SBY and his Democratic Party. As part of the deal and for SBY’s support for Prabowo, it was expected that SBY’s son, Agus Yudhoyono, was going to be Prabowo’s running mate. [The Strait Times]

The election however, will not exclusively hinge on religious sentiments as the economy is under some pressures as well. An annual and mainly consumer-based growth rate of about 5% and shrinking foreign direct investment is leading to deepening economic inequalities which could spell trouble for the incumbent. [NYT]

Official campaigning is scheduled to begin in September. The elections date is set for April 17.

14 August 2018

Russian military hardware sales to Southeast Asia 

(jk) Over the past five years, Russia has increasingly sold military hardware to Southeast Asian countries, including Kilo-class submarines to the major Russian arms-importer in the region, Vietnam.

As mentioned in last week’s AiR, the Philippines have declared an interest in purchasing Russian built submarines as well. The Department of Defence has said the country is still looking at other possible submarines suppliers, noting that the country’s submarine acquisition program will be most likely finalised in the next 12 months. Russia is keen on selling its Kilo-class submarines here as well though, offering “soft-loans” if the country is not able to purchase the submarines outright. [PNA] The Philippines have now also confirmed the Philippine Navy (PN) port call in Russia that AiR reported on last week. [PhilStar]

The Indonesian Air Force (IAF), which flies both Russian made SU 27/ SU 30 and US F5/ F16 fighter Jets is also looking to purchase more Russian built planes. The Ministry of Defence wants to purchase 11 of the newer SU-35 fighter jets but faces problems due to US sanctions this could lead to. Indonesia is negotiating with the US to have the sanctions lifted which the US implemented as a response to Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. [Jakarta Globe]

The Philippines face the same dilemma of course as U.S. sanctions were imposed last year against any country trading with Russia’s defence and intelligence sectors. With a huge arms-deal between India and Russia in mind however, US Congress reached an agreement at the end of July laying out conditions under which Trump can seek a waiver for allies. This does not mean of course, that he will do so.

14 August 2018

US-Southeast Asia Naval Exercises

(jk) The US Navy and Marine Corps are currently conducting the 24th annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) which includes a series of bilateral exercises with several ASEAN states as well as Bangladesh. This year’s CARAT started with Thai-US Navy exercises back in June and is currently continuing with both Malaysia [U.S. Indo-Pacific Command 1] and Indonesia [U.S. Indo-Pacific Command 2]. Similar training will also occur with Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines. [Stars and Stripes]

Much of the training is taking place in the South China Sea and includes all claimant states but China and Taiwan.

7 August 2018

Islamism and the New Anti-Terrorism Law in Indonesia

(jk) As reported back in May, Indonesia in the wake of the Surabaya bombings (also in May this year), has rushed a tough and broad anti-terror law through parliament. The law was proposed far earlier and had been deliberated about for a while, but the attacks seem to have dispersed human rights concerns among the legislators. The law allows police to preemptively detain suspects and prosecute those who join or recruit for militant groups. In addition, special operations units from Indonesia’s air force, army and navy are set to play a bigger role in the war on terror. The government has also blocked numerous websites containing radicalism. In addition to human rights and other concerns, it is doubtful whether the law will be enough to combat growing radical Islamism in Indonesia [ISEAS].

7 August 2018

Indonesia: Former President Yudhoyono endorses Prabowo for presidency 

(jk) Presidential elections in Indonesia are not until April next year, however, observers now are focused on the registration of presidential candidates for the poll which is due to be completed by August 10. Despite not being “natural” political allies, former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has endorsed Parbowo to run against current President Joko Widodo in a re-run of the 2014 presidential election where the two were already candidates. SBY and Prabowo were both former Army generals.  [The Strait Times]

31 July 2018

Indonesia: Legal battle against terrorist groups enters new ground

(ls) Prosecutors in Indonesia have, for the first time, brought charges against a terrorist group as an entity. They prosecute the Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) among other charges for being an organization responsible for widespread terrorism. Success in this case would also open the possibility to cut the group off from financial transactions. Attacks by JAD militants have escalated recently, with one of the deadliest being the coordinated suicide-bombings of three churches and the local police station in Surabaya in May, which killed 14 people. [The Straits Times]

31 July 2018

Indonesia: Constitutional Court upholds blasphemy law

(ls) Indonesia’s Constitutional Court dismissed a petition to revoke the country’s blasphemy law. Article 156a of the 1965 Criminal Code punishes deviations from the central tenets of Indonesia’s six officially recognized religions (Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism) with up to five years in prison. However, there are about 245 non-official religions in the country. The petition was filed by members of the Ahmadiyah religious community, which has been the subject of frequent crackdowns and prosecutions. In 2017, former Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Purnama, a Christian, was sentenced to a two-year prison term for blasphemy because of a public reference he made to a Quranic verse. [Human Rights Watch]

24 July 2018

Indonesia: 15-year old rape victim jailed for abortion  

(jk) A 15-year old girl who was raped by her own brother has been jailed for six months for having an abortion under the child protection law. It is illegal in Indonesia to have an abortion unless the life of the woman is at risk.

Her brother was sentenced to two years in jail for sexually assaulting a minor. Her mother, who allegedly aided the abortion is facing separate charges [The Straits Times].

24 July 2018

Indonesia: “Cleaning up the streets” before Asia Games

(jk) The Indonesian government is attempting to make sure that the upcoming Asia Games, to be held in Indonesia next month, will proceed smoothly. In the light of recent terror attacks and with little patience, police in Jakarta is engaged in a two-months security crackdown to rid Jakarta’s streets of criminals before the games and make the city safer. Since the crackdown begun, police officers have shot dead at least 11 suspected criminals, wounded 52 others and arrested more than 270 people. Human Rights groups have called for investigation into the incidents, fearing it to be a mere pretext to use excessive force [Al Jazeera].

24 July 2018

Indonesia: Suharto’s youngest son, convicted of ordering an assassination, to run for parliament

(jk) Tommy Suharto, 56, wants to represent the eastern province of Papua. Papua, sharing an island with Papua New Guinea, is a region annexed by his father in the late 1960s. The view from Jakarta is, that he has liberated Papua, however, it has a history of insurgencies fighting for independence from Indonesia.

T. Suharto himself is a highly controversial figure, not least since he was convicted of ordering an assassination of a Supreme Court judge who had sentenced him to jail for corruption. Of the sentence, he served only four of fifteen years he was originally sentenced to [The Straits Times]

17 July 2018

ASEAN-China trade: Preparations for global trade conflicts

(ls) Repercussions of global trade conflicts, particularly between the United States and China, are increasingly visible in Southeast Asia. The ASEAN-led 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is getting closer to conclusion as China presses for finalization. The Chinese Ambassador to ASEAN said that Beijing notes the urgency of the deal to maintain a rules-based trading system amid a surge in protectionism in global trade. Negotiations for RCEP with the aim of creating an integrated market were launched in 2012 between the 10 ASEAN members Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. China’s exports to Southeast Asia rose by 9 per cent in 2017, while its imports from ASEAN climbed by 20 per cent. [The Straits Times 1]

Meanwhile, the Indonesian government prepares counter-measures to mitigate anticipated uncertainties caused by global trade conflicts. The plan includes to strengthen local industries, curb raw material import demands by developing basic industries, and boost tourism by encouraging budget airlines to expand and renovating airports across the archipelago. Indonesia might be particularly affected by U.S.-Chinese trade conflicts as China and the U.S. figure as Indonesia’s first and second important export destinations, respectively. [The Straits Times 2]

17 July 2018

Indonesia: Major copper mine to be bought back by the state

(ls) The Indonesian government is acquiring the majority stake in one of the world’s largest gold and copper mines, in Papua province, as it seeks more control of the country’s vast natural resources. A preliminary agreement came after negotiations with US-based Freeport-McMoRan and its partner Rio Tinto. Freeport entered Indonesia in 1960s, around the time of a change in leadership from first president Sukarno to Suharto. In recent years, the mine has frequently been the subject of fierce criticism due to working conditions and unfavorable terms for Indonesia. [The Straits Times] Whether the agreement will have any benefits for the people of Papua is an open question. [The Jakarta Post]

17 July 2018

Indonesia: Another whipping of a gay couple in Aceh

(ls) A gay couple was publicly whipped in Indonesia’s conservative Aceh province last week. The two men were flogged more than 80 times each for having gay sex, which is outlawed under local Islamic law, in front of a cheering crowd. The men were the second gay couple whipped in public this year in Aceh, as the small lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in Indonesia faces increasing discrimination. Aceh started using religious law after it was granted special autonomy in 2001, an attempt by the central government to quell a long-running separatist insurgency. [The Straits Times]

17 July 2018

Indonesia: State responds to terrorism, faces new attacks

(ls) Three terrorists were killed and one escaped following an anti-terror police raid in the city of Yogyakarta as Indonesia intensified its crackdown on militant activities. In a separate incident, a man and his wife attacked the Indramayu police headquarters in West Java. Indonesia has been fighting a surge in radicalization. In May, a family of six carried out suicide bombings at three churches in Surabaya in Indonesia’s East Java province during Sunday mass, killing worshippers. This was followed by attacks on the Surabaya police headquarters and the Riau provincial police headquarters. [The Straits Times]

10 July 2018

Pancasila and the Challenge of Political Islam: Past and Present

(am) In post-Suharto Indonesia, Islam has become a significant symbol and political parties and leaders cannot afford to be openly critical about it. The rise of Islamism is challenging the traditional ideology of Pancasila. But the progressives who are in power still continue to back up Pancasila, blending it with moderate Islamic organizations and through laws and regulations. The future of Pancasila rests upon the secular Indonesian government and other progressive forces and whether they are competent to manage the influence of Islamists and render political stability and better economic status in the country. [ISEAS]





3 July 2018

Indonesia and Malaysia build alliance in palm oil dispute with EU

(ls) Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has visited Indonesian President Joko Widodo in Istana Bogor in West Java. Both countries face similar challenges, such as the plan by the European Union to phase out the use of palm oil in transport fuels from 2030. Indonesia and Malaysia are two of the world’s largest producers and exporters of palm oil. The bilateral trade between the two countries last year was US$17.2 billion, making Malaysia the seventh-largest trading partner of Indonesia and its third-largest among ASEAN member-states, after Singapore and Thailand. [The Straits Times]

3 July 2018

Indonesia: Police and military responsible for unlawful killings in Papua, says Amnesty International

(ls) A report by Amnesty International claims that Indonesia’s police and military are responsible for at least 95 unlawful killings in the easternmost Papua region since 2008, including targeted slayings of activists, with a near-total absence of justice for the mainly indigenous victims. According to the report, more than half the victims were either political activists or people taking part in peaceful protests often unrelated to the Papuan independence movement. An independence movement and an armed insurgency have simmered in the formerly Dutch-controlled region since it was annexed by Indonesia in 1963. [Amnesty International; Fox News]

3 July 2018

Indonesia: Constitutional Court scraps parts of controversial law on parliamentary immunity

(ls) The Indonesian Constitutional Court ruled unanimously to scrap a number of controversial articles in the 2018 Legislative Institutions (MD3) Law that gave powers to House of Representatives lawmakers to criminalize critics. The court also scrapped a requirement for law enforcers to secure consent from the House’s ethics council before launching an investigation into lawmakers. The condition that law enforcement authorities would need consent from the parliament’s president before summoning lawmakers in a criminal investigation was maintained, though. The controversial law was enacted in February, immediately inviting condemnation aimed at the legislative body, as well as President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration for allowing the law to be passed. [The Jakarta Post]

3 July 2018

Indonesia: Local and regional elections with mixed results

(ls) Last week’s local and regional elections produced mixed results as regards support for Indonesian president Joko Widodo’s party and his main opponents. Indonesians went to the polls to choose governors for half of the country’s 34 provinces, a similar number of city mayors and 115 district chiefs. The official results will be published this week. Based on already available information, voters in three of the country’s biggest provinces (East Java, West Java and South Sulawesi) elected several reformers over powerful incumbents, which bodes well for the re-election chances for Widodo, who’s own background was reflected in some of this week’s winners. [South China Morning Post]

Other results, however, may show how much Widodo’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) is struggling in some of the local elections. The party apparently lost in several provinces, especially those most densely populated, including parts of East and West Java, North Sumatra, and West Kalimantan. The regional elections are regarded by some political analysts as tests for the 2019 Presidential elections, in which Widodo is again expected to be opposed by Prabowo Subianto, the former Special Forces general whom he defeated in 2014. [Asia Sentinel]

The polls in Java have always been seen as a proxy battle between the president and his main opponent Subianto. In order to succeed, Widodo might need an ally at the helm of West Java, an electorate with more than 30 million voters, most of whom supported Prabowo in the last election. [The Diplomat; The Straits Times]

Nonetheless, a resounding win by the mayor of Bekasi, a city of 2.7 million on the fringes of the capital Jakarta, who was targeted by some hardline Muslims over the construction of a church, highlights a possible failure by Islamists to influence regional and local elections in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country. Religious affiliation appeared to have played a role in North Sumatra, though. Exit polling suggested former Jakarta governor Ahok’s former deputy, Djarot Saiful Hidayat, got only 15 per cent of the Muslim vote. Djarot is a Muslim but his running mate was a Christian. [Reuters]

26 June 2018

A history of the Indonesian Massacres, 1965-1966

(jk) One if the most egregious, yet arguably under-reported incidents of mass killings in the 20th century were the mass killings and incarcerations of some 1.5 million alleged communists and Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) sympathisers and affiliates in the 1960s.

The official narrative in Indonesia holds that after the kidnapping of 6 Generals, allegedly organised and executed by the PKI, leftist forces planned to overthrow the government. The response by the government and spontaneously arising mass violence from social and religious conflicts then led to the events killing some five hundred thousand people across the archipelago. In addition to the question of whether an allegedly attempted coup would have justified the harsh response, many scholars have long questioned this narrative and instead focus on the widespread gruesome type of violence, collateral punishment for anyone who was affiliated with an at the time legitimate and fairly popular political party, and the role of the Indonesian Army (TNI) which was heavily involved in politics and stood at the other end of the political spectrum.

A recent book on the events explores the role of the army and challenges the conventional narrative of the events. It traces back the origins of the modus operandi of the TDI to both Japanese forces during the occupation of Indonesia as well as colonial influences by the Dutch after the defeat of the Imperial Japanese forces. The modus operandi of the killings and detention has a number of striking parallels to that of the Japanese forces, suggesting a more systematic involvement of the TNI. Against the background of the cold war, the book also explores the direct and indirect support of Western powers for the violence against the communists [The Killing Season].

26 June 2018

Maldives’ UNSC non-permanent seat: India voted against, ensured it lost

(jm) Indian-Maldivian ties could deteriorate further after the Times of India revealed that India may have worked to ensure that its island neighbor loses the vote for a seat at the United Nation Security Council. While Male has always claimed to be supported by India, it appeared that not only did India voted against the Maldives, but also that it worked to make sure Indonesia would get the seat. [The Times of India]

26 June 2018

Indonesia: Court sentences cleric to death for ordering attacks on Starbucks in Jakarta and a church in Kalimantan

(jk) The cleric, allegedly a key ideologue for IS militants in Indonesia, was found guilty of ordering IS militants to carry out attacks including the January 2016 suicide bombing at a Starbucks in Jakarta (South China Morning Post).

26 June 2018

Youthful religious intolerance taking hold in Indonesia?

(am) Incessant penetration of radical Islam in Indonesian universities has caught the attention of President Joko Widodo, offering a clear view that religious conservatism is changing the democratic and secular character of Indonesian society. A recent survey in 2017 released by National Investigation Agency depicted that 39% of university students in 15 of Indonesia’s 34 provinces reject Pancasila, the state’s ideology and eulogize an Islamic State. The government struggles to configure new policies in order to protect youth from coming under the influence of radical views. [Asia Times]

26 June 2018

Indonesia: More than 150 million Indonesians will vote in local elections

(jk) Voters in Indonesia will cast their votes this week to elect provincial governors, local parliamentarians and mayors in certain provinces, cities and regencies. A total of 152 million voters are eligible to cast their ballots. Results in the most populous areas will be interesting indications for the upcoming presidential elections to be held in 2019 [The Straits Times]. Eligible voters for the regional elections make up three-quarters of the electorate.

17 June 2018

Indonesia voted into the UN Security Council

(ls) Starting on 1 January 2019, Indonesia will be a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the duration of two years. The country defeated the Maldives in the only contested election for a seat and will join the UN’s most powerful body along with Germany, Belgium, South Africa and the Dominican Republic. [The Washington Post]

17 June 2018

Indonesia: No more live broadcasts of terror trials

(ls) The Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) has released a circular notifying public broadcasting bodies, television and radio networks not to live broadcast trials related to terrorism. The KPI justified its decision with reasons to uphold the authority of the court, ensure the success of trials, protect the security of court officers and witnesses, as well as curb the potential spread of extreme ideology and prevent people from idolizing terrorists. Last month, several terrorist attacks took place in different parts of Indonesia, prompting the government also to tighten national security legislation. [The Jakarta Post]

10 June 2018

Indonesia: LGBT issue likely to play a role again in next year’s election

(ls) Over the past two years, Indonesia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community has been (ab)used as a political weapon in efforts to seize voters’ support in local elections. Febriana Firdaus argues that, ahead of the upcoming national election in 2019, there is a risk that the issue will be used in this way again in the country with the world’s largest Muslim population. Though attempts to outlaw the LGBT community led to an eventual government backdown, Firdaus describes how efforts to discriminate against the LGBT community continue, particularly at the local level. [The Interpreter]

10 June 2018

Indonesia: Government clamps down on Papua’s independence movement

(ls) In Indonesia’s Papua region, independence activists continue to be the subject of arrests and detention. Petitions for an independence referendum are viewed as acts of treason by the authorities. Indonesia continues to be criticized for the plight of its easternmost region which is split into the provinces of Papua and West Papua.

Despite being some of Southeast Asia’s richest regions in terms of natural resources, the two provinces remain among the country’s poorest. Papua is home to one of the world’s largest gold and copper mining operations. Indonesia annexed the former Dutch-controlled region in 1963, and took sovereignty after the 1969 Act of Free Choice, a vote on whether to remain part of Indonesia of which opponents say it was rigged. [The New York Times]

3 June 2018

Indonesian visitors barred by Israel in possible tit-for-tat move

(am) Israel has reportedly barred Indonesian passport holders from entering the country in possible retaliation for Jakarta’s alleged decision to bar entry to Israelis in response to the ongoing violence in Gaza. [The Jakarta Post]

3 June 2018

India, Indonesia agree to step up maritime defense cooperation

(am) India and Indonesia agreed to step up their defence and maritime cooperation, raising the level of their ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

Highlights of the visit included India agreeing to develop the strategically important Indonesian port Sabang in the Indian Ocean, close to the Andamans and the two sides unveiling a vision document for the Indo-Pacific region, the first of its kind between India and a south-east Asian country, dealing with an area where China is increasing its footprint. [Hindustan Times]

3 June 2018

Indonesia: Former President gets significant salary for promoting state ideology

(am) Indonesian President Joko Widodo has signed a decree to give former president Megawati Soekarnoputri, an allowance for promoting the state ideology of Pancasila that is almost twice his own income as President.

The remuneration is stipulated for members of the Agency for the Implementation of State Ideology of Pancasila (BPIP) whose steering committee is headed by Megawati, who is also the leader of Widodo´s political party PDP-I. The allowance is Rp 112.54 million, currently 8,000 USD per month, almost the same as what the two chief justices of the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court respectively get per month, which is Rp 121.6 million. [The Jakarta Post]

The state ideology of Pancasila defines the Indonesian constitutional identity, allowing for different accentuations and having time and again become a bone of contestation between adherents of political Islam and more secular minded political actors. Currently, President Widodo´s and Megawati´s PDP-I represent one of the major parties putting Pancasila against an ongoing Islamization of Indonesian constitutional politics.

27 May 2018

The Current State of Terrorism in Indonesia – Vulnerable Groups, Networks, and Responses

(am) An interesting CSIS paper aims to provide a portrayal of the current terrorism network in Indonesia after the emergence of ISIS in 2014. It assesses the characteristics of demographic pattern indicating vulnerability to radicalization, key ISIS actors, and the current state of government counter-terrorism measures. The paper highlights the importance of what is termed the saturation point, social bonds, and economic incentives as factors that pushes individuals to interact with radical organizations. It also points out key individuals and cells of pro-ISIS terrorist organizations that most effectively take advantage of these factors; including their origin and how they cooperate. The last segment of the paper also provides notes on the lacking of the current Indonesian counter-terrorism; such as the vague division of labour in the National Counter-Terrorism Agency and the anti-terrorism law that is insensitive to pressing issues of online radicalization and ex-terrorist reintegration. [CSIS]

27 May 2018

India-Indonesia relations before Modi’s visit

(ls) Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will begin a five-day visit on Tuesday, 29 May, to Indonesia and Singapore, two of India’s strategically key partners in the region, with an aim to deepen defence ties, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region. India and Indonesia are likely to sign a pact on defence cooperation as a similar agreement inked years ago had expired. In Singapore, Modi will hold bilateral talks with his Singaporean counterpart and deliver the key note address at the Shangri-la dialogue. The US, Australia and several other leading powers favor a greater role by India in the Indo-Pacific region. [The Economic Times]

According to an analysis by Harsh V. Pant, the rapidly evolving regional strategic realities are forcing India and Indonesia to coordinate their policies ever more closely and after years of neglect. Jakarta has been recognizing the role that New Delhi can play in structuring a favourable balance of power in the region. Joint naval exercises and patrols, and regular port calls by their respective navies, have become a regular feature of the India-Indonesia relationship in recent years. India has also become a major source of military hardware for Jakarta. [Observer Research Foundation]

27 May 2018

Indonesia: Tougher anti-terror legislation, revival of joint command and containment of online radicalism

(ls/am) Indonesia’s parliament has adopted tough anti-terrorism laws on Friday as it seeks to combat a surge in homegrown Islamist militancy after two attacks this month, in which two families, including children, carried out suicide attacks on churches and a police station in Surabaya. The revised law will allow police to preemptively detain suspects for up to 21 days and prosecute those who join or recruit for militant groups. [Reuters]

In addition, special operations units from Indonesia’s air force, army and navy are set to play a bigger role in the war on terror. The military’s Joint Special Operations Command has been reactivated to support the police in counter-terrorism operations at home. The joint command, better known as Koopssusgab, is made up of the country’s elite special operations units from all three service branches such as Kopassus (army), Kopaska (navy) and Detachment Bravo-90 (air force). The move was criticized by the National Commission for Human Rights over worries that the military may gain excessive powers. [Straits Times]

The government has also moved to block thousands of websites containing radicalism and will continue to check the internet as one of the efforts to secure the cyberspace from contents related to radicalism and terrorism. Nearly 3,000 websites disseminating radicalism have been blocked in the recent move and about 9,500 other sites are being inspected according to the Communication and Information Minister. [Xinhua]

27 May 2018

Indonesia: 20 years of Reformasi

(ls) After the end of the three-decades long presidency of Muhammad Suharto in 1998, Indonesia entered the “Reformasi” era, a period of transition toward democracy and a more liberal political-social environment. Twenty years later, it is again time to assess the successes, remaining challenges and steps ahead. In the South China Morning Post Jeffrey Hutton argues, that, by any objective measure, Reformasi has been a success: Power has been transferred peacefully between five presidents, two of them directly elected. Conflicts in Aceh and elsewhere were eventually quelled with devolved powers and autonomy. However, he also points to Indonesia’s endemic graft problem, the power of entrenched elites and a surge of religious conservatism as major challenges. [South China Morning Post]

A rising tide of Islamism has been among the most noteworthy phenomena to emerge in the country over the past 20 years, argues Yahya Cholil Staquf in the Jakarta Post. Pointing to historic roots, he describes how, both before and after Indonesia achieved independence, its founding fathers had to grapple with the tension that exists between Islamic orthodoxy and the ideals of the modern nation-state. He holds that rising Islamism is a “rebound” of the perennial Islamist aspiration and its accompanying pressure to transform Indonesia from a Pancasila nation-state to an Islamic state. [The Jakarta Post]

Edward Aspinall describes how the quality of Indonesia’s democracy was a problem from the beginning and holds that under President Joko Widodo democratic quality has begun to slide dramatically. However, he also points to the fact that the post-Suharto democracy has now lasted longer than did Indonesia’s earlier period of parliamentary democracy (1950–1957), and the subsequent Guided Democracy regime (1957–65). Despite all current challenges, democratic electoral competition has become an essential part of Indonesia’s political architecture. [New Mandala]

20 May 2018

Security Sector Governance and the Role of Oversight – The Case of Indonesia

(am) This working paper discusses on the current progress and challenges that faces actors involved in the oversight of Indonesia’s security sector governance (SSG). There are 4 main actors in focus, namely the parliament, independent or internal oversight bodies, civil society organizations (CSOs), and think tanks. The paper argues that despite progresses are evident, all four actors are still laden with problems that hamper their effort in effectively providing oversight to Indonesia’s SSG. Common issues such as the lack of human capacity, funding, and coordination needs to be resolved in order for the actors to be able to effectively provide the needed oversight. [CSIS]

20 May 2018

Indonesia: Government responses to IS-inspired suicide bombings

(ls) After the suicide bomb attacks on churches in Surabaya on last week’s Sunday, a similar attack took place on Monday at Surabaya police headquarters. In both cases, the attacks were executed by families, including children. The Islamic State (IS) claimed the church attacks, raising fears about its influence in Southeast Asia. [Agence France-Presse]

The special Indonesian military unit Kopassus has joined the police in cracking down on terrorist cells. A source at the National Counterterrorism Agency said that the fathers of the families visited Abu Bakar Bashir, the spiritual leader of al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asia splinter group Jemaah Islamiah, in prison. [South China Morning Post]

President Joko Widodo said that he will push through new anti-terror laws by emergency presidential decree (perppu) if Parliament does not enact proposed legislative revisions. The government had proposed tougher anti-terror laws that give the police powers to take pre-emptive measures in fighting terrorism. These amendments were first tabled after Indonesian militants loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria mounted a suicide attack in Jakarta in 2016. [The Straits Times]

13 May 2018

Indonesia: Will Subianto be able to challenge Widodo next year?

(ls) Indonesian President Joko Widodo may find himself without a challenger in the next presidential election. While Prabowo Subianto – leader of the main opposition party and runner up in the 2014 election – has accepted his party’s endorsement, it is uncertain if he can assemble a viable coalition to be nominated by an August deadline. A party or coalition must have at least 20 per cent of seats in parliament or have won a minimum 25 per cent of the popular vote in the last legislative election to nominate a candidate. Prabowo’s Gerindra party holds only 13 per cent of the seats and thus needs to secure support from other parties. The Prosperous Justice Party (7.1 per cent) and National Mandate Party (7.6 per cent), the most likely partners for Gerindra, have not yet declared whom they will support. [South China Morning Post]

13 May 2018

Indonesia: Major prison riot costs six lives

(ls) A deadly riot that controlled three cellblocks inside the maximum-security Mako Brimob detention facility in Depok for more than 36 hours ended on Thursday morning with five officers brutally killed and one prisoner dead. More than 150 prisoners were involved in the fatal riot, in which inmates seized dozens of guns. The riot occurred in an area reserved for suspected and convicted terrorists. [The Guardian]

As the uprising was unfolding on Wednesday, the Islamic State’s media arm uploaded graphic videos and photographs from inside the detention center, showing the bodies of dead guards who had been repeatedly stabbed and in some cases shot. [The New York Times]

Riots are not uncommon in Indonesian prisons, which are plagued by many issues, mainly overcrowding. Indonesia has more than 200,000 prisoners while the country’s prisons and detention centers have the capacity of holding 130,000 inmates. A revision of the Criminal Code currently being deliberated by the government and the House of Representatives mandates community service as a penalty for petty criminals. [The Inquirer]

13 May 2018

Indonesia: IS-inspired suicide bombers attack churches in Surabaya

(ls) A family of six launched suicide attacks on Christians attending Sunday services at three churches in Indonesia’s second-largest city of Surabaya, killing at least 13 people and wounding 40. Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, has seen a recent resurgence in homegrown militancy and police said the family who carried out Sunday’s attacks were among 500 Islamic State sympathizers who had returned from Syria. [Reuters]

13 May 2018

South China Sea: Vietnam presses China as Philippines remain silent

(ls) Vietnam has asked China to withdraw military equipment from the South China Sea, following media reports this month that China had installed missiles there. “Vietnam requests that China, as a large country, shows its responsibility in maintaining peace and stability in the East Sea,” a Vietnamese foreign ministry spokeswoman said. U.S. news network CNBC reported this month that China had installed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on three of its outposts in the South China Sea. [Reuters]

While Vietnam has protested China’s alleged missile deployment in the disputed waterway, the Philippine administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has yet to say what it intends to do about the installation of high-tech weapons on Philippine territory. Several lawmakers have urged Duterte to protest the missile deployment, but presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the government has yet to verify the information. [Inquirer.Net]

Nonetheless, US and Philippine forces have begun their largest annual military exercises so far under President Rodrigo Duterte. The decades-old exercises opened on Monday and involve combat drills in mock urban settings to train special forces in battling terrorists in cities, following an Islamic State-linked siege on southern Marawi city last year. Duterte initially vowed to scale down America’s military presence and involvement in combat drills as he sought closer ties with China and Russia. [South China Morning Post]

Meanwhile, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said China is committed to a peaceful settlement of bilateral disputes with ASEAN nations over the South China Sea, despite differing views. Li made the remarks after holding talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo in West Java, in his first visit to Indonesia as Prime Minister. China is the third-largest foreign investor in Indonesia, with investment amounting to US$3.4 billion (S$4.5 billion) in 2017. [The Straits Times]

29 April 2018

Indonesia’s massive universal health care system faces challenges

(ls) Indonesia is one year away from completing a five-year roll out of what is already the world’s biggest universal health insurance programme. So far 185 million people, about three quarters of the population, have signed up. However, its implementation is facing serious constraints, as Jeffrey Hutton reports in the South China Morning Post: The government does not cover nearly enough of what it costs to treat the poor, while the wealthy are not paying their fair share. Deficits are soaring, hospitals are having trouble getting paid and waiting times are lengthening. [South China Morning Post] However, many continue to consider universal healthcare systems as major tools for human development and the fight against poverty.

29 April 2018

Indonesia: Former parliament speaker convicted of corruption

(ls) The Jakarta Corruption Court sentenced Setya Novanto, the former speaker of the Indonesian Parliament (People’s Representative Council, DPR), to 15 years in prison for embezzlement, one of the most high-profile convictions in the nation’s history. He was convicted of masterminding the theft of more than $170 million from a national identity card program. Dozens of other current and former lawmakers and senior political figures have been implicated. Before Novanto, the country’s highest-profile corruption conviction was that of Akil Mochtar, a former Constitutional Court chief justice who in 2014 was sentenced to life for taking bribes to issue favorable verdicts in provincial election disputes. [The New York Times]

29 April 2018

Mapping the Indonesian political spectrum

(ls) Whereas many observers have suggested that Indonesian parties differ little on matters of policy and ideology, with the only obvious division between them being the degree to which they believe Islam should play a role in public affairs, a group of researchers conducted a survey among members of Indonesian provincial legislatures to learn more about their actual ideological leaning. A summary of the findings is presented in the [New Mandala].

22 April 2018

Facebook in SEA

(jk) News on Facebook this past week have much focused on its CEO’s testimony before the US congress. A lot is happening in Southeast Asia as well:

Authorities in Indonesia recently threatened to ban Facebook unless the company gets a handle on privacy and fake news. The government may be worried about fake accusations about President Joko Widodo’s alleged communist sympathies or collusion with China ahead of next year’s elections [Bloomberg]. Much like Zuckerberg in the US Congress, Facebook employees in Indonesia had to face tough questions from lawmakers [The Straits Times 1].

In the Philippines, where Facebook has appointed two online news platforms (Rappler, which continues to operate pending an appeal over its shutdown, and VERA Files) for a joint project to monitor and stop the spreading of fake news, its choice has been criticized by the government, alleging the selected news organisations are biased against President Duterte [The Straits Times 2]. The government also said it is investigating the social media firm over reports information from more than a million users in the Philippines was breached by British data firm Cambridge Analytica [Voice of America].

In Cambodia, Facebook is in the middle of a lawsuit (filed in California in February) by former leader of the now-dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Sam Rainsy alleging that Prime Minister Hun Sen has used the social network to deceive Cambodia’s electorate as part of a broader campaign to destroy the political opposition and free media [Reuters].

Moreover, in Myanmar, Facebook was accused of facilitating the incitement of hatred and spreading hate speech during the genocide. A recent UN Fact-Finding Mission concluded that social media has played a “determining role” in the crisis [TechCrunch].

22 April 2018

Indonesia: Rooting out red light districts by 2019?

(hg) Throughout the country, national and local governments have shut down “prostitution sites” – red light districts, where authorities turn a blind eye to blatant sex trade which is illegal –, claiming to have returned some 20,000 sex workers to their families with the Social Ministry vowing to continue its crackdown program pursuing the target to make Indonesia entirely free of prostitution sites by 2019. [Coconuts Jakarta]

22 April 2018

Indonesia: After landmark decision on religious freedom indigenous beliefs still at the margins

(hg) Joe Cochrane reports on indigenous religions – “traditional beliefs” – that predate the arrival of world religions in Indonesia which, nevertheless have a hard time amid a climate of increasing religious intolerance and against the background of a state that is not secular but considering the belief in one god as part of the social contract. With an estimated followership of altogether 20 million believers, there are in fact hundreds of different forms of traditional beliefs (aliran kepercayaan) spread across the vast archipelago, sometimes purely indigenous religions, sometimes eclectic variations of animist, Hindu-Buddhist and Islamic notions.

Last November, the Constitutional Court affirmed in a landmark ruling the rights of followers of traditional beliefs outside of the six state-recognized religions, which has yet not been implemented by the government. Given widespread resistance against the ruling among some of the less moderate Muslim groups and an increasing political role of an Islamic mainstream orthodoxy which seems to be in constant flow of redefinition, Indonesia’s Ministry of Home Affairs is careful to respond to the Constitutional Court ruling interpreting it as acknowledging the traditional beliefs “only as a culture, not a religion”. [The New York Times]

22 April 2018

Indonesia: ‘Islamization’ of women’s movement as pars pro toto

(hg) Farid Muttaqin provides an interesting account of “overwhelming efforts” to Islamize Indonesia´s women’s movement, a development which has to be seen in context with a continuous rise of political Islam that is working on replacing more “secular” and “liberal” ideas by – various – agendas of more Islamic and Islamic- nationalistic provenance in an ongoing struggle to increase Muslim dominance in Indonesia’s social and political life. [The Jakarta Post]

Besides, the discourses driven by a multifaceted Islamic activism, a creeping Islamization of public culture and social interaction is perceptible almost everywhere in the country, increasingly setting norms not only for those favoring a more secular way of life but also those being more indifferent Muslim believers. [The Jakarta Post]

22 April 2018

Indonesia: Bill proposed to limit cash transactions in fight against corruption

(hg) Indonesia’s government has proposed a draft bill to limit cash transactions to a maximum 100 million rupiah (S$9,520), for the sake of curbing bribery and money laundering.

Some 85 per cent of transactions in Indonesia are in cash, much more probably in terms of corruption. The bill is introduced with elections for mayors and governors set for June this year. [The Straits Times]

22 April 2018

Indonesia: Weakening the freedom of expression and the struggle against corruption in a single legislative move – MD3

(hg) Last month, Indonesia’s House of Representatives (DPR) passed a controversial legislative amendment to the 2014 Legislative Institutions Law known as MD3, that curbs public criticism of lawmakers and isolate them from the Corruption Eradication Commission´s (KPK) oversight.

The bill makes the Parliament’s own ethics council responsible for allegations of corruption of lawmakers and allows it on the other side to bring charges against individuals or organizations that ‘disrespect the dignity of the House or its members’. [Global Risk Insights]

The MD3 bill reflects two noteworthy trends.

First, the bill is in line with similar legislative barriers to free speech in Southeast Asia and Indonesia as well, characterized by laws employing broad and vague terms that will inevitably instill fear in discourse communities to freely express opinion on political issues as well as carrying the potential to target journalists, social activists or ordinary citizens expressing discontent with government conduct. In Indonesia, there is additionally a draft for a new Criminal Code in preparation, which will contain for example imprisonable offenses such as ‘verbal attacks’ against the president or vice president; public defamation of the government, president or vice president; and dissemination of defamatory anti-government material. More than 200 persons are currently also prosecuted for defamation under the 2008 Electronic Information and Transaction Law – a law originally aimed at combatting cybercrimes and enforcing cybersecurity which reflects that these kinds of legislation tend to expand their scope if implemented once.

Second, the bill represents another blow against Indonesia´s efforts to establish cleaner politics. In the past, anti-corruption has proved to be a powerful tool to gain public attention and legitimacy used for example by some Islamist parties and the Constitutional Court, which both, however, quickly developed their own corruption scandals. The parliament which had already weakened the Constitutional Court when the institution enjoyed a reputation of being one of the cleanest public bodies, is consistently perceived to be among Indonesia´s most corrupt public institutions, which just experienced another major corruption scandal some months ago. Now, it is weakening the Corruption Eradication Commission´s (KPK) oversight grip on the parliament with the KPK being widely considered to be the last bastion in the country’s fight against corruption.

The way how a broad coalition government brought forward such a blatant move against both the freedom of speech and the fight against corruption in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice reflects a polity in which major actors are increasingly putting the gloves off in preparing for local elections this and national elections next year, fully irrespective of the global trend to increase and focus anti-corruption efforts. [Global Risks Insights]

22 April 2018

US Arms sales to Indonesia

(jk) After the US Secretary of Defense visited Indonesia in January this year and a major arms deal involving two dozen used US-built F-16 fighter jets went ahead in February, some observers expected an ever-intensifying US-Indonesia defense relationship, not least to balance against increasing Chinese influence. In reality however, as is argued in this piece, US military assistance will always be subject to ups and downs, as exemplified by the US military embargo in the 1990s and early 2000s.  Whilst the deal is significant, the US has never been Indonesia’s top arms supplier and the defense relationship has yet to grow to a level where it could truly influence Indonesia’s foreign policy trajectory [East Asia Forum]. On a related note, Indonesia has ordered three submarines from South Korea [Antara News].

22 April 2018

South China Sea

(jk) With increased Cross-Strait tensions and Taiwan climbing up the list again of most-concerning flashpoints in East Asia, the attention of international news reporting has slightly shifted away from South China Sea issues. Notwithstanding, there are plenty of stories that are worth keeping an eye out for.

Last month, state-owned enterprise PetroVietnam withdrew its consent for Spanish energy firm Repsol to move ahead with a drilling project in Vietnman’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the South China Sea. This is the second time that Repsol could not move on with an already well prepared and heavily invested in drilling project after a similar incident in July last year.

It is reported that coercion by the PRC, such as the threatening of military clashes should the drilling go ahead were to blame for the sudden pull of the plug of the project by Vietnam. Observers are concerned that for a second time, the PRC has coerced a littoral SCS state into not exploring resources within their EEZ.  Apparently, recently improving ties between Vietnam and the US did not instill enough confidence in Vietnam’s leadership for them to go ahead with the project [BBC News; South China Morning Post 1]. It is worth remembering that as we have noted in AiR before, Vietnam has become the most forward leaning of the claimant states in the SCS vis-à-vis China. Now, after the Repsol episode, Vietnam is negotiating with China on joint exploration and production efforts.

In the meantime, Vietnam and Indonesia are working towards a mechanism to deal with fishing violation in their respective territorial waters which could turn into a positive example of cooperation amongst claimant states and so-called “interested parties” such as Indonesia. Over the past few years, Indonesia has destroyed hundreds of fishing vessels from Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand, for violating its waters. Last week, the two nations sat down as part of their third installment of a bilateral cooperation committee meeting which focused on maritime security in particular [South China Morning Post 2].

In the Philippines, photographs of Chinese military aircraft on one of the artificially developed islands within the Philippines’ EEZ have raised doubts about China’s official line not to further militarise any of the South China Sea features it has built. The pictures were allegedly taken in January this year and have now been verified by the government in the Philippines which is now considering filing an official complaint. China’s seems to keep to its successful strategy of creating facts on the ground [The Straits Times]. Despite its competing claims in the Spratly chain, the Philippines is increasing its economic ties with China. This includes plans for joint developments of gas and oil.  President Duterte and President Xi agreed on this last week in a meeting in Hainan.

15 April 2018

Indonesia: Prabowo Subianto to run for Presidency

(jk) Oppositional Gerindra Party Chairman Gen. (ret.) Prabowo Subianto has allegedly accepted his party’s nomination for the Indonesian presidency in the upcoming general elections 2019. The actual deadline to nominate candidates is not until August however, and there is some doubt whether this is has been an official statement or not [New Mandala].

Prabowo is a former special forces commander and connected to alleged human rights abuses during military operations in East Timor and elsewhere. The retired three-star general was also the son-in-law of President Suharto. Prabowo lost narrowly to President Jokowi in the Presidential Elections 2014 and presumably poses the greatest threat to a second term of the current President. [ABC News] Recent polls however show that as of now, Jokowi holds a significant lead over his opponents [Bloomberg].

Long before the election next year, Indonesia will see significant regional elections taking place in June this year. They will be a useful gauge for the upcoming national elections for they are significant in size (152 million voters), and in some areas resemble competition on the national level [ISEAS].

8 April 2018

“Fake news” vs. freedom of expression and free elections in Southeast Asia

(ls/thn) As expected, Malaysia’s parliament has approved the law prohibiting fake news. As AiR reported last week, it is the first measure of its kind in the world and would allow for up to six years in prison for publishing or circulating misleading information – this means „any news, information, data and reports which are wholly or partly false, whether in the form of features, visuals or audio recordings or in any other form of capable suggesting words or ideas.“ This also concerns fake news generated outside the country, as long as Malaysia or Malaysians are affected. [The New York Times 1]

“This law is not intended to restrict freedom of speech but to restrict the dissemination of fake news,” said de facto law minister Azalina Othman Said. Human Rights Watch Asia Director Brad Adams said that “the Malaysian government has no monopoly on the truth, but it is attempting to be the arbiter of what can and can’t be said and written.” [The Straits Times 1]

In an intriguing piece, Alwyn Lau examines the new fake news legislation from a Zizekian perspective, holding that the fight against fake news may prove fatal to reality itself as the social world cannot survive without its fictions. Against the background of the fact that most observers suspect that the primary motif behind the law to be the suppression of news critical of the ruling regime, he writes that, ironically, in order to protect its own lies, the government employs a law about ensuring only the truth is disseminated. [New Mandala]

Certainly, the Malaysian law needs to be seen in a wider Asian context. Reuters has compiled a factbox about actions by Asian governments to crack down on fake news. [Reuters]

The Indonesian Communications Minister threatened to shut down Facebook and other social media platforms if there is any evidence that the personal data of citizens is being harvested or if the platforms fail to crack down on “fake news” during upcoming elections. [The Straits Times 2]

In Myanmar, civil society groups on Thursday criticized Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, arguing that he mischaracterized his company’s effectiveness at detecting and quashing messages encouraging violence in the country. Facebook has become a major channel for the spread of hate speech and propaganda in Myanmar that has encouraged and obfuscated ethnic cleansing of the country’s Muslim Rohingya, according to human rights groups. [The New York Times 2]

Moreover, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica allegedly helped put the Philippines’ president Rodrigo Duterte into office, according to media reports and information pulled from the firm’s website. The company said on their website that in the run up to the 2016 election its client, Duterte, was perceived as kind and honourable, but that the firm rebranded him as a strong, no-nonsense man of action to win. [South China Morning Post]

8 April 2018

Indonesia to open university sector to 100 percent foreign ownership

(ls) Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has instructed his cabinet to open up the university sector to 100 percent foreign investment. The move could help raise lagging education standards in the country of more than 250 million people, where students often opt to study abroad if they can afford it. Under Indonesian law, the government has to allocate a fifth of its budget to education-related spending. But the increased spending had not led to a meaningful improvement in the quality of education. [Reuters]

8 April 2018

Indonesia-Thailand Defense Pact

(hg) A closer look at the status of an agreement reached by both sides back in 2015. Late last month, Thailand and Indonesia have agreed to ratify a new defense pact which has be seen against the background of a series of developments indicating intensifying bilateral relationships in general and regarding security ties in particular and is based on an initial MoU from May 2015 Both countries are Southeast Asia’s largest economies and among the initial founding members of ASEAN have long had a bilateral relationship that includes a security component. While substance and pace of the bilateral defense cooperation seem to remain still modest, it is highlighting the fact that Thailand and Indonesia could be decisive for the future of ASEAN amidst the changing geopolitical chess board in Asia. [The Diplomat]

1 April 2018

Indonesia: Ahok’s appeal rejected by Supreme Court

(ls) The Supreme Court of Indonesia on Monday rejected former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama’s case review petition against his blasphemy conviction. In what was described as a political trial by many observers, the North Jakarta District Court last year found him guilty of blasphemy and sentenced him to two years in prison for making a comment on a Quranic verse, which Ahok believed had been used by politicians to discredit him. The appeal appeared not without merit after a man who uploaded the video sequence of a speech given by Ahok was found guilty of tampering with that footage which was used as evidence to lodge the blasphemy allegations. However, the Supreme Court did not find any mistake in the trial court’s judgment. [The Jakarta Post]

25 March 2018

Indonesia’s New Parties for 2019

(jk) With reporting on the formation of a new, progressive party in Thailand over the last couple of weeks [AiR Web-Archive > Thailand], we thought it is also worth mentioning that Indonesia’s Election Commission is allowing four new parties to contest next year’s legislative and presidential elections [The Jakarta Post].

Three of those, The United Indonesia Party (Perindo), the Berkaya Party and the Garuda Party have close links with the establishment. The first is headed by U.S. President Donald Trump’s business partner in Indonesia, Hary Tanoeseodibjo. The Berkaya Party is led by Suharto’s youngest son, Tommy, who has spoken in favour of a return to the “New Order” values of his late father and the Garuda Party is allegedly linked to the Suharto family and the Gerindra Party.

The fourth, the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), headed by a young former television journalist, is decidedly progressive and aims to break into Indonesian politics with a progressive policy platform based on virtue, diversity, openness and meritocracy [Reuters/ PSI Party]. We have already mentioned the formation of this party back in October 2017, but it will be interesting to keep an eye on this young party amid the developments that AiR readers are aware of.  The trust in the political process and most constitutional institutions seems low while military and more radical Islamic groups gain substantially in influence in a growingly conservative environment.

25 March 2018

Indonesia: MD3 law an example of a dysfunctional Jokowi government?

(jk) AiR has been reporting on a recently passed law in Indonesia hampering criticism of legislators and reducing their accountability. The law, known as the MD3 law, as we have argued previously, reflects a general decline of Indonesia´s constitutionalism, complemented by calls for Islamic and national purification and a strong leader.

However, the law, or rather the path it has taken coming into force, could also be seen as sign of a dysfunctional Jokowi government, according to this recent piece on [New Mandala]. Jokowi was initially shy about signing the controversial law, stating that he would refuse to do so. But, similar to the US, a law will automatically be enacted even without the President’s signature after a certain time-period. In line with the legislative process in Indonesia, the administration in Jakarta could have stopped or stalled the legislation long before this stage. The fact that it hadn’t, according to the author, shows that Jokowi is either not genuine about his motives or indeed runs a dysfunctional government. Refusing to sign the law was largely symbolic for he had no actual veto power over the law. Now that the law has been enacted, Jokowi is quoted to “understand and know that […] the law will remain valid even without my signature. Therefore, to solve the issue, the public is welcomed to file a judicial review with the Constitutional Court.” [The Jakarta Post] That he is calling on the public to question and challenge a law his own government has implemented is worth pointing out.

18 March 2018

Fascism in Indonesian politics

(ls) The main rival of current Indonesian president Joko Widodo in next year’s elections will likely be Prabowo Subianto. He is the former Commander of the Army Strategic Reserve Command and was presidential candidate in the 2014 elections. Moreover, he is the former son-in-law of Muhammad Suharto who ruled the country between 1966 and 1998. Subianto appears at party rallies on horseback dressed like Mussolini, and once told a foreign journalist that he favoured a “benign authoritarian regime”. Against this background, a group of authors examine the seeds of fascism in Indonesian politics and the rise of Islamic populism. They hold that the marginalization and subsequent resurgence of Islam, and a growing militarism in everyday life, has produced a condition whereby right-wing populism now arises as a new style of fascism. Moreover, they point to neoliberal developmentalism that worsened inequalities and heightened rural resistance and agrarian conflicts as another influential factor. [Open Democracy]

18 March 2018

Indonesia: Aceh province considers beheading as punishment for murder

(ls) The northern Indonesian province of Aceh is considering the introduction of beheading as a punishment for murder. The head of Aceh’s sharia law and human rights office said, “beheading is more in line with Islamic law and will cause a deterrent effect. A strict punishment is made to save human beings.” Aceh is already governed by sharia law, and frequently carries out public caning of gay people and alleged adulterers and gamblers. [The Telegraph]

18 March 2018

Indonesia: Law limiting criticism of politicians enacted

(ls) The new law under which persons criticizing national politicians could be jailed – see AiR reports in recent weeks – came into force on Thursday. President Joko Widodo refused to sign off on the controversial legislation. However, he does not have a veto power. In response to the passing of the law, hundreds of protesters rallied outside the Constitutional Court in Jakarta, calling on it to revoke the legislation. The Court already received three petitions challenging the law, but it could take months before it renders a decision. [South China Morning Post]

4 March 2018

Indonesia: Ahok challenges conviction in the Supreme Court while police arrest “Muslim Cyber Army”

(ls) Jakarta’s former governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, nicknamed “Ahok”, a Christian convicted of insulting Islam, sought a judicial review of his case by the Supreme Court. Ahok was sentenced to two years in prison last year for blasphemy charges mostly based on an online video spread by Muslim extremists, provoking accusations of political motivation. Muslims had rallied in hundreds of thousands demanding his imprisonment. Ahok’s conviction could prevent him from holding public posts under Indonesian law, because the offence carried a maximum penalty of five years. [South China Morning Post]

In a move against the spread of hatred and fake news online, Indonesian police arrested 14 members of a network called the Muslim Cyber Army, which allegedly has been using hacking, online misinformation campaigns and hate speech to push the country in a more conservative direction. Experts believe that social network campaigns — including fake news — have helped drive a turn to the right in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country. [The Washington Post]

4 March 2018

Indonesia: Law to curb criticism against House Members passed

(ls) Indonesia’s House of Representatives has passed a law giving the Members of the House powers to obstruct corruption investigations and press charges against their critics. The revised Law of Representative Assemblies, also referred to as the MD3 law, also allows members to compel police to haul people into the House of Representatives to face questioning from politicians. The law change comes as the House members continue to wage war with Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), which has led numerous high-profile investigations into politicians. [ABC News]

In The Diplomat, Erin Cook argues that Indonesia’s protest culture is one of the strongest in the region, with protests and demonstrations shutting down parts of Jakarta on any given day. If the MD3 law was to be applied wholly and indiscriminately, she holds that it would be possible for the entire function of the House’s Ethics Committee be reduced to solely questioning detractors. However, analysts have pointed out that corruption investigators are the most likely of targets of the new legislation. [The Diplomat] The law will enter into force on 13 March 2018 if President Joko Widodo does not ratify it earlier. Whether it would stand the test of constitutionality in the constitutional court, however, remains uncertain.

25 February 2018

Indonesia: Law to curb criticism of politicians?

(hg) The house of representatives has quietly passed a controversial Law on Representative Assemblies, known as the MD3 law, which would hamper criticism of legislators and reduce their accountability. For the meanwhile, it has been stopped by President Joko Widodo who delayed the signing suggesting the law could violate the democratic principle. [Reuters]

The law would allow legislators to press charges against those who “undermine [the house`s] honor or that of its members.” It also stipulates that investigations into members of parliament must be approved by the House Ethics Council effectively limiting the reach of the Corruption Eradication Commission, KPK. The amendments were supported by eight political parties, including the ruling Democratic Party of Struggle, PDIP, of President Jokowi while representatives of two smaller parties in the present governing coalition, the United Development Party (PPP) and National Democratic (NasDem) party walked out in protest when the votes were cast. The house of representatives is one of the most powerful and least trusted constitutional bodies.

In the past, when the Constitutional Court was seen as a much more trustworthy institution than it is today, the house weakened the Court´s power by an institutional reform law that invalidated in parts by the Court later on. Likely, the bill, if finally signed by the President, might be reviewed by the Constitutional Court as well.

In the meanwhile, with a weakened Constitutional Court which had a major corruption scandal last year itself and a President fighting for his reelection, the MD3 law is an attempt by the legislators to consolidate their power while their public perception is at a historic low. [Voice of America]

The MD3 law reflects a general decline of Indonesia´s constitutionalism that is complemented by calls for Islamic and national purification and a strong leader.

25 February 2018

Indonesia´s struggle with corruption

(hg) Corruption and money politics are still endemic in the Indonesian society, pervading state institutions and dominating electoral politics. Regarding to the coming regional elections, politics are described to be essentially determined by “a constant stream of payments”: To be fielded as candidates by political parties, candidates have to pay considerable sums to the party whose amount is dependent on the office the candidate is running for. If candidates want to run in a specific electoral district they have to pay extra. Moreover, during the election race, they will also need to make payments to the community by which they want to be elected.

Oppositional Gerindra Party Chairman Gen. (ret.) Prabowo Subianto for instance allegedly asked a candidate for the 2018 East Java gubernatorial race to pay US$2.8 million in exchange for his nomination. The same practices are described for all other parties including President Jokowi´s PDP-I or the Islamic Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) which presents itself as an anti-corruption party.

The instruments to tackle the influence of money politics, that naturally continues after the candidates´ investment pays out in form of a public office, are limited: the submission of asset declarations by candidates ahead of the elections, state financing of political parties on the basis of acquired votes, public education and consequent law enforcement. [Asean Today]

The limits of the latter have, however, just been exemplified when an investigator of the respected Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) who had been blinded by an acid attack returned to office after months of medical treatment.

The officer investigated a major graft scandal that has implicated prominent politicians when he was attacked last April as he left dawn prayers. Allegedly 80 people are involved in the corruption casehe investigated which is centered at the introduction of a $440 million electronic identity card system with more than one third of the amount having been stolen.

A senior Golkar party politician and former speaker of parliament is currently on trial for his alleged role in the scandal. Regarding the blinded KPK officer, no one has been arrested yet. Returning to office, he called on his colleagues to continue the fight against corruption against all odds: “Whatever happens, God will show the path of truth, even though many people are trying to cover it,” […] “I call on my friends, activists, law enforcers and people in charge of eradicating corruption, let’s stay focused, stay brave. Don’t be afraid, don’t hesitate, stay strong.” [US News]

After the formerly highly esteemed Constitutional Court has been haunted by two subsequent corruption scandals, the KPK, which is vested by considerable investigative powers, is one of the last publicly trusted offices. After having become under growing pressure in recent years it is presently facing legislative efforts to shield politicians from its reach (see below).

25 February 2018

Indonesia’s military expanding its role in counter-terrorism?

(hg) Regarding amendments to the anti-terrorism law new armed forces chief Hadi Tjahjanto advocates an increase of the military´s role regarding matters of internal security, in particular anti-terrorism.
By proposing to define terrorism not any more as a law enforcement but state security issue as well as a threat to territorial integrity, the aim is clearly to place anti- terrorism within the domain of the military, which lost its internal security role when democratic reforms made it solely responsible for external defense in 1999.

The proposal is seconded by Maritime Coordinating Minister Luhut Panjaitan, a former commander of the army special forces’ (Kopassus) counterterrorism unit, the elite Detachment 81. He pointed in particular to the involvement of the British Special Air Service (SAS) as an example for successful military counter-terrorism. According to him, the government wants to create a crisis center at the presidential palace that would be separate from the existing National Anti-Terrorism Agency (BNPT) to make decisions on threat levels and whether to involve the military in any given situation.

With the new proposals, the army´s Kopassus Detachment 81 could effectively challenge the lead role of its police counterpart, the Detachment 88, which was created in the wake of the 2002 Bali bombing to develop into a widely recognized anti-terror force since then and whose former commander is Indonesia´s current police chief. Other planned changes aim at bolstering the policy and coordination powers of the BNPT which is staffed by around 100 military and police officers and a reform of the prison system especially regarding convicted militants to improve discipline, the recidivism rate and the degree of radicalization. [Asia Times]

25 February 2018

Indonesia: New control system blocks more than 70,000 ‘negative’ sites

(hg) Indonesia steps up its efforts to block unwanted Internet content. Only within the first month after having introduced a new system helping to purge the internet of harmful material, the responsible ministry has blocked more than 70,000 additional websites displaying “negative” content such as pornography or extremist ideology. Among the almost 800,000 sites having been blocked altogether, more than 90 percent were targeted due to their pornographic content. After Google has removed 73 LGBT-related apps from its Play Store last month, nine tech companies, including Google and Facebook, have also announced to fight fake news and hate speech during the upcoming elections in the world’s third-biggest democracy. [Reuters]

25 February 2018

Indonesia: Islamic conservatism and diversity

(hg) With the kick-off of regional elections on 15 February and the 2019 presidential elections approaching [Nikkei Asian Review], the public role of Islam and the expression of Islamic identities take center stage in contemporary political debates in the world´s biggest Muslim community country. This gives reason enough to take a look at some of the facets of contemporary Islam in Indonesia as reflected in latest developments and news.

As diverse Indonesian Islamic discourses are as much is their center of gravity shifting to its more conservative strata [Deutsche Welle]. This is in line with a general trend towards an unruly conservatism which is anxiously advancing against all kinds of alleged ‘pollutions’ of national integrity, with the LGBT community and ‘foreign influences’ leading the way. At the same time, trust in the political process and almost all constitutional institutions seems low and lower while military and more radical Islamic groups gain markedly in influence.

The general trend is put in a nutshell by a female comedian who is portrayed in a South China Morning Post article for her struggle against religious extremism, quoted: “I found that many urban Muslims in Indonesia, who grew up with far more freedom than I did, suddenly started adopting the closed-minded attitudes of people in my [rural] community. I escaped the desert only to find a whole other desert waiting for me. Something in Indonesia is definitely changing, and under this hijab I am worried.” [South China Morning Post 1]

Another article deals with the still small but growing number of woman wearing the face covering niqab as an indicator for an increasing religious conservatism and a sharper division between those with more accentuated Islamic leanings and those who favor a moderate Islam or an even secular way of life in a country where open secularism is a sensitive issue.

The report refers to the many reasons for women to choose more restrictive forms of Islamic dresses, citing among others uncomfortableness with indecent male behavior and the turn to a more pronounced Islamic lifestyle as a reaction to perceived injustices suffered by Islamic countries and a rejection of Western values. [South China Morning Post 2]

An interesting facet of the more diverse Islamic discourses is reflected by recently reported critical remarks on Saudi Arabia by representatives of the Muslim Students Association’s (HMI) blaming the kingdom for using the pilgrimage to Mecca to treat Muslim fellows from neighboring countries along political friend and foe lines. At the reported event, the general secretary of the Muslim Student Organization of India, accused Saudi Arabia moreover also of destroying religious sites, such as the birthplace of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, referring to estimations that 95 percent of Mecca’s historical buildings have been destroyed in the past two decades. The accusation notably includes the role of Western influence: “What are there now? American companies [like] McDonald’s, Starbucks, and so on.” [Al Jazeera]

A much more influential Islamic organization than HMI that has exerted strong influence on the development of political Islam is Muhammadiya, whose chairman has just pledged in a lecture at Monash University, Melbourne, his organization would continue to uphold the idea of progressive Islam amid rising religious extremism. [The Jakarta Post]

Indonesia is home to two huge Muslim organizations, in fact, the biggest in the world, namely Nahdlatuul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiya with 40 and 30 million members respectively. Muhammadiya which fosters a version of Salafi Islam that defies the simple equation of Salafism and extremism, currently operates 9200 schools, 170 universities and 500 hospitals and nursing homes. Both, NU and Muhammadiya have successfully functioned as bulwarks against claims for an Islamic state and expressions of religiously motivated violence. With the country´s creeping Islamization, the top leadership seems, however, to face mounting pressure by elements of the middle and lower echelons of the organization orienting themselves in parts to more radical Islamic leanings. This became visible for instance on occasion of last year´s demonstrations against Jakarta´s Christian mayor Ahok who had been accused and eventually sentenced for blasphemy.

25 February 2018

Indonesia unlikely to join US-led coalition to contain China

(hg) In late January, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis visited Indonesia to begin the implementation of the new U.S. National Defense Strategy, which calls for forging a “networked security architecture” in Asia/Indo-Pacific to prepare for the “great power competition” with China. Observer as Joshua Kurlantzick and Mark J. Valencia note the U.S. seems to win Indonesia as a key partner in this endeavor, an assumption they assess unlikely to happen.

True is, Indonesia has serious issues China where it comes to the Natuna islands area in the South China Sea and potentials of increasing domestic Chinese influence in a country that has always fostered strong anti-Chinese sentiments.

This would on the other side hardly be enough that there will be a long-term alignment of national security interests between the countries.

First, Indonesia has been one of the driving forces of the nonaligned movement since the Bandung conference 1955. Just recently when President Jokowi has visited Pakistan, both countries´ nonaligned status has been an important issue in mutual assurances of friendship. Secondly, there is the growing Islamization and the perception of the U.S. as a deeply biased friend of Israel, a prescription which has been prepared by the recognition of Jerusalem As Israel’s capital. Then, third, there is a difficult history of relations between the U.S. and Indonesia, starting with American role in the 1965 military countercoup against the communist coup attempt leading to a mass slaughter which is still a taboo that nevertheless comes with subtle skepticism against America and its supportive role in the course of events for many Indonesians. The other side, the American suspension of military cooperation with Indonesia’s elite unit Kopassus because of its human rights violations have widely been regarded as hypocritical.

Key ministers with military background in Pres. Jokowi´s cabinet have proven their profound skepticism towards the US engagement in the region. Defense Minister Gen. (ret.) Ryamizard Ryacudu has suggested that “if regional countries can manage the South China Sea on their own, there is no need to involve others” while Gen. (ret.) Luhut Panjaitan, the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, has said that, “We don’t want to see any power projection in this area.” In sum, no Indonesian governments seems currently to be in the position to sell the close rapprochement with the U.S. to the countries´ elites or the bulk of voters. [The Diplomat]

The mere fact that the Trump administration is downplaying democracy and human rights as core components of U.S. foreign policy currently, might help with other countries in the region but does not really help to improve relations with Indonesia as long it is inclined to be received against the background of an alleged anti-Islamic U.S. foreign policy.

The best American strategy seems to stabilize a more transactional relationship which, as Kurlantzick notes, would suit the leadership style of the presidents of both countries. Such a transactional relationship could focus on strategic ties regarding three major security threats: China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, the rise of Islamic extremism in the region, and, the ongoing issue of piracy in Southeast Asian waters. In terms of economic strategy toward Southeast Asia the U.S. have to recognize furthermore that Indonesia is the largest economy in the region, its only G20 economy, and the biggest untapped market for U.S. firms in Southeast Asia. Regarding economic relations there are also the obstacles for revamped relations as both countries have a tendency to focus on economic nationalism. [Council of Foreign Relations 1] [Council of Foreign Relations 2]

The ensuing risks for bilateral relations have already manifested as Indonesia is the latest Asian country to face American trade curbs after the U.S. Department of Commerce said it planned to slap anti-dumping duties of 92.52% to 276.65% on biodiesel imports from the country, a decision Indonesia will challenge before the WTO dispute settlement panel. [Nikkei Asian Review]

Just recently, the European Community Shipowners’ Association, ECSA, has described the new Indonesian legislation aiming at reserving cargoes as protectionist and worrying to give a current example for Indonesian protectionism. [Shipping Watch]

25 February 2018

Indonesia gets Russian Sukhoi fighter jets

(hg) Indonesia has signed a US$1.14 billion deal to buy 11 Sukhoi Su-35 jets from Russia. The Su-35 is a Russian-made multipurpose generation 4++ super-maneuverable fighter jet. It can develop a speed of up to 2,500 kilometers per hour and has a flying range of 3,400 kilometers and a combat radius close to 1,600 kilometers. The fighter jet is armed with a 30mm gun and has 12 hardpoints for carrying bombs and missiles.

Russia has delivered weapons worth more than $2.5 billion to Indonesia over the past 25 years including BTR-80A armored personnel carriers and BMP-3F infantry fighting vehicles, 100th series Kalashnikov assault rifles, Su-27SK and Su-27SKM, Su-30MK and Su-30MK2 planes, Mi-35 and Mi-17 helicopters, and other weapon systems and military hardware.

After the EU and US have targeted Russia with sanctions for the alleged meddling in the US presidential election and the Crimean crisis, Russia is forced to seek new markets to import from which became the basis for the Indonesian deal which might be designed in parts as a barter business. [Channel News Asia] [TASS]

25 February 2018

Indonesia expanding defense business with Bangladesh

(hg) Indonesia and Bangladesh plan to expand their collaboration in the defence business and industrial engagement according to the Indonesian Ministry of Defence following meetings between defence officials from the two countries in Jakarta. In a press release the MoD said that “Bangladesh is interested in buying military products from Indonesia’s defence industry”. [Jane’s 360]

25 February 2018

Indonesia obtaining a non-permanent membership of UNSC?

(hg) Indonesia is optimistic about its membership candidacy for non-permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) according to statements of its Ambassador to the UN having declared that many countries had announced their support. [The Jakarta Post]

25 February 2018

Indonesia´s Education Market

(hg) Indonesia’s high-volume education market is marked by low-quality standards hampering the country´s competitiveness. After having increased access to education, the quality deficit lingers on with inadequate funding, human resource deficits, perverse incentive structures, and poor management as main problems. The situation and potential strategies of improvement are thoroughly analyzed by the Lowy Institute. [Lowy Institute]

18 February 2018

Indonesia: Widodo boosts ties with military

(ls) As AiR reported earlier this month, Indonesian President Joko Widodo has moved to shore up links with Indonesia’s armed forces by appointing former high-ranking military officials as his chief of staff and advisers. As another sign of closer ties between him and the military, the newly appointed armed forces commander, Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto, insisted that the military’s neutrality in upcoming elections is non-negotiable. For Widodo, the appointment of Tjahjanto may provide a bulwark against Islamic groups that last year lead a successful campaign against Jakarta’s then governor ‘Ahok’, who remains imprisoned on charges of blasphemy. Indonesia is set to hold simultaneous elections in 171 regions including 17 provinces in June, followed by a long presidential campaign that starts in September and could take almost a year to conclude. [Bloomberg]

18 February 2018

Indonesian-Russian military deal sealed

(dql) Indonesia and Russia have concluded a billion-dollar deal according to which Jakarta will purchase 11 Sukhoi Su-35 jets from Moscow. The contract, signed by both countries’ representatives in Jakarta on Wednesday, is worth a total 1.14 billion USD. [New Straits Times]

18 February 2018

Security in Southeast Asia: Increased cooperation since Marawi

(ls) After years of lukewarm security cooperation between Southeast countries, last year’s five-month siege of Marawi by Islamic State-aligned militants proved to be a game-changer, argues Michael Hart in the Asian Correspondent. Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines began conducting naval patrols to restrict the movement of jihadist fighters to-and-from Mindanao. These measures were later bolstered by the addition of coordinated air patrols to spot suspicious activity from the skies. In mid-November last year, the Southeast Asian Counter-Terrorism Financing Working Group (SACTFWG) was established, and last month, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand signed up to a new intelligence-sharing pact labelled the “Our Eyes” initiative. [Asian Correspondent]

11 February 2018

Indonesian anti-gay legislation faces criticism

(ls) As AiR reported in recent weeks, Indonesian lawmakers are pondering legislation outlawing extramarital sex – a move seen as targeting LGBT people in particular as they cannot legally marry in Indonesia. Now, some parliamentarians call for caution. “We don’t want to have the criminalization of LGBT,” one of them said. Legislators may now opt to make sex outside marriage a crime only if one of the two consenting parties makes a formal complaint to police, similar to cases of adultery. [South China Morning Post]

4 February 2018

Indonesia: Increasing pressure on LGBT community

(ls) Indonesia’s parliament is drafting proposed revisions to the national criminal code that could ban all consensual sex outside marriage, sparking alarm among activists who said it would breach basic rights and could be misused to target the LGBT community. The current draft includes measures to criminalize extramarital sex, same-sex relations, and co-habitation, all of which were previously unregulated by law. [Business Insider] In December, Indonesia’s con-stitutional court still rejected a petition seeking to make gay sex and sex outside marriage illegal, as AiR reported.

On Wednesday, Google has pulled one of the world’s largest gay dating apps from the Indonesian version of its on-line store in response to government demands. Google declined to say whether it would comply with the govern-ment demand to remove also other LGBT-related apps. [South China Morning Post]

Hendri Yulius examines Indonesia’s politics of debilitation of the transgender community, describing police arrests aimed to discipline and rehabilitate transgenders to be “masculine” men. While focusing on Aceh, he also describes similar developments in other parts of the country. [The Jakarta Post]

4 February 2018

US seeks to engage Indonesia and Vietnam to counter Chinese maritime expansion

(hg) U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis’ visit to Indonesia – before a visit to Vietnam – highlights the American efforts to enhance regional strategic partnerships to counter China’s expanding presence in Asian waters reiterating the basic themes of the just announced US National Defense Strategy. While Indonesia – despite not a claimant state in the South China Sea issues – has come forward to protect its exclusive economic zone off the Natuna Islands where it overlaps with the southern reaches of China’s self-proclaimed “nine-dash line”, Indonesia also courts China economically to invest.

Noteworthy, Mattis could not escape criticism of the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and was confronted with the call to support  a two-state solution regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict with East Jerusalem as the Palestine capital. [Nikkei Asian Review]

4 February 2018

Six ASEAN countries form “Our Eyes” intelligence network

(ls) Six Southeast Asian nations launched an intelligence pact on Thursday aimed at combating Islamist militants and improving cooperation on security threats, overcoming what analysts described as a high level of distrust. Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Brunei – all members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – have signed up to the “Our Eyes” pact according to which senior defence officials will meet every two weeks to swap information on militant groups and develop a common database of violent extremists. [South China Morning Post]

26 January 2018

ndonesia: Environmental activist jailed for ‘spreading communism’

(hg) An East Java court sentenced the man to ten months in prison under the anti-communism law for having “spreading communism” during a demonstration against the opening of a gold mine as he was the rally organizer at which some banners with the communist hammer and sickle have been displayed. Three co-demonstrators, having carried the banners, are still awaiting their trial. Last year, prosecutors sought a two-year prison term for a 24-year-old goat herder in an ongoing trial who had uploaded a selfie on which he was holding a picture of the hammer and sickle. Also in 2017, three university students were suspended from school for selling books about communism while Indonesia’s defence minister, a former New Order general, insisted that suspected communists killed in the military-backed massacres 1965 actually “deserved to die”. [The Straits Times]

In fact, communism has never ceded to be a sensitive issue after the end of the nationalist-military New Order regime in 1998 whereas it also has rarely attracted much attention. This changed gradually since an increasingly feverish conservative trend surged over recent years which, however, became much more manifest and visible in anti-LGBT rhetoric and Islamic fundamentalism. Still, communism is part of the dark and largely repressed strands of the country´s collective memory. After all, the 1965 Coup that responded to an attempted communist takeover and the ensuing New Order regime initiated a mass slaughter of hundreds of thousands alleged communists.

26 January 2018

Indonesia: Cabinet reshuffle reflects the formation of power blocs ahead of the 2019 elections

(hg) President Joko Widodo has replaced his chief of staff, a mild-mannered human rights advocate and key member of the President´s election campaign team in 2014, with a retired military commander, General Moeldoko, who left the armed forces in mid-2015, initially with the intention to run for the presidency. [Asia Times] [The Straits Times]

In an attempt to deepen its coalition support Widodo appointed the secretary-general of Indonesia’s second-largest party, Suharto´s New Order party vehicle Golkar, to his Cabinet in the third Cabinet shake-up in the president’s five year-term which started in October 2014.

More important, however, is the appointment of General Moeldoko who might emerge as a candidate for vice-presidency with Widodo in 2019. [The Straits Times]

His appointment also sheds some light on the group of generals surrounding the president as trustees like police chief General Tito Karnavian or, more or less close and reliable allies including new military commander Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto, Defense Minister, former New Order general, Ryamizard Ryacudu or Luhut Panjaitan, an ex-special forces general serving as maritime coordinating minister. To mention is also police general Budi Gunawan, head of the powerful National Intelligence Agency (BIN), who is at least a man of Jokowi´s party, the Indonesian De-mocrat Party for Struggle (PDI-P) and its leader Megawati Sukarnoputri. General Gunawan holds also a leading posi-tion at the Indonesian Mosque Association, which has oversight over the largest Muslim nation´s around 800,000 mosques, including those that might rally against Widodo in an election campaign that is expected to be decisively influenced by the Islamic card. Also sworn in now was General Agung Gumelar, a retired special forces general, ap-pointed to head the nine-man presidential advisory council, which contains Suharto-era army chief General Subagyo Hadi Siswoyo. Important is also the recent promotion of former presidential security force commander Lieutenant General Andika Perkasa from West Kalimantan regional chief to head the military’s training command, which puts him in line for the top army post in January 2019.

Another former New Order general is General Wiranto, also retired military chief, who serves as Coordinating Minis-ter in Jokowis cabinet. Wiranto is an older ally of the president and enemy of his rival in the last elections, General Prabowo with whom he had engaged in a bitter power struggle in the aftermath of General Suharto’s downfall 1998.
The President´s new chief of staff Moeldoko is a member of Minister Wiranto’s People’s Conscience Party (Hanura), and has served earlier in his military career as adjutant to intelligence guru Abdullah Mahmud Hendropriyono, a staunch ally of PDI-P leader Megawati. Hendropriyono’s son, Diaz, is the President´s son-in-law and part of his special staff. [Asia Times]

Moeldoko´s appointment complements the appointment of Air Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto as Armeed Forces (TNI) commander last December following the early retirement of Army General Gatot Nurmantyo who had a tense rela-tionship with the President and seems to have planned to run for presidency himself. TNI commander Hadi is one of the President´s close allies with both families also being close and Hadi having been Jokowi’s “military secretary” from 2014 to 2016. General Gatot however, has managed it to shuffle 85 high-ranking officers from across the mili-tary into new positions just before his term ended ensuring a leaving imprint on the internal command structure. [Voice of America]

The heavy presence of high ranking retired and serving security officers around the President indicates the ongoing influence of the security forces President Widodo has to acknowledge, his ability to adopt to the respectively shaped political environment and his awareness that the political climate is heated. Widodo faces a counter-bloc of political heavy – weights that likewise build on powerful security related networks. While both competing networks are linked to various Islamic groups, the challenging side seems to be more in the trend of an increasing fundamentalization of religious politics. [The Jakarta Post]

26 January 2018

Sri Lanka caught in great power politics

(hg) With Japan and India seeking to deepen their influence in Sri Lanka, the poor country which has become an integral part of the Chinese ‘maritime silk road’, seems to be caught between the need for foreign investment and the risk to be taken away by great power competition. [AiR 3/1/2018] [The Diplomat 1] [The Diplomat 2]

Adding to its recently expressed interest in infrastructure investment, Japan also plans to increase its naval security aid to Sri Lanka and Djibouti in support for the joint Japan-U.S. “free and open Indo-Pacific Strategy” which is not just countering the emergence of a Chinese sphere of influence abstractly but representing a new willingness to actively move very close to core areas of Chinese interest and investment. [The Japan News]

Besides, Sri Lanka’s increasing geopolitical importance has also been reflected currently by the visit of Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to witness the signing of the Sri Lanka-Singapore free trade agreement. [Channel News Asia]

The agreement, which is the first modern and comprehensive FTA for the South Asian nation after an attempt to reach an agreement in 2004 failed. [Today Online]

Adding to the overall picture, also Indonesian President Widodo has just visited the island to discuss matters of bilateral investment cooperation. [Daily Mirror] 

26 January 2018

Indonesia-USA relations: Washington backs Jakarta in South China Sea; current challenges for Indonesian military

(ls) On his visit to Indonesia this week, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis accepted the country’s renaming of an area previously considered part of the South China Sea, a move that potentially upsets China. In July last year, the Indonesian government unveiled an updated national map in which the country’s exclusive economic zone north of the Natuna Islands had been renamed the North Natuna Sea. While China recognizes Indonesian sovereignty over the Natuna Islands, it insists the two countries have overlapping claims to maritime rights and interests in the area that still need to be resolved. [South China Morning Post]

Defense Secretary Mattis also promised that the U.S. military will increase cooperation with Indonesia’s 6,000-member elite special forces unit “Kopassus”. Contacts have been scarce as Kopassus was accused of rights abuses in East Timor in the past. Mattis said he believed Kopassus had reformed enough that more cooperation was warranted under existing law. The United States is one of Indonesia’s top arms suppliers. [Reuters]

Within the Indonesian military, Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto, the former air force chief, has taken office as the 20th commander of the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) in December. “The Diplomat” argues that a major question for Tjahjanto, with his minority background from the Air Force among the TNI branches, will be the extent to which he can solidify all three branches of the military under his leadership, particularly the army, which has dominated the Indonesian military for years. Another crucial issue is to what degree Tjahjanto can bring the military defense plan back in line with the changing dynamics in the region and also with the current administration’s grand policy. [The Diplomat]

19 January 2018

Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand: Stand-off with EU over palm oil

(ls) The governments of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand are considering their response to the European Union in the dispute over palm oil exports, to the extent of threatening to retaliate with a ban on imports from European countries. “If these hate campaigns and discriminatory policy against palm oil were to go on, we can also retaliate. Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand are collectively big purchasers of EU products,” said Malaysian Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong. [New Straits Times]

Last year, the EU Parliament enacted a resolution to phase out the use of palm oil based biodiesel by the end of 2020 in order to prevent further deforestation in palm oil-producing countries. The three Southeast Asian countries, all major palm oil exporters, however, claim that thousands of small farmers rely on the trade with the EU and are not engage in clearing forests for oil palm cultivation. One Malaysian economist opines that Malaysia might have been unfairly targeted. [Free Malaysia Today]

19 January 2018

Indonesia: Ready for a more active role in diplomacy and development cooperation?

Indonesia has created a dedicated foreign aid agency (“Indonesia Aid”) for the first time. The move underscores the country’s recent push to play a bigger role in global affairs, Krithika Varagur argues, and sums up how the Indonesian government was very vocal in its opposition against US President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, how it was one of the few countries to criticize Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya Muslims last year and how it has recently offered to partner with the Philippines for counterterrorism. Moreover, Indonesia plans to bid for a U.N. Security Council seat next year. [Voice of America]

19 January 2018

Terrorist arbitrage in Southeast Asia

Quinton Temby describes how transnational terrorists engage in a type of triangular arbitrage in Southeast Asia to exploit the geopolitical differences between Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. He argues that, instead of being motivated by profits, the terrorists seek to marshal scarce resources for attacks against their ideological enemies, and rely on the failure of the three major states to cooperate as well as on their knowledge of the different costs of mobilising resources across the fragmented archipelagic geography of maritime Southeast Asia. [New Mandala]

12 January 2018

Terrorism: Indonesia and Philippines cooperate in fight against violent extremism

(ls) As violent extremism has been a constant issue in the Philippines over the course of the last years and decades, neighboring Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, pledged assistance to Manila. Jakarta will grant 100 scholarships each year to students of Islamic schools in Mindanao to study in Indonesia. Last year, the siege of the city of Marawi triggered Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte to place all of Mindanao under martial law, which was extended by Congress upon the request of the president who said threats from the extremists remain. [Asian Correspondent]

Moreover, the two countries are joining forces to increase maritime security and stop Islamic State sympathizers from crossing the porous sea border. Indonesia is known to have sleeper cells of IS sympathizers. Philippine officials suspected that Indonesians as well as Malaysians had reached the southern island Mindanao last year to support a battle being fought by local IS-inspired rebels [Voice of America].

5 January 2018

Forces shaping Southeast Asian regional security and geopolitics

This week, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi paid a visit to the Philippines, where she met with top officials including President Rodrigo Duterte. Though the agenda itself was more wide-ranging, her trip put the spotlight on the progress both sides are trying to make on some common security challenges [The Diplomat].

Li Jie Sheng, analyzes the United States National Security Strategy (NSS) and its repercussions for Southeast Asia. However, the NSS makes only little mentioning of US security relations to Southeast Asian countries. Taking into account the general direction in US foreign and security policy, Li describes the Trump administration’s agenda as aggressive, narrow-minded, and perhaps isolationist [The Diplomat].

Finally, Professor Yee-Kuang Heng of the Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Tokyo, examines Japan’s hard and soft power in Southeast Asia. It highlights Japanese military cooperation with the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam, while also exploring soft power projects throughout ASEAN [New Straits Times].

5 January 2018

Across Indonesia’s capital, a legacy of soviet-inspired design

In Jakarta, a number of Communist-influenced monuments are sprinkled throughout the city, part of the legacy of Indonesia’s founding president, Sukarno, who served from 1945 to 1967 and led the country’s move for independence. The New York Times portraits them as a interesting and ironic counterpoints to warnings from hard-line Islamists of a Communist resurgence [New York Times].