President Joko Widodo and Vice President Ma’ruf Amin
Partyforumseasia: While the Western tradition in politics and logic sees white and black as dominant categories, Indonesia has developed a fascinating way of validating the oscillating variations of changing gray scales, with some white and some black remaining at the margins. That is certainly helpful for the formation of compromises in politics and may prevent differences of opinion to develop too easily into open enmity. However, it can lead to positive or to negative outcomes. There are three very recent events to illustrate that:
1. Leadership posts in Parliament
The predominantly positive one is a compromise to enable all parties to get leadership posts in both houses of Parliament, the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) and the Regional Representatives Council (DPD). At least there is an agreement to amend the legislation accordingly. The move was triggered by a compromise between the dominant ruling party PDI-P and the biggest opposition party Gerindra, which had supported the former general Prabowo against the re-elected President Jokowi, to form an alliance of leadership in the MPR. Since this, in turn, irked the smaller coalition parties, the magic gray scale solution is now to give all parties a part of the leadership. Typically Indonesian? The trick might not work in other countries.
But Home Minister Tjahjo Kumolo (PDI-P) is cautious himself. The Jakarta Post as of 19th September quotes him as saying: “Hopefully, after this amendment, every policy-making process in the MPR can be done through a consensus, without opposition. (…) as the MPR leadership posts would automatically guarantee that all parties would pass,”
2. The Corruption Eradication Commission weakened
The second event looks like a gray scale compromise in Parliament but seems to be much less acceptable for the voters. The popular support for the respected Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) had so far been shared by President Jokowi and protected the organization against a number of attacks against its independence and its power to bring a number of corrupt politicians into prison. Probably the most spectacular case was the conviction of former Golkar leader and former speaker of Parliament Setya Novanto, sentenced to 15 years in jail in April 2018 for corruption and embezzlement in a huge scam in Parliament.
In a rather unusual “par force legislation”, on 17th September, the outgoing Parliament amended a number of regulations for the KPK which are clearly reducing the independence and powers of the institution. The changes, described as “emasculation” of the graft buster by critics, are as follows: The KPK has only two years to compile a case file, often not enough for the complex high level corruption cases. The KPK will become part of the executive branch and the employees will become state civil servants. The independence as an institution is gone. The supervisory board will be chosen by the House of Representatives through a selection committee formed by the President and has to decide on operational details like wire tapping which was one of the most potent tools. This may slow down ongoing investigations.
One of the gray scale aspects of the changes is the widely accepted practice of politicians and political parties to generate their income by syphoning away a high percentage from the development and infrastructure projects of the central and provincial governments, known as “pencaloan anggara” or “budget scalping”.
3. Amendments to the penal code
Another gray scale development is the creeping “Saudi-Arabization” of the traditionally more tolerant Indonesian Islam. One of the central projects of Islamist organizations and politicians is the reform of the penal code by amendments. But what lawyers, women’s and human rights groups had expected to be passed by the outgoing parliament last week was actually stopped by a hesitant president and referred to further clarification by the new parliament when it starts by next month. President Jokowi was attacked during his re-election campaign for an alleged lack of Muslim credentials, and has to be cautious. The Criminal Bill draft with its 628 articles was indeed containing many Shariah elements and tried to implement them on the national level, with many similar regulations already in force in the provinces, Aceh being the most radical of them. The proposed changes included punishing sex outside marriage with imprisonment of up to one year, which, since gay marriage is not allowed, would criminalize gay and lesbian sex without even mentioning these groups. It also banned the access to contraceptives for women under 18, and reduced the rights of religious minorities. Especially the interference into the very private affairs of the citizens may overstretch the flexibility of any gray scale compromise and damage the Wahabi model from Saudi Arabia in the complex and pluralistic society of Indonesia.
Partyforumseasia: The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) which dominated Malaysia’s politics for over six decades and unexpectedly lost power in May last year, was licking its wounds since then. It looked knocked out while its leader and former Prime Minister Najib Razak is indicted for bribery and money laundering on the biggest possible scale and awaiting the first conviction after the 1MDB scandal. It might turn out to be one of his biggest political misjudgments caused by arrogance of power, that he thought his UMNO-led National Front Coalition was friendly enough with the other Malay-first Party Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) but did not need a formal election agreement with them. So he lost 54 seats and the Pakatan Harapan (or coalition of hope) won the decisive 53 seats which brought the former Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad (94 and sharp as ever) back to power.
In the meantime, soul-searching and finger-pointing seems to be over, the acting opposition feels revived and aggressive, but the political cooperation pact between UMNO and PAS, inked last Saturday, 14th September, in Kuala Lumpur, stoked fears of reviving racial and religious politics because the event was called “HimpunanPenyatuan Ummah” or “Unity Gathering of the Muslim Faithful“. Many of the roughly forty percent Non-Malays in the country, predominantly Chinese and Indians, feel more than uncomfortable with the traditional affirmative action and identity policitics in favor of the Malay majority, especially when it comes with strong religious undertones. PAS vice-president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man cited the Prophet Mohamed as mandating that the majority Muslim Malays must lead the country, and that especially the Chinese Democratic Action Party (DAP) cannot be entrusted with a role in government as it has now in Dr. Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan coalition.
The ongoing debate about a popular Muslim preacher, Dr. Zakir Naik, who pretends to promote Islam but questions the loyalty of Indian Malaysians, Christians and Jews, and calls the Chinese Malaysians “only guests” in the country, is certainly not calming fears that the UMNO-PAS marriage is not totally harmless. Zakir Naik, infamous as antisemitic in the USA and anti-Indian in his homeland India, is a permanent resident in Malaysia, but banned from public speaking in the meantime. But even the Mahathir administration is not inclined to revoke his permanent residency status because his popularity with Islamic groups. And another hype is adding to the dilemma. A growing movement wants consumers to buy halal goods only from Muslim producers which would discriminate on halal products made by Indian or Chinese enterprises. From food and fashion to lipsticks and banking, halal certificates are getting more important, in Malaysia and for many Muslims in Southeast Asia.
While many Malaysians outside the beneficiaries of Malay privileges and Ummah feelings were hoping that the new Mahathir government were more multi-racial and less focusing on religion, the new united UMNO-PAS block will have a good chance to win the next general election, due latest by 2023. For this opportunity, old rivalries can be overcome and PAS may forget that their leader called UMNO members “infidels” when PAS felt morally superior over the corrupt rival. All that is not surprising, opposition is no fun, especially after so many decades in power. All over the world, party alliances and marriages of convenience easily bring together the strangest of strange bedfellows which UMNO and PAS are certainly not, they are “family” now.
Here is a review of the book:
- Power Broking in the Shade: Party Finances and Money Politics in Southeast Asia by Wolfgang Sachsenröder (review)
- Risa J. Toha
- Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of International and Strategic Affairs
- ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
- Volume 41, Number 2, August 2019
- pp. 320-322