The Same Jinn in Two Bottles?


Partyforumseasia: Indonesia and Malaysia, the two Muslim majority but multi-ethnic and multi-religious countries in Southeast Asia are playing with fire.

jinn-out-of-the-bottle

Indonesia: “The rally against Mr Basuki has thrust issues of race and religion to the forefront of the upcoming gubernatorial election, turning it into a test of religious tolerance in Indonesia.” (Jakarta Post, 2 December 2016, LINK)

rally-from-videoAfter a first rally on 4 November against gubernatorial candidate Basuki aka Ahok for alleged blasphemy had turned violent at the end, the Indonesian government was more cautious on 2 December. The rally had not been permitted but changed into a mass Friday prayer with more than 500.000 (!!!) participants. Massive security presence, timing in the morning, and the participation of President Jokowi may have prevented worse, but “double minority” candidate Ahok, who is Christian and Chinese, has seen his re-election prospects gliding from clear front-runner to nearly hopeless. Demonstrators are asking for Ahok to be imprisoned though judicial procedures are on the way whether his remarks in a campaign speech were blasphemous or not. Similar rallies were held not only in Jakarta but other places as far away as South Sulawesi or North Sumatra. Religious police-at-rallyemotions are boiling over and getting more difficult to control, putting a jinn back into the bottle is famously difficult.  The authorities, though, have to be commended for skillfully controlling the crowds. Police officers nearly blended with the protesters if they only could hide their boots

But the turmoil is not only about the Jakarta governor, religion and blasphemy. On a different level there is a fight against President Jokowi and his reformist government. Described by political scientist Leo Suryadinata as “Indonesia’s ideological war”  between entrenched interests and reformists (Straits Times, 2 December). As a proof how serious this struggle is, seven opponents to the Jokowi administration have been detained on the same Friday for allegedly trying to exploit the anti-Ahok rally to overthrow the government. The most prominent among the seven is Rachmawati Soekarnoputri, daughter of the country’s first president Soekarno and younger sister of former president and chair of the PDI-P party, Megawati Soekarnoputri, who supports Jokowi. For the president himself it is a delicate issue because the embattled candidate was his deputy when he was governor of Jakarta himself, and Megawati and her PDI-P are his indispensable political allies and partners.

Malaysia: With cold blood, chutzpah and by firing his party-internal critics, Prime Minister Najib has – so far – survived the enormous pressure of the 1MDB corruption scandal and his personal financial involvement in it. Compared to the 2008 and 2013 election results, dreams have come true for the ruling and dominating UMNO party and its president Najib. Najib is unchallenged in his party, and the opposition, after winning the popular vote in 2013 without getting a majority in parliament, is emasculated to unprecedented levels. After opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is in prison on dubious sodomy charges again, any bonding among the old opposition forces seems more than improbable, and, even worse, UMNO has managed to oblige the Malay Islamist PAS party to move closer to the government by supporting its motion to further empower the Shariah Courts, a parallel judiciary line.
As usual, though, there is also more shadow where the light increases. By its corrupt image and ubiquitous money politics, UMNO has lost much support among the Non-Malays, whose Chinese, Indian, and racially mixed component parties in the broad National Front Coalition (Barisan Nasional)  are weakening towards insignificance. It is too obvious for many Malaysians that they have been thriving on generous handouts from the UMNO governments and cozy arrangements for guaranteed mandates. Taking these smaller parties for granted and as guarantors of comfortable government majorities may turn out to be a strategic mistake. As appendices and dogsbodies of UMNO they are more and more losing appeal. But sizable parts of the Malay population are also turning away from UMNO, and not all disenchanted Malay voters feel comfortable with conservative and Islamist PAS.
What remedy has magician Najib in his sleeves? The five day general assembly, ending 3 December, brought together 5.732 delegates from the roughly 3.5 million membership. PM Najib and his deputy in both leadership functions Ahmad Zahid Hamidi are being endorsed by all wings of the party, general, women, young women, and youth. But despite all the positive sides of the party’s current situation the mood sounds defensive. With auxiliary voters from the minority races no longer dependable enough, UMNO is scolding the component parties for not working hard enough. And what is probably even less convincing for them is the support for the PAS hardliners’ Shariah motion. The more UMNO harps on religious issues and the Malay Muslim identity the more its minority supporters will develop doubts. And one of the 191 division chiefs, Jamal Yunos, copies the infamous Thai “red shirts” to fight the “yellow shirt” Bersih (clean) campaign against corruption and election manipulations. But the most worrying messages from this convention are the warnings against the Chinese dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP), which would threaten decades of pro-Malay policies and Malay privileges  if they should come to power. That, of course, is anything but imminent. The Election Commission has already heavily gerrymandered the precincts in favor of rural Malay UMNO voters against the urban majority. So, though due only in 2018, the general election will be called soon as PM Najib announced during the convention. The racial and religious overtones of UMNO’s policies are certainly not conducive for the racial and religious harmony  the country needs. On top, the progressive “Arabisation today is in fact a worrying trend” (Sociologist Syed Farid Alatas, LINK), even more so in view of the terrorist threat in Southeast Asia and the rampant radicalization of Malaysian and Indonesian believers.

In both countries alike, playing racial and religious cards is extremely dangerous. That UMNO and its president want to stay in power and will defend their dominance by all means is understandable. But doubts about the long-term effects and the stability of the country especially in the era of international jihad are more than justified.

The witch-hunt against Jakarta governor Ahok and the underlying power struggle between vested interests and reformers fanning religious passions is equally playing with fire. Both countries are jeopardizing the multi-racial and multi-religious social equilibrium and open the doors for passions and violence. It is difficult to gauge how far the jinn is out of the bottle but it will be impossible to get it totally back.

jinn-out-of-the-bottle

Mega Power – Mega’s Party Congress


Partyforumseasia:  As much as this forum supports female participation and leadership in politics, it hears alarm bells in the language used to report Megawati Sukarnoputri’s (aka “Mega”)  re-acclamation (not re-election!!) as leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P) over this weekend in a party congress in Bali. PDI-P, with 109 mandates, is the biggest party in the Indonesian parliament and brought President Joko Widodo or Jokowi to power.
MegaJokowi3



Ms Megawati
, the sixty-eight year old former president and daughter of Indonesia’s founding president Sukarno is leading the party since 1999 and has now been confirmed for another five years. Not openly challenged, she lashed out nevertheless at “opportunists eying the presidency”, thus being seen as insisting on her towering role and supreme command, and reminding the cadres that they are “servants of the party“. That reminds somehow of Louis XIV’s famous dictum “L’état c’est moi” or “The state, it is I”.  But in a patriarchal society like Indonesia female leadership is certainly not easy. Megawati warned already at the beginning of the congress that cadres who don’t fall in line with the party will be ousted.

As much as Megawati may feel that President Jokowi owes his election mainly to her, it will endanger his presidency if he is being seen as her puppet. That is, by the way, a wonderful theme for the country’s witty and rather disrespectful cartoonists. With the proverbial Javanese courtesy Jokowi avoids direct confrontation, but the relationship is getting more difficult the longer he is in office.

Another worrying sign of potentially dangerous leadership hubris, maybe with a pinch of “megalomania”, is the list of handpicked loyalist appointees for the top 27 key party positions, including her two children,  daughter Puan Maharani, Minister for Human Development and Culture, who chairs the Committee on Politics and Security, and son Prananda Prabowo who will lead the Creative Economy Committee. Close loyalist Hasto Kristiyanto has been promoted to secretary-general.

Strategy-wise: Handpicking loyalists is, of course, quite common in party politics. But the inherent danger lies in a lack of corrective dialogue and contradiction by all too subservient loyalists in case the great leader has a bad idea. As the Roman political orator and writer Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote some 2059 years ago, you can learn more from an enemy than from compliant friends.

Indonesia: Golkar’s Ninety-Eight Shades of Gray…


Partyforumseasia: The legendary Indonesian flexibility allows not 50 but up to 98 shades of gray, leaving little space for clear-cut black and white if you take the political reality at 100. But Golkar’s long march from Aburizal Bakrie‘s stubborn sticking to the Prabowo opposition after losing the presidential election to join the Jokowi coalition seems to have come to an
end.
Agung Bakrie

Aburizal Bakrie and Agung Laksono before the leadership struggle.

With the memory of saving its privileged government experience under Suharto well into the democratic era, it is no wonder that Bakrie’s opposition course would face stiff resistance among party members and leaders who prefer to be in power. If old fox Bakrie did not see this trap this may signal the end of his political career. But don’t count him out yet, the shades of gray may give him a second chance.
The internal struggle had developed in rather dramatic form with a party split and the election of two competing leadership teams under outgoing Aburizal Bakrie and new leader Agung Laksono. The Jakarta Globe on 17 March describes the rift as “The war between two rival factions of Indonesia’s oldest party reached a new height on Tuesday, with claims, accusations, lawsuits, threats and sanctions flying between the sides.” (Link here)
After inconclusive attempts to solve the problem with the internal party tribunal or the Central Jakarta District Court, the decision for Agung Laksono has been made by his growing support in the party, defections from the Bakrie camp, and finally by Bakrie dropping his law-suit against Agung last Tuesday, 17 March.
Under the Agung Laksono leadership Golkar will support the Jokowi government  with its 91 members of parliament and finally tip the scale against the so far dominating Red-and-White opposition coalition. A parliamentary majority for the president is certainly good for Indonesia and a smoother legislative process.
But Golkar is not yet part of the ruling coalition. In a meeting with PDI-P chair Megawati this week, neither Agung nor Megawati mentioned the accession to the government coalition. The open question is of course the compensation for the support in terms of government positions, not easy to solve when all the posts are filled already. The shades of gray may help!

“Who owns Jokowi?” or Political Funding in Indonesia


Partyforumseasia: In “Indonesia”, no. 96, October 2013, pp. 1-121, the Cornell Southeast Asia Program focuses on the political science debates about Indonesia’s political funding in the democratic era. The volume contains five essays by prominent researchers, namely Jeffrey A. Winters, Vedi R. Hadiz and Richard Robison, R. William Liddle, Thomas B. Pepinsky, and Edward Aspinall. Jokowi
Three of them are working on the importance – and problem – of oligarchic influence on the politics of Indonesia. Hadiz, Robison, and Winters share the concept that material resources as a form of both economic and political power count most in Indonesia’s politics. The breathtaking speed with which the well-oiled and well-funded machinery of candidate Prabowo managed to reduce the twenty odd percent lead in most opinion polls of rival Jokowi during only some weeks of campaigning in June and July this year seems to support the theory. And Prabowo, his billionaire brother Hashim Djojokusumo, Golkar’s chairman Aburizal Bakrie and other allies and supporters must have been of the same opinion. Obviously they did not expect that Jokowi could win with a clear majority of over six per cent or eight million votes, which seduced Prabowo to jeopardize a lot of his credibility by not accepting the results and being seen as a bad loser.
Winters, Hadiz and Robison come to the conclusion that only a revolutionary degree of political change could disrupt the nexus between wealth and political power. Liddle, Pepinsky, and Aspinall, on the other hand, challenge the oligarchy paradigm and focus on other and new political actors with mobilization power beside the remaining power brokers from the old Suharto “New Order”. Published in October 2013 and irrespective of their competing hypotheses, probably none of the scholars could have predicted that an outsider and political newcomer like Jokowi could have so successfully challenged the political and economic establishment of Indonesia.
But Winters also highlights the effect of the scandalous corruption which allows even oligarchs with moderate means to “buy and distort the legal system, from the police and prosecutors up to the judges and politicians.” (p.19). Since variety and freedom of the media have been exposing these multiple “pathologies” and their undercutting of the reformasi gains, the voters have reacted the way they did on 9 July 2014 buy giving Jokowi a convincing majority over Prabowo and the oligarchs behind him.
But wait a minute, this simplified picture is too nice to be true. Jokowi is certainly not an oligarch, only a “minor millionaire” with assets of something between three and five million USD. The typical Indonesian shadow play (wayang) is hiding some rather interesting details about Jokowi’s election as Jakarta governor in 2012. Tempo magazine on 24 July of that year offered some juicy details of the funding behind candidacy and victory under the title “Who owns Jokowi?“. Prabowo, his oligarch brother Hashim Djojohadikusumo, ex-president Megawati Sukarnoputri, the Gerindra and PDI-P parties were involved, but also many grassroots organizations. Only at that time Prabowo could not imagine or foresee that Jokowi was to become a rival for the presidency. Winters has detailed background information on the oligarchic support for Jokowi in 2012 (p. 23 ff). As usual in politics everywhere, façade, perception, tactics and strategies make it difficult to see the reality. The office gives president Jokowi a chance to make himself more independent financially (in both meanings..) and to reduce oligarchic influence on his administration, but he must play his cards skilfully and ruthlessly.