Category: ASEAN News

Jakarta governor found guilty of blasphemy

Ahok

The Indonesian court has found Jakarta’s outgoing Christian governor guilty of blasphemy against Islam.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as Ahok, was sentenced to two years imprisonment on Tuesday in a south Jakarta courtroom over comments he made regarding what he believed to be the misinterpretation of certain verses of the Quran.

Purnama lost his bid for re-election in an April runoff – after the most divisive and religiously charged election in recent years – to a Muslim rival, Anies Baswedan.

Thousands of security personnel have been deployed in Jakarta in case clashes break out between Purnama’s supporters and opponents who have demanded he be dismissed and jailed.

His supporters, for their part, delivered thousands of red and white balloons to City Hall in advance of Tuesday’s court session.

“Both groups will have the opportunity to demonstrate, but we are taking steps to prevent clashes,” said Setyo Wasisto, the national police spokesman.

Prosecutors had called for a suspended one-year jail sentence for Purnama on charges of hate speech. However, his opponents believe that is too light. The maximum sentence is four years in prison.

ASEAN may need specialize think tanks on South China Sea dispute

This article will explore the need for specialise ASEAN think tank on South China Sea dispute for two reasons. First, is to ensure a credible production of knowledge on South China Sea dispute. Second, a think tank at ASEAN level – may assist the region in charting its own strategic direction.

The study on South China Sea dispute is multidimensional. The scope goes beyond the aspect of legal, military or the issue of historical waters. It broadly covers the logic of Geostrategic, International Relations, Socio-Political studies and even South East Asia maritime history. Thus to produce a holistic understanding of the South China Sea dispute – a form of combined studies ideally should be explored.

On the contrary, a piecemeal approach may not provide a complete and intellectually balanced discourse. Online discussions on the South China Sea is scattered with various writers offering differing perspective, speculations or at times contradicting views.

Upon establishing, ASEAN Think Tank for South China Sea issue should aim to strategize on two fronts.

FIRST – is to organise a coherent SCS discourse with interrelated clusters. In this context, specialise think tanks on the South China Sea should consist of various sub-discipline headed by experts.

Maritime legal scholar, oceanographers, Chinese and SEA historians, China’s and ASEAN political analysts, diplomats and of course political appointees. Ideally, experts are expected to analyse and brainstorm SCS dispute from various angles. This initiative is done with a final aim of producing an integrated and well synthesise understanding.

This form of arrangement can prepare a think-tank to be at the credible position to advise the ‘best course of action’ for ASEAN. On a side note, given a Think-tank relative independence, experts involved in such institution may offer candid views. Foreign Ministries are at times constraint in making direct commentaries due to diplomatic and protocol constraints.

SECOND – upon instituting, SCS Think Tank must get into advocacy programs. Advocacy initiatives should involve, meeting with key experts, the organising of public foras or the production of journals. By this approach – specialised Think-Tank can play a role in advocating the importance of the issue to the public including their collective rights to the waters.

It is worth noting that, from a recent poll done by Institute of China Studies, Universiti Malaya (UM), only 38 % of Malaysians are aware of the South China Sea dispute. Those who are not aware totalled to 56%. In this context – what would the statistics be for the broader ASEAN?

It with a hope that this short article shall be the catalyst for further thinking amongst the academic and policy-maker to explore all the possibilities broached.

Looking at Jakarta 2017 Governotarial Election

Ahok

According to a quick count released by several pollsters, the current Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama – popularly known by nickname Ahok – and his running mate Djarot Saiful Hidayat gained only about 43 percent of the votes, while their challengers Anies Baswedan and Sandiaga Uno are likely to win with roughly 57 percent.

Though a final result will only be announced in this month May – the quick count has more or less sealed Ahok chances in continuing to govern Jakarta as its Governor.

Analysts are divided on the cause of his defeat – with Western observers largely zeroing on the rise of Islamist. It is undeniable that, Islamist has been extremely successful in injecting the Islamic element in the whole issue, thus invoking a strong sense of guilt and responsibility for Islamic voters to oust Ahok.

However, realistically speaking – Islamist contributed only a part of the bigger socio-political backlash, which we have witnessed on 19 April 2017. It is worth noting that – in late 2014, Islamist did organised a rally against Ahok. The rally garnered a lukewarm response from Jakarta citizens.

Instead, what we see in the recent Jakarta election is a culmination of various genuine socio-cultural and economic dissatisfaction – which over time has been framed as a socio-religio issue by religious and seculars politicians alike.

To begin with, Ahok’s approach and ethics towards the Governorship post sets him apart. As someone who is willing to get down to the streets and listen to people’s grouses, Ahok approach is relatively personal and non-elitist.

In a book titled ‘A Man Called #Ahok Sepenggal Kisah Perjuangan & Ketulusan‘ by Kurawa, the Jakarta Governor is even described by members of his own constituents (Belitung Island) as a charitable personality who would donate money for building Mosques.

Though, in retrospect to the high-spirited and visionary work ethics, he has a distinct form of leadership. Temperamental, brash, outspoken and decisive – these traits characterises Ahok’s approach towards managing people and Jakarta public projects. For the polite and shy society of Javanese and Betawi, his logic of communication, however, may not be in-line with the generally accepted socio-cultural norms. Some have even suggested that his tough talk and Sumatran style has either captivated or appalled people in equal measure.

Secondly, are his policies. Arguably, the slum clearances at the controversial seafront Luar Batang in 2016 – though were popular with the middle class, did not go down positively with the poorer segment of Jakarta inhabitants. The relocation of Luar Batang dwellers which majority comprises of poor fisherman to new locations far away from the seafront has affected the source of livelihood of this group.

It was at this juncture that Islamist group such as FPI (Islamic Defender Front) begun showing solidarity with Luar Batang residents by making the Luar Batang mosque as the rallying point. In April 2016, it was turned into a humanitarian shelter for residents affected by the relocation exercise. Similarly, a controversial FP leader Habib Rizieq visited and handed out Rp 100 million, (USD 7500.00) or (RM 32,579) to residents affected.

This move has broad consequences.

First and foremost, this solidarity raises the plight of Luar Batang’s residents beyond the affected location. The plight equally resonates with the lower-middle income to poor Muslims segments – which already make the majority citizens in Jakarta. More importantly, it raises Islamist group as a credible movement to be fighting what now seems to be Ahok’s perceived discriminative and oppressive policy against Jakarta poor Muslim neighbourhood.

The big break for the Islamist movement came when Ahok is accused of uttering blasphemous insult against a paragraph in Al- Quran. Despite the recording of the incident itself is questionable, it has been widely circulated on Youtube prompting a broad backlash from Muslim community and religious conservatives.

Compounding all the above issues and framing it as a form of Islamic struggle – Islamist group such as FPI and FUI (Indonesia Ulama Council) in November 2016 organised a public demonstration attended by nearly 50,000–200,000 people demanding for Ahok’s resignation and trial. In December, another rally was held in Central Jakarta, which attended by an estimated 200,000 people.

Demonstrations in late 2016 provided a strong ripple effect towards Jakarta April 2017 Governor’s election.

These culminations of events opened window of opportunity for Muslim moderate politicians, which in this case – Anies Baswedan and Sandiaga Uno to jump into the Islamist bandwagon and packaged their campaign in line with the broader grouses. Clear contrast can be seen in campaigning style. Ahok focused on policy, while Anies and his allies focused on religion. Another Indonesian political heavyweight – Prabowo who himself is a military and nationalist-oriented leader is reported to have sided with the Islamist through endorsing Anies and Sandiaga candidacy.

These strategies paid well when Anies Baswedan and Sandiaga Uno as we know it won the Jakarta Gubernatorial election in April 2017.

In a nutshell, there are two key take away facts worth noting from all these development.

First, notwithstanding how successful the Islamist movement was in framing the anomaly that is Ahok – the major successors that took the Governor’s office – has ironically not been anyone from the Islamist movement. As a matter of fact, it is the two moderate and secular politicians, who happened to be Anies Baswedan and Sandiaga Uno.

This leads us to a second conclusion, that is, the preoccupation with the rise of Islamist Indonesia and the downfall of religious tolerance narrative – has only provided a partial understanding of the political dynamics. I would argue that the recent development has not shown any clear indication that the “rising Islamist element” could compromise Indonesia’s established religious, social and political tolerance, in the long-term.

Instead, the clear fact is – the issue of religion and race can be utilised as a convenient but impactful force to discredit leaders in Indonesia. Moreover, given the success in April 2017, such strategy may be employed again in the future. I suspect Jokowi given his liberal political outlook may face a similar challenge with his 2019 Presidential re-election.

On Ahok’s side – his downfall could possibly be traced to his failure to understand the finer nuances of Indonesia socio-cultural politics. In this context, he should have understood that his actions rightly or wrong have the possibility to be taken out of context, if he in the first place, does not tread his style of communication tactfully.

His future with Indonesian politics will largely depend on how he makes amends with the grass-root segment in Indonesian politics. He still has a sizeable support and sympathisers in both Jakarta and Belitung. Now, all that he needs is to reassure the broader voters that he would not positively approach his public and political work as he did previously.

The above article has appeared earlier in The Malay Mail Online 2 May 2017 with a different title. The content, however, remains the same.

http://www.themalaymailonline.com/what-you-think/article/ahoks-downfall-may-have-been-self-inflicted-ferooze-ali

Ahok concedes Jakarta election to Baswedan

ahok

Jakarta’s incumbent Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok) has conceded defeat in the race to become the city’s new governor. This is after unofficial quick count results showed a former Indonesian education minister, Baswedan taking the polls.

Analysts are divided on the cause of his defeat – with Western observers largely zeroing on the rise of Islamist sentiment in Indonesia. However, the rise of Islamist is part of the broader socio-political issue, which has impacted Ahok’s Governor post.

Despite his popularity with middle-class Jakartans for his efforts to stamp out corruption and make the overflowing polluted city more livable, his upfront manner and evictions of slum communities could have alienated many in the city of 10 million.

The final straw, which may have broken the camel’s back, came when he was perceived to have ridiculed a passage in the Holy Al-Quran. Though the recording itself is questionable, it has been widely circulated on Youtube prompting a broad backlash from Muslim community and religious conservatives.

Baswedan, a highly educated Muslim moderate, is seen to have capitalised on the backlash against Ahok by courting the support of conservative religious leaders and figures on the radical fringe who opposed electing a non-Muslim.

UN launches probe of crimes against Rohingya in Myanmar

Rohingya

United Nations rights body has agreed to send a fact-finding mission to Myanmar to investigate alleged abuses by security forces against Rohingya Muslims.

Tens of thousands of people have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state since the military began a security operation last October  2016 in response to what it says was an attack by Rohingya armed men on border posts, in which nine police officers were killed.

A UN report issued last month, based on interviews with 220 Rohingya among 75,000 who have fled to Bangladesh since October, said that Myanmar’s security forces have committed mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya in a campaign that “very likely” amounts to crimes against humanity and possibly ethnic cleansing.

The council, however, stopped short of calling for a Commission of Inquiry – the world body’s highest level investigation – into the violence. The move is likely to mitigate any potential hardline response from the Junta of Myanmar.

What would be Myanmar response?

Myanmar has already rebuffed the UN decision. On 25th of March, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs cited that the establishment of an international fact-finding mission would do more to inflame, rather than resolve the issues at this time. The Ministry though stopped short of saying it would block the UN-backed probe.

In reality, we might see a more receptive Myanmar to the fact-finding mission. Given a number of incentives the country is receiving from its fledgling open door policy, any risk associated with the potential return of sanctions will be avoided.

The Military, however, may employ various modalities to mitigate or cover up malpractices.

Unofficial reports in late 2016 suggested the Military populated empty Rohingya villages with Bengali Hindus.  Similar in physical resemblance, the Bengali Hindus are paid to deny atrocities and provide positive feedback to visiting UN Advisory Commission on Rakhine State.

Thailand and the Philippines to emphasise freedom of navigation in the South China Sea

Duterte and Thailand

Thailand and the Philippines have agreed to emphasise freedom of navigation in the disputed the South China Sea as a core value in securing peace and prosperity in the region.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte shared the same stance on the maritime territorial disputes in the area during a joint press conference at Government House Tuesday,  21 March.

They also agreed to push for the completion of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in 2017.

“Maintaining peace, stability, and security as well as respecting freedom of navigation and over-flight in the South China Sea are in the interests of all countries, within and outside the region, as they are fundamental conditions for growth, development and prosperity,” Mr. Duterte said.

Meanwhile, Gen Prayut said Thailand believes the ultimate goal should be for the South China Sea to be the “sea of peace, stability and sustainable development” in order to benefit the region and its people.

The issue of the South China Sea and the bilateral relations between Thailand and Philippines is a complex play.

Thailand last year in September stated that it supports China’s work to “promote peace and stability” in the South China Sea. The statement is considered controversial as it was done hours after the Philippines made public images that it said show China preparing to begin island construction activities on the Scarborough Shoal.

The latest stand made between Duterte and Prayut, however, suggest that Thailand may slightly be inching towards a middle-ground policy on the South China Sea dispute.

Though much is left to be seen. Thailand’s true stand largely depends on its action pertinently in pushing for the completion of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties (DOC) as soon.

Should Malaysia publicly announce all reports pertaining to North Korea initiative?

Malaysia North Korea  Puzzle Concept

 

This article will weigh media reports by Malaysia Home Agencies for the last few weeks on the death of Kim Jong Nam.

On the 20th of March, it has been reported now Malaysian police are hunting for more North Korean suspects over the killing of the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

National police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said the new suspects are in addition to the seven North Koreans already being sought in last month’s poisoning death of Kim Jong-Nam at Kuala Lumpur’s airport.

Between 14 to 15th of March, Malaysian Home Minister, Zahid Hamidi announced that DNA sample has been obtained from Kim Jong-Nam’s son 5 days ago.

However, the most interesting development came a few weeks prior. It is reported that on 7th March police sealed off the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur to ascertain the number of officials inside. The Deputy Minister for Home Affairs, Nur Jazlan were quoted to have said that the move is to physically identify all the embassy staff who are here. This is reported in all news both online and offline.

Bilateral Relations between Malaysia and North Korea have taken a dip since Kim’s death. Now the lives of 9 Malaysian Embassy staff largely depends on how far this diplomatic impasse can be broken. And press releases from key agencies plays a very important part in this equation.

Hence can non-sanitised public reports or announcement made by local Agencies mitigate the current dismal relations between Malaysian-North Korea? Or can it make worst? 

It is worth noting that, at a heightened level of political insecurity between two countries, statements made by key leaders are crucial and will be closely monitored. What is even more critical is the fact that- public statements can be perceived as a subtle indicator /gesture or intention towards either improving or deteriorating the existing bilateral relations.

There are other factors to be considered if we would further frame the abovementioned question from the Malaysia-North Korea relations context.

Any direct and non-curated announcement will only make  Malaysia’s card to be easily read or misread by North Korea. For instance, there are two things North Korea will likely learn or understand when the Home Ministry announced that the DNA sample has been obtained from Kim Jong-Nam’s son

First – Malaysia is certainly in touch with Jong Nam’s son. For the record, North Korea leadership’s views this political exile family as a threat. Public announcement of contact with this family will only sour the already bad diplomatic relations. 

Second, it gives incentives for North Korea to speculate that Malaysia could return Jong Nam’s body to his son as opposed directly to North Korea. This provides ample motivation for North Korea officials to be even more suspicious, recalcitrant and demanding for Jong Nam’s body per-say during on-going discussions.

The bottom line is – it is wise to follow a good balance approach. We should not be entirely quiet. Instead, we should be Tactful and effective in handling our public communication, especially from Government machinery.

It is also surmised that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Department are coordinating back-door diplomacy.  Hence any hardline statements by Home Agencies or the Police will make an ongoing quiet diplomacy tricky.

In principal, there must be a mutually understood and followed communication policy at the National Security Council level on the issue.  However, this policy should have been designed and agreed early on, to avoid what now seems to be an uncoordinated and less than clever projection of message by various home agencies.