Category: Indonesia

Jakarta governor found guilty of blasphemy


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.

Looking at Jakarta 2017 Governotarial Election


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.

Ahok concedes Jakarta election to Baswedan


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.

Jokowi’s Cabinet Reshuffle


New ministers from Indonesian President Joko Widodo's cabinet reshuffle pose for photographers after taking the oath at the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia August 12, 2015. (From left) Thomas T. Lembong, Luhut Pandjaitan, Soyan Djalil, Pramono Anung, Rizal Ramli, and Darmin Nasution. - Reuters Pic

New ministers from Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s cabinet reshuffle pose for photographers after taking the oath at the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia August 12, 2015. (From left) Thomas T. Lembong, Luhut Pandjaitan, Soyan Djalil, Pramono Anung, Rizal Ramli, and Darmin Nasution. – Reuters Pic

JAKARTA, Aug 12 — Indonesian President Jokowi replaced major economic ministers in a cabinet reshuffle today less than a year into his term – as he strive to consolidate his power amid a slowdown in Southeast Asia’s largest economy.

Former central bank governor Darmin Nasution was chosen for the chief economics minister post, while Harvard educated and prominent private equity executive Thomas Lembong was appointed as the new trade minister. Four other ministers were replaced in the reshuffle, which followed months of speculation that Widodo planned changes after a poor start to his presidency. Luhut Panjaitan, a former military general and Mr Jokowi’s confindante, was promoted to the powerful post of co-ordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs.

Political observers were generally divided on Jokowi’s recent cabinet shake up.

“The cabinet reshuffle is a good move as it shows that Jokowi is bold enough to make changes and replace underperforming ministers,” said Salim Said, from the Indonesian Defence University. Wellian Wiranto, an economist with Singapore-based OCBC, said there was hope that Nasution will “have a better chance at coordinating economic policies among the myriad of ministries and agencies which have been largely lacking thus far”.

However other analysts suggested that the ministerial changes will simply cause further upheaval, delaying decision-making, and describe Wednesday’s moves as disappointing. There were hopes for big-name appointments including Sri Mulyani Indrawati, chief operating officer at the World Bank.

Others say new ministers will have little impact, while the president —fails to to take the lead and push through hard-hitting policy reforms. Mr. Jokowi came to power in October after defeating former general Prabowo Subianto in a tightly-contested election, bringing with him high expectations of reform. But the appointment of his cabinet, a mix of technocrats and politically connected figures, brought disappointment, with critics saying he was working too hard to appease some of his political backers. Three ministers at least have long-standing ties to political parties that supported his run for the presidency.

Mr. Jokowi’s economic team also came under scrutiny following the release of first quarter GDP figures that showed economic growth slowing to 4.71% from 5.01% the previous quarter.

Dissecting into Indonesia 35000 MW power plant project.

Power Plant

Following President Joko Widodo’s announcement in April 2015 to construct the 35,000MW electricity generation program during his 5-year tenure in office – the Indonesia National Electricity Board (PLN) has move to published its plan for the development of this 35,000MW power project initiative. In the stated blueprint, the first 25,000MW will be developed with private developers’ cooperation through the Independent Power Producers (IPPs) scheme, whilst the remainder will be developed by PLN. All projects are estimated to require aggregate investments of more than IDR1, 100 trillion (around USD110 billion) and have now been incorporated into PLN’s 2015-2024 Power Supply Business Plan.

Without doubt, this mega project is meant to cater for Indonesia increasing needs for power and infrastructure development. Countless time the message from Joko Widodo’s administration has been the same i.e. how the 35,000 MW project worth Rp 1,100 trillion is absolutely required in order for the country to power up its annual economic growth to 6-7 percent by 2019. This is apart from creating equal access to electricity for households in the less developed regions.

The country ambitious power plans has also attracted foreign investors alike. Earlier last month in July 2015 – the Special Envoy to the Japanese Prime Minister Mirotomo Izumi met with Joko Widodo at the State Palace, Jakarta to express the Japanese Government commitment to invest in various Indonesia infrastructure sectors including the 35000 MW project. An Indonesian Minister during the meeting is reported to make favorable assessment to the Japanese proposal. Chinese investors are equally lobbying hard for their share in the power plant projects.

However the ambitious project apart, there are also various hurdles, which the Indonesia government may need to overcome:

The procurement of Land for Electricity project

The procurement of land in various ‘Jakarta far-flung’ district has always been an impediment to various projects. It is important to note that Indonesia is a big archipelago with 34 provinces followed by numerous regencies, districts and hundred of villages. Web of complex interaction and negotiation are required with respective Governors and mayors to ease the bureaucratic process of land use by the Central Government. While it is also worth noting that Governors in respective Indonesia province has also a separate autonomy for land usage.

A frequently cited problem is the 2000 MW Batang coal powered fire plant in Central Java, which requires an area of around 226 hectares – to date has faced years of delay. The Batang power plant begun its construction in 2012 and was slated for commercial operation by the end of 2016. However under the current condition and various land acquisition issues at local governorate level, the project finalization has been brought forward to 2019.

The funding of the 35000 MW project

With a required aggregate investment of more than IDR1, 100 trillion (around USD110 billion), there have been doubts on Indonesia’s capability to raise a large capital and to proceed with the mega project. Foreign investors may have sensed this and interestingly a few have included quick loans in their overall proposal package to Indonesia. Specifically this has been the Japanese offer to Indonesia during the visit from Japanese Special Envoy Mirotomo Izumi.

More apparently, Minister for Economic Affairs, Sofyan Djalil remarked such offer as helpful for a government desperate in -need of a loan. It is anticipated that Indonesia will be facing big challenges ahead in gathering an adequate amount to finance the project.

Project Transparency

Transparency will also be the main issue facing the project. Given various bureaucratic layers where the project communication, handling and purchasing of material needs to go through, there is strong likelihood for local corruption to go unnoticed. On a similar front, Indonesian Forum for Budget Transparency (FITRA) recently in April this year criticized the PLN approved direct appointment mechanism of Independent Power Providers to head various aspect of the 35000 mw project. FITRA argued such approach as counterproductive to the overall principle of fair competition.

Looking Ahead for Indonesia.

Indonesia needs to propel ahead with the 35000 MW project to ensure its country socio-economy viability and sustainability towards the future. Apart from reducing reliance on fossil oil as the source of energy, the mega project is crucial in providing impetus to the development of downstream projects direly needed by its population such as health infrastructure, education and the encouragement of foreign direct investment. It is also anticipated that this project will use a lot of domestic industrial products, and employment up to 3 million people, local reports suggest.

Given Jokowi’s enthusiastic push towards the completion of the project within 5 years from 2015, the strategic solution now is not to wipe entirely the problems highlighted earlier (Land acquisition/Funding and Transparency) – but to reduce it to a bare minimal.

To achieve this, the Central Government will likely need to increase its collaboration, communication and coordination across various agencies and Ministries both local and central. Proactive management tools such as Key Performance Index (KPI) may need to be introduce as a mechanism to ensure the pace of various government machineries are moving smoothly towards the Central government objectives. Last minute and unannounced visit to on-going projects by Central government officials (Turun Padang) should be inculcated as some of the mode to move the project pro-actively.

In terms of governance, immediate regulations must be introduced to ensure fair and transparent election of IPP’s to head various aspect of the project. For practical reasons, this is to reduce incompetent providers which can slow down the overall project machinery towards realizing the 2020 dateline.