Tagged: South East Asia

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

Israel’s proxy in the South China Sea

fortune-cookieflag

The arms race amongst the South China Sea (SCS) claimants will be seeing an increase. Report by IHS Analytics estimated that SCS coastal nations’ collective defense spending could likely jump between $435 billion in 2015 to around $533 billion by 2020. China’s increased assertiveness in the waters of South China Sea has largely sparked this security dilemma. Other claimants may need to develop the capabilities that will allow them to at least,  defend their territorial claims in the region.

The source of arms imports varies. Though the US may be the leading provider in the region, there are other emerging arm suppliers.

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report showed that Russia may account for 93 percent of the deliveries to the Southeast Asian nation, which included eight combat aircraft, four fast attack craft and four submarines armed with land-attack missiles.

Interestingly, however, archived web-based reports from 2008 to 2016 suggested – Israel may have already joined the list of arms suppliers to the region. This is worth further deliberation.

In 2014 – Philippines news outlet PhilStar Global reported the agreement by Philippines Government to purchase three ELTA air radar from Israel Aerospace Industries worth PH2.6 billion. The air radar will be utilized to monitor naval activities in the South China Sea waters.The following year in November 2015, Israel Defense, a credible Defense portal reported that – EXTRA (Extended Range Artillery Rocket) missile system has been purchased by the Philippines naval force since early 2015. Manufactured by Israel Military Industries (IMI systems), the rocket is reported to be highly accurate within a 150 km range. The system is placed within the contested waters of South China Sea.

In February 2016, SIPRI reports also showed the purchase of 20 Israel’s EXTRA by Vietnam. The whole system as reported by Reuters in August 2016 has been moved to 5 bases within Vietnam’s Spratley Islands.

Narrowing this into China-Israel defense cooperation – it is worth knowing Israel’s sales to China from the late 80’s up to the early millennium reached close to USD4billion.(atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/FL21Ak01.html). Israel is China’s second-largest foreign supplier of arms (after Russia). China has purchased a broad array of military equipment and technology, including communications satellites.

One of the prime outcomes from Israel-China defense relations is China’s PLA fighter jet Chengdu J10 (Vigorous Dragon). J-10 is reverse engineered after Lavi jet fighter with the help of Israel’s Aerospace Industries (IAI) engineers. Both fighter jets share many similar avionic elements. With nearly 240 J-10 aircraft in active service, the aircraft has been utilised extensively in the South China Sea.

For the record, Israel’s Aerospace Industries (IAI) is owned by the Israel government through its Ministry of Defense.  Shimon Peres, which is the former President of Israel, is the founder of IAI in 1953 (http://www.iai.co.il/).

The same is for Israel Military Industries Systems (IMI systems), which is fully owned by the Israeli Government through its Ministry of Defense. Production of military equipment is channelled largely to Israel Defense Force (www.imi-israel.com).

This proxy involvement of Israel Government in the South China Sea through its military sales raises four areas of concern and perhaps potential discourse in the future.

First and foremost is the provision of weapons by Israel, which has been questioned morally for its military activities. Israel has for decades flout international condemnation and demand to cease its land grabbing policies in Palestine.

Second is – Israel provision of weapons to the biggest recipients in the region, which has the audacity to ignore international norms and escalate the SCS conflict. China, which is the obvious recipient, has benefited much from IAI’s Lavi to J-10 technology transfer efforts and – ever since, has also been operating the aircraft actively in the controversial waters of SCS.

June this year, two J-10 as reported by Reuters has been involved in an unsafe air maneuver with a U.S. Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance plane over the East China Sea.

The third factor that needed to be considered is the moralistic and humanitarian issue. What is the moral stand of other ASEAN countries to Israel indiscriminate use of military technology in the Middle East? As food for thought, the Israel military technology utilised by certain ASEAN members might possibly be used against innocent women and children in Gaza.

In this context, ASEAN Secretariat through its ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights needs to raise this issue with the respective members that have and might plan to purchase military technology from Israel.

The fourth and perhaps a potent factor to contemplate is the reaction of Muslim countries in the South East Asia region. Malaysia and Indonesia are traditionally the two strongest Israel critics on the latter’s military policies in the Middle East.

In this circumstance, what would the hypothetical reaction be, once these facts become common knowledge in these respective countries? Specifically – the use of Israel’s military enhanced equipment both air and sea by China to assert its already perceived unfair demands in SCS?

Admittedly, these areas of discourse are still preliminary, and will take years for it to be widely discussed. Singapore possesses Israel’s technology for decades and the political reactionary to such knowledge has been quiet.

Hence it largely depends on how grass root leaders frame or think tanks urgently broach the abovementioned information into political sentiment or a form of discussion-worthy issue. However what is worth to be reminded, when it comes to this stage of complex entwinement of Israel, South China Sea, and Human Rights issue – diplomatic sensitivities should be practice sparingly by ASEAN.

Not too long ago in 2012, ASEAN former Secretary-General, Dr. Surin Pitsuwan warned the South China Sea disputes might risk into becoming the next ‘Palestine of Asia’. This statement may hold some water at this contemporary time– and hence deserves a little more attention now.

This article also appeared at The Palestine Chronicle (a Washington based Palestine Advocacy News) http://www.palestinechronicle.com/israels-proxy-south-china-sea/

A neutral name for South China Sea?

SCS

A name can project a distinct culture, identity and, more importantly for land and other space resources, a connection to a certain community. Along with maps and scientific stations, it is one of the most visible markers of national presence. Territorial naming at the international level has long been recognised as a strategic tool for creating new facts on the ground. A noteworthy example involves the multiple names and claims for the Antarctic Peninsula, where it is called Queen Elizabeth Land for the United Kingdom, Tierra San Martin for Argentina, Palmer Peninsula, for the United States and Tierra de O’Higgins for Chile.

Closer to our shores, the South China Sea epitomises a similar problem.

Documented evidence suggests that prior to the name South China Sea (SCS), the surrounding waters were described with various names, including Champa Sea or Sea of Cham, East Sea, or Luzon Sea. Ancient Chinese empires such as Western Zhou and Qing dynasty named the widely contested sea territories as “South Seas”.

The name “South China Sea” came to be used officially in 1947, during the time of Chiang Kai-Shek’s nationalist government. The change of name was accompanied by technical claims to the seas through China’s new map and its “eleven-dash line” which later was changed to “nine-dash line”. In principle, the “nine-dash line” are barriers and exclusive territorial claims by China, which covers the majority of the South of China waters including those areas that have been claimed by other neighbouring countries. Here it is worth noting the nine-dash line has no legal significance in international maritime law which only recognizes the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) regime of respective states.

For nearly 68 years to the present day of 2015, this specific dogma and technical claim has remained constant and China’s economic prosperity together with its corresponding increase in military power has become a drive for the latter to be emboldened with the SCS policies. Hence, one sees a more deterministic approach by China within the past 15 years with regular military intrusion by sea and air. The issue, if one would look close enough, has been by and large the product of unchecked and uncontested unilateral naming of disputed waters by China and its dogma from the very beginning.

The usage of the SCS label has encouraged China’s stand to permeate slowly both at the domestic and international levels specifically, affecting most Asean members. At the domestic level, it made the SCS to subtly be equated to the exclusive dominance of China in the surrounding sea territory. In the international arena, it provided China with a quiet but legitimising power to continue roaming the disputed waters and launch military operations. The South China Sea label has seemingly put the Chinese slowly-but-surely military activity under the radar.

It took between 28 and 41 years for Asian states to realise China’s seriousness in SCS claims when the latter captured Paracel Islands from South Vietnamese armed forces in 1974 and the killing of 70 Vietnamese naval officers by the Chinese in 1988 near Spratly Islands. In a nutshell, the largely zero response to China’s geostrategic move in 1947 has created a strategic impetus to China to continue to solidify its South China Sea territorial claims and military projects. So much so, to a point where now, the move by contemporary China appears to be unstoppable and heading towards a protracted form of conflict.

The damage has been done.

In an effort to mitigate and find a middle ground in the disputed waters, there is a need for smaller countries, particularly Asean member states, to include a finer strategy in its overall diplomatic approach. One of such involves the need to consider alternative names to an already entrenched “South China Sea”. The seas in the disputed territory can be changed into a neutral name, which reflects a collective sharing of water territories among close neighbours. Various names have been suggested to reflect this, such as the “Southern Seas” or “Asian Sea”.

Here the point is to lobby and change SCS into a universally acceptable name that will make any future Chinese military action to be perceived as outrightly intrusive, absurd and in direct violation of international waters regulation. It is worth realising that, after 68 years, it will be of no surprise if the above mentioned strategy is met with strong opposition by China. Moreover, some Asean countries may be hesitant to take such an approach, given the block’s strong economic relations with China and the pacifist ideals largely practised. However, it is important to consider this softer and subtler policy as part of Asean’s long-term plans, in view of China’s increasing military assertiveness.

The tackling of this invincible form of problem is just as important, if not more, than the tangible part of the issue (China’s warship and jet plane incursions/building of artificial islands). This involves getting a hold on the perception and the underlying beliefs which are providing the impetus for Chinese leaders, policymakers and military generals to be brazen in their claims and actions.

What impact can the abovementioned strategy give? While it’s not possible to provide a definite answer, there are two prominent examples where unchallenged unilateral renaming of territory is likely to be followed by policies of occupying the space. The Islamic State’s (IS) renaming of territories in Iraq and Syria as the Islamic Caliphate is corresponded with its violent action of grabbing Syrian and Iraqi territories.

Secondly, the unilateral renaming of the West Bank in Palestine into “Judea” and “Samaria” by Israel and its unrelenting military operations to gobble up as much space. It is not my intention to distastefully equate China with IS or Israel, since the political motivation and historical background of all described actors are different. Notwithstanding this, what is crucial is the logical sequence to follow after territorial renaming, which may be worth looking at.

This article written by Ferooze Ali appeared in News Straits Times, Malaysia 13 June 2015. 

Philippines seeks ‘real-time’ U.S. help in disputed South China Sea

Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal

Sierra Madre on Ayungin Shoal -Reuters Pic

MANILA – The Philippines has requested “real time assistance” from the US  in resupplying and rotating Manila’s forces in the South China Sea due to constant harassment from regional power China, a military spokesman stated last Thursday. Colonel Restituto Padilla said the defense ministry had asked U.S. Pacific Command chief, Admiral Harry Harris, to provide air cover to Philippine civilian ship that regularly delivers supplies to Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed waters.

“It was a specific request to Admiral Harris to get their assistance in resupplying and rotating troops,” Padilla told AFP. He elaborated that Philippines had faced Chinese harassment, particularly when resupplying and rotating troops based on a grounded WWII-era ship on a remote shoal in the Spratly islands.

On board Sierra Madre on Ayungin Shoal- Reuters Pic

On board Sierra Madre – Reuters Pic

Philippines marines are on a rotational call for every 5 months to guard an old abandoned World War 2 ship, (Sierra Madre/pictured above). The ship has been strategically grounded in the hotly disputed waters surrounding the Second Thomas Shoal to mark Manila’s claim to the reef in the Spratly archipelago . However since early 2014, Philippines small navy reinforcement team constantly face intimidation from China’s bigger coastguard ships when approaching Sierra Madre to reinforce and rotate troops on board.

Sierra Madre has always been described as a “derelict,” and nuisance by China, however the Philippines government recently described it as a “commissioned naval vessel, which was placed in Ayungin Shoal in 1999 to serve as a permanent Philippine government installation.

In possible scenarios, apart from providing air cover – the US Navy can potentially escort side by side with Philippines navy team or have Philippines troops on board a US Navy ship heading towards Sierra Madre. Though this should also be treaded with care, as each strategy could have a different projected level of ‘US involvement’ in the Philippines and China SCS dispute.

Bangkok Bombing : Looking into the Possibilities Clearly.

Getty images-Bangkok bombing

Getty images-Bangkok bombing

To this hour, no individual or group has publicly claimed responsibility for the bombing, and while authorities say they are actively hunting the suspect identified on the CCTV, more questions than answers remain.

Political unrest in Thailand is prevalent and sometimes violent, but observers say Monday’s attack was unparalleled in its intended destruction. Today (18 August) another separate grenade attack was reported at Bangkok’s Taksin Bridge though no casualties were reported.

Thai security apparatus are not been able to point precisely on those involved though there have been emerging reports that the Red Shirt populist group will likely be single out as the key suspect. Analysts are equally divided on whom is the likely culprit in the latest Bangkok’s carnage. News reports largely have been focusing on three most likely actors for the latest Bangkok bombing. The Asian Diplomat examines into these carefully.

Thai domestic Political factionalism.

Violent political clashes and protest has been occurring over a decade between various political factions in Thailand which to date caused mass injuries and lost of lives. However political tensions between Thailand’s pro-monarchy, pro-military old guard and the country’s growing populist camp have escalated over the past 15 months, since a military coup d’état — the country’s second in less than a decade — which also overthrew the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Her ousting and Prayuth’s increasingly authoritarian junta have enraged the populist pressure group known as the Red Shirts. Violent attacks are reported to be launched by the group.

Prior to Monday’s bombing, smaller attacks in Bangkok attributed to Red Shirts has been carried out in February 2015. Two devices exploded at an upscale shopping mall (Siam Paragon), February 2015. No casualties reported. With the latest Bangkok bombing, Thai authorities are again pointing – albeit vaguely – against the involvement of the Red Shirts movement. This is based upon the type of explosive device commonly known as ‘pipe bomb’ which bears the hallmarks of the group in previous attacks.

South Thailand Muslim rebels

Analysts argued that, though South Thailand insurgents had never really targeted outside of Southern Thailand – there are exceptions to this. Among places outside of the traditional perimeter, which have been, bombed previously involved Hat Yai, Sadao, Betong and Sungai Golok. In December 2013, southern insurgents place a bomb – but it was not detonated in Phuket. Using these patterns of attacks, a few analysts raised the likelihood of Muslim insurgents to be involved in the Bangkok bombing.

Younger militants might also be concerned that after 12 years, the current rate of violence may not be effective and that there is a need for an escalation. Bangkok provides the most logical target. More pertinently – the evidence for the Koh Samui bombing is linked back to the Barisan Revolusi Nasional-Coordinate (BRN-C) that also bombed the Lee Gardens hotel in Hat Yai in March 2013.

However, worth noting that – the Royal Thai Army chief and deputy defence minister, General Udomdej Sitabutr, said in a televised interview that the latest bombing incident does not match with incidents in southern Thailand. “The type of bomb used is not in keeping with the south,”  – General Udomdej Sitabutr.

Chinese ethnic Uighur revenge attack

The Erawan Hindu shrine is popular with Chinese tourists and this raises at least the possibility of a connection to the Uighurs – a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority in the far west of China. The ethnic group accuses the Chinese government of cultural and religious persecution. In July 2015 – more than 100 Uighurs were deported from Thailand to China – a move that prompted widespread condemnation. According to the Chinese Government, the group is on their way to Turkey, Syria or Iraq to wage holy war. Though there are violent elements in the Uighur movement, to observers – an attack on this scale outside China would be unusual.

In a nutshell:

From a short-term perspective, it will be a challenge to point to the real key suspect without more questions being raised. It seems the current political turmoil in Thailand with different actors involved will be a perfect smoke screen for the real group or individual to avoid detection for a longer period.

However, irrespective whether the attack was perpetrated by the populist Red Shirts or southern insurgents  –  there is a need for the junta to get into genuine effort to solved the different political issues currently faced by Thailand. It is important to note, since May 2014 the military government has spoken about reconciliation with political opponents at the same time as it has systematically disenfranchised them. There has not been a single decision or court ruling that has been in favor of the Pheu Thai or Red Shirts. Similarly in the south, the government talks about its desire for peace talks with the Muslim rebels, but it has no political will to make the necessary political concessions to end the insurgency. The military government simply expects the insurgents to give up without any agreement on political devolution, amnesty, or the protection of linguistic and cultural rights.

Indonesia Denies Israeli badminton player visa for World Badminton Series

ZILBERMAN

Indonesia denied visa to an Israeli badminton player anticipated to compete in next week’s World Championships in the country. Misha Zilberman 26 , who played for Israel at the London 2012 Olympics, spent the past couple of weeks practicing in Singapore while waiting for his visa request to be approved.

However, despite filing his initial application six months ago, Zilberman was turned down by Indonesian officials time and again.”After six months of exchanging letters and after forwarding all the documents requested, and after we arrived in Singapore, the reply received from Indonesia has been negative and frustrating.  The seven-day tournament, which is one of the top events, will begin next Monday – 10 of August. Meanwhile, Yuni Kartika, a spokeswoman for the Indonesian Badminton Association, has also confirmed that Zilberman is yet to be granted a visa.

Immigration officials in Indonesia are not available to comment on the report.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, and Israel do not have formal diplomatic ties. Israelis wishing to visit the Southeast Asian country must obtain a special visa in Bangkok or Singapore after securing a sponsorship letter from Indonesian officials.

The CEO of the World Jewish Congress Robert Singer criticized Indonesian authorities for “unfairly mixing politics and sports”  He stated: “This decision to bar an Israeli player from an international sporting competition can’t stand, and I urge Indonesia to allow Misha Zilberman to compete in these championships.”

Singer also attacked the organiser of the games, the Badminton World Federation (BWF), for its reactiveness on the issue and for not providing assistance to Zilberman.

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.