Indonesian Election Results Reflect Country's Internal Impetus for Reform
Gee, John, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono won a dccisive victory in October's second round of Indonesia's presidential elections, taking 60.6 percent of the more than 110 million votes cast. Defeated incumbent Megawati Sukarnoputri had hoped to the very end that the opinion polls were wrong and that the established party machines supporting her would bring in the votes when they really counted, but SBY's campaign momentum proved unstoppable. Compared to the July poll (see October 2004 Washington Report, p. 34), Megawati took 12.8 percent more of the total vote, but Dr. Yudhoyono (as his aides have asked the media to call him following the victory of his populist campaign) gained 27.1 percent.
Not only did the new president have the open support of his own Democrat Party and of two large Muslim political organizations, the National Mandate Party and the National Awakening Party, but he was also able to draw upon backing from within the formally pro-Megawati coalition. That grouping saw its strength further sapped following the election. The smallest of the three main pro-Megawati parties, the United Development Party (PPP -the Muslimbased party that was permitted to function under the Suharto dictatorship), began shuffling toward Yudhoyono. With his support, it put up its own candidate for the post of speaker in Indonesia's parliament, the House of Representatives. He lost to Agung Laksono, candidate of Golkar, the largest parliamentary party, but the PPP's defection from the defeated bloc was a sign of the times: the fragmentation of a coalition whose essential purpose was to stop SBY in his tracks is a process that has not come to an end. On paper, Agung should have been guaranteed at least 307 votes (the total number of seats held by the alliance of Golkar and Megawati's PDI-P) out of 550 in the Indonesian parliament, but he won by 280 votes to 257-evidence of defectors and abstainers from his camp.
After the result of the presidential vote was confirmed, Indonesians and their neighbors talked about the policies they hoped Yudhoyono would implement and, in particular, about whether he would do anything to curb the widespread corruption that has stymied attempts to attract large-scale foreign investment over the past seven years. Yet the most significant aspect of this election may be what it represents in Indonesia's political development.
Only eight years ago, Indonesia was still ruled with an iron hand by President Suharto, who had come to power through the army. Freedom of speech and expression was limited; only three political partics were legally permitted to exist, the largest of which, Golkar, was the principal civilian prop of the regime, although it was closely associated with the army. Power was centralized in the hands of the president, his family and his allies.
Suharto fell in 1998 amid the instability provoked by the economic crisis that swept through Southeast Asia the year before. Since then, a striking transformation of Indonesia's political order has taken place. There is a free and varied press; independent trade unions are able to function; artistic expression is finding new openings in music, drama and art. Freedom of political association has led to a proliferation of parties. Golkar has survived and prospered only by adapting to the process of change in Indonesia. The country has developed a functioning parliament with real authority where there used to be rubber stamp institutions, and some authority has devolved to the Indonesian regions.
In 2004, Indonesia held the biggest democratic elections ever to take place in one day when it chose representatives for national, regional and local bodies. The military relinquished its 38 reserved seats in the 700-member MPR (National People's Assembly-the body which formerly elected and still retains the power to impeach the president), although it remains a strong political force. For the first time, Indonesians had the chance to elect directly their president and vice president. In most of the country, the presidential campaign was conducted without violence or intimidation. Megawati and Yudhoyono appeared on television on three successive nights in September, each time being individually grilled by a panel of questioners or an hour. At the end of a hard-fought campaign, the incumbent was defeated and left office peacefully, if not uncomplainingly.
This ought to make people who talk about the promotion of democracy in the Middle East sit up. It makes nonsense of the claims of those who deny the possibility of democracy flourishing in a predominantly Muslim country. If Indonesia is taking a very different course from most of the Arab states, it is because the context is different-and that contains lessons the neoconservative regime-change advocates will not want their country to learn. They undermine the strong case for democratic rights and freedoms in the Arab world every time they use it as a weapon in their war against resistance to Israel's occupation of Arab land and its dispossession of the Palestinians. Defenders of repressive regimes use their posturing to smear genuine human rights campaigners and advocates of political reform as 'guilty by association' of endorsing U.S. and Israeli domination over the region.
It is true that Indonesia has its radicals who claim that democracy is a tool of Western subversion, but they have limited credibility, not least because their country does not face the same kind of real external pressures and threats as do the Arab states. The primary impetus for the establishment of democratic institutions and for freedom of expression came from within Indonesian society, not from any external power telling Indonesians what they had to do-much less occupying their country and 'reforming' it for them. The Indonesian reform process has sometimes been chaotic, but it has served the country's needs; in the Middle East, by contrast, an ideologically blinkered Washington seeks to pick and choose, encouraging opening up in one place and repression in another, according to how it will influence its regional interests and those of Israel. It is not a credible policy.
Aceh Still Aflame
One area of Indonesia where the past year's elections did not take place in conditions of peace was Aceh, in northern Sumatra. There a war of attrition is going on between the Indonesian national army and the rebels of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). With their widespread popular support and large operational area, the fighters of GAM are able to avoid set-piece confrontations with the much better armed and equipped Indonesian army. They are not strong enough, however, to establish "liberated zones" or inflict heavy blows on their enemy.
In response, the Indonesian army has turned to methods of waging war it already has used in East Timor. Since martial law was imposed in May 2003, the small militia goups already in place have been reorganized and expanded. Men are exhorted to join and threatened with being labeled "anti-Indonesia" if they don't, which can put them at risk of violence by the army. The names are sometimes similar to those used in East Timor, as if the minds that dreamed them up can't stretch to originality: there is a Red and White Youth Movement, just as there was a Red and White Defenders Front militia in Bast Timor-red and white being the colors of the Indonesian flag. The militias are ineffectual, but they set Acehnese against Acehnese and help the army to minimize its own losses.
A new military unit called "Raiders" was created at the end of 2003 and deployed this year in Aceh. They are meant to be a highly flexible force that can break up into small fast-moving teams who will go into the jungle in pursuit of GAM guerrillas. Lacking the intimate knowledge of the terrain and the local support the latter have, however, they so far have not had much success.
Recent refugees from Aceh speak with horror of the violence occurring there, but it is now largely concealed from the outside world, and the Jakarta-based free press is not very interested in probing into what is really taking place there. The vast majority of Indonesians are strongly opposed to the secession of any part of their state's territory and do not wish to read or hear anything that contradicts their opinions on that score-and they would construe criticisms of the army's operations in Aceh as pro-secessionist propaganda. On this score, the secular and the religious are equally nationalistic.
The new president is unlikely to initiate a policy of conciliation in Aceh. Like his predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is strongly identified with the military approach to the Acehnese call for self-determination, although he played a key role in arranging the peace talks that resulted in a six-month-long cease-fire last year. Before the outcome of the presidential election was confirmed, Bakhtiar Abdullah, a GAM spokesman, said, according to an AP report, that he thought the conflict would continue under the new leadership in Jakarta:"Bambang is well-educated and he understands the political impact...of dialogue, but he is still a military man and thinks militarily."
Israel Finds Foreigners Hard to Replace
It is an equation all too often made: a country has X number of unemployed and X number of foreign workers. Solving the unemployment problem is simple: just expel the foreigners.
However, it never works. There is always a mismatch between the jobs that workers from poor countries fill in developed states and those which the unemployed of those states are willing to take on. Often there is a geographical mismatch, as well: foreign migrants make a beeline for the places where jobs are offered, and those are not usually towns and regions that have a serious unemployment problem. Furthermore, it is only the availability of cheap foreign labor that allows some companies at the margins of profitability to survive: when the workers go, the jobs they performed vanish, too.
This is a lesson Israelis are now learning. Two years ago, amid an outpouring of antiforeigner demagogery, the Israeli government established the Immigration Police, charged with removing illegally present foreigners from the country. According to Ruth Sinai's article, "Employment: Who is replacing the foreign workers?" in the Oct. 4 Haaretz, 116,000 have been induced to leave: 40,000 were deported, while the rest left for other reasons, such as fear of arrest, a spouse's deportation or loss of employment.
When the deportations began, 263,000 Israelis (10.2 percent of the workforce) were unemployed; two years later, 288,000 (10.7 percent) are unemployed. The government attributes the rise, in part, to people who were not previously seeking paid work joining the hunt for jobs. Only some of the jobs vacated by foreigners have been filled by Israelis. Some 14,000 more Israelis work in the construction industry than two years ago, but contractors still complain about a shortage of workers. Repairmen are now in such demand that their wages have soared. Nor have Israelis rushed to take up jobs as agricultural laborers. In general, where they have replaced foreigners, their employers grumble that they don't work as hard as their predecessors.
Ottomans in Singapore
"From the Land of the Ottoman Sultans" has attracted many visitors since the exhibition opened Sept. 3 at Singapore's Asian Civilizations Museum, where it is due to run until Dec. 5. On display are 125 objects loaned by three Turkish museums, including the world-famous Topkapi. Many of them were directly associated with individual Ottoman sultans, including elaborately woven and embroidered clothes and examples of calligraphy. It is the largest loan of such pieces ever made by Turkey for exhibition in Southeast Asia.
John Gee is a free-lance journalist based in Singapore and author of Unequal Conflict: the Palestinians and Israel, available from the AET Book Club.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Indonesian Election Results Reflect Country's Internal Impetus for Reform. Contributors: Gee, John - Author. Magazine title: Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. Volume: 23. Issue: 10 Publication date: December 2004. Page number: 34+. © Not available. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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