« Talking Indonesia: local leadership » by Bima Arya Sugiarto, 02/08/2018, Indonesia at Melbourne
The 2018 regional elections brought victories for several candidates who have made a name for themselves as innovative and reform-oriented. Thanks to their successes in raising living standards, making local bureaucracies more efficient and creating urgently needed public spaces, young leaders such as Ridwan Kamil, Ganjar Pranowo, Nurdin Abdullah and Bima Arya Sugiarto won convincing election victories in some of Indonesia’s most populous regions.
But can this new breed of local leaders really change entrenched patterns of politics in Indonesia? How do they navigate established patronage channels? And how do they see their place within the broader political environment in Indonesia today?
In Talking Indonesia this week, Dr Dirk Tomsa discusses these and other questions with one of these young politicians, Dr Bima Arya Sugiarto, the recently re-elected mayor of Bogor.
Talking Indonesia: the 2018 regional elections, 05/07/2018, Indonesia at Melbourne
On 27 June, Indonesia held elections for mayors and governors in 154 districts and 17 provinces. It was the third and final round of such regional elections – referred to as pilkada – in this five year electoral cycle.
The 2018 pilkada were particularly significant, for several reasons. They included gubernatorial elections in five provinces that between them account for more than half of Indonesia’s population: West Java, Central Java, East Java, North Sumatra and South Sulawesi.
It was also the first opportunity to observe how the divisive dynamics of the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial elections might affect future elections. And with the national legislative and presidential elections now less than a year away, in April 2019, these local elections have been watched closely for any clues as to how next year’s political contests might play out.
In this week’s Talking Indonesia podcast, Dr Dave McRae discusses this round of local elections, their results and their broader implications with a panel of leading political observers: Dr Charlotte Setijadi (ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute and Talking Indonesia co-host), Dr Philips Vermonte (executive director of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, CSIS) and Dr Eve Warburton (ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute).
« 2018 regional elections: why is there a disconnect between local and national politics? » by Abdil Mughis Mudhoffir and Rafiqa Qurrata A’yun, 18/07/2018, Indonesia at Melbourne
In late June, Indonesia held elections for district heads, mayors and governors in 171 regions. Many observers predicted the elections would exacerbate the polarisation of society — between Islamists on one hand and nationalists on the other — mirroring the dynamics of the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election.
Religious identity politics did play a role in some local election outcomes, as we discuss below. However, observers also predicted the local elections would reflect political alliances at the national level. In fact, most coalitions supporting candidates at the local level represented different political alliances and different divisions to those seen at the national level.
If anything, the regional elections demonstrated that there is no decisive ideological line differentiating most parties from the others. Political alliances are highly flexible and there appear to be no definitive political enemies.
For example, at the national level, Gerindra and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) are opposition parties, but in local contests they readily align themselves with the same parties they oppose at the national level. Interestingly, decisions to build local political alliances are often made by the members of the party’s central board, not the local branches.
« Trading blows: NU versus PKS » by Greg Fealy, 10/07/2018, Indonesia at Melbourne
How did a visit to Israel by a senior Islamic figure lead to members of Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), accusing the nation’s second largest Islamic party, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), of behaving like communists who are out to destroy Indonesia? This is a tale about the fevered state of Islamic discourse in Indonesia, one nurtured in the hothouse of social media. It has been fuelled by long-standing and deepening doctrinal animosities as well as competing political interests. Its resonance will be felt in next year’s legislative and presidential elections.
The saga began in early June, when Yahya Cholil Staquf, the secretary of NU’s Religious Council (PB Syuriah) and a member of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s Advisory Council (Wantimpres) visited Israel. He travelled at the invitation of the advocacy group the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and gave a series of public lectures as well as met political and religious leaders and academics.
Yahya claimed he went to Israel out of concern for the Palestinians and a desire to foster peace in the Middle East. He also invoked the name of Abdurrahman Wahid (“Gus Dur”), Indonesia’s fourth president and former NU chair, who visited Israel on numerous occasions and served on the advisory board of the Peres Centre for Peace. Yahya ignored advice from many of his NU colleagues not to go and travelled without the approval of the NU Central Board.
News of the visit broke in the Islamic media on 9 June, sparking immediate controversy. When, a few days later, the Israeli press carried pictures of Yahya shaking hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Islamist groups reacted angrily, calling on NU and President Widodo to censure or dismiss him for undercutting Indonesia’s long-standing pro-Palestinian policy and for playing into the hands of an Israeli government that had only recently shot dead more than 50 Palestinians on the Gaza border. Criticism of Yahya sharpened when it was reported that he failed to meet any Palestinian leaders and had been “severely censured” by Hamas in a press statement on 11 June.
The Pain Haka burial ground on Flores : Indonesian evidence for a shared Neolithic belief system in Southeast Asia, Antiquity, vol. 90, n° 354, December 2016
Article en libre accès
Recent excavations at the coastal cemetery of Pain Haka on Flores have revealed evidence of burial practices similar to those documented in other parts of Southeast Asia. Chief among these is the use of pottery jars alongside other forms of container for the interment of the dead. The dating of the site combined with the fact that this burial practice is present over such a wide geographic area suggests a widespread belief system during the Neolithic period across much of Southeast Asia.
« Nahdlatul Ulama and the politics trap » by Greg Fealy, 11 July 2018, New Mandala
At first glance, Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), has never been in a stronger position. It has a record number of members in cabinet. It enjoys close relations with the president, Joko Widodo (Jokowi), has privileged access to the corridors of power and is the beneficiary of increasingly generous largesse from the state, all of which are boosting the range of services and opportunities that it can provide to its vast membership. NU’s president, Ma’ruf Amin, is also the chairman of the influential Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI) and numerous other senior nahdliyyin (NU members) hold strategic positions in the bureaucracy, state-owned enterprises and the corporate sector. NU’s campaign to promote its “moderate”, culturally embedded Islam Nusantara (Archipelagic Islam) concept has won government endorsement and attracted international attention. In short, NU’s status as the pre-eminent Islamic organisation in Indonesia has never seemed more secure.
A closer look, however, suggests that the organisation’s position is more vulnerable and its future more uncertain than its current exuberant confidence might indicate. Indeed, NU is to an extent emblematic of some of the challenges facing Indonesia’s civil society more broadly. Among these are the increasing influence of conservative views at the grassroots, the hazards of engagement with party politics, and the increasingly blurred boundary between the state and civil society as the latter seeks to capture state resources, and governments seek to co-opt civic organisations such as NU to service their goals.
Yanger : Tracing the Roots of Halmahera String Bands, 8 June 2018, Aural Archipelago
We can begin by zooming in on Halmahera, an island shaped like a pair of chromosomes, a miniature twin of the lotus-like Sulawesi to the west. One of the largest islands in Maluku, Halmahera was nonetheless historically dwarfed by the tiny island kingdoms which cling to its eastern shores: the small, volcano-studded Ternate, Tidore, and Bacan. Halmahera had its own mysterious kingdom on this western flank called Jailolo, a name so powerful it was once used to refer to the whole island. Still, it’s a peripheral place, especially in modern day Indonesia.
Spend a week in Halmahera, like I did, and you’ll find a place where traces of these rich, world-changing histories are still apparent: nutmeg trees cling to the perfect volcanic dome of Mt. Jailolo, and old colonial-era forts crumble near its black sand beaches. You’re also bound to find music: there’s tifa, booming log drums also found across Melanesia; there’s togal, music for conspicuously western dances played on a violin-like fiddle called fiol. Then there’s my favorite of all, a music at once familiar and enigmatic, a music which wraps up hundreds of years of history in a tuneful package: yanger.
Yanger, you could say, is the local take on a string band tradition that spans the Pacific. It is partly from this angle that yanger gets its familiarity: just as yanger combines upbeat lutes, rubbery bass, and major key melodies, so too do its cousins across the Melanesian and Polynesian world, from string bands in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu all the way to joyous yospan in Papua and similar forms across the border in PNG. While Halmahera sits on the edge of the Melanesian world, yanger‘s link with this wider world of Pacific Island string bands is a mystery. While those musics seem intuitively like long-lost cousins, their histories are completely different, with those styles often being the result of Western contact during and after World War II. A different, perhaps more complex set of histories is at play here with yanger in Halmahera.
Seminar : « Pirates lands : Governance and maritime piracy » by Ursula Daxecker, 21 June 2018, KITLV
Piracy—like civil war, terrorism, and other organized crime—is a problem of weak and fragile states. But while helpful in identifying the countries most affected by maritime piracy, focusing on the weakness of entire countries does little to further our understanding of why piracy clusters close to some coastal communities but not to others. Our book argues that local governance and infrastructural development help explain pirate location. Pirate operations require substantial upfront investments, aided by proximity to markets and infrastructure. For sophisticated attacks, a group leader or boss provides pirates with a boat, fuel, equipment, and money to bribe officials. We therefore expect that in weak or failed states, pirates will operate in coastal areas where local governance is weak enough to incentivize collusion among pirates and authorities, yet strong enough to ensure that infrastructure and markets are sufficiently developed to permit the organization of sustained piracy. We examine our arguments empirically in quantitative analyses of local governance patterns and piracy in Indonesia. Field research conducted in Indonesia’s Riau Islands helps us to further assess the plausibility of theoretical mechanisms. Interviews with former pirates, community members, and journalists highlight the importance of access to markets and infrastructure for pirate operations, and also provided us with numerous examples of tacit and active collusion by local governance providers and the community.
Ursula Daxecker is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Amsterdam and a member of the Amsterdam Institute of Social Science Research. Her work explores the determinants of election violence and organized crime. She is currently completing a book manuscript on maritime piracy (co-authored with Brandon Prins). She also recently completed a four-year research project collecting disaggregated data on electoral contention and violence funded by the Dutch Science Foundation and the EC’s Marie Curie actions. She is associate editor at European Journal of International Relations and International Interactions. Her work is published in British Journal of Political Science, Journal of Peace Research, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Public Choice, Electoral Studies, among others.
« Twenty years of Indonesian democracy—how many more? » by Edward Aspinall, 24 May 2018, New Mandala
When Indonesia’s New Order regime met its end in May 1998, I was a PhD student researching Indonesian opposition movements while teaching Indonesian language and politics at a university in Sydney. Along with other lecturers and students, I watched the live broadcast of Suharto’s resignation speech, listening to the words of one of our colleagues as she translated the president’s fateful words for Australian TV. Clustered around a television screen in a poky AV lab, everyone present felt awed by the immensity of what we were witnessing, relieved that a dangerous political impasse had been broken, and nervously hopeful about the future after so many long years of political stagnation.
The extraordinary achievements of political reform in the years that followed formed one of the great success stories of the so-called “third wave” of democratisation—the worldwide surge of regime change that began in Southern Europe in the mid-1970s and then spread through Latin America, Africa and Asia. The post-Suharto democracy has now lasted longer than did Indonesia’s earlier period of parliamentary democracy (1950–1957), and the subsequent Guided Democracy regime (1957–65). While it still has another dozen years to pass the record set by Suharto’s New Order, Indonesian democracy has proved that it has staying power.
What few would question, though, is that the quality of Indonesia’s democracy was a problem from the beginning—and that under President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) democratic quality has begun to slide dramatically.
Earlier this year, the Economist Intelligence Unit gave Indonesia its largest downgrading in its Democracy Index since scoring began in 2006. With a score of 6.39 out of a possible maximum of 10, the country is now bumping down toward the bottom of the index’s category of “flawed democracies”, on the verge—if it sinks just a little lower—of crossing into the category of “hybrid regime”. This downgrading of Indonesia’s position follows similar drops for the country in other democracy indices like the Freedom in the World survey compiled by Freedom House.
Indonesia’s trajectory is not bucking the global trend. Around the world, democracy is in retreat. Freedom House says democracy is facing “its most serious crisis in decades”, with 71 countries experiencing declines in political rights and civil liberties in 2017 and only 35 registering gains, making 2017 the twelfth year in a row showing global democratic recession.
Unlike during an earlier era of military coups, today the primary source of democratic backsliding is elected politicians. Leaders such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán undermine the rule of law, manipulate institutions for their own political advantage, and restrict the space for democratic opposition. Elected despotism is, increasingly, the order of the day. Indeed, as I argue here, the primary threat to Indonesia’s democratic system today comes not from actors outside the arena of formal politics, like the military or Islamic extremists, but the politicians that Indonesians themselves have chosen.
Broad strokes : Indonesian art and 20 years of Reformasi by Erin Cook, 22/05/2018, The Interpreter, Lowy Institute
This month, Indonesia commemorates 20 years since the fall of strongman Suharto and two decades of the Reformasi era. Today, the strife of 1998 serves as inspiration for the country’s burgeoning contemporary arts.
Suharto’s New Order period was marked by mass-centralisation of powers in Jakarta, from which Indonesia’s cultural and artistic industries were not exempt. By the end of the Suharto era, any performance or exhibition needed the express permission of no less than four separate offices, including police and military, to go ahead. Cultural researcher Jennifer Lindsay has written that events at the time could be shut down “immediately if considered to have transgressed limits of tolerated political comment, or to have insulted ethnicity, religion, race, or inter-group relations”.
This environment, paired with the government control of all art schools in Indonesia, gave the Suharto administration immense control and influence over works of art produced during this period. Lindsay notes that this control also led to weariness among private citizens who would otherwise be strong patrons of the arts, leaving the country’s artists to navigate the minefield of acceptable subjects, or to look overseas for support.
Suharto’s demise not only freed the nation’s politics but also changed its art scene dramatically. Today, both Yogyakarta and Jakarta are developing reputations as contemporary art hubs in Asia, and Indonesia’s best artists are regularly showcased across the world. For the generation of artists who came of age in 1998 and are now reaching the top of their field, the days of the New Order continue provide ample inspiration, as well as cynicism.
Eko Nugroho is one of the leading artists of that generation. His bright, colourful sculptures, installations, wall art, and embroidery pieces deal with pertinent political issues, from corruption to the environment, and have been exhibited internationally. As a postgraduate student at Yogyakarta’s Indonesian Institute of the Arts in 1998, Nugroho’s work gradually became more political.
“The year was a starting point and a trigger to develop my works, so it was a kind of inspiration,” he told me.
I am part of the generation of artists post-Reformation, which means I am aware of the particular phenomena that took place in this country, and I can scrutinise their development. In those transition times, Indonesia chose democracy, but the Indonesian version of democracy … This idea of having our own version of democracy I find interesting and I often try to raise it in my works. We see and understand democracy through our society, our dynamics, and through the background of our political history, which have all shaped the current situation we are in.
The dark days of the 1965–66 anti-communist purges are a favourite subject for Indonesian artists. Pre-election promises from President Joko Widodo have failed to come to fruition, leaving the hard questions to be asked by practitioners such as Tintin Wulia, whose futuristic installation Not Alone reimagines the conflict 100 years in the future.
Questioning the legacy of the 1965 purges, talk of which was banned under Suharto, through art has become a lightning rod for conflict between the progressive community and conservative civil society groups and police. Yogyakarta, a city proud of its reputation as a place of tolerance, representative of the multiple identities found in Java, is a particular hotspot for protests, prompting an existential crisis.
Still, Nugroho never finds himself short of inspiration, echoing the oft-heard criticism of the Reformasi-era – how different is it really to before?
Even though Indonesia chose this new system, not many things have actually changed. The ways of thinking of those who run the country is still similar to [the New Order regime]. Twenty years is a short time. Those active in the New Order are still in power now.
That spectre influences the contemporary arts scene in Indonesia, Nugroho says. While Indonesian artists are less likely to be imprisoned for political works – a risk still faced by artists in neighbouring countries – there is a widespread and growing sense of self-censorship.
Nugroho believes this is because successive governments have been focused on the economic and political development of Indonesia, leaving fringe elements of civil society to rise unchecked. Younger artists in Indonesia were only children at the time of the upheaval in the late 1990s, and a division between them and artists of older generations has emerged.
Past fears are still brought up by senior artists, while the younger ones use political messages in more obvious ways. But the threats actually come from around us, from the society itself.
Nugroho points to extremist groups such as Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, a local affiliate of the Islamic State, as the “real censors”. Attacks such as those this month in Surabaya “create terror, fear, and anxiety”, and in turn give the government more scope to intervene in the name of security.
While that in itself is not unique to Indonesia, the relative newness of the country’s democracy creates pressure. Nugroho says:
[In Indonesia] everyone is still euphoric about being able to speak out, to criticise, or comment. Everyone talks, but it doesn’t mean they are ready for criticism. Everyone closes their ears. They want their own version of truth. We minimise research and data, and express our ego and personal opinions.
These teething pains have come to define much of Nugroho’s work and Indonesia’s global reputation in recent years.
This sort of democracy becomes interesting for me to observe, translated in my series of works with masks, although not in an obvious way. My works represent the stories I create which I wish the public can understand in their own ways and connect with what they’ve personally experienced, or with events they know.
Talking Indonesia: 20 years of military reform, 07/06/2018, Indonesia at Melbourne
The military has always played a prominent role in the Indonesian nation. Under the New Order, it was elevated to the dual role (dwifungsi) of maintaining law and order and participating in governance but was also guilty of gross human rights abuses. After the fall of the New Order in 1998, the military was forced to undergo extensive reforms, which included the withdrawal of the military from civilian and governmental affairs. However, 20 years after the beginning of post-Suharto reforms, the military has yet to acknowledge or come to terms with its role in some of the darkest moments in Indonesian history, such as the anti-communist killings of 1965-66.
Over recent years, analysts have noticed the military’s growing influence over political and civilian affairs. The popularity of former military leaders like Prabowo Subianto has also led many to comment that there seems to be a nostalgia for a more militaristic style of leadership among the public. Are we witnessing the return of the military in Indonesian politics? How has the military been able to maintain its centrality in Indonesian society over the decades?
I explore these issues with historian Dr Jess Melvin, Postdoctoral Associate at the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre at the University of Sydney. Dr Melvin was previously Henry Hart Rice Faculty Fellow in Southeast Asian Studies and a Postdoctoral Fellow in Genocide Studies at Yale University. Dr Melvin’s first book “The Army and the Indonesian Genocide: Mechanics of Mass Murder”, was published in early 2018 by Routledge.
Ward Berenschot, « The Political Economy of Clientelism: A Comparative Study of Indonesia’s Patronage Democracy », 19/03/2018, Comparative Political Studies
What kind of economic development curtails clientelistic politics? Most of the literature addressing this relationship focuses narrowly on vote buying, resulting in theories that emphasize the importance of declining poverty rates and a growing middle class. This article employs a combination of ethnographic fieldwork and an expert survey to engage in a first-ever, more comprehensive comparative study of within-country variation of clientelistic politics. I find a pattern that poorly matches these dominant theories: Clientelism is perceived to be less intense in rural, poverty-prone Java, while scores are high in relatively wealthy yet state-dependent provincial capitals. On the basis of these findings, I develop an alternative perspective on the relationship between economic development and clientelism. Emphasizing the importance of societal constraints, I argue that the concentration of control over economic activities fosters clientelism because it stifles the public sphere and inhibits effective scrutiny and disciplining of politico-business elites.
R. Michael Feener, David Kloos and Annemarie Samuels (eds), Islam and the Limits of the State : Reconfigurations of Practice, Community and Authority in Contemporary Aceh, Brill, 2015
This book examines the relationship between the state implementation of Shariʿa and diverse lived realities of everyday Islam in contemporary Aceh, Indonesia. With chapters covering topics ranging from NGOs and diaspora politics to female ulama and punk rockers, the volume opens new perspectives on the complexity of Muslim discourse and practice in a society that has experienced tremendous changes since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. These detailed accounts of and critical reflections on how different groups in Acehnese society negotiate their experiences and understandings of Islam highlight the complexity of the ways in which the state is both a formative and a limited force with regard to religious and social transformation.