Indonesia Update Conference 2014: Day 1

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Indonesia update 2014

Since 1983, the Indonesia Project and the ANU Department of Political and Social Change have jointly convened the Indonesia Update conference, designed to overview development in Indonesia. The 32nd Indonesia Update Conference, the largest annual conference on Indonesia in the world, outside of Indonesia, was held in Canberra on 19 and 20 September 2014 with the theme The Yudhoyono Years: an Assessment, supported in part by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Edward Aspinall, Marcus Mietzner (both of ANU) and Dirk Tomsa (La Trobe University) convened more than 37 expert speakers from Indonesia, Australia, the United States and elsewhere for the Conference which drew more than 400 participants, the largest Update to date and perhaps the most comprehensive in evaluating the legacy of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), the first directly-elected President of Indonesia who will step down shortly after 10 years in power.

The 2014 Update was opened by Michael Wesley, Director of ANU School of International Political and Strategic Studies. He reminded participants that the study of Indonesia is a strength of the ANU, which hosts the largest group of Indonesian specialists in the world outside of Indonesia, with more than 50 years of teaching and research experience about Indonesia. More recently, the New Mandala Blog hosted by the ANU School of International Political and Strategic Studies has become the most-read English language blog on Indonesian politics, very relevant during the last recent elections, receiving more than 120,000 daily reads.

The Political Update was the first session of the Conference.  Edward Aspinall (ANU) points the KPK (Indonesia Corruption Eradication Commission) as a shining example of the SBY era. His presidency, however, resulted in many disappointments, perhaps no better illustrated than through the messages that Prabowo Subianto, one of two presidential candidates in the last elections, used throughout his campaign, i.e. that the plight of the poor are due to the corrupt ways of the political elite; that Indonesia is being exploited by foreigners; and that a strong leadership is the solution to all of Indonesia’s problems.

Marcus Mietzner (ANU) focused his presentation on the last national elections, notably the presidential elections. He pointed out to the two different strategies of coalition building of the two presidential candidates, Prabowo Subianto and Joko Widodo, where the later focused on used a ‘hardline’ approach for coalition building where no cabinet positions are being promised, which may have led political parties to turn away from him. Prabowo Subianto, on the other hand, used a more integrationist approach to power sharing, even so far as giving the impression that he is prepared to do anything to get support. In the end, the Prabowo coalition was able to win support of some 60% of parliamentary seats.

Marcus also highlighted the weaknesses in the Joko Widodo camp, where messages are incoherent and campaigns were not well organized compared to the Prabowo camp. However, the last 10 days of campaigns showed a turn-around for the Jokowi camp, which Mietzner sees as mainly due to 1) Prabowo’s off-the-cuff remarks about direct elections not in line with the Indonesian tradition, bringing swing voters to the Jokowi camp; 2) the presence of a strong core supporter within the Jokowi camp; and 3) a strong campaign performance by the Jokowi camp in the final week of campaigns, including the powerful imageries from the Senayan concert.

The 2014 presidential elections was a seminal one, where it challenges several perceptions on Indonesian politics, i.e. 1) that only the rich in Indonesia has a shot at leadership; 2) the notion that oligarchs dominate the political landscape; and 3) that Indonesian political parties are indistinguishable one over the other. However, it also highlighted the fragility of the Indonesian democracy where a candidate like Prabowo can pose a serious challenge in a presidential bid.

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Douglas Ramage


As a final speaker on the political update, Douglas Ramage (Bower Group Asia) focused also on the elections and the entrenched ‘bad’ policies’ being communicated again and again by both presidential candidates, such as on the issue of foreign direct investment and imports (‘too much’) and protectionism (‘not enough’); in short, free trade was bad for Indonesia. Anti foreign sentiments are nothing new in Indonesia, however it is the first time anti foreign sentiments are being pandered during democratic campaigns. While some points these sentiments are mainly rhetorical in nature, Douglas argued that the anti foreign attitude is already in the mindsets of Indonesians. Even Jokowi is pandering to anti foreign sentiments, once quoted as saying that foreign companies should not be given a level playing field (“akan dipersulit sedikit”). It is only natural that Indonesia’s ASEAN neighbors are worried of this stance, as Indonesian negotiators were active in developing the AEC. Moreover, should the Indonesian Government continue to be hostile to foreign investments, the risk of Indonesia truly stuck in the middle income category may become a reality.

Professor Hal Hill (ANU Indonesia Project) and Haryo Aswicahyono (Centre for Strategic and Internatonal Studies) prepared the economic update for the Conference. Hal, who is soon to retire from the Indonesia Project after more than 40 years of closely observing the country’s economic policies, reminded us that when SBY came to power in 2004, just five years after the deepest economic collapse in history, he inherited an economy that was still very fragile, with a government that was institutionally weakened and with very little fiscal space. Under his government, by and large the macroeconomic management has been silently successful, driven by generally competent appointments and a newly financial architecture in place (i.e. the 2003 Fiscal Law and an independent Bank of Indonesia). Fiscal consolidation was achieved, and the public debt declined from 90% of GDP to about 25%. However, several potential threats to Indonesia’s future economy still loom large, i.e. crippling subsidies, persistently high inflation, low infrastructure spending, proliferating non-tariff barriers, and rising economic nationalism as immediate threat to continuing growth and improvement of welfare. In fact, the future government should be extra cautious especially as it ponders a reduction in fuel subsidies.

In her comments, Susan Olivia (Monash University) reminded us that Indonesian tends to form good policies during bad times. However, she stressed the lack of progress in manufacturing and industrial development, where Indonesia is lacking competitive products in the global market, and further that Indonesia is missing out on production networks.

Dewi Fortuna Anwar

Dewi Fortuna Anwar

Following the political and economic update, Dewi Fortunate Anwar (Office of the Vice-President) delivered the Conference keynote speech. In her speech, Dewi noted that Indonesia is now more democratic than at any other time in its history. Specifically in terms of democracy, Indonesian voters now deem political elections a matter of everyday life, so no great conflict have risen in recent years. The freedom to choose their leaders means that Indonesians become loath to let representatives elect leaders, and the pool of good local leaders have widened. Regional autonomy also means that each region can showcase its own policies and its own political and economic profile. On the other hand, there are still weaknesses in the democracy including religious strife and the on-going and uphill battle against corruption, with corruption itself unfortunately seen by many as an ‘excess’ of democracy.

Dewi also pointed out that there has been some active policies during the SBY years that are less visible in the public eye such as the strengthening of the database on poverty, which would also benefit future governments.

Greg Fealy (ANU) and John Sidel (London School of Economics and Political Science) provided a contrasting approach to evaluating the SBY leadership. Greg elected to approach it from a personal view-point. He pointed to the indecisiveness and excessive dithering plaguing SBY as rooted in self doubt and insecurity, perhaps set by an unhappy childhood (of which, revealingly, much is not known) and being in the shadow of his father-in-law, the late Sarwo Edhie Wibowo. The second terms was pronouncedly less successful as SBY pandered even more with popular opinion and disapproved of dissenting opinions, even within his cabinet. He was preoccupied with awards and tittles, even appointing a ‘staf penghargaan’, someone to seek out honors and awards for him.

John Sidel, on the other hand, warned against focusing narrowly on personality. He indicated that those presidents who were effective often come immediately after presidents who were ‘putzes’. Comparative analysis shows that there are patterns/parallels that can be drawn including from Southeast Asian case e.g. Fidel Ramos in the Philippines and Prem Tinsulanonda in Thailand. Interestingly, John draws parallels to elsewhere where post-authoritarian rule is replaced by a ‘constrained democracy’ where problems of inequality are distorted and suppressed, where later on can give rise to authoritarian figures. The SBY years are one such constrained democracy, and it remains to be seen whether we should thank or blame SBY for the rise of such figures as Prabowo Subianto.

The late afternoon sessions of the 2014 Update Conference focused on the institutional developments during the SBY years. Stephen Sherlock (ANU) focused on the makeup of the SBY cabinet, pointing out that while the Indonesian political landscape changed, SBY’s approach to forming his ‘rainbow’ cabinet remained as his predecessors, a cabinet not equipped to handling the new executive-legislative dynamics. Stephen further termed SBY legacy as a legacy of absences – things didn’t happen that might have happened. Jacqui Baker (ANU) unfortunately fell ill and could not present in person. Session Chair Dave McRae  (The University of Melbourne) summarized essential points from Jacqui’s topic on the reform of TNI and POLRI. SBY inherited numerous opportunities and challenges from the first generation security sector reform implemented by the previous governments, i.e. dissolution of the ABRI, withdrawal of the military from the politics and re-affirmation of the authority of the police in law enforcement and security management.  It fell on SBY to implement second generation reforms in the security sector, but Jacqui argued that SBY shied from tackling necessary measures such as tackling the inadequate oversight mechanisms that govern the police and the military and the continuation of the territorial command system. However, SBY has squandered these opportunities for reform, no less through sabotaging the government take-over of military businesses was sabotaged.

Dirk Tomsa (La Trobe University) focused on developments on the regional autonomy, highlighting its achievements (e.g. advances in regional human development, some improvement in service delivery, the rise of unorthodox reformers) and shortcomings (e.g. failure to close the gap between Eastern and Western Indonesia, money politics and vote buying and exacerbation of socio-political fragmentation). Regional autonomy is seen as unpopular amongst the national elites, the national media and the business community, and therefore it is unsurprising that since 2011 there has been efforts to abolish direct local elections, more recently through the passing the law on the legislative (Law No 17 Year 2014).

Simon Butt (The University of Sydney) focused on the ‘superbodies’ of rule of law and anti-corruption in Indonesia: the constitutional court (MK) and the Anti Corruption Body (KPK), which at the start of the SBY tenure was newly-formed institutions. First on the MK, Simon compared the tenure of Chief Justices since he argued that there is perceptible shifts in the court between Chief Justices: Jimly Asshiddiqie, the first Chief Justice (2003-2008), Mohammad Mahfud (2008 to early 2013), Akil Mochtar (April-October 2013) and Hamdan Zoelva (present). Under SBY, the MK faced various setbacks such as legislative attempts to reduce its power in 2011 and the conviction of Akil Mochtar for receiving bribes to fix Pemilukada outcomes. However, the MK rulings on electoral disputes recovered some confidence in the MK system. Simon also discusses the role of the KPK and its 100% conviction rate. Following the presentations, Session Chair Amrih Widodo (ANU) chaired a lively question and answer session.

Faisal Basri

Faisal Basri and Melani Budianta

The last session of the day covered the topics of gender equality (Melani Budianta, University of Indonesia) and social welfare policies (Faisal Basri, University of Indonesia). Melani Budianta reminded us that SBY “owes it to the women” since in 2009, it was said that he won because the proportion of women who voted for him was high (66% of all female voters). In 2009, he promise several steps to improve the plight of women, and Melani argued he had failed on his promises on various fronts: on women’s political representation; on failing to eradicate corruption and dynastic politics; on women’s social well-being; on legislations that takes away women’s rights over their bodies and increasingly discriminatory policies primarily against women; and the on the ‘islamization’ in the national budget.

Faisal Basri examined SBY’s record as captured in the slogan ‘pro-poor, pro-growth, pro-job and pro-environment’. The record, he argued, is bleak, as the main targets of the medium term development plan were not achieve; poor quality of job creation; poor allocation on people’s welfare in the state budget, especially on the health sector, amongst others. Faisal represented the last speaker of the day, and the Conference adjourned until the next day.