Indonesia Update Conference 2014: Day 2

Videos from Indonesia Update Conference 2014:

Indonesia Update 2014-7

Sidney Jones


The second day of the 2014 Update Conference drew attendance from more than 200 people. Sharon Bessell (ANU) chaired the first session of the day on security human rights and civil liberties. Sidney Jones (Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict) raised the issue of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency under SBY, focusing on the lack of effort to merge approaches to rebellion (makar) and terrorism.  This is particularly striking given that there are evidence that terrorism in Indonesia is either radical Islamic or ‘ethno-nationalist separatist’. On the other hand, the government was willing to use the anti-terrorist law against other non-jihadi groups (e.g. Christians in Poso in 2006; Acehnese GAM in 2012). Sidney also highlighted how during SBY’s second term, crimes of jihadists and OPM fighters became increasingly similar.

At the outset of his presentation, Dominic Berger (ANU) argued that during his presidency, SBY was often target of both excessive praise and blame, and this is especially true with respect to human rights status in Indonesia. Praise frequently came from Western leaders and international media, while criticism mostly came from international agencies (e.g. United Nations and international human rights organizations) and local activists. In fact, in a 2013 survey of local human rights activists, 53% blame the commitment of the President as the biggest challenge to the advancement and protection of human rights.

In her presentation, Robin Bush (RTI International) focused on religious politics and minority rights, where during SBY’s watch, incidents of religious violence increased. Robin argued that SBY consciously played the ‘godly nationalism’ card (rational, intentional conservatism) influenced by both close advisers and result of opinion polls of an increasingly intolerant Indonesian public.

Enjoying the first warm days of spring during the lunch break

Enjoying the first warm days of spring during the lunch break

Aspects of foreign policy was discussed by Evi Fitriani (University of Indonesia). At the start of his presidency, SBY encountered a difficult starting point under international scrutiny due to domestic problems e.g. terrorist attacks, political reforms, the aftershocks of the financial crisis, etc. Over time economic growth, peaceful democratic transition and political stability, amongst others, led to a more confident foreign policy. However, SBY merely puts Indonesia back on the international foreign policy map, rather than placing Indonesia as a nation with international influence of substance.

Patrick Anderson (Forest People Programme) and Asep Firdaus and Avi Mahaningtyas (both of Climate and Land Use Alliance) focused on the SBY record on environmental governance. On forest management, the data on deforestation is still suspect, with much variation in deforestation rate amongst different sources. The problem of forest fires continue to plague the nation, with still unclear processes for holding those accountable in the cases. In climate change, commitments at the global level not on part with commitment in domestic climate change policy which involves complex governance issues from corruption to rent-seeking from extraction and carbon-intensive activities.



The last session of the Conference and of the day probably posed the biggest and most enthusiastic accolade to the SBY years.  Christopher Manning (Australian National University) and Riyana Miranti (University of Canberra) pointed out to the almost ten million people (half of the Australian population) lifted out of poverty during the SBY years, through a combination of effective policies and good program implementation. The poverty level fell by a slightly larger percentage point between 2004-2013 compared to the Suharto era of 1987-1996. In addition to economic growth, Manning and Miranti pointed to innovative policies as responsible for tackling poverty, including included improved systems, administration and targeting for unconditional cash transfers, where much of the data that have been generated on poor people will be valuable as well for future government administrations.

Hall Hill (ANU) pointed to the largely successful macroeconomic management largely due to inheriting and maintaining a sound policy framework, and appointing large competent people. However, many needed reforms were not done and seen as too difficult to do, i.e. in subsidies, infrastructure, labor market and economic nationalism. The SBY legacy to the next government pose a caveat for policy-making, i.e. a weak tax system, low debt, and a modest structural deficit with zero fiscal space for any new commitment.

Links to the complete Indonesia Update 2014 proceedings and video can be accessed from the ANU Indonesia Project,

The 2015 Indonesia Update will be on the topic of land, to be convened by John McCarthy and Kathy Robinson. Until then!