Photo by President Office

JAKARTA (TheInsiderStories) – Nothing is permanent in Indonesian politics, as many observers can testify. It is dynamic and like a shocking funhouse or scary roller coaster: allies can suddenly switch sides and turn into rivals; enemies can align themselves when it is in their interest to do so as well.

That is certainly the case of President Joko Widodo, who was first sponsored in Jakarta by Gerindra money, then turned his back on them; during his five-year term, he has seen three opposition parties, Golkar, the National Mandate Party (PAN) and the United Development Party (PPP), all switch to his side.

Now, only two parties, Gerindra and the Justice Prosperous Party stay in the opposition, which effectively means Widodo can expect strong parliamentary support to execute his so-called ‘Nawacita’ programs.

But, as is typical in political horse-trading here, such alliances come with a major price: to amass a big coalition force, Widodo has been forced to make compromises on other issues, i.e. corruption eradication.

According to International Transparency data, in the past 15 years Indonesia has incrementally improved its ‘corruption score’, moving from 36 to 37 (higher means ‘cleaner’), now slightly above peer countries such as Thailand (35), the Philippines (35) and Vietnam (33) but still far below Malaysia (49) and Singapore (89). The ostensibly objective corruption score has Indonesia ranked 90th out of 176 countries surveyed.

The ever-popular ‘Corruption Eradication Commission’ (KPK) has made a meaningful contribution to this improvement, with high-profile arrests of influential politicians, local leaders and even Ministers on corruption grounds; by the same token the KPK has become hugely unpopular in the eyes of lawmakers.

Lawmakers have thus recently set up a special committee to evaluate KPK, which is seen as a ‘super body’ immune from outside interference. Parliament also supports the National Police in the creation of its own anti-corruption unit, known as ‘Densus Tipikor’, which some see as a direct challenge to the stipulated function of KPK in Indonesian society.

‘The War on Corruption has been waged since previous governance but they are still biased toward favourable enforcement, based on political mapping. There have been many corruption cases involving political figures uncovered by KPK. So can President Joko Widodo defend the independence of KPK, one not attached to any political interests?’ asks Eric Sugandi, Economist from SKHA Institute for Global Competitiveness, in a conversation with TheInsiderStories.

Transactional politics may also sacrifice the President’s ostensible human rights agenda, i.e. protecting minority rights and defending tolerance in this country, including endorsing Indonesia’s tolerant local Islamic tradition. During his first year in office, instances of Islamist extremist and intolerant acts rose 30 percent.

One most notable example is a string of demonstrations by elements of political Islam that observers said helped boost Anies Baswedan from a simple candidate to the Governor of Greater Jakarta.

President has repeatedly called for tolerance for minority groups. Last year, when churches were burned and closed down in Aceh Singkil, a regency in Shari‘a-abiding Aceh province, the central government dispatched teams to resolve local tensions.

Extremist elements also tend to have direct links with international terrorist groups, which then draw the counterterrorism forces into the fray. In January 2016, Indonesian militants aligned with ISIS launched a bomb attack at a Starbucks café in Jakarta, killing four civilians. It marked the first major terrorist incident in Indonesia since 2009.

The attack, occurred at a location close to the state palace, raises questions as to whether Widodo has pursued the correct strategy in fighting terrorism. He appointed Tito Karnavian as the Chief of the National Police and Wiranto (who still cannot travel abroad for fear of arrest on human rights charges, stemming from the 1998 riots) as Coordinating Minister for Legal, Political and Security Affairs, in an ostensible effort to tackle the issue. His eagerness to accommodate even the most hard-line Islamist voices in parliament is clearly undercutting his human-rights record.

One role of the President is to ensure members of established minority faiths, such as Christians, will be protected by the power of the state. This was demonstrated time and again during the ‘strongman’ regimes of both President Soekarno and President Soeharto, which is why both had consistent support from religious and ethnic minorities.

Unfortunately, Indonesia has chosen to resist moving with the times, and does not extend such protection to other, less popular minority groups, such as LGBT (a target of extremist violence).

And this is not for any lack of ability to act firmly, as in the case of highly-publicized ‘anti-drug’ efforts. Widodo reinstated capital punishment for drug offenders, with 18 convicted drug criminals executed thus far. Meanwhile all sorts of narcotics, ranging from brown heroin to highly-dangerous amphetamine pills, are freely available – and not just in the big cities.

The drug problem is quickly assuming the scope of a threat such as seen in Europe and the Americas, and religious leaders have been helpless to deal with it as well as politicians or police. Observers are openly asking how drugs manage to be cultivated (marijuana in Aceh), processed, packed, transported, distributed and sold on the street – something which never happened during the 32-year-long reign of President Soeharto.

No Impact on Economic Activity

However, despite clear failings on issues of law enforcement and human rights, and the usual hiccups of political noise, confidence in the state of the economy is steadily rising.

Faisal Basri, Chief of the Advisory Board of Indonesia Research & Strategic Analysis sees political maneuvers as exerting no impact on economic activity thus far, as business players act adroitly in dealing with issues as they arise. Government does however have to maintain market confidence by anticipating any potential disruption, including extreme ones such as a military coup.

As an example, he pointed to the last ‘212’ rally case. During the rallies, Indonesia Jakarta Composite Index rose 47.2 point (0.91 percent) to a new record of 5,245.96. ‘People have learned to differentiate between economic and political issues,” he explained to TheInsiderStories.

Maintaining a similar perspective, Sofjan Wanandi, chief economic advisor to Vice President Jusuf Kalla, said businesspeople were very confident about the country’s economy, as shown through their enthusiasm in participating in the government’s recent tax amnesty.

However, rising intolerance and fundamentalist voices, as demonstrated by the large-scale protests against former Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama last November and December, somehow affected business people’s perception and thwarted their willingness to repatriate their assets.

“With the recent racial and religious conflicts, Chinese investors also choose to wait and see. Some of them have even cancelled their investments. I worry that there will be a snowball effect,” he said.

Writing by Yosi Winosa, Email: yosi.winosa@theinsiderstories.com

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