Monday, April 24, 2017

The election of Anies Baswedan as Governor of Jakarta needs to interpreted very carefully.

By Richard Woolcott

The election of Anies Basweden, a former Minister for Education and Culture, as Mayor-Governor of Jakarta, with a very substantial majority, needs to be carefully interpretated.

We should acknowledge that it was always improbable that the acting Mayor, 'Ahok', following Jokowi's election as President,would be elected to the position in which he is acting; even with Jokowi's support.

 Is it really reasonable to expect that an ethnic Chinese Christian, a member  of a minority, also before the court on an undecided blasphemy charge, could be elected to be the Mayor of the capital city of the country with the largest Muslim population in the world - even if he had developed a reputation for efficiency ?

 While there will be an understandable tendency in Australia (and the West ) to consider extremist Islam has been greatly strengthened, I do not think the election result can be seen as a manifestation of an upsurge of Islamic extremism (in Indonesia) at this stage.

Many moderate Muslims would have voted for Basweden simply because they would more easily identify with him, as an Indonesian Muslim.

 It is true that President Jokowi's popularity has had a minor setback .He would have expected that, but he considered it necessary to press in public for a wide community approach to the election. The extremist Islamic Defenders Front ( FDI )'s influence is actually quite limited. Basweden does not welcome its extremist views and since his election he has been calling for a community approach.

 Only time will tell the extent to which Islamic extremism may grow in the Indonesia of 2017.

Richard Woolcott AC  is a former Secretary of The Department of Foreign Affairs and has held numerous ambassadorial positions including Ambassador to Indonesia from 1975-1978.

It wasn't just religious hatred that cost Ahok the Jakarta vote

 By Max Walden

“DESTINY is in God’s hands,” said Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama on election night as he conceded the Jakarta gubernatorial election. “God gives power and God also takes it away.”

Even until the bitter end, religion defined the race for the next leader of Indonesia’s capital.

Ever since September last year when Christian Ahok made comments regarding the Quran whilst campaigning in Jakarta’s Thousand Islands, hardline Islamic groups spearheaded a mass movement to topple the incumbent.

The leader of the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) Habib Rizieq talks to reporters at court after the blasphemy trial of Jakarta’s incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as Ahok in Jakarta, Indonesia, February 28, 2017. Source: Reuters/Beawiharta Indonesia’s vice president Jusuf Kalla said Friday he was disappointed with the foreign media’s depiction of the Jakarta election as a win for conservative Islam and religious intolerance.

Jusuf wasn’t wrong to say so. Headlines everywhere after Wednesday’s divisive contest said votes were driven by religious sentiment and the entire showdown was a referendum on the future of ethno-religious diversity in the world’s most populous Muslim country.

But it’s also impossible to deny the whipping up of religious fervour by hardline groups was a vital factor Ahok’s unceremonious fall from power.

A post-election survey by Saiful Mujani Research & Consulting, a credible pollster, showed that 32.4 percent of Anies voters had chosen the candidate because they were the same religion as him.

Literally zero percent of Ahok voters said the same (notwithstanding that many of Ahok’s voters are, of course, Muslim.)
Despite the catapulting of religious issues to the centre of the Jakartan election, however, it was not only sectarian concerns that brought down the second-ever non-Muslim, Chinese governor in the city’s history.

Because here’s another vital factor: Ahok was not loved by everybody.
His detractors and opponents were from a broad spectrum of Jakarta’s diverse population, not only ultra-conservative Muslims who hated him based on identity politics.

Human rights activists opposed the governor for his unapologetic regime of large-scale evictions of slum dwellers to make way for development.
Ahok continues to unapologetically defend this policy, even though swathes of the poor who supported him in 2012 became Anies devotees after being forcibly relocated from the neighbourhoods they had lived in for generations, stripping them of their livelihoods.

They felt angry and betrayed.

Even after losing the election on Friday, Ahok declared at city hall that “normalisation” of the Ciliwang River would continue.
Further communities would be relocated upon completion of rusun public housing flats currently under construction that can accommodate 2,000 residents, he said.
Besides that, many simply disliked Ahok because they perceived him as arrogant and rude – undesirable qualities in a country like Indonesia where politeness and etiquette are paramount.

Some among the Chinese-Indonesian minority group worried that Ahok’s brash style and controversial comments regarding the Quran had fanned further xenophobic sentiment against their community.

A lot of people no doubt chose their candidate based on policy, not identity. One image shared during the campaign read, “We are of Chinese descent, we are non-Muslim, we choose Anies-Sandi because the business climate will be more conducive if Anies-Sandi win.”

“We are of Chinese descent, we are non-Muslim, we choose Anies-Sandi because the business climate will be more conducive if Anies-Sandi win.” Source: Twitter
It is also worth remembering that Ahok was never in the first place chosen as governor, rather coming to power after Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was elected president in 2014.
From square one, he ultimately lacked a popular mandate for his robust policy agenda of reforming the civil service and cleaning up corruption, addressing Jakarta’s systemic problems with traffic and flooding.

For too long during the campaign, Ahok’s team misjudged the power of his record in office to win votes.

Their strategy was to emphasis the governor’s achievements in reducing floods, building public transport links and improving quality of life.
But given that three quarters of Jakarta’s population approved of Ahok’s leadership in office, however that he couldn’t win 50 percent of the popular vote, signals the potency of other concerns.

It was only late in the campaign that Ahok and running mate Djarot Saiful Hidayat’s team released material aimed at pulling Jakarta residents’ heartstrings – unleashing a series of videos that appealed to Indonesia’s nationalism and core values of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika – unity in diversity.

"Ahok failed to run a savvy and cohesive campaign,” concluded Erin Cook in the Lowy Interpreter this week.

 Assuming it was merely religious intolerance and racism that led to Ahok’s loss denies the strengths of Anies Baswedan and Sandiaga Uno’s campaign.
As a former academic and one of Indonesia’s most successful businessmen, respectively, Anies and Sandiaga are widely respected, and regarded by many as charming, intelligent and articulate personalities.

Their political style no doubt particularly appealed to upper middle class Muslims in their wealthy, Muslim-majority heartland in South Jakarta.
But the extent of their popularity is highlighted by the fact that on Wednesday, they even won the most votes in North Jakarta, known for its significant ethnic Chinese population.

What’s more, the pair’s “Oke Oce” campaign was also clever and catchy, appealing to a broad range of voters from millennials to baby boomers alike.

So while it’s true the coordinated campaign against Ahok that successfully mainstreamed sectarian discourse played its part in his defeat, even without accusations of blasphemy and mass mobilisation in the streets by hardline religious groups, he may well have lost anyway.

This article first appeared in the 'Asian Correspondent' on 22 April 2017

Last week's Jakarta election highlights challenges for non-Muslims who seek high-office

 By Ross B. Taylor

The results from last week's Governor elections in Jakarta show a strong win for former national education minister Anies Baswedan over the incumbent, ethnic Chinese Christian, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama or 'Ahok' as he is commonly known.

Despite polls showing over 60% of eligible voters in Indonesia's sprawling capital saying 'Ahok' had been a 'very competent and effective' governor, only 40% said they intended to vote for him; and this appears to have been proven an accurate assessment in the election.

Ahok's team ran a poor campaign and when combined with many Indonesian's seeing him as a sombong (arrogant) leader who treated Jakarta's slum dwellers very badly in his attempt to clean-up Jakarta, it was always going to be a difficult election for him to win. But it was the Islamic groups such as the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and the Community Islamic Forum (FUI), who mounted a strong pro-Muslim campaign in the lead-up to the voting day, that really swayed public opinion.

As the winner from the election, Baswedan will become the new governor in October of this year and his win will delight Trump supporter and friend Harry Tanoesoedibjo, but Ahok's removal will really delight those who seek to eventually turn Indonesia into a far more conservative nation or indeed an Islamic State.

Baswedan has, despite being a warm and engaging person, struggled as an effective administrator so it will remain to be seen how he will perform as governor. But what really counts as a result of today's vote, is that any Chinese or Christian who aspires to hold high office in the immediate years ahead, will face considerable head winds. 'Islam' will now be a central part of any campaign right up to the next presidential election in 2019.

Democracy has 'spoken' and delivered a verdict; life will go on as it always does in Jakarta, but the outcome is potentially a turning point in Indonesia's post Soeharto history, and for those who seek a transition to a far more Islamic conservative nation that until now has embraced religious pluralism and tolerance as an essential part of its core philosophical values called 'Pancasila'.

April 2017

Ross B. Taylor AM is the president of the WA-based Indonesia Institute (Inc)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Jakarta elections a very bad look for Indonesia.

By Professor Tim Lindsey

The decisive defeat of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (known as ‘Ahok’) in Jakarta’s litmus-test gubernatorial election is a triumph for hardline Islamist mob agitators. It comes after years of pressure from the Muslim right and may flag a shift in Indonesian politics that will not help Indonesia’s fraying reputation for religious pluralism and tolerance.

The key to understanding why this election matters so much is that Ahok represents a double minority. He is a Christian in a city that, like Indonesia as a whole, is close to 90% Muslim. He is also an ethnic Chinese, a minority who have been the target of racial discrimination in Indonesia for centuries.

For all its governance problems, Indonesia is now a genuine electoral democracy. For decades it has advertised itself to the world as a model of the compatibility of Islam and democracy – and of the religious and ethnic pluralism embodied in its national motto ‘Unity in Diversity”.

But the bitter election campaign that resulted in Ahok’s defeat gives the lie to these claims. It has been conducted in an increasingly tense atmosphere of religious and racial discrimination and rising intolerance that has seen him charged with blasphemy, and five of the Islamist hard-liners who led massive protests against him charged with treason.

Ahok had been elected Deputy to Governor Joko Widodo (Jokowi) 6 years ago, and stepped into his boss’s shoes three years ago when Jokowi resigned in 2014 for his successful tilt at the presidency. Ahok has run Jakarta, a vast mega-city of around 20 million, effectively, if uncompromisingly, since then. His enemies in the Islamist right, however, have consistently objected to him, from the moment the joint gubernatorial ticket with Jokowi was announced in 2012.

They have been trying since then to tear him down.Their chance came in September last year. The blasphemy charges against him relate to an incident while he was campaigning then. He referred to a particular verse of the Qur’an (Al-Mai’da) that many Indonesian Muslim leaders interpret as prohibiting the rule of non-Muslims over Muslims, and which Islamists had used against Ahok since he began his run for the Deputy’s position. There are different interpretations of this particular verse elsewhere in the Muslim world but this definition has traction in Indonesia.

During a typically unguarded speech, Ahok told his audience that they were being fooled by religious leaders (ulama) who used this interpretation of the verse against him. A version of his comments ended up in the media, wrongly edited to make it seem that he said “You are being fooled by the Qur’an”.
Huge street demonstrations followed, led by hardline Islamist groups including the notorious vigilante groups, FPI (Islamic Defenders Front), and FUI (Islamic Community Forum).

Over half a million people protested against Ahok at one point late last year, egged on by the inflammatory rhetoric of Islamist firebrands like FPI chief Habib Rizieq. He even called for a march on the palace and the overthrow of the government. The resulting turmoil forced Jokowi to cancel his planned visit to Australia in November, at the last moment.

The scale of these protests was frightening for many ordinary Jakartans who remember the riots and violence of 1998 when President Soeharto lost power. Politicians were also concerned to see such huge mobs on the streets – a longstanding nightmare for anyone in power in this gigantic and sometimes volatile city. And so the decision was taken by President Jokowi to let his former deputy and close advisor, Ahok, face the blasphemy charges, as a way of calming the situation.

The charges undoubtedly did huge damage to Ahok’s campaign. Polls run before the election found although 70% of Jakartans felt he had been an effective governor only around 40% of them were prepared to actually vote for him.

But it is not just Ahok’s religion that has attracted such vicious opposition. Although some ethnic Chinese have served in appointed positions, including in cabinet, none have even been elected to high office in Indonesia. This made Ahok a lightning rod for racist attacks.
Although most of the attacks on him are framed in religious terms, they are also driven by his ethnicity. There must be doubt about whether his enemies could have bought hundreds of thousands out on the streets as they did twice last year if Ahok was not an ethnic Chinese. After all, Jakarta has had another (appointed) Christian governor in the past, but he is the first Chinese one. A recent survey disaggregating Ahok’s religion from his ethnicity, shows that many Indonesians seem more negative about his ethnic identity than his religious one.

The fact the hardline leaders – some of them little more than gangsters – were able to bring hundreds of thousands of people into the streets, sometimes openly attacking the government and the president, and got what they wanted has upset the patterns of politics in Jakarta – nationally too, because the capital is this gigantic nation’s commercial, social and political hub.

Many politicians became uneasy with what had been unleashed; others have begun to think about how they can benefit from playing the Islamist card. Take Ahok’s victorious opponent, Anies Baswedan. He has been the national education and culture minister, a Fullbright scholar and the Rector of Paramadina University, a respected moderate centre of Islamic higher education. He has long enjoyed a reputation as a progressive Muslim intellectual. He refrained from identity-based invective but ran an effective dog-whistle campaign, courting the Islamist groups that were attacking Ahok on religious and racial grounds, attending their meetings and even singing with them.

Politicians all around Indonesia will be closely studying his success in elections that are seen by many as a rehearsal for the 2019 presidential and legislative races. It will not go unnoticed that Anies’ party leader is Jokowi’s defeated presidential rival, former general Prabowo Subianto.

Jokowi’s government is a weak and insecure one and it seems confused about how to deal with hardline Islamist groups. Does it pander to them? Or does it push back? It sometimes seems to be trying to do both at the same time. In the end, the government responded by arresting some of the hardline leaders and charging them with treason. But the move came very late and Jokowi has been very careful to distance himself from Ahok, seeming willing to throw his friend ‘under the bus’ to secure his own authority.
Make no mistake, it was the mobilisation of racial and religious hatred achieved by his enemies that led to Ahok’s defeat in this election, and his performance as acting governor was largely immaterial.

He now faces judgment in his blasphemy trial and the possibility of years in prison. The election has polarised Indonesia, intimidated religious and racial minorities and greatly strengthened the hand of Islamist hardliners.

Without Ahok no longer at the helm, life will, of course, go on in Jakarta’s huge, dysfunctional capital, but these events have shaken Indonesia’s self-identity as a tolerant, pluralist society and bode ill for the future.

Tim Lindsey is Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor, Malcolm Smith Professor of Asian Law and Director of the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society at the University of Melbourne.  

(This article was first published at on 20th April 2017)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Sectarian schisms to decide Jakarta’s election?

By: Edward Aspinall, ANU

On 19 April, the residents of Jakarta — Indonesia’s sprawling capital — will go to the polls in an election that presents an unusually stark choice between religious solidarity and governmental performance. It pits incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, commonly known as Ahok, against former education and culture minister Anies Baswedan. So far, the election campaign has highlighted Indonesia’s growing religious and ethnic polarisation.

Jakarta Governor Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama speaks while campaigning for the upcoming election for governor in Jakarta, Indonesia (Reuters/Darren Whiteside).

It is not unusual for members of ethnic and religious minorities to win local elections in Indonesia — one of the world’s most diverse countries. But Ahok’s campaign is testing the limits of Indonesian tolerance. Ahok is a member of the ethnic Chinese community, a group that has been subject to a long history of formal and informal discrimination. Ahok is also a Christian in a city that is 85 per cent Muslim, and here he is most vulnerable.

Islamist activists and grassroots preachers campaigned against Ahok by appealing to a Quranic verse that they say prohibits rule by non-believers over the faithful. In response Ahok told one audience last September that they were being ‘fooled’ with the verse. His comments were recorded and quickly went viral online. Ahok’s opponents accused him of insulting the Quran, and massive street protests followed. Islamist organisations like the Islamic Defenders Front showed that they have phenomenal mobilising power.

The protests and associated outcry placed enormous pressure on the national government, and Ahok was charged with blasphemy — his trial is continuing.

The results were predictable: Ahok’s approval rating plunged. Although he eked out a first-round victory in February, he has consistently lagged in the polls leading to next week’s second round. This is despite the fact that Ahok — who took over as Jakarta governor when Joko Widodo, his then superior, was elected as Indonesia’s president in 2014 — was previously favoured to win.

Ahok is widely admired in Jakarta for various government policies, especially improvements in healthcare, education, transportation, infrastructure and welfare programs. He is also admired for his tongue-lashings of bureaucrats and legislators he accuses of corruption or incompetence.

Yet numerous surveys have shown that religious solidarity is trumping government performance in this election. A poll conducted last month found that 66 per cent of respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with Ahok’s performance as governor. Yet only 41 per cent said they would vote for him, with 49 per cent favouring his opponent. For 21.6 per cent of respondents, religion was the main factor determining their choice of candidate, whereas only 16.3 per cent cited a record of achievement. The obvious conclusion is that a significant proportion of the city’s Muslim voters, despite being satisfied with the work of their governor, for religious reasons will not vote for him.

When Indonesian electoral candidates make ethnic or religious appeals, they mostly adopt a benign approach: they emphasise their membership of a particular ethnic or religious group without denigrating others. By contrast, the campaign against Ahok has been relentlessly negative.

At the grassroots, a legion of preachers and activists have striven to convince Muslim voters not only that Ahok insulted their religion, but also that it is forbidden to vote for a kafir — an unbeliever. Friday sermons at the city’s mosques have become important campaign arenas. Fevered rumours about floods of Chinese nationals illegally planning to vote for Ahok have swept through social media and been fanned by Anies’ backers. There has been a resurgence of racist denigration of ethnic Chinese of a sort not seen for years.
Though Anies Baswedan — a Muslim intellectual who previously had cultivated a reputation as a pluralist — has not personally engaged in crude attacks on Ahok, he has instead run a dog-whistle campaign signalling his Muslim credentials and reaching out to extremist groups like the Islamic Defenders Front. An army of proxies is mobilising religious and ethnic appeals against Ahok on his behalf.

This tide of ethnic and religious mobilisation will likely push Ahok from power. The unanswered question is the extent to which the election represents a marker of broader social and political transformation. On the one hand, the election is an unusual test case for Indonesian pluralism, given Ahok’s double-minority status and the vulnerability his opponents were provided by the blasphemy case. On the other hand, observers have long noted growing pietism in Indonesia’s Muslim population as well as increasing assertiveness by those espousing intolerant religious ideas.

Jakarta sets the pace for national politics, and politicians may see this election as a toolkit that can be used in other contests — including the 2019 presidential race. If ethnic and religious sectarian politics push Ahok’s opponent over the line, it would bode poorly for the future of Indonesia’s pluralistic democracy.

Edward Aspinall is Professor of Politics at the Department of Social Change, Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, The Australian National University.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Jokowi turns to Islam-nationalism to preserve Indonesia's diversity

Irrespective of the result, the Jakarta gubernatorial election next Wednesday will leave a bitter aftertaste that could have consequences on the political landscape in the rest of Indonesia. The election is already billed as the ugliest, most divisive and most polarising the country has seen.

Religion and, to a lesser extent, race were issues that were widely exploited in the election. Rivals trying to unseat the hugely popular incumbent, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, virtually forced Jakarta voters to decide whether a non-Muslim and an ethnic Chinese, hence a double-minority, could be allowed to govern the sprawling city of 10.5 million people.

Whether Basuki or his challenger, Islamic scholar Anies Baswedan, wins the run-off, the religious bigotry and racism that the election raised will likely linger on, or even spread further afterwards.
Pluralism - or the notion that this nation of 250 million made up of diverse ethnic, racial and religious groups and languages could live and coexist peacefully - looks like it is in serious jeopardy now, unless someone saves it.

President Joko Widodo has stepped up to the plate, and he may have taken his cue from Indonesia's first president Sukarno by combining several ideologies into one. In his particular case, it is Islam and nationalism.
Indonesia, the country with the world's largest Muslim population, has defied the myth that democracy and Islam are incompatible by holding four peaceful democratic national elections since the downfall of strongman Suharto in 1998. Now Mr Joko, who is also known as Jokowi, must show that Islam and nationalism are not only compatible, but also that the two can work together to preserve national unity.

Jakarta is considered a political trendsetter and the whole nation is watching the election to get a sense of how deep a role religion now plays in national politics. Not that Indonesia needs more of it. Religious intolerance is already on the rise in recent years, with many minorities becoming the target of attacks. The ugly election campaign in Jakarta is bound to put more pressure on the religious minorities and further strain on overall interfaith relations.

Two big demonstrations in Jakarta, in November and December, that were ostensibly aimed at stopping the re-election of Governor Basuki were part of a persistent campaign to push Islam into the centre of the political stage and then drum up support for whatever agenda their sponsors have, includingsyariah to replace the law of the land and an Islamic state down the road.
This is making not only the religious minority groups restless, but also many Muslims who don't necessarily agree with the Islamist agenda.

Although nearly 90 per cent of Indonesia's population are Muslims, Indonesia is not an Islamic state, a decision its founding fathers consciously made upon independence in 1945 to placate religious minorities like Christians and Hindus, particularly from eastern Indonesia. These eastern provinces would have happily opted out of the new republic and formed their own independent states if the former Dutch colony had gone Islamic.

Indonesia's secular status has since survived many tests, including a series of armed rebellions and terrorist attacks in the name of Islam. But now the battle by the Islamist proponents is primarily being waged in the public space. With the help of the Internet, which has created an open marketplace for ideologies, this fight has become about winning the hearts, minds and soul of the people.

President Joko is leading the campaign to stop or reverse the rise of Islamism. He does so by raising the spectre, rightly or wrongly, that the nation's unity is at stake because its key underpinning, pluralism, is being attacked by those who want to turn Indonesia into a theocratic state. And he does so not by tackling Islam head on, but rather by embracing the religion without losing sight of the bigger interests of preserving the unity of this very diverse nation.
He is combining Islam and nationalism into a single, powerful force for national unity, development and prosperity.

This is reminiscent of the founding father Sukarno who, as a 26-year-old revolutionary thinker, penned an article in 1926 about synthesising Islam, nationalism and Marxism, which he saw as the main political pillars for the independence struggle. These three are competing ideologies, Sukarno wrote, but their combination would portend for a force that the Dutch colonial rulers could not stop. After independence in 1945, Sukarno tried to rally the three pillars together again, this time with disastrous and fatal effects. The communist party was crushed for good and Sukarno lost power in 1966.

Mr Joko is not as academically inclined, but he can be as astute a politician as Sukarno was.
His campaign in recent months has taken him to meet top leaders of the military - the main force to preserve national unity - to secure their support and loyalty, telling them that he is fighting against the forces that are undermining the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI).

He called a press conference during his visit to the headquarters of the special forces, saying that in his capacity as Indonesia's commander-in-chief, he could deploy the country's most fearsome and revered military division anywhere in the country to quell any threat to the state's pluralistic status.

He has met leaders of the Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama, the country's two largest Islamic social organisations, to get them on board his NKRI campaign, and to make their leaders publicly denounce the forces that threaten national unity and get them to say that all Muslim citizens have the obligation to support the state and its policies.

These two organisations, with their massive influence among Muslims in Indonesia, have been responsible in developing the more tolerant and moderate version of Islam in the country, and in the past have been counted on to fight against the rise of radical Islam. And now Mr Joko is turning to them once again.
Has the President done enough to stop the creeping Islamism in Indonesia? Time will tell. And somehow, the Jakarta election, whichever way it goes, would also be a telling factor about which direction Indonesia is heading.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2017, with the headline 'Jokowi turns to Islam-nationalism to preserve Indonesia's diversity

Jokowi trading multilateralism for protectionism

By Rocky Intan, CSIS

Despite the warmth between Indonesian President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull following their February 2017 meeting in Canberra, hopes that the Indonesia–Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership (IA-CEPA) will achieve a high quality ‘21st century partnership’ should be treated with caution.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo gestures as he walks with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Sydney, Australia, 26 February 2017 (Photo: Reuters/David Moir/Pool).

FTAs are generally evaluated differently by their respective countries. In the case of IA-CEPA, Indonesia maintains formidable barriers to sectors of Australian interest such as agriculture, mining and education.

Matthew Busch highlights that announced deals to improve access for Australian sugar and cattle do not confront the daunting market access challenges in Indonesia.
The challenges of reaching a meaningful agreement have been well documented. Yet the Jokowi government’s approach to FTAs has so far avoided scrutiny. This is relevant not only for the IA-CEPA but also for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). International economic policy is driven by domestic economic policy concerns. Consequently, Jokowi’s approach to international economic policy is but an extension of his domestic one.

Eve Warburton provides the clearest articulation to date of Jokowi’s approach to economic policy, termed new developmentalism. It is a statist–nationalist mode of thinking focused on ‘infrastructure, deregulation, and de-bureaucratisation’. The approach is statist because it views state intervention as necessary to accelerate national development, with state-owned enterprises (SOEs) acting as growth locomotives. At the same time, it is nationalist because intervention aims to reduce reliance on foreign capital, build state strength, and safeguard sovereignty.

Clear examples of statist–nationalist policy include capital injections and the awarding of strategic projects to SOEs, as well as plans to establish large holding companies in key industries. Recent moves on beef import licenses and an export ban on unprocessed minerals are further illustrations. Other agendas such as anti-corruption and human rights take a back seat to safeguard the political equilibrium created by the administration to accelerate growth.

The statist–nationalist approach is oriented towards delivering short-term victories in the form of tangible economic outcomes. There is speculation that one of the reasons the Jakarta–Bandung high-speed rail project was awarded to Chinese developers over a Japanese company was the former’s promise to deliver results before the next election, with construction to finish in 2018 and the line operational in 2019.

By extending these priorities into international economy policy, how Jokowi views FTAs can be discerned. The overarching goals are growth and development, with an emphasis on export market access. Imports should be controlled since they are perceived as undermining local industry and productivity. Liberalisation is viewed as a last resort for attracting foreign direct investment and only allowed if not overtly disruptive, especially to political stability. Foreign policy and geopolitics will not factor much into FTA calculations.What do these priorities mean for Jakarta’s trade agreement prospects with Canberra and its participation in the region’s multilateral negotiations?

First, IA-CEPA will likely fall short. It is unlikely that the agreement’s scope and commitments will be comprehensive enough. Australia’s interests in agricultural exports and mining investment will run against powerful and entrenched Indonesian interests, a clash where the latter will most likely carry the day.
This calculus could be different if Australia offers meaningful concessions, such as by opening up its labour market for Indonesian migrant workers.

Yet even such enticement will not amount to much without significant skills and language training on Indonesia’s part. It is likely that notions of economic sovereignty and self-sufficiency will prevail, especially if powerful actors in the agriculture and mining industry are considered necessary allies to maintain the political equilibrium.

Second, the statist–nationalist approach clearly indicates where Indonesia under Jokowi lies with respect to multilateral trade negotiations in the Asia Pacific. As the dust settles on the death of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Japan and Australia will be keen to ensure that RCEP includes higher commitments on things like services and investment.

China on the other hand is keen to secure an early deal by the end of 2017 that primarily involves reducing tariffs. Jokowi’s approach suggests Jakarta will lean towards Beijing in the contest to shape a trade pact that will cover a third of the world economy and half its population.

Without the lure of a large market that it currently does not have an FTA with — such as the US market which previously was offered by the TPP — Indonesia is in no rush to bind itself to a high-commitment agreement and will be wary of allowing RCEP to evolve into such. Prospects do not seem rosy for those hoping Indonesia will enact meaningful reforms initiated by an FTA, be it through IA-CEPA or RCEP. Grounding expectations for both is in order.

Rocky Intan is a researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Jakarta.

(This are article was originally published in the East Asia Forum 7th April 2017)