Category: People

East Timor independence fighter set to become PM again

Ballot-counting almost finished in East Timor on Sunday, with a three-party coalition headed by independence fighter Xanana Gusmao leading in the vote, making him likely to be prime minister for the third time in one of the world’s youngest nations.

The Alliance for Change and Progress (AMP) is ahead with 49.41 percent, while the Fretilin party, whose Secretary-General Mari Alkatiri is incumbent prime minister, is second with 34.34 percent, according to data from the Technical Secretariat for Electoral Administration.

As of Sunday afternoon, 607,272 votes, or 98.26 percent, had been counted, but the final result is expected by Monday morning.

With the votes counted so far, the AMP is set to win at least 34 seats in the 65-seat Parliament, while Fretilin is likely to win 23, similar to what it achieved in last year’s election.

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East Timor Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri voted in Dili’s Farol neighborhood on Saturday, May 12, 2018. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

The result is expected to end months of political gridlock that has delayed development programs in the country, which voted to secede from Indonesia in 1999 and gained full independence in 2002.

An AMP source said that Gusmao, a former president and prime minister, will reassume the premiership and Taur Matan Ruak, a former president and head of the People’s Liberation Party — which is part of the AMP coalition — will be a deputy prime minister.

Arif Abdullah Sagran, a local political observer, said he is pessimistic that a government led by Gusmao will bring any change to development and social welfare in East Timor.

“Gusmao’s programs were always populist. They looked good only in the short term,” Sagran said, adding that Fretilin will not be much of a challenge to the future ruling coalition.

“The challenge will come from within the AMP, because the three parties that make up the coalition are very different from one another. The only thing that unites them is that they were facing the same opposition.”

Both sides refused to comment on the results until they become official at the end of the month after verification by the High Court.

Arlindo Amaral, a 38-year-old taxi driver who voted for Fretilin, said whatever the election outcome, what matters most is that all parties should be willing to work together to push for development in East Timor.

“The next government should be able to create more jobs, provide better electricity and clean water, and make their campaign promises a reality,” he said.

Youth unemployment remains high at 11 percent, according to the World Bank, and about 65 percent of East Timor’s population of 1.2 million is below 25 years old.

President Francisco Guterres called for elections after he dissolved Parliament in January following the collapse of the Fretilin-led minority government, which failed to secure Parliament’s approval for its budget and program.

The country’s revenue mainly comes from its oil and gas sector, which contributed around 70 percent to gross domestic product (GDP), which in 2016 was $1.783 billion, according to the World Bank.

The story first appeared in Arab News

East Timor PM urges calm as voters await election result

East Timor’s Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri has urged his people to remain calm after they voted on Saturday for MPs who will determine a new prime minister and form a majority government to execute much-needed development programs in one of the world’s poorest countries.

“I appeal for the people to be calm, and for politicians and political parties to accept the results, because it was a very free and fair election. Whoever is defeated, it’s the people who really win the election,” Alkatiri said in an interview at a hotel near his Fretilin party’s headquarters.

Ballot-counting is still underway in the former Portuguese colony, but two political giants have expressed confidence that their respective party and coalition will win.

Alkatiri headed a minority government that collapsed after a three-party coalition led by former President and former Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao refused to approve the government’s budget.

Alkatiri said he is confident that his party will win more than 30 out of 65 seats in Parliament. His Fretilin party narrowly won the previous election in July 2017 by securing 23 seats.

“We’re already the winner,” he said after casting his vote.  “Fretilin never lost a single election throughout its history.”

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East Timor PM Mari Alkatiri talked to journalists after casting his vote in a polling station in Dili’s Farol neighborhood. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

If his party wins, Alkatiri said the next government will work “to get poor people out of poverty. This is my target for the next five years.”

Every aspect of development is crucial, but what East Timorese need most are clean water, infrastructure and community housing.

Gusmao said he is confident his coalition will get more than the 35 seats it secured in last year’s election.

There are signs of electoral fraud, such as ink that washes out quickly and people who voted twice in different places, he added.

“In some places, there were fewer ballot papers than registered voters,” he said in an interview at his party’s National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) headquarters.

A spokesman for Gusmao’s Alliance for Change and Progress (AMP), Tiago Sarmento, said there are reports that six supporters’ homes were burnt down in Oecusse, an East Timor exclave surrounded by Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province on the western half of Timor Island.

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East Timor President Francisco Guterres (second from right) posed with election observers from Election Commission of Thailand and its chairman Supachai Somcharoen (second from left), after he cast his vote on Saturday, May 12 in Dili’s Farol neighborhood. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

Luis da Costa Ximenes, an election observer and director of the Dili-based conflict-prevention NGO Belun, said that the group identified 107 incidents during the one-month campaign period, including verbal abuse on social media from fake accounts.

Alkatiri said the incidents were minor, and the election was held in a “very professional” way.

“Show me one election in the world that is without a single incident,” he added.

There were 784,286 registered voters out of a population of 1.2 million in East Timor, which was annexed by Indonesia for 24 years before it voted for secession in 1999 and gained full independence in 2002. Official results will be announced on May 28 after verification from the High Court.

The story first appeared in Arab News

Saudi couple meet Indonesian maid they forgave for murder of their child

A Saudi couple from Tabuk have met the Indonesian domestic helper they pardoned after she was sentenced to death for murdering their 11-month-old child in 2009.

Ghalib Nasir Al-Hamri Al-Balawi and his wife arrived in Indonesia on May 3 for a week-long stay, which included a visit to Cirebon in West Java to meet Masamah bint Raswa Sanusi and her family.

“I didn’t seek for anything else by giving her pardon but God’s mercy,” Al-Balawi said through a translator during a press conference at the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Jakarta on Monday.

He said that he was very impressed with the hospitality showed by Indonesia during their first visit to the country.

Arief Hidayat, an official from the Foreign Ministry’s Directorate for Protection of Indonesian Citizens Abroad, said that the couple’s visit was facilitated by the Indonesian Consulate General in Jeddah in appreciation of the couple’s compassion and willingness to forgive Masamah.

“We took them to Cirebon by train and they were greeted by the acting Cirebon district head upon arrival,” Hidayat said, adding that they also took the couple to the safari park in Cisarua in the mountainous Puncak area, a popular destination for tourists from Middle Eastern countries.

Masamah’s lengthy trial began in 2009 after local authorities accused her of murdering Al-Balawi’s child after they found her fingerprints on the baby’s face.

Masamah has always maintained her innocence and said that she only rubbed the baby’s face after she found it unconscious. She was sentenced to five years in prison in 2014 but the district attorney appealed and she was sentenced to death in 2016.

During her appeal trial in March 2017, Al-Balawi pardoned her and decided not to demand blood money, but Masamah still had to serve the remaining two and a half years of her prison sentence.

She was released from prison in January and stayed at the consulate general’s shelter until she was cleared to leave and return to Indonesia in March.

Al-Balawi and his wife’s visit came after the execution of an Indonesian national who had been working as a driver, Muhammad Zaini Misrin on March 18 after a court has found him guilty of murdering his employer in 2005. The news of Misrin’s execution caused a national outrage.

The Indonesian government said they didn’t received notification prior to his execution and said that the execution was untimely as Misrin was undergoing another legal avenue to have his case reviewed.

Saudi ambassador to Indonesia, Osamah bin Mohammad Al-Shuaibi said the Saudi authorities had done their part to inform the Indonesian embassy about Misrin’s execution including a notification on the day of the execution before it was carried out.

“What we need to do now is inform those who want to visit Saudi Arabia about the law and that they have to follow the rules in Saudi Arabia. It is our duty to explain to them,” Al Shuaibi said.

“We have to respect the laws in our respective countries,” he added.

Hidayat said there are 20 Indonesians on death row in Saudi prisons and Indonesian officials in Saudi Arabia were making sure that their legal rights were met.

“But it would not annul the crimes that they committed,” he added.

This article has been expanded from its original version in Arab News

Indonesian university wages war on ISIS — with animations

Ahmad met his friends Udin and Ari at a mosque, and Ari asked him why he had not been around for some time.

When Ahmad said he had just returned from Syria, Ari replied in awe that he, too, wanted to go there to wage “jihad”.

When a teacher approached them and asked Ahmad the same question, Ari replied, saying: “He (Ahmad) just returned from Syria to wage jihad. Isn’t that cool?” But Ahmad told both men the caliphate propaganda was false and many innocent people had been killed in the name of the caliphate.

“They were Muslims just like us,” he said. The teacher closed the conversation by saying that Ari had learned his lesson and should understand he did not have to go far to wage jihad. The teacher then asked Ari to join him assisting elderly people.

“This is also jihad,” he said.

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A screen grab from “Kembali dari Suriah” showing Ahmad, Udin, Ari and their teacher. The four characters appear in an animated clip aimed to counter radicalism among teenagers.

Ahmad, Udin and Ari are characters in an animated film entitled “Kembali dari Suriah,” or “Returning from Syria,” produced by the Center for the Study of Islam and Social Transformation (Cisform) at Universitas Islam Negeri Sunan Kalijaga in Yogyakarta. The short film — one of 20 animated clips produced to counter extremism among teenagers — was launched in Jakarta on Wednesday, following the February release of the first 20 clips in Yogyakarta.

Muhammad Wildan, Cisform’s director, said the films had been made to counter radical propaganda after earlier efforts to publish two short comics largely failed because of the poor reading habits of Indonesian teenagers.

“We decided to develop these animated short clips to expand our reach. They will be more accessible through social media,” Wildan said.

Most of the clips are between 90 seconds and three minutes long, depending on the content.

Wildan said the real challenge was to condense the message with the correct reference to Qur’an and package it in a maximum three-minute clip.

“We are careful when choosing our arguments that cite the Qur’an and the Hadith,” Wildan said.

Lecturers from the university had offered their expertise on specific subjects, he said.

Also present at the film launch was 20-year-old Nur Shadrina Khairadhania, who went to Syria as a teenager with her extended family. She shared her own account of emigrating to the so-called caliphate and explained why going to Syria to wage jihad was wrong.

Speaking to an audience of high school students, Khairadhania said that after her interest in Islam began to grow, she fell victim to ISIS online propaganda introduced to her by an uncle.

“I watched their videos, which showed that life would be really good in the caliphate. I was enticed to join,” Khairadhania said.

She convinced her father, Dwi Djoko Wiwoho, a high-ranking civil servant in Batam, Riau province, as well as her mother and two siblings, to migrate to Syria.

A group of 26 extended members of her family, including two uncles and a grandmother, left for Syria in 2015. After 19 managed to cross the border to Turkey, they quickly discovered that life in the caliphate was very different to the propaganda.

“Everything is contrary to Islamic teaching. A male family member was forced to fight and was put in detention for months when he refused,” she said.

The family tried for a year to leave and finally returned to Indonesia in August 2017.

Family members completed a rehabilitation program run by the national counterterrorism agency, but now her father and uncle are facing terrorism charges.

Rebuilding her life had been difficult because of the stigma of her past, she said.

“But God gave me a second chance to live. This is probably my jihad, to tell the truth to people so no one will be deceived like us,” she said.

This story was first published in Arab News

Politician calls Jokowi’s bike ride “political gimmick”

An Indonesian opposition politician and citizens criticized President Joko Widodo after he rode a highly-modified motorcycle through the town of Sukabumi alongside several cabinet ministers.

Sporting a denim jacket, a half face helmet and a pair of Vans x Metallica sneakers, Joko led the  convoy on his golden chopper on Sunday in what critics referred to as an attempt to appeal to younger voters. The 56-year-old is seeking re-election in 2019.

Opposition politician and deputy parliament speaker Fadli Zon referred to the move as nothing more than “a political gimmick, not genuine,” saying that  “the whole thing was forced.”

“What for? I think we need to know what is needed to be done: Jobs and a better future, not visible symbols like motorbikes,” he said.

Critics pointed out on social media that the president’s customized Royal Enfield Bullet 350 and his protective gear were not up to the country’s own road safety regulations.

“Luckily he’s president. If I did that I would be given a ticket because the mirrors are too small and the headlight isn’t on,” a Twitter user wrote.

With a temperamental volcano looming, Bali beckons ready to welcome global financiers, bankers

Indonesia is gearing up to host the 2018 Annual Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group (AM 2018) in Bali in October, and despite the looming threat of volcano Mount Agung erupting, the government is convinced that all contingency plans are well in place as it looks forward to hosting up to 20,000 participants.

The volcano’s alert status has been lowered to level three or the second highest level, which means that the danger zone is reduced to a two-kilometer radius from the crater. The government also launched in August the official website for the event: www.am2018bali.go.id. Indonesia is the fourth Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member country to host the global meeting, after the Philippines (1976), Thailand (1991), and Singapore (2006).

Tasked to chair the organizing committee of the AM 2018 by President Joko Widodo is the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Resources Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, whose office oversees ministries and government agencies crucial to playing host to heads of governments, finance ministers, senior bankers, global CEOs and foreign journalists.

Dr Safri Burhanudin, the Deputy Minister for Human Resources, Sciences and Technologies and Maritime Culture at the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs and Resources, who is in charge of supervising the preparations go as planned, explained the latest updates on the plan.

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Safri Burhanudin planted a tree at Suwung landfill in Bali, in preparation to welcome delegates attending IMF-WB Annual Meetings in Bali, October this year. Photo: Kemenko Maritim/maritim.go.id

How are the preparations going so far?

Preparations in terms of venues in Nusa Dua are all ready. We are going to have a meeting with the organizer in February to evaluate the preparation. There will be a team from the IMF and the World Bank that will come to check and evaluate everyting. We are also finalising side events. Indonesia is only hosting and providing the venues, but the main organizer is the IMF and the World Bank, so they are the ones that develop the event program. We will be in charge of hosting and ensuring security for the VVIPs and servicing them.

How many VVIPs will attend the meetings?

All finance ministers from 189 countries will attend, and 32 of the ministers also serve as prime ministers so the treatment will be different for finance ministers and heads of government. We also plan to welcome leaders of ASEAN countries. There could be a meeting of ASEAN leaders on the sidelines but it is still being discussed, and we are waiting the final decision. We hope the ASEAN leaders will attend the opening session, and prior to that they would be meeting the managing director of the IMF and the president of the World Bank.

How many participants do we expect to welcome in Bali?

About 17,000 participants are expected to come, but there could be more if they bring their spouses and their families, about 20,000 people. We’ve heard that since the event will be in Bali, their families will come along later for a vacation. There are 21 official hotels appointed in Nusa Dua, Tanjong Benoa, Jimbaran and other areas outside Nusa Dua. There are 4,000 rooms available in Nusa Dua hotels for this event, while we are going to welcome 17,000 participants. We also heard that Bank of America already booked 200 rooms in The Mulia in Nusa Dua.

Why is the Coordinating Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Resources in charge of the event, instead of the Coordinating Ministry of Economic Affairss?

President Joko Widodo appointed Coordinating Minister Luhut as the head of the organizing committee, because we focus on the tourism part of this event, while the main program is already handled by the IMF and World Bank. We want to benefit the most from the annual meetings as a platform to promote Indonesia’s tourism and the tourism ministry is under the Coordinating Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Resources. That’s why we launched the Voyage to Indonesia (VTI) drive as a promotional program  with a number of activities such as seminars, public discussions and art exhibitions underway. We also offer the participants seven main tourist destinations that they can go to after the meetings, namely Lake Toba in North Sumatra, Mandalika in Lombok, Labuan Bajo in East Nusa Tenggara if they want to see the Komodo dragons, Banyuwangi in East Java where they can choose to go to Mount Ijen for example, Yogyakarta and the Borobudur Temple, Toraja in South Sulawesi and of course Bali itself.

What about concerns regarding Mount Agung’s volcanic activity?

There were initial concerns regarding the volcano but it was because we didn’t communicate about it the right way. It made the public think that if the volcano erupts, the whole of Bali will be closed. So, we explained that technically if Mount Agung erupts, the farthest area affected will be 10 kilometers away from the crater, while Nusa Dua is 70 kilometers and the airport is 68 kilometers away. Even if there was some volcanic ash, the wind patterns would be mainly blowing to the east, not to the airport which is southwest of the volcano. If it erupts, it won’t affect the airport’s operations much.

What are the side events that Indonesia will organize?

There will be an economic forum that the Investment Coordinationg Board will coordinate and events to promote investment and the ease of doing business in Indonesia. Some of our main agenda will be to set up the Indonesia pavilion at the Westin Hotel and organize the Indonesia Gourmet and Food Festival, cultural performances, ASEAN Leaders Retreat and Host Country Reception at the Garuda Wisnu Kencana Cultural Park. The final rundown, however, will be released in April, as it is still now being discussed and will be evaluated during the spring meetings in Washington, DC.

Indonesia is footing the huge bill with Rp 868 billion to host this event, how are we going to benefit from it?

The cost we bear, including to organize major events such as the welcoming party and other promotional events, is not much compared to what we are going to get, which is a lot more. The participants are paying for the hotels, at least 17,000 hotel rooms and the increasing foreign exchange reserves through participant visits. We will be taking back most of the costs we spend for playing host.

What other special preparations are taking place, and is there any special infrastructure being built for this event? 

The infrastructure we built for this event is the underpass at the airport intersection before the entrance to the toll road, Tanjung Benoa cruise terminal, and Suwung landfill. The latter is already finished and it doesn’t emanate a stench anymore. We are also expediting the completion of the Garuda Wisnu Kencana statue. It should be finished by September. If all goes well, it will be the largest event we have ever hosted.

This article was first published in AmCham

A Muslim man on a quest to introduce Hebrew in anti-Israel Indonesia

Hebrew is unlikely to be among the most preferred list of foreign languages to learn in Indonesia. Not just because it is the language of Israel, the country that most Indonesians have a hostile view to, but also because there was not a place that offered the courses.

But a Muslim man who studied at an Islamic boarding school in East Java and earned his degree in Arabic literature from Al Azhar University in Cairo, Sapri Sale, saw this as an opportunity to introduce the language in Muslim-majority Indonesia.

Sapri said there is nothing political or ideological in his mission to teach Hebrew in a country where solidarity with Palestine is a strong issue and Israel is regarded as the enemy. He also said despite the religious and political contexts, he just wanted to introduce Hebrew as a language worth learning for Indonesians just like any other foreign language.

“We lack information about Israel because we don’t have access to their language,” he said on the sidelines of the course earlier this week, which is held every Monday and Wednesday at the office of Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace (ICRP) in Central Jakarta.

“It’s like the old saying, ‘keep your friends close, but your enemies closer’, by learning their language so we can understand them better,” he added.

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Sapri Sale showed his students how to write in Hebrew during a session at the office of Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace (ICRP) in Central Jakarta. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

The course at ICRP is the first one that has been open to the public, but Sapri has taught private courses for groups in several places in Jakarta since August 2017. Now that he’s open with his activities, he said that various groups in other parts of the country have asked him to teach them.

According to Sapri, unlike in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries where Indonesian as a language is learned out of necessity because of the significant presence of Indonesian migrant workers there, Indonesian is introduced in Israel through cultural studies program in university.

Sapri became interested in learning Hebrew during his student days in Egypt in the early 1990s and noted that Egyptians in general see Israel as an enemy.

“It triggered my curiosity, so I decided to learn Hebrew to be able to know more about it,” he said, adding that he self-taught himself the language for two years and at the beginning he used second-hand text books from Cairo University’s Jewish literature studies. He then took a Hebrew course at the Israeli Academic Center in Cairo.

Sapri, who also teaches Arabic, is aware that his positive intention to promote the language would result in a backlash against him and he has found himself the target of verbal intimidation from those who find his activities unacceptable.

“People have even called me ‘Sapri Jewish’, in a sarcastic way,” he said.

Sapri also wrote the first-ever Indonesian-Hebrew dictionary which he worked on for 10 years. The dictionary is divided into three parts, dictionaries for Indonesian-Hebrew and Hebrew-Indonesian as well as a glossary and was launched in late February.

Sapri said he was not surprised that he could not find a publisher that wanted to publish a book potential to trigger controversy, so he foot the bill to have the dictionary with 35,000 vocabularies published. As expected, major bookstore chains would not display it on their shelves, but Sapri said he could still make a sale through small, independent bookstores and online marketplaces.

The dictionary is acknowledged in the “Israel Berbahasa Indonesia” or Israel Speaks Indonesian official fan page on Facebook, which identifies its administrator as a government organization in Jerusalem and lists the Israeli foreign ministry’s web address in its profile.

His students come from different background, such as Alz Danny Wowor, a computer science lecturer at a university in Central Java and cryptography enthusiast. He signed up last month and since then, he has been commuting eight hours by train from Semarang in Central Java to Jakarta to learn the language in a 1.5-hour afternoon session. He takes the night train back to Semarang when the session is over.

“I have a keen interest in cryptography, and Israel is well-known for its sophisticated cryptography. I am learning the language so I can understand it better, such as the Atbash cypher,” Wowor said, adding that he hopes to study cryptography in Israel someday and learning Hebrew is part of his preparations.

Sapri said most of his students are Christians who want to improve their understanding of the Bible through its original language. They make up 70 percent of his students, with  the remaining 30 percent being Muslims.

“The 30 percent can learn Hebrew faster because as Muslims, we are usually taught to read the Qur’an in Arabic, so it makes them easier to understand Hebrew because of the similarities in the two languages,” he said.

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Sapri said that geopolitical issues aside, he hopes Indonesians would not be “allergic” to learn Hebrew just because it is associated with Israel.

Musdah Mulia, the chairwoman of ICRP said the institution was willing to provide the space for the course because they share the same vision in developing better understanding between faiths and cultures, though she is aware of the possible repercussion against the institution.

“Language is neutral. We can learn about another culture and history through language and Hebrew is a language,” she said.

This story has been expanded from its original version in Arab News