Category: Politics

From social media to parliament: Young Indonesians enter politics

 The political views of Indonesian millennials used to be limited to social media posts, but now the youth are taking charge by seeking parliament seats in their country’s upcoming election.

Univesity student Tsamara Amany Alatas is a social media star who often voices critical views on issues ranging from gender equality to religious freedom.

Now the 22-year-old has thrown her hat into the political ring, vying for a seat in the national parliament in the legislative election scheduled for April 17.

Like any media-savvy politician running for office, she has visited slums and talked with locals about their aspirations and posed for photographs with babies.

“I believe politics can be a force for good when people who are elected are good,” the 22-year-old told dpa during a recent visit to a central Jakarta slum.

Tsamara is one of the young legislative candidates fielded by the newly-established Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), which claims to be the bearer of progressive politics in a largely conservative nation.

The party,which backs incumbent President Joko Widodo, is led by 36-year-old former television newscaster Grace Natalie, a Christian of Chinese descent in mainly-Muslim Indonesia.

The party has an uphill battle, with polls indicating it is unlikely to win more than 1 per cent of the vote, which would be short of the 4 per cent threshold required by Indonesian electoral laws to get seats in parliament.  

Poll numbers, however, have not discouraged Tsamara, who has nearly 170,000 followers on Twitter.

“This party represents the values I’m fighting for and it’s where people with idealism are,” she said.

Lucius Karus, a researcher with the Indonesian People Forum for Parliament Monitoring, said that 21 per cent of candidates whose ages are known are categorized as millennials, meaning they were born after 1980.   

Nearly 8,000 candidates are competing for seats in the 560-member House of Representatives. 

Lucius said even though women account for 40 per cent of legislative candidates – exceeding a quota of 30 per cent set by electoral laws – it’s not likely they will be elected.

“Many young or female candidates are listed on the bottom on their parties’ lists on ballot papers, and candidates on top of the lists are usually well known and more likely to be elected,” he said.

Currently, about 20 per cent of national legislators are women.

British-educated engineer Faldo Maldini is another millennial running for a parliamentary seat.

The 28-year-old is a spokesman for opposition candidate Prabowo Subianto and is a deputy secretary general of the National Mandate Party.  

“I represent the young generation, but I talk to old and young people alike about their problems,” Faldo told dpa on the sidelines of a campaign stop in a village outside Jakarta.

“You can be famous on social media but if you don’t go to your constituents, they won’t vote for you,” said Faldo, whose Twitter account has more than 88,000 followers.

Sitting cross-legged on the front porch of a villager’s house in Bogor, a city south of Jakarta, Faldo appeared at ease talking to the elderly host, who complained about unpaved and potholed roads in front of his house.

“People here complain that despite many factories around here, jobs are going to people from outside, and prices of basic commodities are expensive,” he said.

“My focus is how I can help young people here get jobs,” he added. 

Faldo said he wants to prove that running for office does not have to be expensive.

“I’m not from a rich family and I just got married, so clearly I don’t have much money,” he said.

“I want everyone to have a level playing field so it’s not only people with money who can run for parliament,” he said.

Didi, a voter in Bogor, praised Faldo’s plan to promote entrepreneurship in his village.

“I make dolls and after he promoted my business on Instagram I received a lot of orders from different places,” he said.  

Ari Nurcahyo, executive director at local think tank Soegeng Sarjadi Syndicate, said the fact that many young people aspire to be politicians is good for Indonesia’s future.

“They are technologically literate and highly educated. We need people like them to face the digital economy era,” he said.

“But they need a new political party that isn’t beholden to oligarchic interests and care about issues such as anti-corruption,” Ari said.

Ross Tapsell, an expert on Indonesian politics at the Australian National University (ANU), said only a small number of Indonesian millennials are middle-class and politically savvy.

A survey released last year by ANU found that fewer than 10 per cent of millennials living in Jakarta and the surrounding areas had a university degree.

“The usual depiction of a millennial is someone who is inner city, on Instagram, active about politics in social media,” Tapsell said.

“In fact that’s really only a small proportion of what a lot of people aged between 17 and 35 are actually doing in this election,” he said.

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Jokowi Remains Favorite One Month Before Indonesian Election

Incumbent President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is still the frontrunner one month before Indonesia’s presidential election, with the most recent surveys indicating that he is favored by more than 54 percent of voters.

Four surveys released this month put Jokowi’s electability at between 54 and 57 percent, compared to around 34 percent for the opposition candidate, former general Prabowo Subianto.

About 11 percent of voters were still undecided, according to the surveys.

A poll released on Sunday by the private pollster Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting (SMRC) predicted that Jokowi would win 57.6 percent of the votes if the election were held now.

“The gap between Jokowi and Prabowo continues to widen,” SMRC director Djayadi Hanan said.

“Is it going to change in one month? We don’t know,” he added.

Rising conservatism

Next month’s election is a rematch of the 2014 contenders. That year, Jokowi beat Prabowo narrowly.

Jokowi picked Ma’ruf Amin, the conservative 76-year-old chairman of the Indonesian Council of Muslim Scholars (MUI), for his running mate, apparently aiming to bolster his religious credentials amid accusations from hardline Islamic groups that he is hostile to them.

Islamist groups such as the Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI) have rallied around Prabowo in their short-term goal to prevent Jokowi from being re-elected, but they are unlikely to succeed, said the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) in a report released last week.

“Their support for [Prabowo] is conditional and half-hearted, but measures taken by the Jokowi government to try to weaken, co-opt and stigmatize them as extremists have only strengthened what otherwise would be a fragile alliance,” IPAC said.

“Their fear of a Jokowi victory is much stronger than their reservations about Prabowo,” it said.

While Ma’ruf has moderated his comments to appeal to more liberal voters, the Prabowo camp has sought to portray its vice presidential pick, Sandiago Uno, a wealthy 49-year-old businessman educated in the United States, as a pious Muslim.

“The idea of Prabowo as a strongman and Sandi, the charming, pious entrepreneur as his right-hand man, embodies two trends in Indonesia: nostalgia for the Suharto-led New Order and rising conservatism of the middle class,” IPAC said.

VP candidates face off

During a televised debate between Ma’ruf and Sandiaga on Sunday, the two avoid engaging in heated arguments on key policy issues.

Ma’ruf peppered his talk with Arabic and Islamic phrases to impress conservative religious voters during the debate, which focused on education, health, employment and culture.

Sandiaga sought to appeal to younger voters by emphasizing his entrepreneurship prowess, but also tried to demonstrate his knowledge of Islamic terms while showing reverence to his rival by calling him kyai, a Javanese honorific for a Muslim cleric.

It was the third in a series of televised debates involving presidential and vice-presidential candidates ahead of the election.

“Leaders must work for the benefit of their people,” Ma’ruf said in his opening speech.

“Our vision is for Indonesia to be an advanced nation. The key to achieve this lies in its people, a population that is intelligent, productive and has good morals,” Ma’ruf said, using an Islamic term, “akhlaq.”

Ma’ruf said that if he and Jokowi were elected, the government would establish a national research council, build a Sydney-style opera house to show case Indonesia’s arts, and provide free training for job seekers.

“We will conserve our culture and we will globalize our culture so that it becomes known and developed,” he said.

Ma’ruf said wider internet coverage had allowed the country to produce more business startups and “unicorns,” a term for companies with capital valued at U.S. $1 billion or more.

Sandiaga for his part promised that a Prabowo-Sandiaga government would solve problems that have dogged the country’s national health insurance scheme; provide incentives for research; and require foreign workers to master the Indonesian language.

“Stories like that of Ms Lies who had to stop treatment because she had no coverage must not be allowed to happen, even more so when we’re going to be among the world’s five biggest economies in 2045,” Sandiaga said, referring to a cancer patient he met while campaigning.

“Health workers must be paid on time. Drugs must be paid on time. There should not be long queues for patients,” he added.

Indonesia introduced universal health coverage in January 2014, with the aim of having all Indonesians covered by 2019.

But the agency that administers the national insurance scheme, BPJS Kesehatan, has grappled with a deficit of 16.5 trillion rupiah ($1.2 billion).

Sandiaga’s promise to require foreign workers to master Indonesian appears to be intended to allay concerns among some Indonesians about the perceived influx of Chinese laborers amid Jokowi’s focus on building infrastructure.

“There was no debate where one candidate argues and the other attacks the arguments,” Idil Akbar, a political analyst at Padjadjaran University, said of the encounter.

Wasisto Raharjo, a researcher on politics at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, said Sandiaga appeared to be reluctant to argue strongly against Ma’ruf due to the latter’s stature as an elderly cleric.

“There was no constructive debate where the candidates correct each other. Maybe Sandiaga was too reverent with Ma’ruf,” he said.

“But Sandi was good at using catchphrases that resonate with many people, such as the issue of foreign workers,” he added.

Ma’ruf was instrumental in the jailing last year of former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian, on charges of blasphemy.

Conservative Muslim groups held large protests against Ahok in 2016 and 2017 in the run-up to a gubernatorial election in which he was a front-runner, after an edited video made it appear like he said that the Quran deceived people.

An MUI fatwa declaring Ahok’s remarks blasphemous bolstered Muslim opposition to him and paved the way for his prosecution.

Ahok lost the Jakarta gubernatorial election to a Muslim candidate, Anies Baswedan, and was later sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy. He was released in January.

The article was originally published on http://www.benarnews.org/english

Russia denies meddling in Indonesian election

Russia on Monday denied involvement in attempts to influence the outcome of Indonesia’s upcoming election, after incumbent President Joko Widodo accused the campaign of opposition candidate Prabowo Subianto of spreading “Russian propaganda.”

The Russian embassy in Jakarta said the accusations of Russian involvement – levelled by Jokowi during a campaign stop in Surabaya on Saturday – had “no basis in reality.” 

“We would like to underline that our principled position is that we don’t interfere in the domestic affairs and electoral processes of other countries, including Indonesia as our close friend and important partner,” the embassy said via Twitter.

During the campaign stop, Jokowi claimed that “there is a campaign team that is spreading what is called Russian propaganda, which involves incessant streams of lies and slander.” 

He was alluding to the controversy in the United States about the supposed Russian interference in the 2016 election using a propaganda model called “the firehose of falsehood.”

Jokowi faces former general Prabowo in the April 17 presidential election in a repeat of the vote five years ago, which the president won by a narrow margin. 

The opposition says the president has a dismal economic record after nearly five years in office and that he is too cozy with China.   

Jokowi has picked conservative Islamic cleric Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate in a move seen by some as an attempt to bolster his religious credentials amid accusations that he is hostile to Muslim political aspirations. 

Supporters of Indonesian cleric set up think-tank in his honour

Supporters of controversial Indonesian cleric Muhammad Rizieq Shihab have set up a think-tank named after him in a sign of his growing stature at home as he fights legal troubles from a self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia.

The Habib Rizieq Shihab Center, which was inaugurated in Jakarta over the weekend, aims to be a scientific and strategic research hub based on Islamic values for the benefit of Muslims and the country in general, said its chairman, Abdul Choir Ramadhan. “Habib” is an honorific used to address a Muslim scholar believed to a descendant of the Prophet Mohammad.

“The center is named after him because of his stature and as a show of our admiration for his struggle to uphold Islamic values,” Ramadhan said. He said the center was self-funded but did not rule out public donations.

Rizieq, founder of the vigilante group Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI), shot to political prominence after he led a campaign in 2016 and 2017 to oust then-Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian of Chinese descent, over allegations that he had insulted the Koran in off-the-cuff remarks.

The center’s launch coincided with the 20th anniversary of the FPI’s founding. The group is notorious for past anti-vice raids targeting places accused of harboring sex workers and drug users, as well as nightspots that remained open during Ramadan.

Rizieq has been in a self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia following attempts by Indonesian police to question him last year over allegations he had engaged in a lewd online chat with a female supporter and a separate charge of insulting the Indonesian state ideology of Pancasila.

Investigations into the cases were stopped this year with police citing a lack of evidence.

The cleric’s supporters said the cases against him were fabricated by the government of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo because of Rizieq’s role in inflaming Muslim sentiment against Ahok, an ally of the president.

Ramadhan said Rizieq had doubts about returning home any time soon, saying the political climate is unfavorable.

“The investigations may have been dropped, but they can always reinstate them any time,” Ramadhan said.

On Saturday, Rizieq delivered a speech through a telephone link during the ceremonial launch of the center.

“I hope that the HRS Center will become a place for the advancement of knowledge for the benefit of the Muslim ummah (society) and the country,” he said in the message posted on YouTube.

“This is in line with the principles of my struggle that I have always adhered to: That the Scripture must be above the Constitution, and that the Constitution should not deviate from the Scripture,” he said.

“The institutionalization of Sharia is inevitable for Islamic values are an inseparable part of our nation building,” he added.

Emrus Sihombing, a political analyst at Pelita Harapan University, described the center as a positive move.

“If the center is indeed engaged in scientific and strategic studies for the benefit of the ummah, it’s very good for public discourse because there will be debates on the merits of their ideas,” he said.

“It will be a lot more productive,” he said.  “He is a leader who commands the strong loyalty of people who subscribe to his views.”

Rizieq played a key role in last year’s conviction and imprisonment of Ahok on blasphemy charges.

Conservative Muslim groups held protests against Ahok in 2016 and 2017 in the run-up to a gubernatorial election in which he was a front-runner after an edited video made it appear that he had said the Quran deceived people.

Ahok lost the Jakarta gubernatorial election to former Education Minister Anies Baswedan, who courted support of FPI and other conservative Muslim groups despite his liberal credentials. Ahok later was sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy.

Ramadhan said the HRS Center would conduct studies, hold seminars, provide training as well as publish books to influence public discourse on Islam, including in the aspects of law, governance and public policy.

“We want to promote ideas of a system of governance based on Islamic values,” he said.

“There’s no contradiction between Pancasila (the state ideology) and Islamic teachings.”

Copyright ©2018, BenarNews. Used with the permission of BenarNews.

Indonesia to allow tariff-free import of Palestinian dates, olive oil

Indonesia and Palestine have signed an agreement that will allow for zero tariffs on some Palestinian goods imported into Indonesia from next month.

The agreement serves as the implementing guidelines that follows the Memorandum of Understanding signed by Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita and his Palestinian counterpart on the sidelines of the 11th World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, last December. The MoU allows zero import tariffs for certain goods between the two countries.

“It will be one-way trade from Palestine to Indonesia at the start, but we expect in the future it will be a two-way trade,” the Trade Ministry’s Director General for International Trade Negotiations Iman Pambagyo said.

The initial Palestinian products that will be exempted from import tariffs are fresh and dried dates and virgin olive oil. Pambagyo said that, during the first year of the agreement, dates imported from Palestine are estimated to increase by 11.62 percent, while olive oil is estimated to jump by 172 percent, as a lot of Indonesian cosmetic manufacturers use olive oil as an ingredient in their products.

“We will encourage our importers to benefit from this policy by sourcing their olive oil and dates from Palestine,” Pambagyo added.

Fachry Thaib, head of the Middle East Committee at the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce, said the business community welcomed the agreement and its upcoming implementation.

“We have always encouraged the government to expedite the MoU implementation. This policy would be beneficial for importers since it would make the products more competitive in the domestic market,” he said.

He added the policy will not hit other imported goods, given the big market opportunities for dates, which are widely consumed by Indonesians.

Lukita and Palestinian Ambassador to Indonesia Zuhair Al-Shun signed the agreement on Monday following the ratification of the MoU into a presidential regulation in April.

The finance minister will allow the MoU to fully take effect by issuing two ministerial regulations — on import tariff waivers for Palestinian products and on the technical direction for customs offices to execute the policy.

Pambagyo said these regulations will be circulated to all ports of entry so that customs officers can identify products from Palestine and exempt them from any import duties.

Lukita said this policy was part of Indonesia’s unwavering support for the Palestinian issue, which has always been the focus of its foreign policy.

Indonesia has been a staunch supporter of Palestinian independence and has pledged to focus on voicing support for Palestine during its tenure as a non-permanent member at the UN Security Council in 2019-2020.

Read the full story in Arab News

Plans for holy land tour in limbo as Israel imposes blanket ban on Indonesian visitors

Sally Piri’s plan to take her mother on a tour of the holy sites in the occupied West Bank this year may be put on hold after Israel’s recent move to ban Indonesian passport holders from entering the territory.

She had planned to go with her mother in November and has already paid for the tour, which includes visits to Bethlehem, Jericho, Nazareth and Caesarea, when she read the news that Israel had issued policy starting on June 10 that bans Indonesians to enter Israel.

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“I really hope the policy will change so tourists like us who want to go on pilgrimage tours can still go. My travel agent told me they are still waiting for results of negotiations between their local partners and the authorities in Israel to have the policy revoked,” Sally said.

“My mother said she has been everywhere and now she just wants to go to the holy land,” she added.

Syuhelmaidi Syukur, a senior vice president of Jakarta-based humanitarian group Aksi Cepat Tanggap, said the ban will not disrupt the group’s humanitarian assistance for people in Palestine.

“We have rarely sent our own humanitarian workers there for the past two years, so we distribute our aid with the help of our local partners and fellow humanitarian groups in Gaza and Jerusalem,” he said.

Last week’s blanket ban for Indonesian tourists was, according to media reports, a tit-for-tat response to Indonesia’s decision to suspend visas already issued to Israeli citizens, suggesting that the visa cancellation was Indonesia’s response to the violence in Gaza in which Israeli soldiers killed dozens of Palestinians and injured thousands during recent protests to mark the Nakba.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said last week that Israel had been trying to reverse Indonesia’s decision but to no avail, which resulted in Israel reciprocating the move.

Indonesian Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly confirmed on Friday that there were 53 Israeli nationals who had been denied visas to enter Indonesia.

“It was a clearing (house) decision that we have to carry out. We can’t disclose the reason because it’s a sensitive matter. It is our sovereign right to accept or reject visa (applications) from other countries,” Laoly told journalists at the Foreign Ministry.

Indonesia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel but an Israeli passport holder can still get an Indonesian visa through the “calling visa” mechanism which is available for citizens of nations with which Indonesia has no diplomatic relations.

The calling visa application is reviewed and granted by a clearing house which involves a number of government agencies with the Foreign Ministry at the lead, and the conditions applied to a calling visa holder are very restrictive.

Both Laoly and Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi denied there had been initial talks about diplomatic relations between Indonesia and Israel or the possibility of Indonesia granting free visas to Israeli nationals.

“Indonesia continues to be with Palestine in their struggle for independence and their rights. Our foreign policy to take sides with Palestine is very clear,” Marsudi said.

The story first appeared in Arab News

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