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Indonesia News Digest 9 – March 1-8, 2009

News & issues

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News & issues

Legislators absent with no valid reason

Jakarta Post - March 5, 2009

Jakarta – While some lawmakers have offered valid excuses for their absences from the last plenary session of the House of Representatives, most could not offer anything beyond laziness.

The whereabouts of some legislators are already known. Abdul Hadi Djamal from the National Mandate Party (PAN) skipped the session because he was busy taking a bribe in Jakarta and dealing with arrest by the Corruption Eradication Commission.

"We have to admit that many legislators skipped the meeting out of nothing more than laziness," legislator Ganjar Pranowo from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) said.

He said many lawmakers, like Abdul, were under pressure to gather funds for their election campaigns.

Ganjar said the campaigns would require a lot of funding, most likely from sources other their official income, despite the fact legislators earn Rp 90 million per month.

At the last sitting session before recess on Tuesday, less than 100 of the 550 House members attended the meeting.

Others legislators were quick to blame a recent regulation by the Constitutional Court, which rules that seats go to the candidates with the most votes, for the absences, claiming it was pushing legislators into overdrive with their public campaigning efforts.

"You see, the court's decision has really forced those legislators nominated for re-election to skip meetings and focus on campaigning in their own electoral district," Mahfudz Siddiq from the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) said.

House disciplinary council deputy chairman Gayus Lumbuun said many legislators skipped the meeting despite a number of bills needing deliberation.

"Yes, you can say many of us are paid without completing our duties. But what can I say. They skipped the meeting after submitting a letter from their factions. Under the current internal regulations, as long as they receive permission from their factions, the disciplinary council cannot do anything.


Aceh Party angered by army interference in elections

Jakarta Globe - March 5, 2009

Nurdin Hasan & Markus Junianto Sihaloho – Indonesian soldiers who pulled down the flags and banners of political parties in Aceh earlier this week had no authority to do so and might have committed legal violations, a local election supervisory committee, or Panwaslu, said on Wednesday.

Syamsul Bahri, the chairman of North Aceh's Election Supervisory Committee, said his office would initiate an investigation after receiving complaints that banners of the Aceh Party – one of the six local parties vying in the elections in Aceh – were being torn down in the Simpang Keuramat subdistrict of North Aceh district.

"If the result of our probe suggests it was a criminal conduct, then we will hand the case over to the police," Bahri said, adding that the election law did not give the military the right to take down any political party banners.

Soldiers from the Simpang Keuramat Military subdistrict on Monday night allegedly took down hundreds of banners belonging to the Aceh Party, a local political party founded by former guerillas of the now disbanded Free Aceh Movement, or GAM.

Aceh Party's North Aceh chapter spokesperson, Dedi Safrizal, said a party leader, Muhammad Dahlan Ishak, tried to stop the soldiers's actions to no avail but recorded the incident on his cellphone camera.

"The video recording will be used as the evidence in our report to the General Election Supervisory Committee," he said.

"We have told all Aceh Party members to keep calm. We will obey the law and will still abide by the Helsinki MoU," Dedi said, referring to the peace pact signed by the government and the GAM leadership in August 2005 that ended almost three decades of violent separatist conflict in Aceh.

The Military chief's assistant for operations, former Aceh military commander, Maj. Gen. Supiadin, defended the soldier's actions.

He said all party leaders in Simpang Keuramat subdistrict had signed an agreement in a meeting that if the banners of any one party were removed by someone without permission from that party, then all parties' banners would be taken down. Supiadin said the meeting was attended by the Simpang Keuramat subdistrict chief, the local police and military commanders, and the representatives of the participating parties, except the Aceh Party.

He said a report was later received saying that 20 Democratic Party and 10 Golkar flags had disappeared, and accordingly the military to took down all party flags in the area.

"Everyone [in Simpang Keuramat] had agreed that if a party's banner disappeared, then other parties' banners, no matter who the perpetrator, must be taken down too," Supiadin said in Jakarta.

However, Syamsul said his committee had never been invited to the alleged meeting. "Such agreement [to take down parties' banners] is not regulated under the General Election Law and cannot overrule a higher law," he told the Jakarta Globe.

Dedi and the Simpang Keuramat subdistrict chief, Ilyas, both denied any agreement had taken place. Ilyas said a meeting of party leaders had taken place but it was only briefing on the election law, how people should use their voting rights and the importance of maintaining peace.

"There was no agreement about flags," Ilyas said. "Only Panwaslu has the authority take down flags and banners if they consider it a violation."

Meanwhile, Aceh Military commander Maj. Gen. Soenarko was quoted by the state-run Antara news agency as saying in Banda Aceh that his soldiers might have violated the law.

"Whatever the reason, taking down political party flags is wrong and beyond the authority of the TNI [the Indonesian Armed Forces]," Soenarko said.

West Papua

Indonesia shows mercy to 'Merauke Five'

Australian Associated Press - March 2, 2009

Five Australians jailed in Indonesia over an ill-fated sightseeing adventure in West Papua have been released from prison while their lawyers prepare an appeal.

Queensland pilot William Henry Scott-Bloxam, 62, was jailed for three years for flying a small plane into the region without permission. Mr Henry's four passengers – his 54-year-old wife Vera; Hubert Hufer, 57; Karen Burke, 51, and Keith Ronald Mortimer, 60 – were jailed for two years.

The Australians were being held in Merauke Prison, but have been released after their lawyers requested mercy from the courts. The group is now in "city detention", meaning they are free to move about Merauke but cannot leave, according to their lawyer, Efrem Fangohoy.

"The defendants are old and they're frequently sick," Fangohoy told AAP. "And William and Vera, they just lost their son, which was a big shock for them."

Fangohoy said his team was still finalising their appeal and hoped to submit it soon.

The group, from Cape York on the northern tip of Australia, made the one-hour flight to West Papua from Horn Island on September 12. They described it as a sightseeing flight and mistakenly believed they could get visas on arrival in Papua.

There are strict restrictions placed on visiting Papua, which has been troubled by a low-level separatist insurgency since the 1960s.

Journalists are barred from entering Papua without special permission, and human rights groups have accused the Indonesian military of widespread human rights abuses there.

Human rights/law

Indonesian porn law turns off folk dancers

Agence France Presse - March 8, 2009

Arlina Arshad, Bandung – Gyrating her hips to traditional gamelan music on a makeshift village stage, Indonesian folk dancer Sri Wulandari ignores the leers and wolf whistles of the drunk men below as she plucks grimy rupiah notes from their outstretched hands.

Her nightly routines rage into the wee hours in villages across West Java province but the 30-year-old dancer said the excited punters respected the golden rule of "look but don't touch."

"The men say naughty things and ask me to marry them but I'm a professional dancer, not a prostitute. Dancing jaipong is not a dirty job," she said.

The jaipong dance is one of several Indonesian art forms in the sights of social and religious conservatives after parliament passed a controversial anti-porn law in December.

West Java Governor Ahmad Heryawan raised hackles when he warned dancers – who perform mainly at official ceremonies and cultural festivals – to tone down their provocative moves and hide their underarms to comply with the law.

But while artists, audiences and civil society groups are appalled at such comments, Islamic parties trying to boost their popularity ratings ahead of April general elections have championed the anti-porn campaign.

"The dance shouldn't be too erotic," said Tifatul Sembiring, a senior leader of the Islam-based Prosperous Justice Party.

"It's true that in the 80s the jaipong dancers danced on tables in seedy places. Even now you can see them wearing tight clothes dancing at roadside bars," he told AFP.

"The worry is that once the anti-porn bill is fully implemented, the dance may be banned because it's too erotic."

Outraged and insulted, professional dance groups have called on Indonesians to teach the self-appointed guardians of morality a lesson at the ballot box come April.

"What are they talking about? The dancers are all covered up in long-sleeved traditional kebayas, not sexy tubes," said Mas Nanu Muda of the Jaipong Care Community, representing 20 dance groups.

"The dance is fast and energetic... If dancers limit their moves and do everything in slow-motion, wouldn't they appear lewd instead?" he asked, swivelling his hips in a slow, exaggerated manner to illustrate his point.

The West Java dancers are not alone in their battle against the anti-porn law.

From animist Papuan highlanders wanting to protect their right to wear "koteka" gourds on their penises, to Hindu Balinese opera dancers worried about their shoulder-showing outfits, and Christian Minahasa people from North Sulawesi fearing an intrusion of Islamic values – many people across Indonesia's cultural and religious melting pot want the law scrapped.

Even the sultan of Yogyakarta has declared his opposition. "The leader of our nation must be able to build tolerance between the citizens so they live side by side in peace. For me, this cannot be negotiated," Sultan Hamengkubuwono X, a candidate for presidential elections in July, told foreign journalists.

The anti-porn law was "the most terrible thing in the process of building our nation," he said.

The law criminalises all works and "bodily movements" including music and poetry that could be deemed obscene and capable of violating public morality, and offers heavy penalties.

The Constitutional Court threw out a petition against the law by the Minahasa people in February, but the ruling was based on a technicality and the Christian plaintiffs are expected to try again.

Wulandari said politicians should keep their noses out of art and repeal the law immediately.

"Just kill it. The jaipong dance reflects our culture and there's nothing pornographic about it," she told AFP in the home of her choreographer in Bandung, south of Jakarta. "I'm angry at officials who misuse the law to attack us and our art."

Created by Sundanese artist Gugum Gumbira in the 1960s, Jaipong is a mix of older forms of community folk dances and the Indonesian martial art of pencak silat.

To untrained eyes, it combines the graceful arm and hand movements of Thai classical dance with hip gyrations reminiscent of Turkish belly dancing. It is not meant to be sexy, and the dancer's full-length kebayas reveal little.

"It's a popular dance performed at prestigious events in hotels and malls. Even children are taking lessons," said Bandung tourism and culture chief Askary, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.

"Without shaking and gyrating, you can't call it jaipong. I don't consider it erotic, titillating or lustful. That's all in the mind. If people want to think of something as erotic, it will be erotic," he added.

Yusoff Hamdani, a teacher of Islamic studies, said jaipong was "a good form of exercise" for young girls – including his five-year-old daughter.

"It's not just about understanding and preserving culture. My daughter used to be sick all the time but has become fitter after taking jaipong lessons," he said outside a school in Bandung. "I don't know why anyone would view the dance so negatively."

House leaves many crucial bills unfinished

Jakarta Post - March 4, 2009

Jakarta – The House of Representatives has once again upheld its poor record for legislation performance, ending its 45-day sitting period on Tuesday with just three bills having been passed into law.

The three laws deal with the trafficking of women and children, taxes and the ratification of the UN convention against transnational organized crime.

The high number of lawmakers absent from almost all deliberation sessions was to blame for this outcome, with higher salaries failing to produce better results overall.

Every legislator receives between Rp 90 million and Rp 100 million in monthly pay after tax, which includes salary and allowance.

"The salaries and allowances of House members should be cut off if they continue to perform poorly, like what we have seen today," constitutional law expert Irman Putra Sidin told The Jakarta Post. "They still receive pay from the state without properly carrying out their jobs," he added.

Tuesday's plenary session was attended by less than 100 of the 550 House members.

However, the meeting was declared as having met a quorum, or the minimum number of lawmakers required to conduct discussion, because more than 300 legislators filled in their attendance sheets before the session had commenced. Most then left as the meeting got underway.

House Speaker Agung Laksono reprimanded legislators attending the last plenary session before the April 9 legislative elections for leaving such a large amount of unfinished business on the House agenda. The session saw discussions take place on the 35 priority bills still waiting deliberation.

"We only finished deliberating three drafts during this sitting period," Agung told the meeting.

He said the House had many priority bills waiting to be deliberated and passed including the military court bill, the health services bill, the population bill, the narcotics bill, the immigration bill and the public services bill.

He also said that some of those bills, despite being discussed in the previous sitting period, were still incomplete drafts requiring further debate.

Agung said those bills would be deliberated in the next House sitting session after their recess for the legislative election.

A bill of particular importance is the corruption court draft law, which must be passed before the current corruption court ends control in December 2009.

The corruption court is the only court of its kind where prosecutors from the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) bring the accused to trial.

Based on a 2007 Constitutional Court decision, a new law on corruption courts must be enacted by the end of December 2009 or the existing court will be dissolved.

Agung expressed concern over this situation, considering the bill was crucial to curbing corruption in the country.

He said the Constitutional Court only allowed the House a short time to deliberate the bill and legislators were still trying to consider input from various organizations and individuals.

"The legislators have held meetings and discussed the corruption court bill with government representatives, such as the justice minister and the state minister for administrative reforms," he said.

"Many people want the bill endorsed before December, and we promise that this will be done by Dec. 19," he said

"If we fail to pass this bill on time, corruption cases may have to be processed in the state courts again, which would understandably disappoint the public." (naf)

New bill on marriage gets mixed reactions

Jakarta Post - March 3, 2009

Irawaty Wardany, Jakarta – The government's plan to ban unregistered and contractual marriages and tighten procedures for polygamous ones sparked controversy Monday among the public.

Some said the government should not interfere in the private lives of its citizens, while others said the plan should be supplemented with a revision of the 1974 marriage law.

"Marriage is an individual right. Marriage is not only between two single people, but can also be between people who have problems [with their marriage]," restaurant owner Puspo Wardoyo, a polygamist with four wives and 11 children, told The Jakarta Post.

Besides, he went on, Islamic law allowed for unregistered marriages, locally known as nikah siri, and this matter should be accommodated in the law.

The marriage law stipulates that all marriages are legal if conducted according to the requirements of one's religion or beliefs.

"I believe nikah siri is the best way to avoid adultery, and that it's a [legal] way before a couple marries under the state law," Puspo said.

He added his first wife had approved of his marrying other women. "Besides, I'm capable financially and spiritually to engage in polygamy, so why not share it with other women?"

Controversial dangdut singer Dewi Persik, under the spotlight after publicly revealing her unregistered marriage to her boyfriend and film actor Aldiansyah Taher, said she decided to take the move for the happiness of her lover.

"Many people consider unregistered marriages unfavorable for women, but I'd rather do it for the sake of another person's happiness," she said as quoted by tempointeraktif.com.

Drafted by the Religious Affairs Ministry, the religious court on marriage bill is aimed at curbing such practices and protecting women.

It threatens couples, who tie the knot without either the proper documents or the presence of an authorized religious official, with up to three months in jail and up to Rp 5 million in fines.

State officials who help administer illegal marriages would also face a maximum jail sentence of one year and/or fines of up to Rp 6 million. The bill, submitted to the State Secretariat for the President's approval, also tightens the prerequisites polygamous marriages.

Muhammadiyah chairman Din Syamsuddin called for caution in passing such a bill into law, to avoid violating religious principles.

"What needs to be regulated is the social dimension [of unregistered marriages]," he said as quoted by Antara news agency. "Don't try to meddle in religious realms."

Nahdlatul Ulama deputy chairman Masdar Farid Mas'udi refrained from commenting on the bill. "It's better to listen to the comments from conservatives, liberals and moderates on this issue first," he said. "I will only comment after that."

Women's rights activist Lis Markus said she supported the government's effort to protect women's rights through the bill.

"Unregistered marriages are really detrimental to women, especially if they have children, because then they can't get birth certificates because legally there is no father," she argued.

She added the move should also be followed up by amending the 1974 marriage law, which she deemed "unfavorable" to women.

Unregistered marriages are widespread in the predominantly Muslim nation because they are recognized under the religion. A recent survey also found polygamy was a significant factor behind the country's rising divorce rate.

New bill bans unregistered, contractual marriages

Jakarta Post - March 2, 2009

Jakarta – A government-sponsored bill on marriage could see unregistered and contractual marriages banned, while polygamous marriages could end in jail sentences and fines if conducted in violation of procedures.

The religious court on marriage bill threatens to jail couples – for up to three months, with fines of up to Rp 5 million (US$415) – for tying the knot without either the proper documents or the presence of an authorized religious official.

State officials who help administer illegal marriages would also face a maximum jail sentence of one year and/or fines of up to Rp 6 million. Nasaruddin Umar, director general of Islamic guidance at the Religious Affairs Ministry, told The Jakarta Post on Sunday the bill was aimed at curbing unregistered marriages and protecting women.

"Unregistered and contractual marriages are detrimental to women. Many women have been made to suffer, because in the absence of regulations concerning those matters, their husbands can easily marry other women," he said.

Unregistered marriages, known locally as nikah siri, are widely practiced in Indonesia. The House of Representatives' Disciplinary Council recently questioned a United Development Party legislator after reports surfaced that he had married a woman without registering it with the state.

Contractual marriages are rampant among young women living in the hilly resort area of Puncak in the West Java town of Bogor, who opt to marry Middle Eastern tourists for a certain period of time.

The bill also tightens the prerequisites for polygamous marriages, including adequate financial capability on the part of a man seeking to take a second wife. A letter of consent would also be required from the first wife. "We're trying to cut back on instances of men committing polygamy," Nasaruddin said.

A recent survey found polygamy was a significant factor behind the country's rising divorce rate.

Nasaruddin said the bill, drafted by the Religious Affairs Ministry, had been submitted to the State Secretariat for the President's perusal. He added it would complement the 1971 marriage law, which has long come under criticism from women's activists.

Muslim intellectual Siti Musdah Mulia said the new bill, despite its progressive contents, would be unable to protect women and children.

She added the bill was not enough to fulfill the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which the country adopted several years ago. "The government is still hesitant about curbing discrimination against women," she claimed.

She added the penalties facing offenders were too weak to deter men from proposing unregistered, contractual or polygamous marriages.

"The bill needs to be revised due to the loopholes," she said. "The government has to be more careful with many illegal Muslim leaders who administer unregistered marriages, especially in remote areas."

She suggested the Religious Affairs Ministry revise the bill before it was submitted to the House for deliberation. (naf)

Labour/migrant workers

Mass layoffs mean another 18,000 jobless

Jakarta Post - March 6, 2009

Yuli Tri Suwarni, Bandung – The wave of layoffs caused by the negative impacts of the global economic crisis has increased by another 18,000 people in West Java in the first two months of this year.

West Java Manpower and Transmigration Office head Mustopa Djamaludin said most companies which had to resort to mass layoffs were export-oriented, especially to the United States and European countries, and that most of the layoffs took place around Bogor, affecting around 5,000 workers.

"Around 1,000 workers have been temporarily dismissed due to the current sluggish market," Mustopa said in Bandung on Thursday.

Mustopa said his office was working together with a number of related parties, such as the state-owned PT Jamsostek social protection scheme which had provided Rp 10 billion (US$900,000) from its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds to provide skills training and entrepreneurship programs to at least 10,000 recently unemployed people in West Java.

He added that one of the quick responses to job loss was to provide short three-hour training programs for currently needed working skills and business activities. "There are a lot of skills they (the jobless) could acquire for free, such as to become auto and cell phone repairmen and beauticians," he said.

According to Mustopa, the unemployment rate in the industrial sector is forecast to rise due to the negative impact of the global economic and financial crisis leading to declining global purchasing power.

The West Java chapter of the Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo) chairman Deddy Wijaya said at least 20 companies in the textile, garment, footwear and electronics industries in West Java are affected by the crisis. He added most of the employees subject to layoffs were contract workers, not permanent full-time workers

"There should be an practical solutions to the problems so everyone could survive the crisis, with only a few companies forced to close due to declining orders," said Deddy.

To survive, according to him, the companies must carry out various strategies including reducing working hours and cutting the salaries of managerial staff.

"We are still waiting for the government to help cut production costs, failing which the industries could face their doom," said Deddy.

Gresik workers strike against disregard for minimum wage

Jakarta Post - March 6, 2009

ID Nugroho, Surabaya – Gresik has followed other regencies protesting against the blatant disregard of a recent rise in minimum wages by employers, which it has called on to respect workers' rights.

Up to 1,000 workers thronged the Surabaya District Court on Thursday to register their protest of the employers' violation of a 2008 gubernatorial decree, which raised the regional minimum wage to Rp 971,624 (US$80) per month as of Jan. 1, 2009.

They demanded employers comply with the decree until the verdict of a lawsuit challenging the decree is announced.

Workers from industrial areas in Rungkut, Sidoarjo, Kediri and Pasuruan previously went on strike against the disrespect of their rights by their employers, who suspended the implementation of the wage increase, citing the court's pending decision.

The decree, issued by former acting governor Setia Purwaka in October, approved a 17 percent raise in minimum wages and sparked strong protests from most employers within the provincial chapter of the Indonesian Employers' Association (Apindo), who filed a law suit against with the district court.

Meanwhile, dozens of middle-sized companies have conducted mass after the government turned down their request to be exempted from the new minimum wage decree.

Unionists who coordinated the labor rally criticized both employers and the government, who they said had no political will to enforce the law. They said the government should force employers to comply with the decree until the court makes its decision and that employers should pay their workers according to the decree.

They said the lawsuit was only one of tricks used by employers to buy time and reduce labor costs. "Besides, many employers have replaced their permanent workers with contractual ones, locked their factories and unilaterally closed their operation without any severance or service payments," a unionist in a free speech forum at the court building said.

Accommodating employers' wishes, the central government issued a joint ministerial decree – signed by the manpower and transmigration minister, the home minister and the industry minister – asking the provincial governments to raise the minimum wage by seven percent, equal to the 2008 inflation rate.

The governor however, did not heed the call as it was met by strong protests from workers and labor unions. The protesters threatened to stage bigger labor demonstrations and rallies if the district court annulled the gubernatorial decree, saying both the government and law enforcers did not understand the poor condition of millions of underpaid workers in the country.

They said the ideal minimum wage in Gresik was at least Rp 1.5 million, which would allow a single worker to meet his/her daily basic needs but in reality, most married workers were still paid below the previous minimum wage.

The demonstrators also demanded PT Indo Mapan to comply with the recent verdict of the Gresik District Court, which ordered them to pay severance and service payments to workers dismissed in January as a result of the global financial crisis.

Large firms allowed to pay workers sub-minimum wage

Jakarta Post - March 5, 2009

Multa Fidrus, Tangerang – The global financial crisis has forced several large manufacturers in Banten to file a request with the provincial administration to pay workers less than the minimum wage.

"So far, (Banten) Governor Ratu Atut Chosiyah has only approved six large firms employing some 10,000 workers to pay their workers less than the recommended minimum monthly wage," Eutik Suharta, head of the Banten Manpower Agency, said Tuesday.

The firms include PT Sugih Brothers and PT Panca Citra Wira in Serang, PT Masia Baru, PT Homeware Internasional and PT Argo Pantes in Tangerang.

Suharta added the governor's decision was issued after the agency conducted studies into the companies' financial conditions and production costs.

He said the administration would approve the firms' request to suspend the implementation of the recommended minimum as long as they completed six prerequisites.

The prerequisites include original agreement contracts between workers and management, financial reports, corporate establishment certificates, payroll data, the number of workers being proposed for less than minimum wage, and records of production plans and progress over the past two years.

He said the six firms would be allowed to pay the workers based on last year's minimum monthly wage of Rp 1,010,850 – less than the minimum this year of Rp 1,055,640.

Maya Agung Dewandaru, deputy advocacy head of the National Labor Union's (SPN) Serang branch, said not implementing the recommended minimum monthly wage this year would be acceptable as long as it was done in phases.

In Tangerang, four firms reportedly also stated their inability to pay workers according to the minimum monthly wage this year.

Hasdanil, head of the Tangerang regency Manpower Agency, said he had not received reports on whether the firms had filed a similar request with the governor.

Data from the Tangerang regency Statistics Bureau shows the unemployment rate in the regency has risen steadily in the past two years.

"The unemployment rate in Tangerang increased (by 18 percent) from 494,789 last year to 785,987 this year. The figure will likely continue to increase by an estimated 40 percent by June," said bureau head Kris Marta.

He added the unemployment rate in the regency began to increase sharply from 2006, from a low of only 79,192.

ILO, teachers to fight child labor in Indonesia

Jakarta Post - March 5, 2009

Jakarta – The International Labor Organization (ILO) launched a new project involving the National Teacher's Union (PGRI) and other workers' unions to fight child labor in Indonesia, inaugurated Wednesday by ILO country director Alan Boulton.

"Through this new project, the labor unions, together with the teachers' union, can play a greater role by forming meaningful allies and building concrete actions to combat child labor and to ensure that children stay in school," Boulton told the gathering in Jakarta.

He added the project would focus on minimizing the worst forms of child labor. "These worst are, for example, prostitution, jobs involving drug dealing, and jobs that can harm the child's physical condition," he said.

The program was sponsored by RENGO, the confederation of Japanese workers' unions, which allocated US$130,000 from its budget. The confederation is the largest in Japan, featuring 6.8 million members.

Indonesia ratified ILO Convention No. 38 on the minimum working age, and Convention No. 182 concerning the prohibition and immediate action for the elimination of the worst forms of child labor. However, the use of underage workers is still widespread in the country.

A national labor survey shows the population of working children aged 10 to 17 in 2007 was 2,749,353 out of Indonesia's population of roughly around 237 million.

That figure was an increase from the previous year, which was a little more than 2.5 million. However, it is a decrease from the number in 2005, which was more than 3 million.

East Java, with 423,391 working children, topped the list in 2005, with Central Java following at a little more than 365,000. West Java was third with 264,695.

"Girls are most likely to work as domestic servants and prostitutes, while boys usually work in plantations and fishing- related jobs," said Arum Ratnawati, the ILO's national chief technical adviser for the International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor.

She added the program would be carried out between 2009 and 2011 in the three areas with the biggest number of child laborers.

Unifah Rosyidi, PGRI's representative for international affairs, said at the same occasion that the union would train teachers to play a persuasive role for stakeholders, such as children and parents, to keep children in school.

"The teachers will adopt interesting and creative methods to keep children attending school, and we will also persuade local authorities to disburse funds to make school more affordable," she said.

Arum added teachers had advocacy power with the government, pointing out, "For instance, they have the right to demand better education systems."

She also said the program would see two methods of fighting underage work: prevention, and pulling children out of the working world. "We might, for instance, pull 6,000 children out of the working world from 2008 to 2011, and prevent 16,000 more from entering that world."

Unifah said a compulsory education period of 12 years would also help prevent children entering the working world too soon. Currently, Indonesia's compulsory education period is nine years.

Activists have urged the government to do more to put street children back in schools, and to enforce the child protection and child labor laws. They say the government risks violating the laws if it fails to eradicate child labor.

Legislators have also raised similar concerns, threatening to bring the issue before their plenary, or even use their right to inquiry if the situation endures. (dis)

Activists say the current government has failed migrant workers

Jakarta Globe - March 4, 2009

Camelia Pasandaran – An advocate for the rights of migrant workers said on Tuesday that the lives of Indonesians working overseas had not significantly improved since the last elections.

Anis Hidayah, chairwoman of Migrant Care, said the government that emerged from the 2004 elections should have done more to improve the lives of migrant workers. "The current government has not produced adequate legislation to protect migrant workers living overseas, who face problems such as violence and sexual abuse," she said.

About 6.5 million Indonesians currently work overseas and 73 percent of them have had to deal with "violence, rights and sexual abuse problems," Anis said.

Eva Kusuma Sundari, a legislator from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P, said the government needed to do more. "We need an organization that oversees efforts to protect the rights of migrant workers," she said.

Part of the problem is that Indonesia has failed to respect the rights of workers at home, she said. "Foreign officials often ask me why Indonesia doesn't have any laws to protect domestic workers," Eva said.

"It is not the responsibility of nongovernmental organizations to protect migrant workers. These matters should be dealt with between national governments."

Aryo Judhoko, a legislative candidate for the Prosperous Justice Party, or PKS, said the party offered a number of services to migrant workers. "We proposed a law on migrant workers and have urged the government to reform the insurance system for migrant workers," Aryo said.

But Nova Riyanti Yusuf, a legislative candidate for the Democratic Party, said the government had protected migrants. "It has done a lot on migrant health issues," she said. "Unhealthy workers can't work abroad. Contrary to some claims, the government is not exploiting workers."

More factory workers out of work in Banten

Jakarta Post - March 2, 2009

Multa Fidrus, Tangerang – More than a thousand factory workers in Banten face an uncertain future after two manufacturing firms where they have been working for years made moves to sever contracts this weekend.

PT Rahma Shinta, a doll producer on Jl. Raya Serang kilometer 71, in the Cikande district of Serang regency has halted all production activities and closed the factory doors due to financial difficulties the company has not been able to surmount in the past months.

The company management has asked 700 workers to stay home for the time being and wait for better conditions.

Saturday might be the last day these employees will enter the shop, to wait in line their turn to receive the rest of their unpaid wages for December.

"We are taking the rest of our December salary. We were only paid 20 percent in December so today we are waiting for the remaining 80 percent," worker Agus Kusandi told The Jakarta Post.

He said in the last months of 2008, company management began frequently postponing salary disbursements. "For January pay, the management has promised to pay workers' salaries on March 13 and it is still unclear when February salaries will be paid," he said, adding he and fellow workers still had no idea what to do to make a living.

The absence of purchase orders is the main reason management decided to halt production and ask employees to stay home.

Bambang E.T., Rahma Shinta's human resources manager, said contracts with 700 of their workers had been severed.

"We can no longer extend their contracts because we just don't have any orders. For the time being, we'll probably have to shut down the factory and wait for the situation to improve," he said.

He said if the situation does turn around, their workers will be called back to work, adding the management would do their best concerning the dismissal settlement.

Another Serang employer, PT Parkland World Indonesia, shoe producer for Nike and Adidas, has reportedly sent some 500 workers home for similar reasons. No one in the management group could be reach for confirmation Saturday.

Maya Agung Dewandir, a worker at Serang's branch of Indonesian Labor Union (SPN) said she had yet to receive workers reports affirming their dismissal as of Saturday. "Even so, we will be ready to bridge the workers' unfulfilled rights with the company management," she said.

Separately, 400 workers at PT Febrido Intiprima, a textile manufacturing company in Cikupa Tangerang, staged a rally at the factory compound to demand that management increase pay rates in line with the regency's minimum wage.

"The regency's recommended minimum monthly wage is Rp 1,055,000 (US$87) but the company only pays its workers Rp 1,010,850 a month," Achmad Supriyadi, Tangerang's SPN chair said.

Environment/natural disasters

Death match between people, animals in Sumatra's declining forests

Jakarta Globe - March 3, 2009

Anita Rachman – In the heart of Sumatra, amid the forests, farmlands and rural villages, a disturbing turf war is raging between humans and animals for dwindling space and natural resources.

The dispute has exposed the ugly side of human nature – illegal logging, land clearance, poaching and corruption – but has also brought out the basic instincts of some of Sumatra's most critically endangered species.

On Monday morning, the battled erupted again, and once again ended in death, when a Sumatran tiger killed two men in a forest in Jambi Province's Muarojambi district.

Didy Wurdjanto, head of the Jambi Natural Resource Conservation Body, said he suspected the victims were outsiders who were illegally logging in the forest near Sungai Gelam village.

The fatality scorecard since January now stands at: tigers 4, humans 8. In addition, two women were trampled to death in late January by a pair of elephants in Aceh Province, which itself has seen increasing conflicts between people and pachyderms.

The tiger who killed Musmuliadi, 31, and Musliadi, 30, on Monday morning was not protecting the forests from the two men. It was protecting itself, which is an increasingly difficult job in Sumatra these days. Local and international conservation groups say there's less than 500 wild tigers left in Indonesia, mostly in south and central Sumatra, with a lone one believed to be in western Sumatra.

Local residents have nonetheless trapped and killed four "man- eating" tigers this year, despite warnings by the central government, while eight people have died and two others survived their encounters with a tiger. Among the victims was a 17-year- old boy from Lampung Province, whose body was dragged off on Feb. 22 and found the next day.

Direct conflicts between people and animals is occurring because human development is encroaching on the habitat of wild animals, affecting their food sources, hunting grounds and breeding areas, said Desmarita Murni, communication manager of the Indonesian branch of World Wide Fund for Nature.

She said forest cover in Sumatra was 25 million hectares in 1985, but by 2007 it had fallen to 13 million hectares due to illegal logging and land clearance, and the expansion of the palm oil industry and other agribusiness.

[Additional reporting by Antara.]

Women & gender

Female legislative candidates urged to unite

Jakarta Post - March 7, 2009

Ni Komang Erviani, Denpasar – The recent Constitutional Court ruling has brought together in a solidarity campaign female candidates concerned about missing out on seats.

The court decided to award legislative seats to candidates who win the most votes.

In a public dialogue titled "Vote for the Females", held by the women's rights NGO Forum Perempuan Mitra Kasih Bali, female legislative candidates agreed to work together to garner votes.

"Everyone will move together to convince voters to vote for female legislative candidates," women's activist Sruti Luh Riniti said Friday.

The dialogue was held at the Bali Provincial Legislative Council building.

The Constitutional Court ruling has been widely dubbed a blow to aspiring female politicians.

The court's eight-judge panel scrapped Article 214 of the legislative elections law that allowed leaders of political parties to handpick close supporters, rather than candidates winning the most votes, to represent the parties at national and local legislatures, thus giving female politicians a better chance at getting seats.

The law initially required parties to allocate at least 30 percent of the seats they won to female candidates, as part of an affirmative action move to have more women's representation in legislative bodies.

The latest ruling is seen by many as practically erasing any chance of women winning seats, because most female candidates are not as well-known as their male counterparts.

Riniti said female candidates must build up a solidarity to rescue any chances at women winning seats, which she said were "thinning out, or even closing up" due to the ruling.

"If we use boxing terms, (the elections) are like a fight between a heavyweight and a featherweight, because the women will lose no matter which side you look at it from," she said.

"Female candidates are still weak in terms of our networking, funding and time needed to raise our public profiles."

She said she hoped the meeting could galvanize support to at least improve on the outcome of the 2004 elections, when women won only 4.6 percent of seats in the Bali provincial legislature, and less than 1 percent in regency and municipal councils.

"There's not even a single woman in the Gianyar and Klungkung regency councils," she pointed out.

Riniti added she had targeted at least 10 percent female representation in legislative councils before the ruling, but had dropped her expectations to zero since the ruling was announced.

Women's activists at the meeting also supported the solidarity campaign, and pledged to help by hosting forums to educate the public on the female candidates' programs with the slogan "Girls for Girls".

"The potential for female voters to choose female candidates is huge. More than 50 percent of voters are females," Riniti said. "The candidates just need the right strategy and the right issues to convince voters."

Legislative candidate Ni Nyoman Sri Widani, from the Democratic Party, also criticized the ruling, saying female candidates did not have as much free time as male candidates.

"Female candidates are mostly busy with traditional and religious tasks, while the men have more time to campaign, especially during religious holidays," she said.

Women urged to fight for the environment

Jakarta Post - March 7, 2009

Agnes Winarti, Jakarta – Women vying for legislative seats in the general elections next month are being encouraged to get more active in promoting environmental issues.

"We aim to empower female legislative candidates and increase their public profiles by boosting their participation in environment conservation issues," the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) representative for Asia and the Pacific, Erna Witoelar said at a ceremony commemorating International Women's Day, which will take place on March 8.

"Environment awareness is a crucial issue related with the MDGs whose objectives, among others, is to create better health and education, reduce poverty and improve clean water," Erna said.

Some female legislative candidates and officials took part in an event Friday planting almost 750 trees, including mahogany, guava, star-fruit, and mango, at a 5,550-square-meter area in Rawasari, Central Jakarta.

"This tree-planting effort will be a waste if we do not continue to preserve them afterwards," Erna said.

The participants also constructed 500 biopores in an area formerly occupied by ceramics shops. Central Jakarta Mayor Sylviana Murni said these biopores are expected to help absorb water and therefore ease flooding in the neighborhood.

"This open, green space will be the largest of its kind in the municipality," said Sylviana.

Syamsidar Siregar from the National Mandate Party (PAN) said the preservation of the environment should involve everybody in society

"We need to raise awareness and participation among the people," said Syamsidar, who is also a Jakarta councillor running for her second term in the April elections.

Syamsidar said the need to convert 30 percent of the city into green and open spaces was urgent, with currently less than 10 percent of the city scape offering green space.

She promised to improve policy and budget allocations for environmental conservation activities if reelected.

Meanwhile, a candidate from the Democratic Party, Melani Leimena Suharli, highlighted the importance of educating children about healthy and clean environments. "As a woman and mother, I think education about healthy, clean environment should start at a young age," she said.

Some other legislative candidates said the environment and health were inseparable issues. "I believe when the environment is maintained, its occupants also live healthy lives. A healthy life leads to a healthy mind and overall, and much healthier society," said Endang Rudiatin, a candidate from the Crescent Star Party.

Golkar's Watty Amir, who will run in the upcoming elections, vowed that she would monitor the implementation of the law on waste approved by the House last year. Watty is a member of the House of Representatives commission overseeing energy.

According to the 2008 law on political parties, women should comprise at least 30 percent of the House. So far they only account for 11 percent.

Women urge pressure for more seats

Jakarta Post - March 2, 2009

Adianto P. Simamora, Jakarta – Women's activists and legislators have vowed not to stop fighting for more seats in legislative bodies, after failing to win a legal basis to support their move.

They plan to stage a massive series of rallies later this week to pressure the government to ensure more legislative seats for women during the April 9 legislative elections.

The rallies will be held across the country on March 8 to coincide with International Women's Day, and to respond to the government's refusal to issue a regulation-in-lieu-of-law (perpu) on affirmative action for female politicians.

"The government's failure to issue such a perpu is bad news for our democracy. It shows the government is paying no attention to increasing legislative seats for women," Hulfa, national coordinator of the Caucus for Young Indonesian Women Politicians, told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

On Thursday, the government issued a long-awaited regulation-in- lieu-of-law on ballot marking and updating the permanent voter list. However, it rejected issuing such a ruling on a seat quota for women.

Similarly, the General Elections Commission (KPU) has decided to comply with a recent ruling by the Constitutional Court that legislative seats be granted to candidates who win the most votes in elections.

Hulfa said the planned rallies would be attended by thousands of people, including from the Indonesian Women's Coalition, the Indonesian Women's Association for Justice (LBH-APIK), Karya Mitra, the Political Alliance (Ansipol) and a Catholic women's group. "We also invite all female legislative candidates from the 38 parties to join the rallies," she said.

There are about 12,000 legislative candidates, 34 percent of them women, vying for 560 seats at the House of Representatives.

Hulfa said women's groups would also push political parties to issue internal policies to give women more seats. "We will send letters to parties asking them to award all votes for parties to women to increase their representation at the House," she said.

In Jakarta, protesters plan to march on the Constitutional Court and the Presidential Palace. "We want to protest the court for its ruling because it has destroyed all our efforts to campaign for more seats for women in legislative bodies," said Indonesian Women's Coalition chairwoman Masruchah.

The court's decision to scrap Article 214 of the 2008 Legislative Elections Law – which allowed parties to determine their representatives in legislative bodies based on a hierarchical system of seat distribution, rather than directly giving seats to candidates winning the most votes – was deemed a huge blow to female candidates.

Women's activists said the ruling effectively wiped out their chances of winning seats due to their lack of political exposure and poor financial support. "We still hope the government has the political will to issue a perppu on this matter this month," Masruchah said.

She accused the government of discriminating against women in politics, despite Indonesia having ratified the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against the Women in 1984.

The highest occurrence of women at the House was during the 1987-1992 period, when women occupied 13 percent or 65 seats, before dipping to 9 percent in the 1999-2004 period. Campaigners have long sought a ruling to ensure a minimum 30 percent of legislative representatives are women.

Corruption & graft

'Cowardly' KPK blasted for shortcomings

Jakarta Globe - March 7, 2009

Nivell Rayda & Febriamy Hutapea – The Corruption Eradication Commission, or KPK, found itself taking heat from critics for being too "cowardly" for failing to go after more House of Representatives legislators implicated in Bank Indonesia corruption scandals.

Speaking after a meeting with the Regional Representatives Council, or DPD, Transparency International Indonesia secretary general Teten Masduki criticized the commission and blasted KPK head Antasari Azhar for being beholden to the House, or DPR.

"The KPK is not independent in fighting against corruption in the House because the KPK is worried that its authority will be disturbed by the House," Teten said.

The corruption-plagued DPR has been criticized for dragging its feet on legislation that would establish a permanent Anti- Corruption Court.

The Constitutional Court has ruled that the House must pass a new law legitimizing the court by December 2009 or it could be deemed in breach of the Constitution.

There are fears that legislators might run out the clock and let the deadline pass, which would invalidate the authority of the court.

The KPK has increasingly targeted members of the DPR, including a number of high-profile cases being tried in the Anti-Corruption Court.

The KPK was also recently forced to face questions over the use of "backdoor channels" to secure its budget for 2009.

Antasari Azhar, the head of the KPK, said recently that he had asked the House Commission III overseeing law and legislation on three separate occasions to approve the KPK's request for a budget of Rp 187.9 billion ($15.6 million), but the request was ignored.

It was finally approved in full by the Ministry of Finance without, rather embarrassingly, the commission's approval.

Teten said the KPK feared Commission III because its members had approved Antasari as head of the KPK. "The House Commission III is the most the KPK has worried about," Teten said. "The KPK head doesn't hold independency when dealing with the House."

Teten specifically cited to two cases involving the central bank. The first was related to the amendment of the Bank Indonesia Law in 2003, and the second surrounds alleged corruption in the appointment of Miranda Goeltom to her position as senior deputy governor.

The cases, which revealed previously unseen depths of corruption within the House, implicate BI officials and numerous legislators.

The first case alone saw three BI officials jailed, including former BI governor Burhanuddin Abdullah for five years, as well as two legislators.

However, numerous legislators and figures with alleged ties to the 2003 case have never been charged, including State Minister for National Development Planning Paskah Suzetta, Forestry Minister MS Kaban and Supreme Audit Agency head Anwar Nasution.

The KPK has so far failed to lay any charges in connection with the second case, despite the presence of what critics have called abundant evidence.

Dozens of lawmakers allegedly received illegal contributions connected to the appointment of Gultom in 2004. That accusation was levelled by Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI- P, lawmaker Agus Tjondro, who has previously testified that he received Rp 500 million in traveler's checks.

"The KPK head isn't independent when dealing with the House, though the KPK actually can trace transactions [made by lawmakers] with its modern technology," Teten said.

Lawmaker Al Muzammil Yusuf of the Prosperous Justice Party, or PKS, said that the KPK should not fear Commission III and act dependently.

"The KPK has its own authority and shouldn't link its performance with the House," he said. "There should be no excuse made to hamper their duties to combat corruption," he said.

KPK spokesman Johan Budi said that the commission could not rush naming someone as a suspect, and must be sure that they have a strong case.

"We can use court testimonies and other indications but we want to get some solid piece of evidence to ensure that we can get a conviction," Johan told the Jakarta Globe.

"Throughout our history, we have a 100 percent conviction rate and we don't want to taint that by naming someone a suspect only to withdraw the charges later."

The spokesman assured, however, that the cases handled by the KPK were never closed.

"We are continuing to develop the cases further, looking for more evidence and possibly naming more suspects as we did in the [first] Bank Indonesia corruption scandal," he said. "We hope the public will be patient, because justice will be served," he said.

Arrest shreds House's remnants of integrity

Jakarta Post - March 5, 2009

Irawaty Wardany – The already-tarnished integrity of the country's legislators is once again under the spotlight after the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) arrested yet another legislator for alleged bribery.

Abdul Hadi Djamal, now dismissed from the National Mandate Party (PAN), was caught Monday night allegedly receiving bribes.

"This (bribery) practice is no longer a public secret," Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) activist Emerson Yuntho told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

He added the integrity of most House of Representatives members should further be questioned. "The problem lies in the internal supervision of political parties and the House," he pointed out.

Gayus Lumbuun, deputy chairman of the House Disciplinary Council, said Abdul's arrest came as a shock because it occurred when the House was trying to boost its image. "It's an extraordinary incident," he said.

But he was quick to point out the public should not generalize about all House members being corrupt just because of a few bad seeds.

Emerson said the public was well aware of how reluctant political parties were to discipline their members implicated in corruption cases, tending rather to embrace the principle of presumption of innocence, despite many of them clearly being proven guilty.

Parties tended to prioritize members' loyalty and financial contributions, while integrity was a minor factor, he said.

Emerson also questioned the role of the House Disciplinary Council, which he said had failed to deter legislators from engaging in graft.

"There are several lessons we can learn from this incident," he said. "First, the House must strengthen the council's role; second, the parties should use this momentum to rid themselves of corrupt members."

The public, he added, must also learn from this incident by not voting for corrupt parties or legislators.

Abdul was arrested after receiving US$90,000 and Rp 54 million (US$4,463) from Transportation Ministry official Darmawati Dahore. The money was allegedly linked to the development of port and airport facilities in eastern Indonesia, worth around Rp 100 billion.

Abdul's lawyer, Heri Parani, said his client was only a "broker" in the case, but did not elaborate on this statement. Gayus said the disciplinary council had been ordered by House Speaker Agung Laksono to coordinate with the KPK over the case.

"We will meet with the KPK tomorrow at 11 a.m. to seek out the motives behind the incident," said Gayus, a senior legislator from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).

DPR lets clock run down on anti-graft court

Jakarta Globe - March 4, 2009

Febriamy Hutapea – The corruption-plagued House of Representatives was criticized on Tuesday after it concluded its third sitting session of the 2008-09 governmental year without enacting legislation for the establishment of a permanent Anti- Corruption Court.

The Constitutional Court has ruled that the House must pass a new law legitimizing the court by December 2009 or it could be deemed in breach of the Constitution.

There are fears that legislators – who have increasingly been targeted by the Corruption Eradication Commission, or KPK, with a number of high-profile cases being tried at the Anti-Corruption Court – will let time run out, which would invalidate the court's authority.

Emerson Yuntho, a coordinator of legal affairs with nongovernmental organization Indonesia Corruption Watch, said the House had a clear conflict of interest by being involved in the permanent establishment of an antigraft court.

In 2007, Transparency International Indonesia ranked the House, or DPR, as the most graft-ridden government institution in Indonesia, while a recent string of cases investigated by the KPK have revealed the previously hidden depths of corruption within the House.

The ICW said nine past or present lawmakers have been arrested by the KPK, including Abdul Hadi Jamal of the National Mandate Party, or PAN, revealed on Tuesday as allegedly having received a bribe of $90,000.

Emerson said if the House wanted to hinder the performance of the KPK and the current antigraft court, it could ignore the deliberation of the legislation and fail to endorse the bill by the deadline. "People are waiting for a serious commitment from the House to protect the existence of the Anti-Corruption Court," he said.

House Speaker Agung Laksono said the bill on the court should be the body's top priority in its effort to fight corruption.

The House is slated to open on April 12, after the April 9 legislative elections, and will sit until its term expires on Oct. 1. Analysts have said that when the newly elected legislators assume office, they could demand that deliberations of the bill start anew.

Speaking on Tuesday, Agung told a plenary session of the House that "the DPR is really concerned and has a desire to finish the antigraft court bill deliberation based on the deadline."

He said the House should finish the deliberation before sitting lawmakers end their term between August and September this year. If an antigraft court has not been established before December, all of the corruption cases that had previously been managed by the KPK would be taken over by state district courts, Agung said.

"That has been opposed by many people as it's not conducive to our commitment to fight corruption," he said.

Legislator Dewi Asmara of the Golkar Party, who chairs the bill's deliberation, said the committee deliberating the bill would start an intensive discussion once it returned on April 12. Dewi said she was optimistic the bill could be finished in the next sitting period. "We have set a target to finish it as soon as possible," she said.

Party pledges against graft pointless: ICW

Jakarta Globe - March 4, 2009

Nivell Rayda – An anticorruption declaration signed last week by all of the political parties running in the legislative elections amounts to nothing without the action to support it, Indonesia Corruption Watch said on Tuesday.

"Parties need to disclose their sources of funding [for the elections], which would show that they are transparent and conforming to the standards of good governance," said Adnan Topan Husodo, a political analyst with ICW. "That is more important than the signing of any declaration."

On Feb. 25, representatives from all 38 national political parties participating in the April 9 polls met at the Corruption Eradication Commission, or KPK, headquarters to sign pledges against graft and put eradicating corruption at the top of their respective political agendas.

Adnan said if parties failed to disclose the nature of their funding, politicians running for seats in the House of Representatives could easily resort to corruption.

"In a way, parties are investing in corruption," Adnan said. "The parties promote corrupt politicians who in turn find kickbacks and bribes from companies and label them as donations."

A number of recent KPK cases have revealed staggering corruption within the House, though only nine lawmakers have been charged by the graft-fighting body. The cases have implicated legislators in demanding money to pass legislation or interfering in tender processes.

Adnan said parties that failed to take action against corrupt legislators should have been banned from next month's elections. He said the lack of consequences for graft suspects was a glaring sign that parties were not committed to eradicating corruption.

"Right now [politicians] are only required to show letters of good behavior from the police," he said. "These politicians must disclose their wealth before they are allowed to run, and graft suspects should not be allowed at all."

Anticorruption drive largely missing from campaign rhetoric

Jakarta Post - March 3, 2009

Pandaya, Jakarta – It has been three months since the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) rocked the boat when it arrested Aulia Pohan, a former Bank Indonesia deputy governor who happens to be the father-in-law of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's son.

No major bang has been set off since then to maintain the KPK's status as a fearsome yet respectable graft-buster which has become the Yudhoyono administration's icon in its clean governance image building.

Lately, the KPK has come under fire for shifting its focus from heavyweight cases in Jakarta to "smaller" cases elsewhere that can be handled by local police and prosecutors with its supervision.

Last week, the KPK amused the skeptical public when it hosted a meeting where political big shots, including Golkar chairman Jusuf Kalla, were present and together pledged corruption-free politics. This particular event raised some eyebrows, especially because several politicians there are among big-time suspected thieves that the KPK has been investigating, and some have received hefty jail terms.

"The KPK is getting lazy and reluctant to arrest the big fish," screamed a recent front-page headline of the hard-hitting Rakyat Merdeka daily. Any reasons to reject this allegation? No more big-time crooks to chase, perhaps?

What about the 50-plus House of Representatives legislators whom fellow lawmaker Tamsil Linrung from the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), an Islamist party that portrays itself as a "clean and professional" party, allegedly had received bribes in a forest conversion project Bagan Apiapi, South Sumatra? And others who allegedly took bribes from BI as witnesses revealed at the Corruption Court?

And why is the KPK is not interested in pursuing court evidence suggested the involvement of senior prosecutors from the Attorney General's Office in the US$650,000 bribery scandal that landed prosecutor Urip Tri Gunawan and businesswoman Artalyta Suryani in jail last year?

Adding insult to injury, Attorney General Hendarman Supandji recently appointed two senior attorneys implicated in the scandal, M. Salim and Kemas Yahya, to lead a task force in charge of handling graft cases.

Kemas and Salim were among AGO prosecutors mentioned in the Urip-Artalyta graft trials, but an internal AGO probe found they had committed minor breaches of the code of ethics and they were removed from their posts.

When addressing last week's gathering with Diponegoro University students in Semarang, Hendarman said he acknowledged giving Kemas and Urip a job so that he would not be accused of "violating human rights" by denying them a seat. He wanted to make them "torchbearers" in the fight against corruption.

There have been conflicting reports about whether Kemas and Salim were actually given the job or the AGO leadership cancelled it because of the loud public outcry, after a spokesman earlier announced it. Ironically, the dust of controversy has clouded the political landscape just when AGO is trying to shed its image as a corrupt state institution, which countless surveys have suggested.

It also happened when Hendarman had difficult times defending the AGO's controversial decisions to halt investigations into mammoth graft cases, the latest being the sale of two Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCC) by state oil and gas firm PT Pertamina, which allegedly caused millions of dollars in lost taxpayer money. The case involved former state minister for state enterprises Laksamana Sukardi and two senior Pertamina officials.

The attorney general also suffered a major blow when it lost a legal battle against businessman Tommy Soeharto, son of former president Soeharto, over Rp 1.2 trillion (US$100 million) in unpaid taxes.

On the legislative front, the developments are no less disappointing. Lawmakers in Senayan, who have practically a month to finalize the amendment of the corruption court bill, have been dragging their feet for unknown reasons.

Legislators in charge of finalizing the bill have openly said it is difficult to meet the quorum each time a meeting is called because the politicians are busy campaigning in their respective constituencies in this pre-election season.

What a reason! The House is also racing against time to pass laws on halal products, for instance, and there has been no complaint about such terribly high rates of absenteeism. The corruption court bill was drafted in December 2006 after the Constitutional Court killed a provision in the 2002 KPK law, which became the basis for the establishment of the Corruption Court.

The Constitutional Court ordered the government to draft a new law that would put the Corruption Court under the regular district court. Lawmakers have until December 2009 to finish the bill, a deadline that is unbeatable because of the busy campaigning activities and the possibility that many incumbent lawmakers may lose their seats.

There have been suggestions that to speed up the process, lawmakers are focusing on the contentious issues only and leaving the rest the way they are to revise later on. There has been no response from Senayan so far.

Being too caught up in the rat race is of course not a good excuse for the lawmakers to drag their feet in finalizing the bill that will undoubtedly mean a lot to improving the nation's well-being – if properly enforced.

Apparently, many legislators are reluctant to work on the bill because it would look like they are designing their own (or their fellow lawmakers') prison cells, given that many of the crooks that the court has jailed are lawmakers and some of them are currently being ensnarled and awaiting verdicts.

Interestingly, nowadays when every politician is out polishing their image for the upcoming general elections, uprooting corruption is seldom heard as a campaign theme. The two presidential frontrunners, Yudhoyono and Megawati Soekarnoputri, are more interested in promising voters cheap basic commodities and cheap fuels, for instance.

As far as Yudhoyono is concerned, this slowing rigor in the war on corruption is a pity, given that the prosecution and sentencing of numerous high-profile figures has lifted its profile. Recent developments put the future of the government's anticorruption campaign in doubt.

War on terror

Indonesia frustrated over fate of main accused in Bali attacks

Sydney Morning Herald - March 7, 2009

Tom Allard, Jakarta – The US will not release the Jemaah Islamiah operations chief Hambali into Indonesian custody despite finally permitting its counter-terrorism officials to interview the alleged mastermind behind the Bali bombings.

Blocking the extradition of Hambali, al-Qaeda's pointman in South-East Asia who is believed responsible for a string of terrorist attacks in the region, has angered Indonesian police eager to prosecute him here. The US has rebuffed such requests for more than five years.

However, at a political level, the Indonesian Government is quietly content with the decision, believing his return could inflame Islamists and pose a security threat in the fraught environment of an election year.

Hambali, whose real name is Riduan Isamuddin, was interviewed by two members of Indonesia's anti-terrorism squad, Detachment 88, in recent weeks at Guantanamo Bay. The Bush administration had consistently denied Indonesia's requests for access.

President Barack Obama reversed that stance and announced that, within a year, he wants to close the controversial US military prison at Guantanamo Bay. The fate of Hambali and more than 240 other "enemy combatants" detained there is in the balance.

Senior Indonesian sources said the US had made it clear it would not release Hambali after Guantanamo Bay closes.

Counter-terrorism police said the US is concerned about releasing the intelligence gleaned from interrogations of Hambali to other nations and the prospect it will be challenged as being extracted by torture.

Hambali, one of 14 "high-value" detainees at the military prison, probably will be transferred to a prison on the US mainland but what awaits him there is problematic. The US has still not worked out how it will bring him and other senior al-Qaeda figures to justice.

Hambali has some links to the ringleaders of the September 11 attacks. However, the deaths of seven Americans in the Bali bombings mean the 2002 atrocity probably gives US authorities the best option to to charge him in a US court.

Hambali also allegedly was involved in the spate of bombings of churches in Indonesia in 2000 and in financing the Marriott Hotel bombing attack in Jakarta in 2003.

In Jakarta, the terrorism analyst Sidney Jones, of the International Crisis Group, said Hambali's return to Indonesia would be highly problematic for the Government. "He would be a celebrity. He would be a pop star," she said. "He would become a rallying point for [militant Islamic] groups."

There are also doubts about whether Indonesian courts could convict him. The terrorism laws were created after the 2002 Bali bombings and it is doubtful that much forensic material or authoritative testimony could be assembled.

Police crackdown nets 436 terrorism suspects since Bali attacks

Jakarta Globe - March 3, 2009

Heru Andriyanto & Markus Junianto Sihaloho – Authorities have arrested 436 terror suspects since the country launched a major crackdown on terrorism in the wake of the October 2002 Bali bombings, according to a government report issued on Monday.

Of that figure, 360 suspects are either being prosecuted or have already been convicted, stated the report, issued by Widodo Adi Sucipto, the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs.

Indonesia adopted a tough anti-terror law following the first Bali bombing, which killed 202 people.

Under the law, five militants have been condemned to death, including Bali bombers Amrozi, Ali Ghufron and Imam Samudra, who were executed last November.

Two other death row inmates, identified as Iwan Darmawan Muntho and Achmad Hasan, have appeals pending.

"They were convicted of the [September 2004] Australian Embassy bombing," Attorney General Hendarman Supandji told the Jakarta Globe. "They are currently appealing their convictions in the Supreme Court," he said.

The attack on the embassy, in which nine Indonesians were killed, was one of four major attacks between 2002 and 2005 that rocked Indonesia.

"Since the second Bali bombings, in October 2005, there have been no major attacks, but the danger of terrorism remains potent," the report states.

In the 2005 Bali bombings, three suicide bombers launched attacks in three different areas, killing at least 21 people.

Widodo Adi Sucipto noted that despite the arrest of hundreds of suspects, several key suspects were still at large, such as Noordin Muh Top, the alleged mastermind of the major attacks between 2002 and 2005.

The report, which was provided to the House of Representatives Commission I, which oversees defense, also states that Jakarta has established bilateral counter-terrorism cooperation with seven countries, including Australia, Egypt, India, Pakistan, Romania, Russia and Sri Lanka.

The government is also negotiating cooperation with six other countries: Poland, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sudan, Uzbekistan and Venezuela.


Outlaw Ahmadiyah or i'll bar all votes for you

Jakarta Globe - March 6, 2009

Nivell Rayda – One of the country's most senior Muslim leaders on Thursday threatened to issue an edict banning people from voting for the incumbent president in the upcoming election because of the government's reluctance to outlaw the Ahmadiyah religious sect.

Cholil Ridwan, a chairman of the Indonesian Council of Ulema, or MUI, said that the fatwa, or edict, would be prepared unless President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono outlawed Ahmadiyah, which the council considered deviant.

"If you don't want to ban Ahmadiyah altogether, Mr. SBY, MUI will ban Muslims from voting for you or any other presidential candidate who won't support us," Cholil said.

It was not immediately clear whether Cholil, who was addressing a rally by about 2,000 members and supporters of the hard-line Islamic People's Forum, or FUI, was speaking for the MUI, which holds the highest authority on Islamic affairs in the country, or for himself.

The MUI last year issued an edict declaring Ahmadiyah a deviant sect and called on the government to outlaw it. Jakarta, however, has only banned the group from conducting their worship in public and from proselytizing.

"SBY is backed by international donors and sponsors, particularly the United States, Israel and European countries," Cholil said. "All of them want to keep Ahmadiyah alive in Indonesia."

Cholil's remarks contradicted a separate MUI edict issued last month that banned Muslims from not voting as long as there was a Muslim leader worthy of leading the country.

Members of Ahmadiyah, a sect founded in India more than a hundred years ago, hold that the group's founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was the last prophet, a belief that runs directly against a tenet of Islam that reserves that claim for the Prophet Muhammad.

FUI chairman Mursalim said the government's joint ministerial decree on Ahmadiyah served only as a warning and was open to multiple interpretations.

"It hasn't had any effect. Ahmadiyah has even gotten bolder in their activities," Mursalim said. "If SBY calls himself a Muslim then he should issue a presidential decree."

However, another MUI chairman, Umar Shihab, said later that Cholil's statement was his own and did not represent the MUI as a whole.

"We do urge the president to issue a decree, but we've never threatened to urge Muslims not to vote for him if he doesn't," Umar said in a phone interview. "The statement is just [Cholil's] own."

An MUI edict can only be issued after a long administrative process and discussion at a national convention of the council, which acts as an umbrella organization for the country's major Islamic groups.

Presidential spokesman Andi Malarangeng dismissed the move as a political one.

"It's very common for people to say that, especially with the upcoming legislative and presidential elections. We don't need to worry about it at all," Malarangeng said.

Yoga in-sync with Islam, experts say

Jakarta Post - March 6, 2009

Andra Wisnu, Jakarta – Islam and yoga share more similarities than some parties would like to admit, a seminar concluded Thursday.

Titled "Yoga and Pluralism and the Islamic Perspective on Peace" experts participating in the forum, held at the Bali-India Foundation office in Denpasar, said that Islam shared many similarities with Yoga.

The seminar is part of the International Bali-India Yoga Festival, which will run until Tuesday.

Salman Harun, a professor at Jakarta's Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University and a noted Koranic scholar, said the act of prayer in Islam, or shalat, could be perceived as a form of yoga.

He argued that most forms of yoga as practiced the way they are today not Hindu in nature and that the practice is simply an age-old method created by people trying to connect to a cosmic force.

"In that sense, the moves done while praying, like the way we stand, the ruku (bending over with the hands over the kneecaps), the sujud (kneeling with the face down on the floor) and the way we sit during praying is similar to yoga," he said.

"Besides, most Muslims would agree that the moves in shalat are beneficial to our health."

He said that, despite popular culture linking the method to Hinduism and Buddhism, this has little to do with the way yoga is practiced around the world.

Furthermore, he said, the breathing exercises done in yoga are also implicitly mentioned in the Koran.

He cited Surah Al-Qaf, verse 16, which states: "It was We who created man, and We know what dark suggestions his soul makes to him: for We are nearer to him than [his] jugular vein". "To breathe is to be under God's watchful eyes, which means have to have breathing exercises is to get closer to God. That is when God is closer to you than your jugular vein," he said, adding "and yoga teaches that technique."

Salman's observations may bring some unification between yoga and Islam after the two were pitted against each other by an Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued fatwa (edict) banned yoga, on the grounds that it contained elements of Hinduism.

The MUI edict was issued after its Malaysian counterpart also banned yoga. While the Malaysian council banned yoga completely, the Indonesian council permits forms of Yoga which are purely physical.

Salman said the MUI may have felt compelled to declare its authority in issuing the edict after looking at various forms of yoga, some of which include incantations and seemingly ritualistic practices.

He urged the MUI and officials to educate the public on the recently issued fatwa, saying that most people would not be able to tell the difference between yoga in popular culture and yoga that incorporates chanting.

He said he saw nothing blasphemous in Muslims practicing yoga, further suggesting that yoga should be introduced to madrasahs (Islamic schools) to familiarize Muslims with yoga.

"Yoga asks people to believe in God. Which God depends on that person, but the practice itself is in line with Islamic teachings," he said.

Dr. Martin Ramstedt, a German researcher with the Max Planck Society, who was among the panelists, agreed with Salman, though he went farther, saying that the MUI's edict was more motivated by political and economic ambitions and less by religious concerns.

"At the moment there is this summit in Jakarta on Islamic countries, so for economic and also political reasons, Indonesia has to somehow prove that it is Islamic in character," he said, referring to the World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) held in Jakarta between March 2 and 3.

"I understand that certain measures like the fatwa against yoga, the pornography law, the raise in alcohol taxes feeds into it. At least that's what I think."

Later in the evening, the Indonesian Yoga Association was established with 20 members, mostly yoga masters, joining its board.

AA Ayu Shri Sri Wariyani has been elected as the association's chairwoman with Salman, Ramstedt, Ratu Bagus, Ida Pedanda Made Gunung, Acharya Laxmi Narayan and Stefan Denarek serving as advisors.

Elections/political parties

Sultan seeks support from Cirebon palaces

Jakarta Post - March 8, 2009

Nana Rukmana and Suherdjoko, Cirebon, Semarang – Presidential candidate Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X (HB X) of Yogyakarta Palace visited influential palaces of Kasepuhan, Kacirebonan and Kanoman Sultanates in Cirebon, West Java on Thursday, in a bid to win political support from the prominent kingdoms in the upcoming election.

Although the Sultan insisted the visits were not of a political nature, at least two elites from his Golkar Party – Enggartiasto Lukita and Syamsul Mu'arif – were seen accompanying him during the course of his tour.

"Palaces are not political institutions. This is just a friendship visit and I am not here campaigning for the presidency. The time to campaign has not yet arrived," the Sultan said.

Speaking at a press conference, the Sultan said he had not yet decided who his running mate would be, claiming he would announce his decision after the legislative election on April 9. The presidential election will be held on July 8.

"I would prefer campaigning with a figure who is young and has a tested (leadership) capacity," he said. The Sultan claimed he would not follow the popular trend of choosing a partner with opposite attributes to his own, such as a popular military figure or somebody from outside Java.

"Choosing a partner to run with based on these popular characteristics is seen as the best way forward for elite political figures, but smart voters will not be so easily trapped into following such a partnership," Sultan said.

Separately, Crown Prince Arief Natadiningrat of the Kasepuhan Sultanate said his palace welcomed the prospect of the Sultan running for presidency, claiming that he truly held the nation as his first priority. "We certainly offer him our prayers and support," Arief said.

Of the three Cirebon palaces, Kasepuhan Sultanate is the most influential. Many of the presidential candidates in the 2004 election, including Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Megawati Sukarnoputri, campaigned heavily for political support in the ancient kingdom of Cirebon.

Meanwhile in Semarang, Central Java, former Golkar Party chairman Akbar Tandjung said he was ready to run with SBY as the vice presidential candidate in the upcoming presidential election. "I'm ready to serve if there is a chance," he said.

Akbar said so far he had not spoken with SBY or his nominating political party, the Democratic Party. "I'm currently focusing on the Golkar Party so we can win the legislative election. I do hope we will have our own presidential candidate," he said.

Akbar said his desire to join with SBY in the presidential race was based on the fact the Golkar Party's chairman cum-Vice President Jusuf Kalla had decided to challenge SBY in the 2009 presidential election.

If the Democratic Party still wants to maintain its coalition with the Golkar Party despite Jusuf Kalla running for presidency, then SBY should choose a Golkar representative as a running mate, Akbar said. "This is why I am putting myself forward for the position," he said.

Golkar to coalesce with PPP in election

Jakarta Post - March 7, 2009

The Golkar Party and United Development Party (PPP) have reached an agreement to coalesce in the presidential election in July this year, Golkar Party leader Jusuf Kalla said, Antara state news agency reported.

"Although the coalition is still to be discussed further after the legislative election, we have decided to do it to win 51 percent of the seats in the parliament," Kalla said after a closed-door meeting with PPP Chairman Suryadharma Ali here on Saturday.

Kalla said that based on present calculations, Golkar and PPP would be able to grab 51 seats in the parliament, and even more than that in the future through a coalition with two to four other political parties.

"In reality, the coalition with other parties is to be made in the future, but with PPP it will go ahead," Jusuf Kalla said, adding that the political cooperation or coalition was intended for the betterment of state and national interest.

On the occasion, PPP chairman Suryadharma Ali said ideally in the future the coalition should gain 51 percent of seats in parliament. He said both PPP and Golkar realized that the state management could not be done by a single party.

"It is impossible for Golkar alone to manage the country, and if PPP wins the election, it will impossible as well for the party to go it over alone," Suryadharma said.

During the almost two-hour meeting, the two political parties agreed to build good relationships and political cooperation, to conduct and guard free, fair, honest, and successful general elections, to make the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono-Jusuf Kalla government a success, to build democracy and political parties ability as the pillars of democracy, to develop the existing multi-party system, and to build togetherness with other parties in the state's and nation's best interest.

PAN brings other parties together despite new scandal

Jakarta Globe - March 7, 2009

Febriamy Hutapea & Muninggar Sri Saraswati – Still reeling from having his party at the center of the latest corruption scandal to rock the House of Representatives, the head of the National Mandate Party, or PAN, has attempted to resuscitate PAN's flagging campaign by reaching out to a number of parties.

Top representatives of five of the countries major political parties met at the at the residence of National Mandate Party, or PAN, chairman Sutrisno Bachir on Thursday evening.

National Awakening Party, or PKB, chairman Muhaimin Iskandar was not forthcoming about the details of the meeting in comments on Friday, offering only that he had attended the meeting to discuss "the problems of the nation. "There was nothing special," Muhaimin said. "It was a productive meeting."

The meeting at Sutrisno's house comes only days after he had called the arrest of former PAN member Abdul Hadi Djamal a disaster for the party. Hadi, a member of the House Commission V overseeing transportation, was arrested on Monday by the Corruption Eradication Commission, or KPK, with a businessman, a Transportation Ministry official and more than $90,000 in suspected bribe money.

A PAN official, who did not want to be identified, said that Sutrisno had initiated Thursday's meeting to provide the five parties an opportunity to discuss plans to come together in the future. "You can say it was an initial meeting to form a coalition, but no deal has yet been made," he said.

In addition to PAN and the PKB officials, senior party members from the United Development Party, or PPP, the Prosperous Justice Party, or PKS, and the People's Conscience Party, or Hanura, also attended the meeting.

PKB Chairman Muhaimin declined to provide details about a possible coalition, but did say the PKB, which stands to see the more than 10 percent share of the House it currently has decline in April's national legislative election, in principle considered it necessary to form a coalition.

"In general, we share the same vision," Muhaimin said of the PKB and the other parties attending the meeting. "But, PKB will make a decision about [a coalition] after the legislative elections," he said.

While Hanura's Fuad Bawazier, who attended the meeting, declined to comment about a potential coalition between the parties present on Thursday, party chief Wiranto offered his own remarks on the topic of coalitions. "I'll make a new coalition. It will be a surprise," he said, refusing to elaborate further.

Legislative election tainted by money politics

Jakarta Post - March 6, 2009

Indra Harsaputra, Surabaya – The upcoming legislative election has already been tainted by money politics, fueled by the fierce competition among the hundreds of thousands of candidates.

Far ahead of the official political campaign period, scheduled to start March 9, both political parties and their candidates have used numerous tactics including advertisements, seminars, informal gatherings, billboards and road banners to campaign.

Parties and candidates with enough funds place ads on radio stations, in text messages and on billboards and banners across the province.

Kacung Maridjan, a political analyst of the Airlangga University in the city, said on Thursday that the fierce competition had a lot to do with the majority-vote system, which has replaced the listing system used in the last election. This has prompted candidates to forcefully deploy their financial power "to buy" as many votes as possible.

"Both the General Elections Commission and the Election Supervisory Committee and their structures in regions cannot do much to prevent candidates from using unauthorized media, or take action against candidates already campaigning because the 2008 election law is enforceable only during the political campaign period which is to begin next week," he told The Jakarta Post by telephone.

The province's electoral supervisory committee has filed complaints both to the police and the provincial attorney's office about a great number of legislative candidates who have allegedly given basic commodities and money to their prospective constituents.

After filing a report on Deputy House Speaker Muhaimin Iskandar to the district prosecutor's office in Sidoarjo last week, the electoral supervisory committee also filed a complaint with the municipal prosecutor's office on 43 councilors who allegedly embezzled Rp 1.9 billion (US$160,000) from the municipal council to be distributed to their constituents in the city.

"The huge funds were used to finance the communications allowance that should be used to be given to their constituents, but in reality, it is used to finance their political campaign," Kuntjara, chairman of the municipality's electoral supervisory committee, said.

Muhaimin, a legislative candi-date from the National Awakening Party (PKB), was reported because he and his running mate distributed basic commodities and money to an audience at an informal gathering early last month.

Chairman of the provincial electoral supervisory committee Sri Agung said his side was still investigating a number of money politics that allegedly involved legislative candidates in Lamongan, Bojo negoro and many other regencies.

Candidates starting to feel budget pinch in campaigns

Jakarta Globe - March 5, 2009

Camelia Pasandaran & Markus Junianto Sihaloho – As preparations for next month's elections intensify, several legislative candidates admitted on Thursday that they were reaching too deep into their pockets to finance their campaigns.

Television star-turned-politician Raslina Rasyidin said she couldn't rely solely on her popularity anymore.

"I've been getting requests from mosques to sponsor their programs, which includes uniforms for some religious groups and building mosques," said Raslina, a legislative candidate from the National Mandate Party, or PAN. "If a request costs Rp 2 million [$166], for example, multiply that by a hundred mosques and that's just an amount I can't afford."

Nurul Arifin, a Golkar Party candidate, said she was aware of the costs of running a successful campaign. "I have to put witnesses in every polling booth in my election area," she said. "That means more than 3,000 poll watchers that I have to pay."

"And that's just for witnesses," Nurul said, adding that she will pay each witness Rp 100,000. "The whole campaign is a different story. You have to make sure you have the finances when and where you need them to be."

Anas Urbaningrum, a senior member of the Democratic Party, encountered a much more worrisome funding problem. People approached him and asked they be paid in exchange for their votes. "It's always the voters who start to talk about money," he said.

"So it's up to the candidate whether he wants to grant the offer or not. I choose to avoid such requests," Anas said, adding that voters needed to be educated about how sacred their right to vote is.

Meanwhile, a group that has been monitoring electoral procedures said that the country's democracy had developed into a "transaction" between voters and legislative candidates.

Sebastian Salang, chairman of the nongovernmental organization Society Care Forum for Indonesian Parliament, or Formappi, said the practice of "money politics" began when parties sold legislative candidacies to people who had the money to buy the nomination.

"These candidates spend huge amounts of money just to be nominated for the highest ranks by political parties," Sebastian said, speaking at an event titled "Next Indonesian Parliament: Quality or Popularity," which was organized by the Indonesian Journalist Caucus, or Kawan.

"But they were disappointed after the Constitutional Court [in December] changed the electoral system into a majority vote," he added.

According to Sebastian, candidates who have enough money are the ones most likely to get a party nomination, although celebrities could receive a nomination because their popularity was seen as giving them an edge in the public's eye.

"If a candidate is not popular, the option is either you have lots of money to buy the nomination from the party and then buy the hearts of voters, or you have rich entrepreneurs who can support your campaign," Sebastian said.

He said a candidate's "winnability" came down to either his popularity or his financial status. But that meant putting into office legislators who did not have the citizens' welfare in mind. "They will produce laws that are in favor of rich people only," he said. "They won't have the quality to produce good legislation. It's now the parties' responsibility to educate their legislative candidates."

PKS tests waters for Islamic coalition

Jakarta Globe - March 5, 2009

Febriamy Hutapea – The Prosperous Justice Party, or PKS, stepped up its communication with other Islam-based parties on Thursday night with a discussion about a possible coalition in the July presidential election.

The event was jointly held with Muhaimin Iskandar, chairman of the National Awakening Party, or PKB, and Lukman Hakim Syaifuddin of the United Development Party, or PPP.

Ahmad Mabruri, chairman of the PKS's central board, said the Islamic parties could potentially create a strong coalition that would have much greater bargaining power in its relations with other major parties.

"If we can team up with other Islamic parties, including the National Mandate Party [PAN], we could secure at least 30 percent of the vote," he said, "and then we will have secured the election."

Under the election law, a party or coalition of parties has to secure at least 20 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives or 25 percent of the national vote in order to nominate a presidential candidate.

Lukman said that Islam-based parties would be important in complementing other likely presidential campaigns featuring President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Vice President Jusuf Kalla or former President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

"No matter what the lineup, they must be opposed by our Islamic parties," Lukman said, adding that the PPP had also intensified communication with other Islamic parties.

Kalla, who is chairman of Golkar Party, paid a visit last week to the PKS office to participate in a similar dialogue. The visit came after Kalla's announcement two weeks ago that he was prepared to accept a Golkar nomination to contend for the presidency.

The PKS was also mentioned as a potential coalition partner with Golkar, which currently has the largest membership in the House. However, Kalla claimed the meeting was only aimed at keeping lines of communication open between the two parties.

Mabruri said the party had also invited both Megawati and Yudhoyono but neither had paid a visit to the PKS office. "There's been no response," he said. "Maybe they are busy enough with their various activities."

Mabruri said it was Golkar that was first in suggesting building communication between the two parties. Anas Urbaningrum, chair of the political affairs unit of Yudhoyono's Democratic Party, or PD, said his party welcomed the opportunity to talk with others about the future of the country.

He said that ideally the PD general chairman, Hadi Utomo, would be invited to speak with the PKS. "It's better for Hadi to visits the PKS as he is the chairman," Anas said.

He said the PD was open to partnership with other parties, including the PKS. "The PKS is one of our close friends, with its vision not much different from our own," Anas said.

Thousands of disabled might lose voting right

Jakarta Post - March 6, 2009

Yogyakarta – Over 5,000 disabled people in Sleman regency might lose their voting rights in the upcoming legislative election if special aid is not put in place for them.

While the General Elections Commission (KPU) has provided ballots in Braille for blind people voting in the Regional Representatives Council (DPD) election, the commission has not catered for disabled persons voting in the parliamentary or the provincial, regency or municipal legislative council elections.

"How can we vote if we are not given special aid?" Tasik, a disabled man, told an election public forum for disabled voters.

Another disabled man, Agus Budiman, who uses a wheelchair, said the ballot booths were designed without considering wheelchair access. "Some 80 percent of us will not be able to vote," he said.

Sleman General Elections Committee (KPUD) member Suryatiningsih said her office was liaising with the local administration to accommodate 5,614 disabled people in the regency.

"We are discussing the possibility of the Sleman administration facilitating disabled access in the event the KPU does not do so," she said.

Ballot paper distribution replete with problems

Jakarta Globe - March 5, 2009

Camelia Pasandaran – The General Elections Commission continues to face new challenges in the distribution of ballot papers across the country and has been unable to increase the rate of production.

On Wednesday, the Maluku Elections Commission complained to the central commission, or KPU, that it still had not received its ballot papers. "So far, we've only received ballot papers for one out of seven election areas in Maluku," said Jusuf Idrus Tatuhey, head of the Maluku commission.

Boradi, deputy of the KPU logistics bureau, said all ballot papers for Maluku had been printed "but the logistics have been difficult." For example, "ballot papers for Ambon [the capital of Maluku] were sent to Halmahera" by mistake.

In addition, three regions of Maluku – southwest Maluku, and the regions east of Seram and Aru Islands – had been difficult to reach via land transportation.

"The ballot papers have not been distributed to any of these areas," Boradi said. "Rain and the high-tide season makes it difficult to distribute the papers. It will take some time. The KPU should have taken this into consideration."

Boradi said that for the previous Maluku gubernatorial election, ballot papers had been distributed a month in advance.

In another problem area, ballot papers for Papua Province had been mistakenly sent to West Papua Province. "Around 100,000 ballot papers were wrongly distributed from Papua to West Papua," Abdul Aziz, the KPU member overseeing logistics procurement, said on Wednesday.

Also, thousands of ballot papers meant for West Java Province had been sent by mistake to Central Kalimantan.

Aziz said such mistakes were the responsibility of the printing companies contracted to produce the ballot papers. "They have to be able to send them to the right districts," he said.

Aziz said the printing companies still had enough time to fix the delivery problems. He said that of the 686,244,953 ballot papers required for the national election, the printers had now produced 62 percent.

"By Wednesday morning, 431,988,698 ballot papers had been printed," he said.

However, only around 50 percent of the printed papers had been dispatched to district election commissions. "We have sent 204,530,992 papers to the provinces," Aziz said.

The ballot paper production has been completed for 16 provinces. These include Aceh; Central, South and East Kalimantan; North, Central, South East and West Sulawesi; Gorontalo; North Maluku; East Nusa Tenggara; Bangka Belitung; Riau Islands; Papua and West Papua.

Golkar heavies keen to run as SBY's partner

Jakarta Globe - March 5, 2009

Muninggar Sri Saraswati & Sally Piri – Two senior members of the fractured Golkar Party have announced their willingness to run for vice president on the ticket of incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono after Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who is also Golkar chairman, indicated he may contest the presidency.

Wednesday's announcements from former Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung and Gorontalo Governor Fadel Mohammed that they would be willing to run with Yudhoyono follow many months of pressure from the party to field a presidential candidate to demonstrate the party's unity and power.

Both Akbar and Fadel are no friends of Kalla, who remains firm in his stance that the party that he controls will not announce its presidential candidate – if any – until after the legislative elections on April 9.

A number of analysts believe that Kalla's future political fortunes remain firmly tied to those of Yudhoyono, while Yudhoyono in turn relies on the support of Golkar in the unruly House of Representatives.

They point to the party's plunging popularity since the 2004 elections when it reassumed it position as the largest party in the House, and the fact that Golkar's top leaders lack the star power of Yudhoyono or former President Megawati Sukarnoputri, of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P.

Akbar called a press conference at his residence in Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta, on Wednesday to proclaim his willingness to run with Yudhoyono, but in the same breath admitted that he was yet to inform the president of his decision.

"If I were asked, I would accept it, although the presidential polls are still months away," he said.

The veteran politician, once convicted of corruption involving a program to supply food to Indonesian's poorest citizens but controversially acquitted on appeal, said he retained the support of a number of regional Golkar branches.

Separately, in Ternate, Fadel, the popular governor of Gorontalo, a province that many consider to be a successful model for regional autonomy, said he would not hesitate to run as Yudhoyono's vice presidential candidate, but that he had not communicated the idea to the president.

"If I were offered to become SBY's vice presidential candidate in the upcoming election, I would say yes. I feel I could carry the mandate," he was quoted by Antara news agency as saying.

"A number of regions in eastern Indonesia such as Papua, East Nusa Tenggara, Central Sulawesi, North Sulawesi, North Maluku and Gorontalo would support me should I run as a vice presidential candidate," Fadel claimed.

Fadel said Alkhairaat, the largest Islamic organization in eastern Indonesia, which is also close to Yudhoyono, had thrown its weight behind him and planned to talk to Yudhoyono about its endorsement of him as the president's running mate.

On Wednesday, however, both Akbar and Fadel said that they remained Golkar members and that they would support whoever the party endorsed as its presidential candidate in a special meeting to be held in April.

Ban on 'ogoh-ogoh' protested

Jakarta Post - March 5, 2009

Luh De Suriyani, Denpasar – Residents and members of Denpasar's artistic community have urged the city administration not to ban the ogoh-ogoh festival, held on the eve of Balinese Hindu Saka New Year, or Nyepi.

The city administration has banned the annual event, claiming that it could spark riots between rival political factions given the upcoming election.

"The city administration is looked at the ogoh-ogoh parade through a conflict lenses meaning the artistic work has become an object of paranoia," Mangku Wayan Candra, who established the Gases artistic community, which is considered one of the leading ogoh-ogoh producers, said.

"Please do not sacrifice the artistic work and expression of the youths simply for because of the general elections."

The Denpasar chapter of the Customary Villages Grand Council (MUDP) has banned the ogoh-ogoh parade because it coincides with the campaigning period ahead of the April 9 legislative elections.

While the Bali MUDP has called on other regions to ban ogoh-ogoh parades, so far only the Denpasar city administration has sanctioned the ban. Candra said he was concerned that the ban could lead to a negative reaction.

"The youth could opt to get drunk and make noises on the streets," he said. "It happened when the parade was banned several years ago."

He did not elaborate on which year the riot took place, only saying that the youths stayed up late ahead of Nyepi and took to the streets, causing mayhem along Jl. Sesetan in Denpasar.

Candra said it would be easy to prevent riots and election law violations during ogoh-ogoh by getting each banjar (customary hamlet) leader to sign a written agreement so that each banjar's members would have a reason to behave and follow regulations during the parade.

"There is already a consensus saying that during the parade there should be no drunken people or firecrackers," he said. "The parade is guarded by pecalang (customary security guards)."

One resident, I Komang Gelgel, lambasted the decision to ban the parade because of the general elections.

"What the election has got to do with ogoh-ogoh?" he said. "We young people greatly anticipate this chance to express our creativity and togetherness."

Despite the ban, workers at the Gases workshop have been busy making dozens of ogoh-ogoh, commissioned by residents and a number of hotels. "Some residents and hotels have ordered smaller ogoh-ogoh due to the ban imposed by their banjars," Candra said.

The ogoh-ogoh parade attracts locals and tourists alike ever year, when literally hundreds of effigies are paraded though each banjar's territory.

Generally, ogoh-ogoh takes the form of demons and evil spirits depicted in various Hindu scriptures and Balinese folklore. A monstrous giant with menacing fangs and an intimidating pose is one of the favorite themes among ogoh-ogoh makers on the island.

The ogoh-ogoh, escorted by groups of people carrying bamboo torches and accompanied by a boisterous gamelan ensemble, are paraded around the night before Nyepi.

Earlier in the day, sacrificial offerings are made at homes, along streets and at the city square in Denpasar. The day is known as Pengerupukan, during which Balinese try to simultaneously appease and scare away evil spirits.

Every banjar in Bali has one ogoh-ogoh, made locally or commissioned to someone else.

Nyepi, or the Day of Silence, marks the Saka Balinese Hindu New Year which is 1931 this year and falls on March 26. The campaign period, meanwhile, is from March 16 to April 6.

Link between thefts and need for campaign funds suspected

Jakarta Globe - March 4, 2009

Muninggar Sri Saraswati – In the past few weeks, the media has reported a spate of stories concerning candidates in the upcoming legislative elections being suspected of involvement in various thefts.

Suspicions that the pressing need to fund political campaigns were behind the crimes arose after one of the arrested legislative candidates admitted that he wanted to use the money from his crime to fund his campaign.

In past elections, voters chose the political parties they wanted to be represented by and then the party filled seats at the legislative from its own list of priority candidates. Parties, therefore, helped with most of the candidate's campaign funding.

This year, candidates have to individually scramble to get the highest number of votes to get a seat in the legislative, forcing them to do whatever was necessary to raise money for their campaigns.

"Our electoral system has now become very liberal. It takes a lot of money to finance the campaign, which must be taken care of by the individual candidates," said Bima Arya Sugiarto, director of political consulting agency Charta Politika.

Based on his experiences as a political consultant, Bima explained that a candidate could spend up to Rp 2.5 billion ($207,500) to campaign in one electoral region.

"Some candidates may say they only spend Rp 40 million in one electoral region, but it takes billions to finance the whole campaign up until election day," he said.

The candidates could spend as much as they wanted because there was no legislation requiring them to report their account to the General Elections Commission, or KPU, a requirement imposed on political parties only, Bima said. "This is a fatal loophole that we must fix," he said.

Erlangga Pribadi, a political expert from the state Airlangga University in Surabaya, East Java Province, agreed, adding that with the lack of such a ruling, "we'll never know where the money they use came from."

He said that such crimes were the logical consequences of the high cost of political campaigning as competition was now more on an individual basis.

But Fahry Ali, a political researcher with the state Indonesian Institute of Sciences, dismissed the connection. "I think the crimes have nothing to do with having to get the most number of votes. I think, they commit crimes just because they are like that, like thieves."

He said the cases should be seen in the same light as legislative candidates being caught taking illicit narcotics or engaging in extra-marital affairs.

PKS leaders 'divided' over presidential nominations

Jakarta Post - March 4, 2009

Dicky Christanto, Jakarta – A crack is appearing within the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), with its top brass split over which presidential candidates to support.

A faction led by PKS president Tifatul Sembiring has intensified moves to approach Vice President and Golkar Party chairman Jusuf Kalla, who recently expressed his readiness to run for president.

But another camp, led by PKS secretary-general Anis Matta, has approached both presidential hopefuls Yogyakarta Governor Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X and Wiranto.

Last week, Tifatul and PKS co-founder Hidayat Nur Wahid met with Kalla at the PKS headquarters in Mampang, South Jakarta. The meeting, which Kalla said was aimed at seeking a political alliance between Golkar and the PKS, was not attended by Anis for unclear reasons.

Speaking recently at his hometown of Makassar, South Sulawesi, Anis said Kalla was "not qualified" for the presidency. In addition, he went on, recent surveys showed Kalla was far less popular than either Hamengkubuwono or People's Conscience Party (Hanura) leader Wiranto, who is Anis's father-in-law.

The apparent rift has sparked speculation of bickering within the Islamic-based party, which has rarely been embroiled in such an open confrontation between its leaders.

PKS senior executive Mahfudz Siddiq confirmed there were "different political maneuvers" by party leaders ahead of the legislative and presidential elections. But he stressed the PKS would remain solid in the upcoming elections.

"Everything that might look different right now is actually part of our political communications strategy, so there's nothing to worry about," said Mahfudz, who chairs the PKS faction at the House of Representatives.

"We are still solid and upbeat about winning a significant increase of votes in the elections." He admitted several party leaders were seeking "political communication" with figures from other parties simultaneously.

However, this effort was only meant to communicate their political views with other parties, he was quick to point out. Mahfudz said the only forum authorized to make substantial decisions by the PKS was a plenary meeting by its board of patrons.

"So if later on the plenary meeting results give rise to opposing opinions that could lead to open conflict, then you can call it a political fracture in the party," he said. "But until then, don't assume too much."

University of Indonesia political analyst Husni Umar said the wheeling and dealing taking place now was just part of the PKS's efforts to reap free publicity.

The PKS is seeking to rake in 20 percent of votes during the April 9 legislative elections, a significant increase from the 7 percent it garnered in the 2004 polls.

Last year, the party's national meeting in Bali recommended that to significantly raise its haul of votes, the Islamist PKS should embrace moderate Islamic groups and other factions from different religions.

The call sparked a dilemma among party leaders, with the PKS left to choose between abandoning its loyal and solid, but rather exclusive voter base, and reaching out to new voters from moderate and pluralist groups.

23 parties join forces to fight election limits

Jakarta Globe - March 4, 2009

Undeterred by a series of court-issued setbacks for independent candidates and small parties, 23 political parties have established a group to fight a Constitutional Court ruling that upheld a threshold for parties to make it into the House of Representatives.

The court recently rejected a request filed by 11 parties regarding the parliamentary threshold clause in the 2008 Election Law.

The parties established the group during a closed discussion in Jakarta on Tuesday in part as a reaction to the court's ruling.

The law stipulates that a political party must win more than 2.5 percent of the total votes to receive seats in the House, and political analysts have predicted that only around ten of the 38 parties eligible to run in the national legislative elections will actually make it into the House.

The Court also recently ruled that independent candidates would not be allowed to run in the presidential election. Instead, a candidate must be nominated by a party or coalition of parties that had won 20 percent of the seats in the House or 25 percent of the popular vote to be eligible to run in the July presidential poll.

Oesman Sapta, chief of the Regional Unity Party said that participants created a team to hammer out an agenda for the group. The group is slated to reconvene on March 6.

Asked if the group might itself become a political coalition, Oesman said there had been no talks to that effect, adding that such talks might weaken the group's resolve to press their agenda.

The group discussed staging a rally to target the General Elections Commission, filing a complaint with the Judicial Commission and suggested a potential boycott of the 2009 elections.

Former State Secretary Yusril Ihza Mahendra, who served in Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's cabinet and is a notable member of the Crescent Star Party, added to the chorus of voices saying the threshold clause effectively shut out small parties.

The meeting was also attended by the chairman of the Indonesian Workers and Employers Party, Daniel Hutapea, and Marhaenism Indonesian National Party chairwoman Sukmawati Sukarnoputri.

Also on hand were representatives of the Democratic Renewal Party, the Patriot Party, the Freedom Party, the Prosperous Peace Party, the Republican Party, the Sovereignty Party, the Labor Party, the Functional Party of Struggle and the Vanguard Party. (Antara, JG)

Legislative polls at risk from abysmal preparation

Jakarta Post - March 3, 2009

Adianto P. Simamora – Activists have warned that the legislative elections slated for April 9 may not be held simultaneously across the country due to logistics quandaries coupled with poor preparation by the polls body.

The People's Voter Education Network (JPPR) said it was concerned about "mistakes" in printing ballots and tardy delivery of election materials to polling stations.

"The General Elections Commission [KPU] has not provided the printing firms with any standards for the ballots to be sent to polling stations," JPPR steering committee member Jeirry Sumampouw told reporters Monday.

"Also, there are still many mistakes in printing party names, such as the Labor Party of Struggle [Pakar Pangan] on the ballots."

He added the recently issued government regulation-in-lieu-of-law (perppu) on updating the voter list would be seriously compound the logistics problem.

There are currently only 170 million voters on the final list announced last year.

The KPU is permitted to print a maximum of 2 percent surplus ballots more than the final number. The polls body has promised the ballots will reach polling stations 10 days before the elections at the most.

"There must be extra efforts to ensure the elections can take place on April 9, including enhancing cooperation with the Army to distribute ballots to remote areas," Jeirry said. The JPPR also warned that poor promotion would hamper voter turnout because many voters were still unaware about the elections.

"We find that many voters in Bekasi, West Java, for instance, are still unaware how to mark their ballots. So we wonder, how will people in more remote areas cope?" said JPPR coordinator Daniel Zuchron.

The KPU issued regulation No. 3/2009 on ballot marking that allows voters to vote by ticking, crossing or punching their choice of party or candidate once. The government then issue a regulation-in-lieu-of-law to allow voters to double mark ballots to help cut back on invalid votes.

However, Daniel said polling officials in several villages were still confused about the marking system.

Expected election obstacles:

1. Low voter turnout

Turnout is projected at only 60 percent due to poor promotion by the KPU and political parties about the elections. People have also been apathetic as they feel candidates nominated by parties lack the proper qualifications and/or integrity to bring change after the elections. Voters remain ill-informed about how to mark ballots. Many people are also jaded with the elections.

2. Logistics preparations

The slow distribution of ballots to polling stations in remote areas and overseas is of great concern. Many regencies and municipalities also face difficulties folding ballots. The updating of the voter list could also cause a logistics problem, including a shortage of ballots.

3. Vote-buying

JPPR predicts rampant vote-buying will take place during the campaign. The modus operandi includes giving cash, distributing basic food commodities and vouchers to "buy" votes.

Sources: People's Voters Education Network (JPPR)

Kalla's ambiguity keeps the country's rumor mill turning

Jakarta Globe - March 3, 2009

Muninggar Sri Saraswati – If Vice President Jusuf Kalla was trying to make his stance on running for president clear during remarks to Golkar Party cadres over the weekend, he still managed to leave political observers around the country scratching their heads over what his real plans are.

Kalla has repeatedly announced his "readiness" to accept the Golkar nomination to contest the presidency – at once making himself a force in the presidential race without actually declaring his intention to run – first in a Golkar meeting in February, then on Sunday in his hometown of Makassar, in South Sulawesi Province.

He made a similarly ambiguous statement in Bandung, West Java Province, on Monday, saying after a meeting of local Golkar leaders that he was "ready to fulfil your desires."

Ikrar Nusa Bhakti, a political expert with the Indonesian Science Institute, or LIPI, said on Monday that Kalla, who is also Golkar's chairman, appeared to be serious about pursuing the top job, noting that both South Sulawesi and West Java are known as Golkar strongholds.

"He has announced his plan in front of supporters in Golkar strongholds," Ikrar said. "I don't think a Bugis leader like him would retract statements that have been made in public," adding that he might lose public trust and demoralize Golkar members if he now chose not to enter the race.

He said the relationship between Kalla and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had already begun to fray, making it "highly unlikely" they would run together again.

"Kalla and SBY are like Tom and Jerry," Ikrar said, referring to the popular US cartoon depicting the never-ending rivalry between Tom the cat and Jerry the mouse.

Some scholars believe the friction is due to the two politicians' differing leadership styles. Yudhoyono is known for moving with care and caution – sometimes to the point of indecision – while Kalla is considered to take a more active and pragmatic approach to problem solving.

Political observer Kacung Marijan of the Airlangga University said on Monday that he believed Kalla's recent statements are part of a strategy to prevent Golkar from splitting over the decision about whether or not to endorse a presidential candidate. "It's a move to consolidate the party in order to win the legislative elections on April 9," he said.

The initial momentum to do so, Kacung said, came when Ahmad Mubarok, the deputy chairman of Yudhoyono's Democratic Party, angered Golkar members recently by saying that the party would only be able to win 2.5 percent of the national vote in the legislative elections.

However, the party had needed a leader to build on that momentum, Kacung said. "The Democratic Party has Yudhoyono, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle [PDI-P] has Megawati Sukarnoputri, but Golkar has nobody."

Kacung said Kalla still had many things to consider. These include making an assessment as to whether Kalla believes Golkar is able to win more than 20 percent of seats in the House of Representatives seats at the legislative election in order to be able to nominate him.

Parties to maintain role in seat distribution

Jakarta Post - March 2, 2009

Adianto P. Simamora, Jakarta – The open system to allocate legislative seats will not entirely shut out political parties from naming their representatives in legislatures.

A draft regulation being prepared by the General Elections Commission (KPU) will allow parties the right to determine seats for their winning candidates if two or more of them grab an equal number of votes in the upcoming elections.

The KPU is expected to issue a regulation this week to determine seat distributions for legislative candidates.

"We hope to issue the regulation by Wednesday at the latest. We are now discussing technical points, such as the validity of ballots, following the issuance of a perpu [regulation-in-lieu-of-law] to allow for double marking," KPU member Abdul Azis told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

The government issued the regulation-in-lieu-of-law last Thursday, to allow for double marking of ballots and to update the permanent voter list.

The Constitutional Court recently ruled that legislative seats would go directly to candidates who won the most votes.

"But if two or more candidates have an equal number of votes, while the party is eligible for only one seat, the elected candidates must be determined based on the size of their constituencies," Abdul said.

He added that should the constituencies be the same size, then the party would have to determine which candidate to award the seat to.

The legislative elections will take place on April 9, with about 12,000 candidates from 38 parties contesting 560 seats at the House of Representatives.

There are also hundreds of thousands of candidates vying for provincial, municipal and regency legislative seats across the country. The 2008 legislative elections law previously stipulated the seat distribution for the House of Representatives would be determined by the KPU, while that for provincial, municipal and regency level would be set by regional elections bodies (KPUDs).

But the Constitutional Court revoked that article to cut back on instances of cronyism. The law also states legislative seats must first be distributed to candidates who secure at least 30 percent of the original vote.

The rest of the seats are then allocated according to a list of permanent legislative candidates submitted by the political parties.

Abdul said the KPU was also discussing the issue of valid ballots in relation to the government's regulation-in-lieu-of-law on double marking. "We will elaborate on it in our regulation to avoid misunderstandings during the vote counts," he said.

The 2008 election law states voters are allowed to mark once on ballots. The KPU then decided this should be in the form of a checkbox.

But because many voters in trial polls chose to punch the ballot, the KPU issued Regulation No. 3/2009 on ballot marking that allowed voters to use a tick, cross or punch for their choice of party or candidate. The regulation only allowed voters to make one such mark, either for the party or candidate.

KPU chairman Abdul Hafiz Anshary said his office would soon update the permanent list of 170 million eligible voters, as requested by the government.

"We will invite officials from the KPUDs to Jakarta to verify their voter lists this week," he said in Bandung, West Java.

Legislative candidates face uphill battle

Jakarta Post - March 2, 2009

Harry Bhaskara, Jakarta – Dressed in his Golkar Party uniform and belting out political slogans to passing motorists, Indra Piliang knows all too well the stress of public campaigning in the lead up to legislative elections.

"It seems we not only need organizations like the KPK (Corruption Eradication Commission) and the KPU (General Elections Commission), but also psychiatrists to look after those candidates running for election," he said.

His colleagues, Saiful Mujani from the Indonesian Survey Institute, Faisal Basri from the University of Indonesia and the Indonesian Community for Democracy (KID) chairman Ignas Kleden, exploded in laughter at his comments.

Indra had just returned from a campaign trip to West Sumatra where he attended a discussion organized by KID. Traveling abroad for campaign activities and personally visiting constituents at their homes is not uncommon for Indra and the hundreds of candidates competing in the upcoming elections.

While in the past candidates were less inclined to meet their constituents personally, and consequently often had very little knowledge of the province they represented, a recent Constitutional Court ruling has changed the nature of campaigning. The new ruling states that the candidate with the most votes wins the seat, nullifying the long-standing system in which political party bosses picked their supporters for the position.

The new ruling will bring legislators closer to their people as political awareness matures, Indra said. "It took me more than six months to visit just two of the eight cities in my province,"he said.

This travel-intensive schedule for many candidates perhaps explains why there were so few legislators at a Feb. 25 discussion organized by the Political Party Dialog Community (KDPP). The discussion titled "2009 Election: Political Consolidation in the Face of Global Economic Crisis" ended on a positive note.

Saiful said as the role of political parties backed off a little and civil society rose in prominence, law-making processes would most likely meet people's demands more frequently.

The people trust democracy, he said, but had less trust in political parties. "The public trusts the mass media more than political parties," said Saiful.

The public on the whole, he said, was democratic in its outlook. "This is shown by the 400-odd local elections held peacefully throughout the country over the past few years," Saiful said.

Ignas said people should not be overly optimistic about the prospect of legislators distancing themselves from political parties.

He said to the audience that political leadership comprised of a strong constituency, integrity, and competency. Legislators in the past have shown they have good rapport with their constituencies but also that they possess the latter two leadership elements. Faisal said he believed the post-election political hand over would run smoothly, unless there was a blunder at the top level or unnecessary fear generated among voters.

"In his speech last month in Palembang, Ginandjar Kartasasmita said Indonesia was about to enter a double crisis in 2009 that would be more severe than 2008," he said, referring to the chairman of the House of Regional Representatives.

Indonesia has been less affected by the global crisis compared to other Asian countries because its economy is less tied up to the international financial system, he said.

"In a sense, our 'primitive' economy has served as a savior in this crisis," said Faisal. One of the problems, he said, was our over reliance on assistance from foreign countries.

Anger and apathy in election season

Antara News - March 1, 2009

With candidates counting down the days to the April 9 legislative polls, merchants and street vendors in Greater Jakarta still lack information about who to vote for – and in some cases, when. "Honestly, I'm still confused who should I vote for. Most candidates in the legislative elections can only give us fake promises," said a merchant at a cellular phone shop in Pasar Baru, Central Jakarta.

Rizal, a street peddler near Tanah Abang market in Central Jakarta, said that even though the campaign had begun, he had not seen political parties or candidates who could clearly explain their platform.

"There's too many political parties and candidates trying to win legislative seats, and that confuses us," Rizal said. "They only prioritize their own groups and themselves."

Arbi Sanit, a political analyst from the University of Indonesia, said on Sunday that the new Law on Elections had been issued too recently. "Therefore, the General Elections Commission has had a limited time to do its job," he said. "Everything cannot be done ideally, such as public information campaigns for the elections."

Elections had been seen as a tool of democracy for Indonesia after 1999, Arbi said, but many ordinary people were still lacking electricity, while others continued to be affected by floods.

"Now, people are angry, that's the reason why they are reluctant to vote," he said. "They might think that it is better to sleep or work during the elections."

Regional autonomy

Regional autonomy way off track, expert says

Jakarta Post - March 6, 2009

Jakarta – Ten years down the track, regional autonomy may be doing more harm than good, the founding father of the country's current self-reliance model says.

"The practice of regional autonomy has strayed far from its initial path," Ryaas Rasyid, a former director general of regional autonomy and minister for bureaucratic reform, told an audience of regional representatives during an overview at the State Administration Institute in Jakarta on Wednesday.

After the fall of Soeharto's New Order regime, the country's centralized governance system gave way to regional autonomy, a system in which regions have more authority to manage their own affairs such as budgeting and lawmaking.

According to Ryaas there has been no real improvement on the whole in either management or welfare within the regions. "There has been no significant rise in prosperity for the regions following their adoption of autonomy measures."

He said major changes in the rules and practice of autonomy should be made if the country wished to maintain decentralization. "For instance, the central government needs to regulate regional expansion to avoid the establishment of numerous new regional territories and administrations."

Ryaas said the establishment of new regions was often plagued by vested interests and was rarely thought through with sustainable goals in mind. "Thus, the people from the newly established regions will almost always ask the central government for money."

Since the government implemented regional autonomy in 1999, as many as 192 new regions have sprung up throughout the country.

Other problems which have emerged from the scheme include overspending on regional elections. "The quality of local leaders has not improved either," he said.

The organization of power has also ebbed away from the original structure behind autonomy.

"In the beginning, the provinces were meant to be the watchdogs for the administrative areas under them. However, in practice, too much power is in the hands of the regencies, cities, and other administrative units," Ryaas said.

Political expert from the University of Indonesia, Kusnanto Anggoro, said decentralizing the country had triggered numerous conflicts in the regions.

According to Kusnanto, autonomy was aimed to bolster democracy and minimize conflicts.

"However, in practice the political, social, cultural and economic processes leading to autonomy have the capacity to trigger larger problems."

He said a regional rule which prioritizes those considered 'local sons' to be regional leaders was discriminatory toward migrants. "This discriminative ruling could sow the seeds for conflict in the future."

Kusnanto said that since the establishment of regional autonomy there has been a shift in the nature of conflicts erupting in the country.

"Previously, violent conflicts had been massive, encapsulating a whole region or even beyond, such as those in Aceh and Maluku," he said. "Now, conflicts are more small-scaled."

From January to November 2006 alone, there were 240 violent incidents throughout the country, Kusnanto said, "meaning communal violence occurred every one-and-a half days."

He said most violence was triggered by local elections, especially during public campaigning. (dis)

Regional autonomy has 'failed'

Jakarta Globe - March 5, 2009

Anita Rachman – A decade after the country launched its decentralization drive, the promised prosperity for the regions has failed to materialize, one of the policy's key proponents said on Wednesday.

Ryaas Rasyid, a former home affairs minister and one of the architects of regional autonomy, said there had been no significant advancements since the autonomy law was implemented.

"We have seen no improvement in prosperity between the era prior to decentralization and a decade later," said Ryaas, who is also a former state minister for regional autonomy, a post that no longer exists. "The poverty rate has not dropped significantly and the unemployment rate has, in fact, increased."

In the reform era that followed the fall of President Suharto in 1998, the central government began to delegate its powers to the regions with the aim of ensuring more effective development there. Seven new provinces, 173 new districts and 35 new municipalities were created between 1999 and the end of 2008.

Ryaas said a review of the policy needed to be undertaken. He cited the regions' lack of resourcefulness and their inability to manage the authority awarded to them, as well as the central government's lack of commitment, as the main causes of the failure.

Ryaas said in many regions, particularly in the provinces of East and West Nusa Tenggara, Maluku and Papua, no apparent improvements had been seen.

"I understand that the human resources in the regions may not be ready [for autonomy], but here is the thing: that needs to improve," he said. "If we're talking about being ready, none of us are."

Political observers have said that under the decentralization drive, the authority of the heads of regional governments has grown stronger while supervision by the central government has been weak.

However, Ryaas said the country should not scrap decentralization. To reach its goals, including the eradication of poverty, the government needs to support the regions with proper regulations and conduct intensive evaluations at least every five years, he said.

He also questioned the wisdom of giving the regions full authority to manage their own territories.

"The government initially intended that the provinces would stand in for the central government in their territories," he said. "So far, no government decree has been issued to regulate this."

Ryaas also said the government should turn down any petitions to establish new provinces or districts, because there were already too many new regions, each with its own budgetary implications.

"The government does not have a blueprint or projection of the number of provinces, municipalities or districts it wants to have in the next, say, hundred years," he said.

Ryaas said the process of establishing new territories was rife with corruption and short-sighted greed.

Ryaas also criticized regional elections as useless drains on the government's budget. He said that the elections only "tend to bring cronies into the bureaucracy and kick out any non- supporters."

Economy & investment

Exporters face doom and gloom in coming months

Jakarta Globe - March 5, 2009

Teguh Prasetyo – Indonesian exporters are projecting an increasingly bleak outlook for the coming months, with January- April orders likely to drop by as much as 30 percent, particularly in commodities and manufacturing, raising the specter of more job losses.

As the global economic picture has darkened, importers in target countries have cancelled orders for a wide range of Indonesian products including crude palm oil, rubber, textiles and garments, footwear, fishery products and furniture, Toto Dirgantoro, secretary general of the Association of Indonesian Exporters, said on Wednesday.

Palm oil cancellations have come particularly from Chinese and Pakistani importers who have found that sharply dropping international prices have rendered the contracts they signed earlier are no longer profitable.

Rubber prices have likewise fallen to about $11,100 per ton, 56 percent off their cyclical high.

The footwear industry expects to have difficulty matching not only the $1.8 billion in exports recorded in 2008, but even the $1.6 billion in 2007.

The Indonesian Textile Association said exports were set to fall by up to 20 percent this year from $10.48 billion. The textile industry is the country's largest employer, with an estimated 3.5 million workers in more than 4,500 factories.

"The most significant decreases in orders are from traditional textile and footwear markets in the United States, the European Union, or EU, and Asean member countries," Toto said.

January exports have already fallen by 17.7 percent from the previous month, the biggest month-on-month drop in more than 22 years, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported on Monday. The bureau said the most significant component was decreasing oil and gas exports, which fell by 23.85 percent to $947.1 million. Non- oil exports fell by 16.67 percent to $6.2 billion.

Agus Tjahajana, secretary general of the Ministry of Industry, said separately that the ministry would continue to implement industrial development programs including machinery modernization, investment promotion, quality control improvement, strengthening small- and medium-sized manufacturers and local product promotion. The machinery modernization program will be continued this year.

"Strengthening the role of small and medium manufacturers is our priority, as smaller firms tend to be more resilient in times of financial crisis, and collectively they employ large numbers of workers throughout the country," he said.

Indonesia's rupiah erases losses on intervention speculation

Bloomberg - March 5, 2009

Lilian Karunungan – Indonesia's rupiah erased losses on speculation the central bank intervened to support the currency. Government bonds rose.

The currency had dropped to a three month low this week, extending this year's losses to 9.3 percent, as overseas investors sold the nation's stocks and bonds on speculation signs of a prolonged global recession will keep funds away from emerging markets. Bank Indonesia Deputy Governor Hartadi Sarwono said today that the central bank had been in the market to reduce volatility in the rupiah.

The central bank is "more concerned about volatility," said Wiling Bolung, head of treasury at ANZ Panin Bank in Jakarta. "They're not targeting a certain level. The market is still looking at the real flows. Buying demand for the dollar is still there. It's still risk aversion."

The rupiah was little changed at 12,075 a dollar, versus 12,070 yesterday in Jakarta, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The currency earlier fell 0.7 percent to 12,150.

Foreign ownership of local-currency bonds fell 9.6 percent as of March 3 from December, the government said today. Funds abroad sold more Indonesian shares than they bought in the last three trading days, according to the stock exchange.

Non-deliverable forwards contracts signal traders are betting the rupiah will drop 2.4 percent to 12,320 per dollar in a month, after indicating a rate of 12,325 yesterday. Forwards are agreements in which assets are bought and sold at current prices for delivery at a future specified time and date.

More rate cuts

Overseas investors' holdings of local bonds fell to 79.24 trillion rupiah ($6.6 billion) from 87.61 trillion rupiah in December, according to the finance ministry's Web site. Ownership reached a record 106.66 trillion rupiah in August before risk aversion mounted as Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. filed for bankruptcy in September.

Five-year government bonds advanced for a second day after the central bank cut its benchmark interest rate by half a percentage point to 7.75 percent yesterday and the government said it will get $5.5 billion of loans to help finance its budget deficit.

"It's supportive of the bond market because of the supply issue and also because the central bank is cutting rates," said Euben Paracuelles, an economist at Royal Bank of Scotland Plc in Singapore. "I think after yesterday, they might even go to 7 percent. Bond yields have further scope to fall."

The yield on the 11.25 percent note due May 2014 dropped 30 basis points, or 0.30 percentage point, to 12.74 percent, according to closing prices at the Inter Dealer Market Association. The price rose 1.0674, or 10,674 rupiah per 1 million rupiah face amount, to 94.4362.

Indonesia gets $5.5 billion to plug deficit, stimulate economy

Jakarta Post - March 5, 2009

Aditya Suharmoko, Jakarta – Indonesia has officially agreed US$5.5 billion of loans from Australia, Japan, the World Bank (WB) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to help fill shortfalls in the state budget, as well as to stimulate the weakening economy.

Australia supplies $1 billion and Japan $1.5 billion, WB supplies $2 billion and ADB $1 billion.

The loans, coming under the Public Expenditure Support Facility (PESF), will only be used if the government fails to raise enough funds from bonds and other borrowing. It is also known as a deferred drawdown option (DDO) scheme.

"The DDO means the money can be used when it's needed and it's not all spent at once. It can be spent at other times as the need arises," WB acting country director Chris Hoban said in a press conference on Wednesday.

The WB loans are payable over 24.5 years, with a 10-year grace period for repayments, the Washington-based lender said in a statement.

Australian Ambassador to Indonesia Bill Farmer said the finalization of their loan would be made this month, and the funds would be available starting in April. "We're in the middle of finalizing the details."

As to the loan from Japan, it will be available as a guarantee on the yen-denominated bonds Indonesia plans to sell. Should Indonesia cancel the Samurai bond plan, the loan will be converted to an ordinary loan to help finance the budget deficit.

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati and Japanese Parliamentary Secretary for Finance Shinsuke Suematsu forged the loan deal during the special ASEAN+3 Finance Minister's meeting in the Thai resort island of Phuket on Feb 21. The ADB has not revealed any details over its loan pledge yet.

Liquidity shortages in the global financial market have forced the Indonesian government to turn to multilateral and bilateral deals to ensure its budget financing remains intact should it fail to raise needed funds from the regular market.

Mulyani said the $5.5 billion in loans could be drawn down up to 2010, and would be "enough" to finance the gap in this year's budget. She said the loans would only be used if the government failed to issue and sell enough bonds to finance gaps in the budget.

The predicted budget deficit stands at Rp 139.5 trillion ($11.6 billion). The government last month sold $3 billion of medium- term notes to help plug the budget gap. According to the Finance Ministry, the government has so far issued Rp 56 trillion worth of bonds.

Mulyani said that aside from the deficit, the loans would also be used to help maintain the financial sector and sustain public expenditure, as well as supporting exports – all of which are crucial so as to ensure that the economy can expand by 4.5 percent this year, as planned.

The loan will be on top of the Rp 73.3 trillion economic stimulus package approved recently by the House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, Mulyani also said the G-20 (group of finance ministers and central bank governors from the world's 20 largest economies) should approve a planned $200 billion package designed to help emerging markets cope with the deepening global economic crisis.

"What we expect from the G-20 meeting (in London next month) is a more concrete commitment, such as some hundreds of billions of dollars that can be mobilized to support developing and poor countries," she said.

The G-20 nations include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the US, and UK, with the EU also present.

Less imported raw materials: Industrial output to fall

Jakarta Post - March 4, 2009

Jakarta – In addition to declining exports, Indonesia's industry is under another threat of equally great significance – a continued drop in imports of key raw materials.

Such conditions could have a major impact on the unemployment rate, said Edy Putra, a deputy to the Coordinating Minister for the Economy, on Tuesday.

"We still have a surplus trade balance but the significance is relatively small, as domestic production growth raises a concern as imports of raw materials continue to drop," Edy said.

"That means there is a trend to reduce productivity of domestic industry, which will affect the unemployment rate sooner or later," he told The Jakarta Post.

While exports have been in decline since October, with January's on-year exports dropping 36 percent – the steepest drop in the past 22 years, imports of raw materials crucial for domestic industrial production have gone south as well.

The Central Statistics Agency shows (BPS) data shows that raw material imports have been plunging since last October.

The country imported around US$6.3 billion of raw materials in November, less than the $7.9 billion recorded in the previous month. The trend continued as raw material imports fell to $5 billion in December and to $4.5 billion in January.

The continuing drop in exports and imports enabled the country to record a marginal trade surplus of around $0.8 billion for the January trade balance.

According to the ministry, the continued drop in raw material imports points to a decrease in industrial output in the near future. When a company, be it export or domestic oriented, cannot operate at its full production capacity – then reduction in the workforce may follow.

Export-oriented industries have so far laid off around 25,000 workers by January, and are planning to lay off another 25,000 more in the coming months.

Edy however, expects that the government's stimulus package would generate more robust economic activities and help compensate for sluggish growth in domestic industrial output.

The recently approved Rp 73.3 trillion ($6.08 billion) stimulus package is expected to provide jobs for around 3 million workers in the midst of potential large-scale layoffs from companies hit by the global economic downturn.

"We will start the stimulus package designed for infrastructure projects [which will provide the most jobs] next week," Edy said.

The stimulus package component for infrastructure development in rural areas is about Rp 12.2 trillion.

Edy said the government had set up several other plans to increase domestic productivity and to secure employment.

"We have held discussions last week with several sectors such as textiles, shoes and electronics on the policies to secure the livelihoods of these industries during the crisis," he said.

Edy revealed the government had received inputs from industry to improve productivity by promoting demand, both domestically and abroad, while at the same time reducing dependency on the part of companies on imported raw materials.

"For example, the textiles industry asked for our help in protecting the domestic market share, whilst we also plan to improve our trade diplomacy abroad because we want to diversify our textiles market in Latin-America and the Middle East," he said.

"The electronics sector also asked for more domestic protection because there are many mediocre imported products flooding the country with lack of legitimacy."

The ministry had asked, on behalf of the industries, for the Transportation Ministry to charge for portsservices in local currency

"We will also ask the export financing agency (LPEI) to begin its role in refinancing, re-discounting non-letter of credit export bills and to provide insurance such as via the People's Business Loans (KUR)," he said. (hdt)

Government struggles to get funding as global liquidity drains

Jakarta Globe - March 4, 2009

Muhamad Al Azhari – Emerging-market countries such as Indonesia are struggling for increasingly scarce liquidity in global financial markets as they compete with the US Treasury's plans to issue $3 trillion in debt to fund the US budget deficit, Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said on Tuesday.

The global collapse of liquidity has pressured emerging-markets paper, partly as international investors pull back assets they placed in emerging markets to cover their domestic positions. Emerging market countries like Indonesia face a dilemma, as on one hand they need to increase government spending to stimulate their economies via wider deficits, while crowding-out by first- world borrowers makes it difficult to finance the deficits.

"The whole world economy is going to suffer from larger deficits and fiscal spending," Sri Mulyani told the 5th World Islamic Economic Forum in Jakarta. But, she said, developing countries face giant competitors with giant liquidity needs, starting with the United States.

Indonesia plans to issue a net Rp 54.7 trillion ($4.54 billion) in bonds B – total bonds issued in a year minus maturing debt paper and bonds the government has planned to buy back – but domestic financial markets are under pressure as offshore investors have reduced their investment in high-yielding but high-risk Indonesian bonds.

"Even in an emerging country like Indonesia, with sound policy and a credible track record, we [still] have to fight to find the available capital left in the world," Sri Mulyani said.

However, despite the difficulties in financing, she said Indonesia still planned to widen its fiscal deficit as it was crucial to counter the impacts of the slowdown.

Indonesia plans a deficit of Rp 139.5 trillion, equivalent to 2.5 percent of gross domestic product and up from the earlier forecast of Rp 51.3 trillion, or 1 percent of GDP.

Separately, Indonesia on Tuesday bought back Rp 8.52 trillion worth of government rupiah bonds as part of an effort to stabilize the bond market, in which prices have been hit by negative global sentiment and a falling rupiah.

Indonesia's exports plunge most in 22 years, inflation slows

Bloomberg - March 2, 2009

Aloysius Unditu and Arijit Ghosh – Indonesia's exports fell the most in more than 22 years in January and inflation slowed the following month, increasing scope for the central bank to reduce its benchmark interest rate this week.

Overseas shipments plunged 35.5 percent to $7.15 billion from a year earlier, the Central Statistics Bureau said in Jakarta today. Consumer prices rose 8.6 percent in February from a year earlier, the smallest increase in 11 months.

Declining exports and slowing inflation may prompt Bank Indonesia to cut borrowing costs for a fourth straight month to boost consumer demand in Southeast Asia's largest economy. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said today the global recession now threatened the world with the 'collapse" of manufacturing industries.

"Global demand has fallen significantly and maybe it's deeper than what the central bank had expected," said Purbaya Yudhi Sadewa, chief economist at the Danareksa Research Institute in Jakarta. "That will create more downward pressure on the economy and means more domestic stimulus is needed. The central bank will have to cut rates at its next meeting."

Indonesia's benchmark stock index was down 1.9 percent at 2:05 p.m. in Jakarta, while the rupiah fell 1.5 percent to 12,165 against the dollar.

Bank Indonesia will meet on March 4 to decide on its policy rate. The central bank forecasts inflation will slow to the lower end of its 5 percent to 7 percent target this year, Director Made Sukada said on Feb. 28.

Slowing growth

Consumer prices rose 0.21 percent in February from a month earlier after declining 0.07 percent in January. Core inflation, excluding fuel prices, was 7.42 percent.

Indonesia's economic growth weakened to 5.2 percent in the fourth quarter, the slowest pace in more than two years, as the global recession pummeled the nation's exports. The government forecasts the pace of expansion will slow to 4.5 percent this year from 6.1 percent in 2008.

Wages in Japan, the biggest buyer of Indonesian goods, declined in January as companies cut jobs, reducing demand for products from overseas.

"The industrial production indices of Indonesia's four key trading partners continue to contract," said Helmi Arman, an economist at PT Bank Danamon Indonesia in Jakarta. The nation's trade surplus may improve as imports decline in line with exports, he added.

Imports outside trade zones fell 32 percent to $5.17 billion, according to today's statement. The trade surplus was $810 million.

Still, a depreciation of the rupiah increased costs of imported wheat, fuel and car parts. The rupiah has declined 23.7 percent in the past six months, making it the second-worst performing currency after South Korea among 10 most-traded Asian currencies outside Japan.

Analysis & opinion

The puzzle of TNI warnings in a democratic age

Jakarta Post - March 3, 2009

Rizal Sukma, Jakarta – Reading the warnings by TNI Chief Gen. Djoko Santoso last week reminded me of the days of the New Order rule. During that era, especially when the general elections were approaching, military generals routinely warned the people of possible threats to the nation's stability and security.

They often told us that certain elements of society would try to sabotage the elections, undermine political order and disturb development. The people were then assured that the military would take action against any such threat in order to safeguard national stability and development.

Last week, to the surprise of many, Gen. Santoso warned the nation that the upcoming general elections would be fraught with potential vulnerabilities and threats that could "disturb national stability".

He then went on to list a number of indicators of potential threats. They are, among others, too many political parties; a long campaign period; the accumulation of political problems; and too many candidates for president and vice president (Kompas, Feb. 25, 2009).

We, as a nation, of course need such warnings about the political situation in the country. However, they should not come from military generals.

Making an assessment about the internal political situation in public is a political act. Men in uniform are not supposed to make such political statements. Whether or not the remarks were meant for public consumption, the fact remains that the warnings were widely reported by the media.

As member of parliament Abdillah Toha correctly pointed out, such public statements create the impression that the TNI is not yet willing to fully withdraw from politics. Responses from other members of parliament also questioned the TNI's authority to make such political statements (Kompas, Feb. 26, 2009).

The problem, however, goes beyond whether or not the TNI has the authority to make such political assessments. It raises a number of questions regarding the TNI's commitment to, and understanding of, the essence of democracy.

For instance, it is really difficult to understand why too many candidates for president and vice president should be considered a possible threat to national stability.

Surely we do not want the right to contest the upcoming presidential elections to be given only to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and former president Megawati Soekarnoputri. The people have the right to have more candidates and more choices.

Democracy guarantees that every single citizen – except an active soldier – has the right to dream to become president of this country, and try to fulfill that dream by becoming a candidate.

Every single citizen – except an active soldier – is entitled to entertain the aspiration to contest the elections. No one, not even the mighty TNI, can limit that right that is guaranteed by the Constitution. Of course we cannot have everyone actually contest the presidential election.

That is why we have an elections law, which regulates who can actually contest the elections, under what conditions and requirements, and through what procedures. So let the law limit the number of candidates we have. Too many or too few candidates should not be seen as a threat.

It is equally puzzling why the large number of political parties is also seen as a potential threat. Surely we do not want to go back to the New Order era when the government only allowed three political parties to exist. The 1999 and 2004 elections took place relatively peacefully despite the fact we had more than 40 and 20 parties respectively.

Until today, we have not heard the 38 political parties fighting each other and creating disturbances. Even if they do, let the police deal with it.

More importantly, the natural and political selection, through the imposition of electoral and parliamentary thresholds, will reduce the number of political parties in the future. What we need now is just a little bit of patience. Let democracy mature itself, and it is a process.

Finally, the accumulation of political problems could indeed potentially undermine national stability. The government needs to be warned about the negative impacts this problem could have on national stability. But when such warnings came from the TNI, it sounds like criticism of the government's failure to resolve the problems and let the problems accumulate.

The TNI should not get into the habit of criticizing the government legitimately elected by the people. Let the people themselves do it.

Despite the problematic nature of the warnings, it does not mean the TNI is not entitled to any political views. The question here is how to channel the views through appropriate mechanisms and procedures. One such mechanism is through the National Security Council (NSC) provided for in Law No. 3/2002 on State Defense.

The problem is, however, the government has not yet formed the council. If that is the case, the government is equally to blame. So until the NSC is formed, brace yourself for more political statements from the generals!

[The writer is executive director at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).]

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