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Despite childish infighting and petulance among our so-called leaders, shifting loyalties, misguided priorities, inept bureaucrats being rewarded for their failures, and a general air of third rate or worse being an acceptable standard of performance and quality, Indonesia muddles along, oblivious to the nearly infinite opportunities for advancement.

The chaotic business of business as usualPatrick Guntensperger

Indonesia waits for the current instability to settle into some semblance of business as usual. The national presidential and vice-presidential elections are over, with the official results having declared Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the incumbent, and his running mate Boediono, a technocrat economist, the clear winners. The legal challenges to the election results launched by the disgruntled losing candidates, former president Megawati Soekarnoputri and her vice-presidential hopeful, ex-general Prabowo Subianto, and last place contender, vice president Jusuf Kalla and his vice-presidential wannabe ex-general Wiranto, were dismissed by the courts, confirming SBY and Boediono’s overwhelming first-round victory.

Nevertheless, the General Elections Commission (KPU) is widely recognised as being utterly incompetent and as having contributed to widespread suspicion about the democratic electoral process; massive electoral fraud including millions of fraudulent votes is conceded to have marred the second direct presidential elections in the newly democratic nation. The KPU is sanguine about its incompetence, taking the view that the Commission did its best, and that ought to be sufficient, disregarding the fact that the appallingly mismanaged elections carried the potential of undermining the country’s confidence in the burgeoning democratic paradigm that Indonesia only adopted relatively recently, following the fall of the dictator Soeharto in 1998.

In the period between the official announcement of the election results and the instalment of the new presidential team and parliament, there remain questions about the allocation of parliamentary seats that remain unresolved as the legislative elections were riddled with similar mismanagement and inept organisation. Meanwhile, the current parliamentary assembly continues to sit until it is officially dissolved in October, leaving behind a record of having addressed fewer that half the bills on their agenda.

One crucial bill that has received short shrift is the highly controversial Corruption Court Bill. The bill is intended to confirm the ongoing existence of the wildly successful anti-corruption efforts spearheaded by the Anti-Corruption commission (KPK), whose exclusive access to the Court has led to a one hundred percent conviction rate of cases prosecuted, and created a climate of caution, if not actual fear, among the members of the People’s Legislative Assembly (DPR), widely recognised as being among the most corrupt institutions in the one of the world’s most corrupt countries.

The DPR has been shamelessly dragging its feet over debating and ratifying the bill which would have seen open season on the many illegal and highly lucrative activities of the Assembly’s members. Sufficient outcry in the public has led to the DPR moving forward with the bill, but putting it through in a sufficiently emasculated form that would render it little more than a paper tiger, permitting members of the DPR to continue the rent seeking and influence peddling that traditionally characterises the county’s legislature.

At the same time Jakarta is embroiled in a fugitive hunt for the man and the organisation responsible for the July twin bombings at the Ritz Carlton and JW Marriott hotels. Those latest terrorist attacks marked a resurgence after five years of what had become almost an annual tradition of terrorist bombings in Indonesia. With yearly bombings at locations including the Australian embassy, the Stock Exchange, a previous occasion at the JW Marriott, and several tourist haunts in Bali, the lull had Indonesians and Indonesia watchers persuaded that the terrorist groups had either moderated or completely changed their tactics. However with the latest bombings killing nine people and maiming about thirty more, and clearly having targeted foreign business leaders, fear of additional and continued terror attacks has resurfaced.

In the immediate aftermath of the blasts, SBY made a cryptic speech suggesting that he had intelligence which indicated he had been the primary target, and implying that the bombings were politically motivated, even obliquely suggesting that his opponents in the recently completed elections were somehow involved. Then the hunt was on for Noordin M. Top, the imported Malaysian terrorist who has formed his own highly radical splinter terrorist organisation.

Noordin Top seems to be able to move around the country with relative impunity, recruiting suicide bombers from some 50 Islamic boarding schools, marrying a variety of young women, and acquiring funds from Saudi Arabian sources. The failure to capture the most wanted man in Southeast Asia has led to speculation that his grassroots support is stronger and deeper than is commonly acknowledged; the half-hearted protestations by the occasional Muslim organisation that Noordin’s idea of jihad is not reflective of the majority of Muslims seems to some to be a little lame.

A prolonged siege at a house in Bogor in which Noordin Top was suspected of hiding out led to the premature announcement of his death in a shootout, but when the dust settled, it turned out that although some of his associates had indeed been killed by anti-terrorist police intelligence officers, Top was not among them.

One of the less broadly voiced criticisms of SBY is his dedication to the fight against terrorism. Always the appeaser, SBY naturally condemns terrorist bombings, particularly when he sees himself as the target, but stops short of taking firm steps to root out terrorist indoctrination in Islamic schools, likely out of concern that he be perceived as an insufficiently staunch Muslim, the kiss of death for a politician in home of the world’s largest Muslim population.

Nevertheless a few worrisome ideas have been floated. It was announced, for example, that police would monitor sermons delivered by some Muslim clerics, in an effort to identify any incitement to hatred or violence. With vocal and widely expressed indignation at this proposed infringement of freedom of expression and freedom of religion, police later backtracked and denied having proposed let alone instituted the plan. However, police in Batam, near Singapore, according to reports, said they have started watching over sermons as part of security measures during the holy month of Ramadan.

Perhaps more worryingly was the announcement by Inspector General (ret.) Ansyaad Mbai, head of the government’s anti-terrorism desk that he would seek the right to increase the time which suspected terrorists could be detained without charge. It’s currently not clear what the legal time limit is at the moment, with various sources claiming that detention without charges can be anywhere from one to five days. Mbai was seeking to detain suspects for two years. With outcry from civil and human rights groups including the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KONTRAS) and Indonesian Human Rights monitor, Imparsial raising vocal objections, Mbai backtracked slightly, claiming that he had simply been expressing a personal view and that his comments did not reflect any government view.

In the meantime the hunt for terrorists goes on, the battle to undermine the KPK continues, the disgruntled losers in the national elections jockey for positions that will ensure them a piece of the pie, the parliamentary seat allocation remain unclear, and the KPU continues to insist that near total incompetence is a sufficient standard for running the national elections of the third most populous democracy on Earth.


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