The Ahok issue II


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I hadn’t seen the footage here of a crowd singing (what I believe is) “Rayuan Pulau Kelapa” for now jailed Ahok. I believe it translates as “The beautiful and prosperous land, my motherland, Indonesia” but I’m very happy to be corrected.
Anyway, to me it is deeply revealing that his jailing is seen by the crowd as having political implications at a national level. As Ahok was a city mayor this isn’t an association you would normally make, but this is hardly a normal case and i believe they are justified in seeing the link.

Singaporean political tremors



Staying with Singapore for a while, it is opportune to provide a link to revelations that are being taken very seriously in Singaporean society.
The link here gives you the basics, with the summary being a key member of Singapore’s dynastic political family suggesting that the President was personally and politically imperfect. Heresy indeed.

I’m still thinking through the meaning and consequences of these surprisingly candid comments.

Part of me sees echoes of a garden variety family falling-out, but there is certainly a bit more to this development.

What is perhaps more striking are the traces of Royalist language and thinking, that “we” are uniquely positioned to see, and speak out on, what is the best for the country.

In this is almost an abandonment of the democratic pretense that the Singaporean people should judge the best President electorally.

Or is it, perhaps, a shrewd move to create almost unprecedented space in the public sphere for a potent political opposition?

I’m unconvinced the latter was intended, but it may be the consequence. 

The most stable regime in Southeast Asia is suddenly just a little bit vulnerable.

Update – The always insightful Thomas Pepinsky’s take on the issue can be seen here.

Blog update


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Sadly work commitments have kept me from posting much recently, a situation unlkely to change for a while. I will keep posting occasionally and thank you for your patience.

In the meantime, for those Indonesians who wish want to return to the good old days, have a look at this (old) graph.


Source: The Economist here

It was 20 years ago this year that the Indonesian economy really hit hard times, and a new generation is coming of age that can no longer remember that time. The country, and its economy, has come a long way since then. Let’s hope that trajectory continues.

Jakarta’s election III


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Unsurprisingly to regular readers I’ve been wanting to post about the verdict in Ahok’s blasphemy case, but a desire for reflection and other commitments delayed my posting.

Of the other commentary I have encountered the closest to my own position is the one here. I would use different premises, but my conclusion would resemble the author’s. I’d also paint the outcome in terms of the damage to Indonesian democracy, but that is a lot more abstract than, in Lindsey’s words, the verdict being “a warning to minorities”.

With Ahok’s conviction and sentencing the political ground underneath Indonesia’s democratic pillars just shook with a little bit more intensity.

Why Jakarta is the safest place on planet Earth




I draw your attention to the the reassuring Washington Post headline…

Scientists have identified the 50-foot creature that washed up on an Indonesian beach

…in the link here. My own attention was drawn to the line in the story that read “…which didn’t stop locals from wading in for a closer look and snapping pictures.”

I’ve often wondered, when watching fictional movies where the fearsome aliens/zombies/monsters/sea-creatures arrive in New York city with destructive intentions, how different it would be if they arrived in Jakarta instead.

New Yorkers are not known for being shy, submissive types, but in the movies they invariably flee from the invasive threat in their thousands. As I watch these movies I always imagine the contrast if the threat arrived in Jakarta instead. In that scenario I imagine thousands of Jakartans racing towards the threat, hands thrust high with their camera phones eager to be among the first to upload the images to social media.

Maybe the true reason the aliens/zombies/monsters/sea-creatures always head to New York is that that city presents their best hope for survival. In Jakarta, stuck in traffic, choking on smog and dazzled by the flashes from twenty five million phone cameras, they wouldn’t stand a chance.

The 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea


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Image: The USS Lexington, shortly before her sinking. Nearly 3,000 men made it to safety, but over 200 lost their lives in the Japanese attacks and subsequent explosions.

Those readers with a keen eye for history will note that this week marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea with low key events lke the one here. I remember attending a 60th anniversary commemoration event for the batte, and looking with profound respect at the few remaining veterans of those events who were present that day. Of the thousands and thousands of men fighting in those actions I suspect none but a handful can now make it to commemorative ceremonies taking place this week.

Nevertheless I think it is important to remember the event, if only for its historical implications. The battle confirmed with startling abruptness that the era of the battleship dreadnought, with ships firing at each other on sight, was over. For the first time a fight at sea was characterised by the decisive role of naval air power, and lessons from the battle formed the template for future victories at sea.

coral sea

The battle, perhaps more than any other specific event, also saved Australia from (at best) Japanese dominance of the surrounding oceans. Australia’s media is innundated with usually trivial events that “stop”, “shape” and/or “define” the nation, almost none of which even come close to the impact on Australia’s destiny as the Battle of the Coral Sea.

In the great sweep of Southeast Asian history however, of which Australia is but a footnote, the battle marked the beginning of the end of another Empire. Just three months earlier the Fall of Singpore (mentioned here) marked the beginning of the end for Bristish colonialism in Southeast Asia. The implications and of consequences of that loss were apparent almost immediately, but with the relative Japanese success in the battle it would take much longer for the true importance of the allied force’s achivements in the Coral Sea, and again soon after at Midway, to emerge.

With the British gone, and the Japanese in a historical context gone a short time later, the era of United States imperial dominance in the seas of Southeast Asia was imminent. This era of US naval dominance in the region continues to this day, but it too will come to an end, perhaps sooner than many realise. Perhaps, as hinted here, it is effectively little more than an illusion already.

Jakarta’s election II


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A quick update.

A summary of what happened can be read here, with Muslim candidate Anies Basweden streaking ahead almost from the moment polls opened. That sudden shift is captured in the graphic here. What his win means for Indonesia in the longer term is still unclear however given Indonesia’s highly fluid political envirnoment.

So what’s next? Probably the next “big” moment will be the imminent outcome of the blasphemy trial of Anies Basweden’s opponent, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama – commonly referred to as Ahok, who is Chinese Christian (the emphasis that both are significant elements of his perceived political identity).

In no way will the trial provide closure to the issue however. As the very apt title of the article here phrases it, Ahok’s absurd trial won’t satisfy anybody.

And the caravan moves on.

Jakarta’s election


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I have posted on this topic from various angles here, here and here. Somewhat foolishly the post titles were inconsistent, so from now on I will build on this post.

Anyway, the next chapter in the focus of those earlier posts occurs tomorrow, with Jakarta Election Round II after the ambiguous polling result in Round I. Some brief summaries of the situation are here and here, with both links (and others) pointing to just how close the race to office now appears.

It is in that environment, of competitive tension and high stakes, that stories like the one here are not only emerging but adding to tensions. The link is particularly relevant and interesting, as it touches on many of the subterranean issues (of violence, religion and memory) that keep bubbling to the surface of what is (another) very tense moment for Indonesia’s political future. The only key element that would otherwise be missing in the link, that of race, was introduced by the author as it too is central to the election.

There are dissenting views on the importance of the election though, such as the one here that paints the election as merely a blip in a much greater trend towards “a capitulation of the largest moderate Islamic organisations in Indonesia to the Islamist wave“.

That may be true, but Indonesia and its politics is fascinatingly unpredictable. There is a saying in English that “a week is a long time in politics”. In Jakarta that “long time in politics” can be just a day, so let’s wait a long time and see what happens.

Minimum Wages in Indonesia


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Source: Cascade Asia Advisers here, with high resolution image here

A few days ago in the post here I stated that minimum wages were largely absent across Southeast Asia.

Well, not for the first time I was wrong, at least regarding Indonesia. As the graphic makes clear Indonesia has a minimum wage, although how thoroughly it is enforced is a different question.

I had originally intended to explore the significant disparity in minimum wages across the country, however I have realised that would take more time than I have available right now.

Suffice to say that setting minimum wage levels is a legislative action, and thus the decisions are grounded in politics. Interestingly however, the polical pressures affecting the setting of these rates vary across the country, suggesting that there are either hidden barriers to free movement of labour, Indonesia isn’t as economically unified as it may appear (which are effectively different sides to the same coin) or that these minimum wage settings are largely symbolic political gestures occuring below the market rate.