Stability vs change in Indonesia

Rappler.com
Professor Greg Barton talks about the historical, cultural and political forces that come into play in the closest rivalry for president Indonesia has ever seen

JAKARTA, Indonesia – Rappler’s Maria Ressa interviews Professor Greg Barton of Monash University. He talks about the historical, cultural and political dynamics at work in the 2014 Indonesian elections – the ideas and forces competing for the people’s vote: the old vs new, traditional vs emerging values, the everyday man vs the elite.

Barton is the Herb Feith research professor for the study of Indonesia at Monash. He is also the acting director of the Centre for Islam and the Modern World.

GREG BARTON

MARIA RESSA: Let me start. Greg, what is at stake in these elections?

GREG BARTON: Well, this is the most important elections in Indonesia since the 1999 elections. To put in crude terms, it might be the last hurrah of the New Order if the… Probowo fails, the team around him is very much a New Order team. If he succeeds we may, in some ways, have the New Order resurrected. It might not exactly be the same but some of the same issues with authoritarianism and cronyism and nepotism and kleptocracy will resume for sure.

MARIA RESSA: What are Indonesians looking for?

GREG BARTON: Well, Indonesians are looking for what voters all around the world look for. They’re looking for their Prince. Well, the man on horseback is Prabowo, who recognizes his appearance, on horseback during his campaign launch. Looking for the strong leader who will save them. And this year, more than most because they’ve had five years, the second term of the Yudhoyono government. The perception is that Yudhoyono has been frozen, has been inert, and has lost opportunity after opportunity, costing very badly with his party, and he doesn’t have a candidate in this election. And people are saying whatever we want, we don’t want that.

So it’s kind of a reaction they’ve had the five years, and that’s been the main selling point for Prabowo and that’s worked very well for him. With the debate, final debate Saturday night we finally saw Jokowi come forward and look just as firm, just as tegas as Prabowo, has been planning to be… But it’s a matter of perceptions, and Prabowo I think was very right to recognize that the one thing to emphasize in selection is that you would be a firm, strong leader. Now, in many ways both candidates are, but Prabowo has been managing that perception better than Jokowi until very recently.

MARIA RESSA: So given all of this, based on what you’ve seen and you’ve been observing every movement.. who’s going to win?

GREG BARTON: It’s incredibly tight. If we’d had this conversation a month ago and it would feel that it was still going to be tight even a few weeks ago the gap was… it seems like Jokowi has the lead still that he can maintain, if we had the conversation Saturday morning, the Saturday before the election, I think I would’ve told you that Prabowo has probably swung ahead. Come Sunday, Prabowo did OK in the Saturday night debate, but Jokowi… was brilliant. He was the debater that he should have been and he came in the debate with a high head… mass rally, concert in the center in the city. Not organized by PDI-P, but organized by his own team. So, he’s now on a high, and he’s just gone off to go on a minor pilgrimage… which is probably a very smart way of communicating during the long campaign period that actually you are a part of the Muslim… you really fit in as Indonesia’s spiritual leader. So he has… he has swung back ahead now but by Wednesday, maybe all of that would have changed.

There’s a lot of undecided voters, maybe as many as 20% but certainly more than 10%. And if you ask people, just anecdotally, they often say they don’t know who to vote for I’m just, you know, or respond on the day. I think most people want to turn up but don’t want to have a non-valid protest vote they want a valid vote but they honestly don’t know because they can see good and bad not just with both candidates, but with both camps, with both teams, and for some people it’s the fellow travellers that give incentive or the disincentive in this election

MARIA RESSA: These two candidates, it’s very stark. How will you describe each one?

GREG BARTON: Well, Jokowi is very much your ordinary man. He’s the Everyman, the guy you meet in the street, the guy who’s driving the taxi… He looks ordinary, he sounds ordinary, he’s not particularly charismatic. He’s smart enough, but in a very Everyman style.

Prabowo is tough and articulate and charismatic. To look still photographs of them, you may not get that impression, but to hear both of them speak, Prabowo is the more articulate, charismatic performer. But Prabowo turns intuitively to an authoritative, tough man style, which sells well, but also his liability. It reflects his career in the military.

And Jokowi comes across as an earnest do-gooder. He’s also actually a micromanager and it’s that micromanagement which s been part of the baggage of his campaign and part of I think one of the burdens he carries to try to get his image across. But he has care. His micromanagement is about really caring about how things work out. And he’s done a good job as mayor of Solo… and now he’s governor of Jakarta so despite what the Prabowo camp claims, he does have a decent track record and the track record for Prabowo is quite mixed.

MARIA RESSA: What are the dangers of both these candidates?

GREG BARTON: The dangers… with both of them we don’t know their economic policies. Indonesian democracy has been a wonderful success but it’s been largely a policy for his own, and when policy does rear its head it’s often in the form of ultra nationalism, which is not particularly helpful for an economy that needs to grow more than it has been doing.

So there’s a danger with either – with Indonesia’s facing global challenges with this economic growth, it doesn’t get really spectacular growth. More like, 7, 8+ percent, it’s not gonna reach its potential. And it’s gonna require a lot of hard work and discipline and… Prabowo would have a better team but the coalition around him, Jokowi might really struggle to form that team. He doesn’t have the numbers in parliament, an American parliament. And he’s burdened with his main ally PDI-P which is very much a mixed blessing.

If Prabowo becomes president his biggest liability, people may say, is his past – human rights abuses allegedly. But it’s actually the present and the future – it’s his temperament, which is probably tied up with those past allegations. He’s quick to get angry and that might be kept in check, and he may make a very effective president but it could also go very badly wrong.

Prabowo is your high-risk option, he’s double or nothing. You may get a good result, it can go very badly. Jokowi is relatively safer, less risky, but there is a risk also that he just wants.. he wants (honor?) that’s why he and the country should… in many ways in terms of his earnestness and sincerity and (norm?) political professionals, Jokowi is a little bit like Barack Obama. Doesn’t have the soaring rhetoric and eloquence, and doesn’t have the charisma, but he has that same dogged earnest goodness about him, which is a positive thing but it’s also in politics and real politics care is a liability.

MARIA RESSA: How was Prabowo able to remake himself? I mean, if you go from 97, 98 until today to be so close to the presidency, is that something we could have predicted?

GREG BARTON: No. And in some ways it’s a remarkable thing that elicits a… concerned about his rise. He just worked very, very doggedly, he’s put together a strong large coalition partly he’s helped by followers of the Jokowi side, and he’s put together a team that works in the modern, professional, realpolitik profession… But he’s… amoral, it would do whatever it takes. So in a sense, we may peer at the World Cup, the Prabowo team is the better team. But they don’t respect the rules, so they do whatever it takes to win.

MARIA RESSA: Do Indonesians perceive it, do they see this?

GREG BARTON: They see this, not all of them see this the same way. One of the fact that’s immediately obvious is most, or many voters voting on Wednesday have no clear memory of the Suharto era. Even those who were just coming into… and they were actually a minority.. in the Suharto era you have a small number of intellectuals, of activists… very clear those were the dark days of 98. But most of the voters don’t have a clear memory, many of them are so young, they don’t remember at all… But putting into context, it’s one of those gray areas you don’t know how to make sense of it. And so intuitively they recoil from the hardness of the Prabowo team but coming from (….) black campaigning that has been without effect. It’s a double edged sword for the Prabowo team that it might work against them but… so far it’s worked in their favor

MARIA RESSA: In Jokowi’s case, I’ve seen him compared to Barack Obama but also to Gus Door a man with great moral authority but in the end indecisive and wasn’t necessarily a good leader. Is this fair?

GREG BARTON: It’s a fair point given that the backdrop of the second (…) turn has made it possible for Prabowo to have this great leap forward that he’s had. I mean he’s come forward as the candor, tough, tegas, the firm leader. And I bet that wouldn’t have been so easy if it wasn’t for the second term. In that context, Jokowi’s at a weakness because whilst he clearly knows how to do things and run things, his style of micromanagement and his lack of concern for protocol and doing things the right way may end up perhaps a little bit less like Barack Obama and more like Jimmy Carter. Those who remember him.

MARIA RESSA: And what is his main strength? How did he capture the imagination of Indonesians? When he was elected governor for a little while all you could hear, you could feel the excitement.

GREG BARTON: Indeed if you go back two years to the governors election, we would’ve thought, it’s governor of Jakarta a special district yes. But it’s not too important, who cares? But Indonesians cared tremendously about those elections. They were very very excited when Jokowi won against the odds. When he won with an ethnic Chinese running mate who may well take over as governor of Jakarta if he becomes President. Against all thoughts of black campaigning, he won against the odds. He comes through as the decent, honest non-political guy that many people have been longing for. But move forward two years and Prabowo has been very effective in saying, Yeah Mr. Jokowi’s a nice guy, no one’s arguing against that but is he man enough for the job? And that’s the edge that Prabowo has been pushing. But Jokowi’s appeal is he’s such a decent nice genuine guy. He seems uncorruptible… Hence the black campaigning has gone to this, almost like the anti-Obama campaign, crazy speculation, probably not even based on genuine conviction that he’s not a proper Muslim or of Chinese ancestry or whatever just as long as you get a line out that sticks in the minds of some. And that desperation is that otherwise it’s very hard to attack him.

MARIA RESSA: Technology. What’s the role of technology in these elections?

GREG BARTON: Well if we go back to the beginning of this era of technology and presidential elections – the year JFK, Richard Nixon televised the debate famously was a turning point. Well for this election campaign, a little bit like the second Obama campaign, we’re seeing the rise of social media and so in Indonesia, Facebook is important. But it’s really Twitter that’s the big thing. And Twitter can Multiply very quickly. It snowballs of course as things cascade. It’s also vulnerable to Twitter bots and all kind of spamming. It’s a very good medium for black campaign so it’s been a mixed blessing but it’s been a large factor. Most Indonesians don’t read newspapers. They do watch television. The television stations are controlled largely by people with interest and that’s what they’re used to watching – maybe not so different from America after all or other countries. But social media reaches so many people because a very large population has a smart phone, some kind of internet enabled device and they can certainly receive tweets and send them and be very much engaged. They check their Facebook. And that’s all been a big part of this.

MARIA RESSA: Largely positive or negative?

GREG BARTON: On balance I’d say positive because in general more information and more light is better. If that bright light is shining in your eye, sometimes trying to blind you with it then of course it’s not positive and so it’s been double edged. But on balance, positive. But it has to be said the Prabowo camp used it better in general than the Jokowi camp though Jokowi has some very brilliant individual allies and it’s probably given a little bit more to Prabowo than it has for Jokowi.

MARIA RESSA: We talked earlier about ghosts of the past. What are the ghosts? Again for me, comparing it again to 97, 98, I do feel the ghosts are there. How will you describe this?

GREG BARTON: Yeah no, Indonesia is a land where for most Indonesians, the dead live alongside the living. There is no boundary between the living and those who’ve passed on. They inhabit the same space, the same time. And for this election it’s been very tangible. It’s full of odd contrasts.

We’ve had Prabowo. This guy presenting himself as a tough kind of leader who’s been seized upon by radicalists Muslim group as a champion of the faithful and men invoke foolishly the battle of (…) and so it’s strange kind of imagery rather sectarian. But Prabowo’s mother is Christian, his younger brother Hashim the billionaire who’s financing his campaign is Christian, his other siblings.

And the man he’s channeling is not his father in law Suharto, but Megawati’s father Sukarno. He’s dressed in the same white uniform. His campaign rally had the same 1950’s style microphones, the same accompaniments and clothing and artifacts. And he effects a kind of Sukarno-esque style of bombastic soaring rhetoric and old confidence and crazy nationalism, frankly. So it’s a strange mix of things. So in a sense the ghost of Sukarno is with us.

Of course the ghost of Suharto is very much with us. Very literally, people may experience a significant resurrection come Wednesday if Prabowo wins. And many of those who were in the Suharto order are still alive and well, have got a lot of stake. Somebody like Abu Rizal Bakrie, the businessman who some would say is more underwater than above water in terms of his assets. He owes a lot of money. His banking on winning because he needs to pay back a lot of debts. There are a lot of Suharto era (…) who are in this campaign. And there’s all the personal rivalries too. So we see going back to the new order period but even back to previous reform era governments, rivalries between Megawati and Yudhoyono who isn’t present in this campaign – he could’ve been helping the Jokowi win if his relationship with Megawati wasn’t  so sour. If Megawati has accepted his overtures of reconciliation he would be there backing Jokowi and that would be a gamechanger.

MARIA RESSA: Megawati has played a strong role.

GREG BARTON: Absolutely she’s been front and center along with her daugher Puan and that inspires a lot of excitement amongst the party faithful but for those outside that’s more a circle of party faithful, about probably 40% of all Indonesians. There’s a deep ambivalence if not antipathy so that’s actually been a legacy and a liablity which really hurt Jokowi. If Megawati and Puan had stepped aside a little bit he might have done a service.But there’s a lot of personal grudge matches going on.

All the major players and all the figures in both camps have made serious mistakes and mistakes have largely dealt with personal grudges. So Jokowi should really have party democrat on board with him. Party Democrat of course should have had a candidate and a third coalition if they hadn’t messed things up so badly. Mega was probably unwise to rebuff the approach of Aburizal Bakri because the coalition would have come at a fair price but it would have firmed things up very nicely.

As it is, the opposition that Jokowi’s facing has a parliamentary marjority. 56% of parliament. And that automatically creates liablity but it’s mostly explained in terms of personal rivalries that go back th previous administrations and previous governments so there are a lot of ghosts in the ranks.

MARIA RESSA: Is it fair to say this is 1999 all over again?

GREG BARTON: It’s 1999 in the sense that it’s a very important turning point election. Both legislative result which perhaps wasn’t so significant but really it sets up the presidential race and the presidential results certainly is very significant. It’s the most important election, the most democratic event since 99. So in 15 years, this is where Indonesia perhaps gets a strong, fairly clean government that gets on with the task of running the economy or ends up, this is possible in either candidate, with a or a new government with personal ambitions and lack of teamwork and lack of clarity and lack of clear policy and perhaps a superficial turn towards nationalism that gets in the way of building a strong growing. This is supposed to be an emerging market tiger. At the moment, the tiger’s looking a little bit anemic. And this next government may be when the tiger rules again or not?

MARIA RESSA: It’s really the economics, isn’t it?

GREG BARTON: Like most things in life it comes down to economics. The World Bank came out with a report a few weeks ago saying Indonesia is in a good place but it’s to avoid the so called middle income trap that’s caught other countries. It needs to have a growth of not between 5 and 6% but between 7 and 8 or better than 8. Definitely it needs to pull it up a few notches and to do that it needs investment in frastructure and that needs some degree of foreign direct investment. It needs to grow its manufacturing base. It doesn’t have many middle sized companies. It needs to do a lot better at putting up its human capital. And that requires a strong, clean government. Both candidates have pluses and minuses when it comes to delivering that but a lot is riding on who comes in.

MARIA RESSA: It is a far different world then when it was in 99. It’s in many ways more complex. Threats that you couldn’t have thought about it before. What kind of world, what are the main issues this leader is going to have to face?

GREG BARTON: Well we’re living in a world of the emerging markets and it’s very much the world dominated by China, and to less extent India. India may be entering a golden  spot which will increase the competition for other Asian nations. Indonesia could be on a path to follow South Korea in economic development or it could experience that sort of Michael Jackson moon dance performance we’ve seen in the Philippines for so many decades where there’s a  semblance of going forward where nothing seems to change. To be fair to the Philippines things have changed a bit lately but that’s the dilemma – is it to be the Philippines or to be South Korea. And it really requires strong, clear leadership, both in terms of the president and the team that can pull it together. Jokowi, arguably, has the better personal qualities but as for the team, Prabowo may be better to rule the team.

MARIA RESSA: Interesting. And let me go to security issues. We’ve seen a new mutation, the evolution of the threat that was once al Qaeda. How would you describe the threat today and its impact on Indonesia and the region?

GREG BARTON: Well it’s been part of the last decade to try and write all of al Qaeda. There’s many ways of looking at al Qaeda and in some respects it’s quite an arty phenomenon. But the movement of ideas and the movement of people when there are related organizations that grow out of al Qaeda and now very considerable.. it’s sort of the genie out of the bottle and is at large. Indonesia’s done a very good job tactically through the police of responding to terrorism. But it seems just as fast as they can track down groups and arrest them, disrupt them, new ones pop up. And now with the global engine turned up quite a few notches with the conflict in Syria and Iraq, given concrete form in this new caliphate with ISIS or ISIL, the potential to draw many more people from the region into from Southeast Asia to the Middle East is considerable. It’s, I mean, even at the beginning of… we never had a clear sense. By June, the clear threat is there, it’s very large. Those that aren’t killed because of the.. no… come back very hardened and tough and probably deeply radicalized. And the threat was persistent, in the part it’s even going to be tougher in the future. So that’s one of the, that’s one of the series of challenges facing the Indonesian president.

MARIA RESSA: In terms of number of fighters that have gone into Syria it’s actually more than the fighters who want to.

GREG BARTON: Yeah, we would’ve said in the end of 2013 that more had gone to Syria in two years, foreign fighters from Europe, and across Asia and elsewhere than had gone to Afghanistan in a decade. Today, June 2014 when the… are vastly larger. You know, perhaps as many as 20,000 foreign fighters gone off to the region and the number might be rising sharply because of what’s happening in Iraq. And that changes things completely. When foreign fighters went to Afghanistan they were called the Mujahideen. But for the most part they were not really fighters. They were stuck in camps in some remote valley giving endless indoctrination, and you know, basic training, but not seeing much frontline experience. Foreign fighters go into Syria and Iraq today.. if they survive, they come back with a lot fo frontline experience and trade craft, basic skills to help a soldier and improvise guerilla fighting and making ideas and so on. So that’s a whole new different level of threat.

MARIA RESSA: Interesting. And let me go to security issues. We’ve seen a new mutation, the evolution of the threat that was once al Qaeda. How would you describe the threat today and its impact on Indonesia and the region?

GREG BARTON: Well it’s been part of the last decade to try and write all of al Qaeda. There’s many ways of looking at al Qaeda and in some respects it’s quite an arty phenomenon. But the movement of ideas and the movement of people when there are related organizations that grow out of al Qaeda and now very considerable.. it’s sort of the genie out of the bottle and is at large. Indonesia’s done a very good job tactically through the police of responding to terrorism. But it seems just as fast as they can track down groups and arrest them, disrupt them, new ones pop up. And now with the global engine turned up quite a few notches with the conflict in Syria and Iraq, given concrete form in this new caliphate with ISIS or ISIL, the potential to draw many more people from the region into from Southeast Asia to the Middle East is considerable. It’s, I mean, even at the beginning of… we never had a clear sense. By June, the clear threat is there, it’s very large. Those that aren’t killed because of the.. no… come back very hardened and tough and probably deeply radicalized. And the threat was persistent, in the part it’s even going to be tougher in the future. So that’s one of the, that’s one of the series of challenges facing the Indonesian president.

MARIA RESSA: In terms of number of fighters that have gone into Syria it’s actually more than the fighters who want to.

GREG BARTON: Yeah, we would’ve said in the end of 2013 that more had gone to Syria in two years, foreign fighters from Europe, and across Asia and elsewhere than had gone to Afghanistan in a decade. Today, June 2014 when the… are vastly larger. You know, perhaps as many as 20,000 foreign fighters gone off to the region and the number might be rising sharply because of what’s happening in Iraq. And that changes things completely. When foreign fighters went to Afghanistan they were called the Mujahideen. But for the most part they were not really fighters. They were stuck in camps in some remote valley giving endless indoctrination, and you know, basic traning, but not seeing much frontline experience. Foreign fighters go into Syria and Iraq today.. if they survive, they come back with a lot fo frontline experience and trade craft, basic skills to help a soldier and improvice guerilla fighting and making ideas and so on. So that’s a whole new different level of threat. But we know with Afghanistan, the whole problem facing Southeast Asia, the rise of Jemaah Islamiyah and other networks came out of the Afghanistan experience. And what’s happening now in Syria and Iraq and possibly what looks like the future with Egypt and Yemen and beyond, and now the whole of Sahara and Northern Africa… same problems, greater degree of problems.

MARIA RESSA: Are governments in the region prepared for this? Are they looking at it?

GREG BARTON: Governments in the region are like governments everywhere. They’re tired of this problem. Former Australian prime minister declared its, we’re beyond the 9-11 decade. Well, I knew he was genuine in his sentiment, but the reality is yes, the decade has come and gone but the al Qaeda threat, movement, the jihadist global movement… is a bigger problem than ever before. ISIS in itself is probably in itself the most successful al Qaeda splinter that’s ever existed. It’s controlling territories with large numbers of people. It still remains a very inspirational force. The trouble in southeast Asia is getting worse, not better. Governments, they would like to pretend that it’s problem solved. In Muslim-majority Indonesia it’s a tough challenge, always the same as it was before social and political leaders here to face up to the need to crack down extremists, activism that’s on the edge of legality and inciting to go off to Syria or elsewhere and … I think the next government’s just gonna have to deal with it.

MARIA RESSA: Last question on this: is social media and the internet – what role does it play in the evolution of the threat once known as the al Qaeda?

GREG BARTON: Well it’s been very much, volunteerism is about willing hearts and minds. For both sides, all sides involved. Have to confidently win hearts and minds of the poor populations. And for terrorists the hearts and minds piece comes via the internet, with the, directly through websites, and chat sights all through social media including Twitter but certainly Facebook it’s been a very useful vehicle, Youtube for delivering fiery sentiments we may scoff at. But we’re talking about teenagers and 20-something for the most part. They find this inspirational, these are the cool guys. Their local imam, teacher, is not cool. The guy on the internet is cool. The guy in the Youtube station is cool. And they’re responding to it.

MARIA RESSA: Okay and this is the last question on Wednesday. I asked you at the beginning what’s at state for Indonesia. When Indonesians go to the polls on Wednesday, whether emotional or rational, what is the choice ahead for them?

GREG BARTON: In crude terms, it is a return to a New Order style of, rather more authoritarian, rather more kleptocratic governments or leap into the unknown with a nice guy, They’re just not quite sure whether he’s got the whole thing together, Jokowi. I think at the end Indonesians will choose to leave the New Order behind, and if Prabowo fails on Wednesday this will be the last hurrah of the New Order, but it may well be the case of the New Order coming back, resurrected in the form of a Prabowo government. It might be Suharto all over again, there will be shades of Sukarno as well, a blast from the past. It will be a team of people with a whole lot of liabilities and personal interests and that will burden the new government… it might be a new government if it’s a Jokowi government, but it will be a clean break from the past with a Jokowi government.

– Rappler.com

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