TIME Malaysia

Anger, Agony and Disbelief as Malaysians Awake to News of MH17

Malaysia Malaysia Airlines
An electronic board displays "Pray for MH17" at the departure hall of Kuala Lumpur International Airport on July 18, 2014 Joshua Paul—AP

First a jet vanishes over the Indian Ocean. Now this

Updated: July 18, 2014, at 02:25 ET

Malaysians are reacting with shock and anguish to the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in Ukraine. The Boeing 777 was traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur and crashed in an area controlled by pro-Russia rebels — just months after the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

“The Ukrainian authorities believe that the plane was shot down,” said Prime Minister Najib Razak in a statement. “At this early stage, however, Malaysia is unable to verify the cause of this tragedy. But we must — and we will — find out precisely what happened to this flight. No stone can be left unturned.”

There were 283 passengers and 15 crew aboard Flight 17. Of those, 154 people were from the Netherlands. There were also 27 from Australia, 43 from Malaysia (including the crew and two infants), 12 from Indonesia (including another infant) and others from Europe, the Philippines and Canada, according to a statement posted Thursday by Malaysia Airlines.

The Associated Press (AP) reports that distressed relatives have gathered at Kuala Lumpur International Airport to await news of family members. In between sobs, Akmar Mohamad Noor told AP that her older sister was on the flight, returning to Malaysia to celebrate Eid with the family for the first time in 30 years.

“She called me just before she boarded the plane and said, ‘See you soon,’” Akmar said.

There are reports that furious relatives waited for hours at the airport, unable to speak to officials from Malaysia Airlines and prevented from entering operational areas by security guards.

“We have been waiting for four hours. We found out the news from international media. The Facebook is more efficient than MAS,” one man said to waiting media.

Malaysian news outlet the Star gave blanket coverage to the crash Thursday morning, but, seeking a human dimension to the tragedy, most readers were drawn to a simple, poignant story on the worried messages left by colleagues on the Facebook page of cabin attendant Angeline Premila, believed to have been on the downed flight.

The Malaysian Insider reported on the extraordinary fate of cabin crew member Sanjid Singh, who reportedly swapped shifts so that he could be aboard Flight 17. Months earlier, his wife, also a Malaysia Airlines cabin crew member, had swapped out of the now vanished Flight 370 at the last minute, saving her life.

News site Astro Awani also carried news of the families of other crew members. Relatives of flight 17’s chief steward, Mohd. Ghaffar Abu Bakar, 54, said they heard the news on TV. The father of cabin attendant Nur Shazana Mohamed Salleh was unaware his daughter, 31, was aboard Flight 17 until informed by her friends late on Thursday evening. “She had asked us to send a photo of her nephew … She sounded cheerful,” he told journalists regarding his last communication with her on July 16.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Twitterverse is abuzz with the news about the crash. “Following the uproar over the disappearance of MH 370, now [we are] shocked by MH17 that crashed in Ukraine. Oh God,” said @tracy_elcia, writing in Bahasa Malaysia.

Many users were in disbelief with the two successive tragedies that befall the country. “My dear God. The MH370 case is not finished, the MH17 case arrives. #PrayForMH17 #PrayForMH370,” said @apizshahh.

In the deeply religiously Muslim-majority country, some Twitter users turned to God for consolation. “Nightmare?? Only Allah knows what was happening.. #prayforMH17,” said @mohdzarulhiqmi.

TIME indonesia

The World’s Third Biggest Democracy Is in Political Limbo

INDONESIA-ELECTION
Supporters of Indonesian presidential candidate Joko Widodo rally in central Jakarta after the close of polls on July 9, 2014 ROMEO GACAD—AFP/Getty Images

Indonesia's highly polarized presidential election ends in a close call. The country must wait at least until final results are declared on July 22 to know the shape of its political future

Both candidates in Indonesia’s highly polarized presidential election have claimed victory.

Initial counts by early evening on Wednesday gave the populist governor of Jakarta, Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, around 52% of the vote. His rival, former army general Prabowo Subianto, received about 48%.

Official results are not expected until July 22, meaning that the world’s third largest democracy — and most populous Muslim nation — will be in political limbo for the next two weeks. Outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has appealed for both sides to show restraint and not to celebrate with mass rallies until the General Elections Commission releases the final tally.

Nevertheless, Jokowi supporters celebrated what they consider his victory with a huge gathering at the Welcome Statue in Jakarta’s central business district and a smaller one at the Proclamation Monument in downtown Jakarta before the breaking of the Ramadan fast on Wednesday night. The latter site, where the country’s founding fathers Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta declared independence, is an emotive one for Indonesians. “Today a new history has been made, a new chapter for Indonesia,” Jokowi told the crowd that had gathered there. “This is a victory for the people of Indonesia.”

In a bid to defuse tensions, President Yudhoyono, whose party endorses Prabowo, met the two candidates at his private home outside Jakarta on Wednesday night. At the center of contention are the polling firms — almost a dozen of them — that have done the quick counts, since many pollsters are known to be either affiliated with or even held on retainer by different candidates. However, political analysts say the half-dozen or so firms that give Jokowi a lead not only show a similar margin of victory for him, but also correctly predicted the results of the legislative elections in April.

“We can safely conclude that the quick counts from CSIS, SMRC and others predicting a Jokowi victory are right,” said Aaron Connelly, East Asia fellow at the Sydney-based Lowy Institute for International Policy, who focuses on Indonesia’s politics. In contrast, he says, quick counts that give Prabowo victory “are all over the place, which suggests they have been manipulated to produce a certain result.”

In a blow to the credibility of Prabowo’s camp, an executive at polling firm Poltracking Institute said on Wednesday night that in order to “maintain professionalism” the firm had canceled its agreement to work with tvOne — a station owned by Prabowo backer and Golkar Party chairman Aburizal Bakrie.

Poltracking’s results put Jokowi as the winner, but tvOne and other stations owned by Prabowo’s coalition supporters — like Hary Tanoesoedibjo’s RCTI and Global TV — have only broadcast quick counts from pollsters that give Prabowo victory.

It is unlikely that Prabowo (who said in an interview that “losing is not an option”) will concede anytime soon — even, says Connelly, “if it would be better for stability, the markets and the country’s welfare.” If Prabowo is still unhappy with the electoral commission’s official count later this month, he could challenge it in the Constitutional Court. That means Indonesia won’t know for sure who its next leader is until late August.

In the meantime, the situation remains fraught. With paramilitary groups like the Pancasila Youth and the Islamic Defenders Front supporting Prabowo’s presidential bid, there are fears that a hitherto peaceful election process could degenerate into violence.

“I pray whoever loses will behave like a statesman and accept his defeat because elections are the people’s voice,” said pro-Jokowi activist Nong Darol Mahmada on Twitter.

TIME indonesia

The World’s Most Populous Muslim Nation Is About to Decide Its Political Future

Indonesia's polarizing presidential race pits two hugely contrasting candidates and political philosophies against each other. The outcome could affect the future of the country's hard-won democracy

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Indonesia’s presidential election, which has turned into a hotly contested two-horse race, has invited comparisons to famous epic battles, both fictional and historical. Netizens liken it to Bharatayudha — as the final, all-out war in the Hindu epic Mahabharata is known in the country. One political analyst called it “Indonesian Star Wars.” Amien Rais, former chairman of the 30 million-strong Islamic organization Muhammadiyah, brought up the analogy of the Prophet Muhammad’s Battle of Badr.

Hyperbolic they may be, but these comparisons nonetheless reflect how polarizing the July 9 poll has become. It has divided political parties, pitted friends against friends, parents against children, husbands against wives. “I’ve always considered marriage to be the primary cause of why most friendships end,” said one Twitter user. “And then along came the 2014 presidential election.”

The two men vying to lead the country stand in stark contrast to each other, and make this a showdown between political outsider and political patrician. The outsider is Joko Widodo, 53, a onetime furniture entrepreneur who has charmed the public with his down-to-earth demeanor. Joko, popularly known as Jokowi, grew up poor, living in a riverside slum in Solo, Central Java. He cut his teeth in politics as mayor of Solo, where his blusukan (impromptu visits to constituents) and his push for clean governance set him apart from aloof officials in a country plagued with graft scandals. He even won recognition as one of the world’s best mayors. Riding on his immense popularity, Jokowi teamed up with a maverick Chinese-Christian politician to run in the Jakarta gubernatorial election in 2012 and won.

The patrician is Prabowo Subianto, 62, a former military general dogged by allegations of past human-rights abuses. Prabowo comes from a privileged background: his father, the late economist Sumitro Djojohadikusumo, was a minister under Indonesia’s first two Presidents, Sukarno and Suharto. His brother-in-law is a former central banker, while his brother, Hashim Djojohadikusumo, who bankrolls his presidential campaign, is a billionaire with a global business reach. Prabowo himself pursued a military career, and after marrying Suharto’s daughter (the two are now divorced), he quickly climbed up the ranks and took part in military operations battling rebels in East Timor and Irian Jaya. He went on to lead elite army units: the Special Forces and later the Army Strategic Reserve Command. His career ended abruptly after he was discharged from the military in 1998, months after Suharto’s fall, over his role in the abduction of pro-democracy activists.

Sixteen years after the fall of authoritarian strongman Suharto, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population (and Southeast Asia’s biggest economy) is a rare example of democratic reform. The election on Wednesday will usher in a new leader to replace the outgoing incumbent, and the country’s first directly elected leader, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (who cannot run again because he has served two terms). But more than that, the poll has become a vote for Indonesia’s future political direction.

On Saturday, speaking to tens of thousands of supporters at a free concert and rally organized by dozens of popular musicians, Jokowi said, “We gather here as part of a democracy that ensures participation of all people in determining the nation’s future, to respect human rights, fight for justice and maintain plurality and peace.” He talks the talk. His deputy mayor in Solo was a Catholic, and in Jakarta, he refused to give in to those protesting against the appointment of a Christian subdistrict head. He also champions pro-poor, populist economic policies.

In contrast, Prabowo, who portrays the image of a firm leader with his fiery speeches and antiforeign rhetoric, repeatedly speaks against Indonesia’s democratic process. In two separate events in late June, the former general said he would like to get rid of direct elections because they were the product of Western values and were breeding corruption. “Our version of democracy is very expensive,” he said. And while Prabowo says he is committed to freedom of religion, his party’s manifesto says that “the state is required to guarantee the purity of teachings of the religions acknowledged by the state,” and his campaign is backed by Islamic hard-liners. Though he often speaks out against corruption, his coalition includes figures tainted by graft allegations.

“This is no longer about a contest between two candidates — it is about the future of Indonesian democracy,” says Marcus Mietzner, an expert of Indonesian politics at the Australian National University, about the election. “A vote for Jokowi preserves the existing system, while a vote for Prabowo would send Indonesia onto a path of political uncertainty, conflict and democratic regression. The stakes have never been higher, and that’s why the polarization is at unprecedented levels as well.”

Also unprecedented are the smear tactics. While these have been used in previous elections, both local and foreign observers agree that the intensity and persistence of attacks on Jokowi are something never seen before. In tabloids like Obor Rakyat, which is widely distributed at mosques and Islamic boarding schools on Java, and in social media, Jokowi, who is Muslim and Javanese, is accused of being Christian, of Chinese descent and a communist. There are signs that these calumnies are hurting him. The front runner, who comfortably led opinion polls by over 20% to nearly 30% months ago, has seen the gap narrow to single digits in different opinion polls. Another factor is the highly efficient and effective party machinery behind Prabowo vs. the motley network of volunteers that Jokowi relies upon.

Nevertheless, “Indonesia’s Obama,” as Jokowi has been dubbed, has been making a last-minute spurt, thanks to a wave of Indonesian celebrities declaring their support for him, and his strong performance in the final presidential debate on July 5. Overseas stars have weighed in too — American singer Jason Mraz and Guns N’ Roses guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal have tweeted their support for Jokowi. Sting posted on his official Facebook page: “Use your rights — every vote counts #Jokowi9Juli.”

The percentage of undecided voters has shrunk to around 8%, according to one pollster, but they could still decide the outcome of one of the most crucial polls the country has seen — perhaps the most crucial poll. But at least it is a poll and not a Battle of Badr or a Bharatayudha. As the poet and essayist Goenawan Mohamad said: “Elections are the most peaceful way to choose a leader. Not all-out battles, as if there is no tomorrow.”

TIME

This Indonesian Nazi Video Is One of the Worst Pieces of Political Campaigning Ever

As the candidate who it was made for, Prabowo Subianto, once said, "Do I have the guts, am I ready to be called a fascist dictator?"

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A music video made by several singers as a tribute to Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto is causing outrage with its strong Nazi overtones.

In the video, an adaptation of the Queen classic “We Will Rock You,” musician Ahmad Dhani sports a fascist-style uniform and holds a golden Garuda — a mythical bird that is Indonesia’s emblem but which, against the black of his paramilitary attire, looks uncomfortably like the German imperial eagle that the Nazis incorporated into their iconography.

Bali-based filmmaker Daniel Ziv described the video as bringing “Nazi skinhead imagery to Indonesian politics.”

That turns out to be an apt description. German news magazine Der Spiegel pointed out that Dhani’s military costume is eerily similar to the uniform worn by SS commander Heinrich Himmler. “Dhani wears the same emblem on the lapel and the same red breast-pocket lining,” it said Tuesday, comparing the photos of the two in a photo gallery.

Brian May, Queen’s lead guitarist, has waded into the controversy, saying “of course this is completely unauthorised by us.”

Despite widespread criticism, including from fellow Indonesian musicians, Dhani, who is partly Jewish, is unrepentant. “What’s the connection between German soldiers and Indonesia?” was his baffling comment to Indonesian media Wednesday. “What’s the connection between German soldiers and Indonesian musicians? We, the Indonesian people, didn’t kill millions of Jewish people, right?”

As the July 9 election is approaching, the campaign has been heating up, with supporters of both presidential candidates using social media to appeal to the young, urban voters. Dhani’s music video for Prabowo was released shortly after pop musicians like Oppie Andaresta and rock band Slank, who support rival candidate Joko Widodo, made their own song and music video, titled “Two-Finger Salute.”

On his Facebook page on Friday, Prabowo thanked Dhani and other singers for their “contribution,” saying: “This video is boosting our fighting spirit!”

While the appeal of Nazi chic is not uncommon in Indonesia and elsewhere in Asia — a Nazi-themed café reopened in the Indonesian city of Bandung just days ago — it is particularly telling that fascist imagery has been used to drum up support for Prabowo, who was discharged from military in 1998 over the abduction of pro-democracy activists, and who is given to such strongman gestures as appearing at campaign rallies on horseback before an honor guard.

Over the weekend, American journalist Allan Nairn posted on his blog a 2001 interview, in which Prabowo said that Indonesia needed “a benign authoritarian regime.” The former general, who made clear his admiration toward Pakistan’s then ruling strongman Pervez Musharraf, told Nairn: “Do I have the guts, am I ready to be called a fascist dictator? Musharraf had the guts.”

Hopefully Indonesia won’t get a chance to find out.

— With reporting by Stephanie Burnett

TIME indonesia

The ISIS Extremists Causing Havoc in Iraq Are Getting Funds and Recruits From Southeast Asia

Militants from Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, are being lured by ISIS's hard-line Sunni extremism

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Men in balaclavas are cradling Kalashnikovs as they look into a camera, somewhere in Syria. They are university students, businessmen, former soldiers and even teenagers. One by one, they urge their fellow countrymen to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the jihadist group so extreme that it has been denounced by al-Qaeda. But these aren’t Syrians, or Uzbeks, or Chechens. They are Indonesian.

“Let us fight in the path of Allah because it is our duty to do jihad in the path of Allah … especially here in Sham [the Syrian region] … and because, God willing, it will be to this country that our families will do the holy migration,” says one in Bahasa Indonesia peppered with Arabic phrases. “Brothers in Indonesia, don’t be afraid because fear is the temptation of Satan.”

A fellow jihadist, a former Indonesian soldier, calls on those in the police and armed forces to repent and abandon the defense of their country and its “idolatrous” state ideology, Pancasila.

The video of the Indonesian men in Syria emerged shortly before ISIS seized the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tikrit, in landmark victories on June 10 and 11. It reflects the growing attraction that the Sunni extremist group holds for the most militant jihadists from Indonesia — the country with the world’s biggest Muslim population, and one that has long battled threats of terrorism.

“Like in Syria, the Sunni jihadi movement is split in Indonesia,” Sidney Jones, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, tells TIME. Some Indonesian jihadists, including many senior leaders of Jemaah Islamiyah (the group behind the Bali bombings in 2002 and other terrorist attacks) are loyal to the alliance around the al-Nusra Front and al-Qaeda, she says, “while most of the more militant, non-JI groups are supporting ISIS.”

According to a recent report, the Syrian conflict has lured an estimated 12,000 foreign fighters, mostly from neighboring Middle Eastern countries, but also from Europe, Australia, the U.S. — and Southeast Asia. In January, Indonesia’s counterterrorism agency reckoned about 50 Indonesians had gone to fight in Syria, though it is not known how many of them joined ISIS. A Malaysian security official said more than 20 Malaysians are known to have entered Syria to fight Bashar Assad’s regime.

On Saturday, Malaysian media reported that Ahmad Tarmimi Maliki, who bombed an Iraqi military headquarters, earned “the dubious honor of being Malaysia’s first suicide bomber linked to” ISIS. Some months earlier, in November, reports emerged that Riza Fardi, who studied at the infamous Ngruki Islamic boarding school in Central Java — the same school attended by the Bali bombers — became the first Indonesian jihadist to die in Syria.

While terrorist threats have waned in Southeast Asia, thanks to imprisonment and deaths of senior jihadist figures, the civil war in Syria, and now in Iraq, has raised the specter of fighters returning home with the terrorist know-how and a militant outlook — not unlike the returnees from the Afghan war in the 1980s. “Returning fighters will have deeper indoctrination, more international contacts and perhaps a deeper commitment to the global jihad,” says Jones.

The three-year Syrian war has attracted even more foreign fighters than the Afghan war. One possible reason is a prophecy, popular among global jihadists, about the final battle before Judgment Day. “There are hadith, or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, that predict an apocalyptic war of good vs. evil, and according to one hadith, it would start in Syria,” says Solahudin, a Jakarta-based terrorism expert.

Indonesia has a different approach to jihadism than its neighbors. Though terrorist attacks are punishable by death, it is not illegal to raise money for or join a foreign jihadist group. In contrast, in late April, Malaysia arrested 10 militants — eight men and two women — who planned to travel to Syria to take part in the war. In March, Singapore said it was investigating the departure of a national to join the Syrian jihad.

Emboldened by Indonesia’s more tolerant attitude, ISIS supporters there have become more visible and openly solicit funds. They held a collection in February at an Islamic state university on the outskirts of Jakarta and held a rally in the capital’s central business district in March. On June 15, a Sunday morning when one of the main streets in the Central Javanese city of Solo is transformed into a weekly car-free zone for strolling families, militants from Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid, a JI splinter cell, paraded in ISIS insignia, waved ISIS flags and wreaked havoc on a music performance.

They are also quite active on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Iqbal Kholidi, who tracks and observes Indonesian ISIS supporters on social media, has culled photos of them training and posing with the signature black flags from across the country — in Jakarta, Central Java, South Kalimantan and Poso, Central Sulawesi. They have become bolder in recent months, Iqbal says, and that is likely “because there is an impression that the authorities are just keeping quiet all this time.”

TIME indonesia

What Indonesia Can Teach Thailand and Egypt About Democracy (and Vice Versa)

Indonesia Election
A member of the An-Nadzir Muslim sect shows his inked finger after casting his ballot at a polling station during the Indonesian parliamentary elections in Gowa, South Sulawesi province, on April 9, 2014 Masyudi S. Firmansyah—AP

With democracy besieged in much of Asia and the Muslim world, Indonesia is something of a beacon. The world's most populous Muslim nation has successfully rid its politics of military intervention, and is about to embark on another free and fair direct election for its next leader

A coup in Thailand. A landslide electoral victory in Egypt for a former military chief who overthrew an elected government. Democracy remains elusive in much of Southeast Asia and in much of the Muslim world. Yet, one Muslim-majority country in Southeast Asia proves it is not necessarily so.

Indonesia, which holds both parliamentary and presidential elections this year, is a testament to transformation. In 2001, three years after the fall of authoritarian President Suharto, Indonesia faced a multitude of crises, from Christian-Muslim sectarian strife and Islamist terrorist attacks, to separatist conflicts. That year, Thaksin Shinawatra won elections by landslide and became Thailand’s Prime Minister, but Indonesia’s first democratically elected President, Abdurrahman Wahid, popularly known as Gus Dur, was forced to step down after months of wrangling with lawmakers.

And yet, instead of turning to the men in uniform, Indonesia pressed ahead with political reform — reformasi, as it’s called in Bahasa Indonesia. In 2004, it not only held its first directly elected presidential vote (Gus Dur was elected by legislators), but the military lost its reserved parliamentary seats. “Reformasi achieved a great accomplishment for Indonesian democracy: pushing the military back into the barracks,” says Ulil Abshar Abdalla, an associate researcher at the Jakarta-based think tank Freedom Institute.

On July 9, Indonesia is set to choose its next President, in the third poll in which voters can directly elect their country’s top leader. The two presidential contenders are polar opposites. Joko Widodo is a soft-spoken and immensely popular Jakarta Governor. Prabowo Subianto is a former special-forces commander with a dubious human-rights record and infamously fiery temper.

Prabowo’s camp touts the ex-general as a decisive and firm leader, while Joko’s camp takes pride in his humble and down-to-earth quality. “One represents the culture of a tough military commander, and the other the culture of ordinary, rather than aristocratic, Javanese people,” wrote senior editor Endy Bayuni in the Jakarta Post.

Although the military is out of politics, many retired officers build their second career in it. Prabowo naturally attracts quite a few former soldiers, and there are a number on Joko’s side too, including Wiranto, the Hanura Party’s founder who, in 2000, lost his post as Security Minister over alleged involvement in East Timor’s referendum violence.

But no retired officer is more polarizing than Prabowo. His critics see the 62-year-old as part of Suharto’s authoritarian regime — he was married to a daughter of Suharto, joined elite military units and took part in military operations in the separatist provinces of East Timor and Irian Jaya. His quick rise through the ranks was cut short in 1998 after he was discharged from the military because of his alleged role in the abduction of pro-democracy activists in the months before the fall of Suharto.

His Gerindra Party has formed a coalition with three Islamic parties, two of which are known for intolerant views toward religious minorities. Gerindra’s manifesto has also raised alarm. While it guarantees freedom of religion, it also says that “the state is required to guarantee the purity of teachings of the religions acknowledged by the state from all forms of defamation and deviation.” That is likely to spell more trouble to groups like the Shi‘ite and Ahmadi Muslims, who are frequent victims of violence and intolerance.

Although opinion polls show that Prabowo has gained ground, the 52-year-old Joko, nicknamed Jokowi, is the front runner in the presidential race. But even if Prabowo wins the election, some analysts argue that it will be difficult for him to bring back military rule. “Indonesia’s democratic institutions are pretty solid and can’t be overturned by him,” Ulil says, adding that people should be more worried about “the radical forces around him that support his agenda.”

Prabowo himself tries to assuage fears. “I don’t want to lead in an authoritarian manner,” he said on Twitter, responding to a tweet that suggested if the former general became President, he could follow in the footsteps of the Thai junta, which threatened to block social media (and, according to some reports, briefly did so on Wednesday). “Whatever my political rivals say, I support freedom of the press and of expression.”

But many remain skeptical. “The first obstacle that we have to face,” said Fadjroel Rachman, a student activist turned political commentator, “is the return of the danger of fascism.” And if anything, Indonesia should look to Thailand and Egypt to draw the most important lesson of all: democracy should never be something to be taken for granted.

TIME indonesia

‘Indonesia’s Obama’ Is Actually Nothing of the Sort

Indonesian Presidential Election Candidates Name Vice Presidents
Indonesian presidential candidate Joko Widodo waves to a crowd of supporters after officially naming Jusuf Kalla as his vice-presidential running mate in Jakarta on May 19, 2014 Ed Wray—Getty Images

Indonesia's presidential candidate Joko Widodo has drawn comparisons to Obama, and he too has chosen a seasoned politician, Jusuf Kalla, as his running mate. But there are only very few similarities between the two youthful politicians

Joko Widodo, the front runner in the Indonesian presidential election, is often compared to U.S. President Barack Obama. At 52 years old, both are relatively young politicians whose can-do spirit has won legions of fans and energized voters in their own countries. And just as the American leader has been, Joko is also the target of a smear campaign.

Last weekend, to quell rumors that he’s not a Muslim and of Chinese descent, his party, the Indonesian Democratic Party–Struggle (PDI-P), posted on Facebook a photo of Joko’s marriage certificate, complete with details of his religion and his father’s name — mirroring the White House’s release of Obama’s long-form birth certificate after persistent rumors that he was born in Kenya and not a U.S. citizen.

But that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

Joko, popularly known as Jokowi, announced his running mate on Monday, a day before the May 20 registration deadline, ending weeks of speculation. The choice: Jusuf Kalla, a seasoned politician and onetime chairman of the influential Golkar Party. Kalla, 72, is expected to help Jokowi and complement the Jakarta governor’s lack of experience in the rough-and-tumble of national politics — to be the Indonesian Joe Biden, if you will.

But the announcement has left some, if not many, of Jokowi’s supporters more disappointed than surprised. For one, Kalla is no Biden. When he served as Vice President during outgoing President Yudhoyono’s first term in office, from 2004 to 2009, there were signs, allegedly, of rivalry between the two. In an ongoing trial — concerning the funneling of funds during the 2008 global financial crisis to Indonesia’s Century Bank as part of a bailout package — Kalla gave testimony against actions taken by the Yudhoyono government. And the former veep’s appearance in the award-winning documentary The Act of Killing, in which he was seen praising a thuggish paramilitary group, whose members killed suspected communists in the 1960s, has done nothing to further his image.

Also, while Obama had a free hand to pick his VP candidate, Kalla is said to not be the choice of Jokowi but rather of his party’s chairwoman, Megawati Sukarnoputri. The presidential candidate hinted as much during his speech Monday: “Based on special considerations, considerations from Megawati Sukarnoputri, last night we decided that my vice-presidential candidate would be Muhammad Jusuf Kalla.” (Megawati had already put Jokowi in his place in a speech the previous Friday: “I made you [Jokowi] a presidential candidate,” she said. “But you should remember that you are the party’s official, with a function of implementing the party’s programs and ideology.”)

Sixteen years after the fall of authoritarian President Suharto on May 21, 1998, Indonesia has seen the rise of young leaders who earn public respect for pushing clean and effective governance in a country blighted by graft. Besides Jokowi, whose habit of making blusukan (impromptu visits) has endeared him to voters since his time as the mayor of the small central Javanese city of Solo, there are: Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, Jakarta’s deputy governor; Tri Rismaharini, the mayor of Indonesia’s second largest city, Surabaya; Ridwan Kamil, the mayor of the West Javanese capital and the country’s third most populous city, Bandung; and Ganjar Pranowo, the governor of Central Java province.

Yet this new breed of politicians is still at the mercy of party oligarchs, some of whom are remnants from the Suharto era. Party leaders and founders like Megawati treat their organizations like personal fiefdoms, having the final say on the selection of everyone from presidential candidates to deputies of regional leaders. Sometimes the pairings work (Jokowi and Basuki, who belongs to the Gerindra Party, have formed a good team as leaders of Indonesia’s capital city). At other times, it’s a disaster: Rismaharini contemplated stepping down in February, partly because she was allegedly fed up with the inability to work with her PDI-P–appointed new deputy mayor.

For the July 9 election, Jokowi is facing rival Prabowo Subianto, a Gerindra Party co-founder. Prabowo, former son-in-law of the late Suharto and an ex-general with a dubious human-rights record, has chosen to team up with Hatta Rajasa, whose daughter is married to Yudhoyono’s son. Though Jokowi, a clean nonestablishment figure, is the front runner, Prabowo has gained ground in a new opinion poll.

“A fight against the oligarchs,” tweeted anticorruption activist Teten Masduki, who supports Jokowi, on Sunday, a day before the Kalla announcement. But as election day approaches, and coalition parties begin jockeying for advantage, the presidential race may turn into a fight among party oligarchs, not against them.

TIME indonesia

Gang Rape Then Caning: Welcome to Aceh’s Bizarre Moral Crusade

Indonesia Daily Life
An Acehnese Shari‘a police officer mans a checkpoint as a Muslim woman walks past in Banda Aceh, Aceh province, Indonesia, in October 2013 Heri Juanda—AP

The appalling treatment meted out to a 25-year-old widow has drawn attention to the application of Shari‘a law in the Indonesian province of Aceh. But with Brunei having just adopted the code, the controversy over Shari‘a in Asia is only just heating up

It all began when a group of eight men raided a woman’s home last week and caught a 25-year-old widow with a married man. Accusing them of adultery, the vigilantes, who included a 13-year-old boy, beat up the 40-year-old man, gang-raped the woman and doused the two with sewage before turning them over to the Shari‘a police.

Despite what happened, the Shari‘a police in Langsa, in the Indonesian province of Aceh, said it wouldn’t show any leniency and insisted the woman, along with her companion, would be caned in public for alleged adultery.

“They violated the religious bylaw on sexual relations,” the local Shari‘a police chief Ibrahim Latif told local media on Tuesday. “They have to be [caned] as a form of justice. The rapists will also be processed, but in a criminal court.”

Social media exploded with public condemnation. “Gang-raped, then caned? Oy Aceh shariah law enforcers, you are the ultimate gag-inducing misogynistic donkeys,” remarked one Indonesian Twitter user. “Inhumane,” said another.

The latest controversy came just days after the Sultanate of Brunei began its rollout of the Shari‘a penal code — the first country in East Asia to do so — and as the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party pushes to implement it in the Malaysian state of Kelantan.

Yet, not all Muslims agree with the fundamentalist applications of Shari‘a being advocated in those jurisdictions.

“Implementing Shari‘a that is understood literally tends to produce decisions that hurt human dignity, for example violating human rights,” Indonesian Islamic scholar Akhmad Sahal says, adding that women, the poor and non-Muslims are especially vulnerable. Women’s-rights activists in Aceh say Shari‘a contributes to the high level of abuse and violence toward women, who also tend to get heavier punishments than men.

Jakarta allowed Aceh, famed for its strong Islamic roots, to adopt Shari‘a in 2001 in an attempt to quell a decades-long separatist conflict. The heaviest penalty is public caning, which first took place in 2005 (the death-by-stoning penalty for adulterers was dropped from a draft bylaw in March). Since February this year, both Muslims and non-Muslims have been obliged to follow the Islamic law. On a day-to-day level, that means prohibitions on alcohol, close proximity with members of the opposite sex besides one’s spouse, gambling and homosexuality.

Shari‘a also regulates dress code, requiring women to cover their hair and banning them from wearing tight pants. Some areas enforce additional rules: in the town of Lhokseumawe, female passengers are banned from riding astride motorcycles and have to sit sidesaddle. In North Aceh, women are prohibited from dancing in public, and that includes traditional dances.

An Acehnese Islamic leader, Faisal Ali, has condemned the gang rape. “The rapists have to be punished more severely because they have abused the implementation of Shari‘a,” he said.

Yet, enforcement of Shari‘a often leads to violence and tragedy precisely because of the behavior of overzealous officials and vigilantes. In 2010, three Shari‘a policemen raped a 20-year-old university student after they caught her riding a motorbike with her boyfriend. In 2012, Shari‘a police accused a 16-year-old schoolgirl at a concert of being a prostitute. The accusation was reported in local Aceh media — and the teenager killed herself.

Despite moral zealotry, Aceh is plagued with social ills. The province is a hotbed of corruption, and the religious police are far from immune. In November, the head of the province’s Shari‘a police was arrested over charges of corruption. In September, a Shari‘a police officer was detained for allegedly trying to supply hashish to a jailed inmate.

“Implementing Shari‘a is often a mask to cover up a regime that is immoral or corrupt or cruel,” Sahal says. “Real problems like corruption escape public attention.”

TIME indonesia

The ‘Jokowi Effect’ Could Be the Most Important Thing in Indonesia’s Elections

INDONESIA-ELECTION
Indonesians cast at a polling station during legislative elections in Jakarta on April 9. Excitement over the popular Joko Widodo may have reversed voter apathy BAY ISMOYO—AFP/Getty Images

The presidential candidacy of the wildly popular Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo, nicknamed Jokowi, is credited with ending voter apathy in elections being held in the world's most populous Muslim nation

Indonesian voters headed to the polling booths Wednesday with an enthusiasm that was unthinkable some months ago.

The reason was the so-called Jokowi effect. The presidential candidacy of the wildly popular Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo, nicknamed Jokowi, has been credited with boosting everything from Jakarta’s stock markets and Indonesian currency the rupiah to popular interest in the electoral process.

Indonesia’s elections are a staggering operation. With around 186 million eligible voters, the sprawling archipelago nation is the third largest democracy in the world after India, whose elections began on Monday, and the U.S.

Indonesian voters were to choose more than 235,000 legislative candidates competing for nearly 19,700 seats in national, provincial and district-level legislatures.

There was initially little excitement about the polls. The country’s politics have always been tainted by scandal and graft, but a series of recent cases that landed a number of legislators in jail have dealt fresh blows to the image of the Indonesian parliament. According to a poll by the Indonesian Research Institute, nearly two-thirds of respondents saw the House of Representatives, or the DPR, in a negative light. A survey by Transparency International last year put the DPR as the country’s most corrupt institution, a dubious distinction it shared with the police.

Abstaining voters — known in Indonesian as golput, an acronym for golongan putih — have been on the rise in the previous elections, reaching 29% in 2009, up from 16% in 2004. But the presidential candidacy of the Jakarta governor, a down-to-earth politician untainted by controversy, could change that.

“Jokowi is seen as a figure of hope and as an alternative,” says political observer Wimar Witoelar, who once served as a spokesman for former President Abdurrahman Wahid, also known as Gus Dur. “Many young and first-time voters are likely to vote for PDI-P, and there could even be fewer abstaining voters.”

It won’t be until July that Indonesia holds the presidential election, but the Wednesday parliamentary elections are as much as about choosing the country’s next President as they are legislators. “My mother said she actually likes yellow [Golkar Party] better. But because she wants Jokowi, she had to choose red [PDI-P],” tweeted novelist Ayu Utami on Election Day.

Jokowi’s political platform is little known, though his programs, from slum development to health care, reflect his party’s pro-small-people, populist stance. With more than half of the ballots counted late Wednesday afteroon, a quick count by Indikator’s pollsters showed that PDI-P got 19.6% of the vote — below the predicted 24.5% but sufficient to propel it from third to top spot. Its two closest rivals are fellow nationalist, secular parties: Golkar, late President Suharto’s political vehicle, got 14.3% and Gerindra 12.2%. Meanwhile, the governing Democratic Party, beset by corruption scandals, is at the fourth place, with a mere 9.7% of the vote.

Indonesian electoral law stipulates that only parties that secure at least a quarter of of the popular vote or one-fifth of the 560 seats in the DPR can nominate a presidential candidate. Parties that fail to meet the threshold will have to cobble together a coalition — a move that is seen to have crippled and hobbled outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s government, particularly on issues like the fuel subsidy and religious intolerance.

Fed up with infighting within Yudhoyono’s coalition, which comprises both nationalist and Islamic parties, some voters say it is crucial to have a more unified government. “I think people need to vote for PDI-P candidates — as long as their integrity is better than those from other parties — and Joko Widodo as President. We need a stable government in the next 10 years,” architect and urban activist Marco Kusumawijaya wrote on Facebook, referring to the President’s maximum two terms in office.

Indonesia, which has the world’s biggest Muslim population, is likely to see the ongoing dominance of secular, nationalist parties and the struggle of Islamic parties to win votes. Among the latter is the Prosperous Justice Party, whose supposedly clean image has been tainted by graft and sex scandals, as well as the polygamy of its politicians. “Indonesians are basically secular nationalists,” says Wimar. “Religion is a guide in their private lives, not in politics.”

A clean and fair government is something that voters hope Jokowi and fellow politicians could bring. The proliferation of social media — Indonesian netizens are among the world’s most avid users of Twitter and Facebook — helps young, urban voters decide whom they should vote for. In the run-up to elections, a coalition of human-rights and anticorruption NGOs launched the website Bersih2014 and a related Twitter account, listing clean candidates. For weeks, Facebook and Twitter have also been buzzing with the names of not so well-behaved politicians and parties — snapshots of alleged evidence of bribery attempts abound.

The late Gus Dur, whose presidential term ended abruptly in 2001 after sparring with the legislature, once likened the DPR to a kindergarten. In today’s elections, the fourth since the fall of the strongman Suharto in 1998, there is finally hope that Indonesia is now more apt to vote more mature politicians into parliament — and with that, create a better government.

TIME southeast asia

Indonesia’s Elections Feature Plenty of Women, but Respect in Short Supply

Megawati Sukarnoputri
Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle chairwoman Megawati Sukarnoputri shouts slogans during a campaign rally in the Indonesian town of Klaten on April 5, 2014 Slamet Riyadi—AP

The world’s largest Muslim-majority nation has imposed a strict quota on women standing in this year’s parliamentary elections, but critics say the plethora of celebrities and political scions show they are pawns manipulated to prop up the established elite

Indonesian elections wouldn’t be complete without dangdut singers. Young women, usually attired in skimpy clothes, are a must at campaign rallies, warming up supporters with hip-shaking music and gyrating movements before party bigwigs deliver rousing political speeches.

Yet, as Indonesians prepare vote in national legislature elections Wednesday, the participation of dangdut singers has gone beyond a mere stage act.

To increase gender equality in politics, Indonesia has imposed a strict mandatory quota on women standing in this year’s elections. Each political party has to field at least 30% female parliamentary candidates in to participate in an electoral district, or else it will be disqualified.

It is essentially a good rule. But much to the derision of many voters and the consternation of women activists, political parties choose to pick women little experience in politics or public service: wives, daughters or female relatives of established politicians, and famous celebrities — dangdut singers, swimsuit models and actresses. (On the latter, a phrase has even been coined: caleg cantik, or beautiful legislative candidates.)

“Is it an election or a beauty pageant?” asks website LivingIndonesia, whose “Sexiest Legislative Candidates” post, comparing the celebrities’ pre- and postcandidacy photos, has gone viral. Feminist activist Gadis Arivia slams that “political parties prefer legislative candidates with big breasts to those with big brain capacity.”

Among the dozens of celebrity candidates is dangdut singer cum B-movie actress Angel Lelga. The 30-year-old, who is running for office for an Islamic party, became the butt of jokes after giving a bumbling interview on a TV talk show in January.

Women with political pedigree are in high demand too. Late President Suharto’s daughter Siti Hediati Hariyadi, popularly known as Titiek, is a leading MP candidate for Golkar Party, the strongman’s once formidable political vehicle. (Her former husband Prabowo Subianto is presidential candidate of his own Gerindra Party.) Members of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s extended family are running on his Democratic Party’s ticket.

Tunggal Pawestri, a candidate for the Yogyakarta provincial legislature, blames the male-dominated parties for failing to attract and nurture female talent. “So the shortcut is to recruit celebrities,” says Tunggal, who was among women’s-rights activists who pushed for the quota system. “They have a function as purely vote getters.”

Since Indonesia adopted the gender-quota law in 2003, and strengthened it five years later, the number of women elected to the 560-seat House of Representatives, or DPR, had increased, from 11% in 2004 to more than 18% in 2009.

But celebrities and political dynasts comprise the majority of women MPs. A quarter of the women elected to parliament in 2009 were popular figures, while some 42% were related to established power-families. “It was disappointing,” says Gadis, who founded the feminist Women’s Journal. “And I expect the trend to continue.”

Heavyweight politicians may prefer to recruit little-experienced celebrities and family members because they can be steered easily. But this was not always the case. Former President Megawati Sukarnoputri, chairwoman of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), was first wooed to join the prior incarnation of her party, despite lacking experience, because she’s a daughter of Indonesia’s first President, Sukarno. And there are strong women hailing from the entertainment industry. Rieke Diah Pitaloka, of PDI-P, and Nurul Arifin, of Golkar Party, are both comic actresses turned legislators who have earned high respect in their new careers.

And to be fair, political parties also recruit male celebrities — Lelga’s former husband, dangdut star Rhoma Irama, is the presidential candidate for another Islamic party — and there are also many politicians’ sons, brother-in-laws and nephews appearing in nomination lists.

But it is the young, attractive female newcomers who invite most scrutiny, and sometimes sexist comments. That is not fair, Tunggal says. “The ones who decide on the candidacy are political parties, and they are the ones who should be blamed.”

One stumbling block to attracting female candidates is a relatively low employment rate of Indonesian women. According to the World Bank, only 51% of women are employed in the workforce, compared with 78% of men. Moreover, women who harbor big political ambitions could face opposition at home. Indonesian media recently reported a politician divorcing his legislative-candidate wife because, he said, she had little time for their family.

Gadis acknowledges that while the gender-quota law “helps women, it is not enough.” And they need to do more to push for real gender equality, she says. “We have male-dominated parties and patriarchal culture, and that closes access to many women. We need to shatter these if we want more capable women to participate in politics.”

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