TIME indonesia

The Big Challenge for Indonesia’s New President: Proving Democracy Works

Indonesian presidential candidate Jokowi sits on a bench while waiting for the announcement of the results from the Elections Commission at Waduk Pluit in Jakarta
Indonesian presidential candidate Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, now president elect, sits on a bench while waiting for the announcement of election results by the Elections Commission at Waduk Pluit in Jakarta July 22, 2014. Beawiharta Beawiharta—Reuters

Joko Widodo’s election victory was a big win for Muslim-majority Indonesia, the world's third largest democracy and fourth most populous nation. Now the incoming President has to deliver much-needed reform

When Indonesia’s election commission announced late Tuesday that Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo had won July’s presidential election, the transition of the world’s fourth-most populous nation to democracy was finally made complete.

Sixteen years ago, when autocrat Suharto fell from power amid street riots and a financial crisis, it seemed the sprawling archipelago nation could break apart as politics in Jakarta descended into chaos. However, the victory of Joko Widodo, affectionately called “Jokowi,” shows how mature and stable the country’s new democracy has become. Jokowi is the first leader in Indonesia who is not affiliated with the old ruling class, but a self-made man, who built a political career with his honesty, smart policies and good results.

Now he faces an entirely new challenge: Proving that new democracies in the emerging world can govern effectively. Indonesia has become a rising star in the global economy, propelled by its increasingly wealthy 250 million people and government policies that are friendlier to investment. However, Indonesia, like many other emerging economies, is slipping. The IMF expects Indonesia’s GDP to grow by 5.4% in 2014 — not bad, but the rate has been declining steadily from 2011, when it was 6.5%. The problem is the same that is dragging down developing nations everywhere, from India to Brazil: Politicians, mired in factional fighting and lacking the necessary will, have failed to implement the reforms critical to keep growth going.

Awaiting Jokowi is a long list of difficult reforms that economists believe are needed to restore Indonesia’s growth. Restrictive labor laws must be loosened up to attract more job-creating manufacturing and the nation’s inadequate infrastructure needs a serious upgrade. The education system could use one, too. Expensive fuel subsidies that are straining the budget have to be reduced. Jokowi will have to manage these changes in an unfavorable global financial environment. With the Federal Reserve moving to end its stimulus programs, the flow of dollars sloshing around the world will be curtailed, and Indonesia, with a large current-account deficit, might find financing itself more costly. The country’s currency and stock market were among the hardest hit when the Fed first announced it would “taper” its program in 2013.

The reforms waiting for Jokowi are almost identical to the ones the new Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, needs to implement. The similarities between the two don’t end there. Both were successful on a local scale but now have to implement policy on a more challenging national level. Both will have to navigate reforms through fractious democracies and sell hard change to protest-prone publics.

But Jokowi has it worse. While Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party won a mandate in a landslide, Jokowi’s political party, the Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan (which translates as Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle), garnered only a minority in the nation’s parliament in April elections, which means he’ll have to govern in a potentially messy coalition. Jokowi’s own victory was more muted as well. He won 53% of the vote to best his chief rival, former general Prabowo Subianto, who may contest the results and drag out the election’s conclusion. “A narrow victory for Jokowi may not be sufficient to empower the newly elected president to carry out all the desired reforms,” worries Societe Generale economist Kunal Kumar Kundu.

There are also doubts about Jokowi himself. In comments on policy, he promised to raise Indonesia’s growth by tackling the nation’s toughest issues – from corruption to red tape – and make the country’s more open to investors. “We need to get our economy growing,” he recently said in one interview. “To do that, we must have more investment and also deliver in terms of infrastructure.” At the same time, Jokowi is new to national politics and policymaking and therefore unproven. “It is clearly too early to tell whether Jokowi will be the man to get Indonesia’s economy back on track,” says Gareth Leather, Asia economist at research firm Capital Economics. “There is no magic bullet to reviving growth.”

If Jokowi succeeds, however, he’ll offer yet another counterpoint to Asia’s other rising power, China. In Beijing, President Xi Jinping and his team seem to believe that tighter and tighter political control is necessary to guide the country forward. A Jokowi government could prove just the opposite – that open democracies can produce real reform and better lives for their citizens. The world will be watching.

TIME indonesia

With the Election of Joko Widodo, Indonesia Writes a New Chapter

INDONESIA-ELECTION
Indonesian President-elect Joko Widodo gestures after delivering his victory address in Jakarta's port district of Sunda Kelapa on July 22, 2014 Romeo Gacad—AFP/Getty Images

For the first time, the world's biggest Muslim-majority nation, and third biggest democracy, has an Everyman for President

Indonesians woke up Wednesday morning to something completely new: a President who did not hail from the political or military elite.

The previous evening, the country’s electoral commission, the KPU, declared the governor of Jakarta, Joko Widodo — popularly known as Jokowi — President-elect of the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation and third biggest democracy. After a highly polarized campaign, Jokowi and his running mate, Jusuf Kalla, won more than 53% of the vote, or some 8 million more votes than their rivals, former general Prabowo Subianto and his No. 2, Hatta Rajasa.

Unlike many established figures who dominate the political arena, the 53-year-old Jokowi came from a humble provincial background: he grew up in a riverside slum in Solo, Central Java, and does not have ties to an influential family. After a career as a furniture entrepreneur, he started in politics as mayor of his hometown less than a decade ago — and this rapid rise, along with the level of electoral enthusiasm and volunteerism his candidacy generated, has invited comparisons to U.S. President Barack Obama (the two were even born in the same year). Many see Jokowi’s win as an augury for a more mature era in Indonesian politics.

“His candidacy would have been improbable just a few years ago,” says Aaron Connelly, East Asia research fellow at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, who focuses on Indonesian politics. “This has not historically been a country in which parents told their children that they could grow up to become President.”

The bitterly contested presidential election also marks the first time that social media and the Internet played a major role in overseeing the electoral process. Taking advantage of the raw data that the KPU released on its site, concerned citizens set up websites to monitor the counting. One such site is Kawal Pemilu, or Guard the Election. Hurriedly built by Singapore-based IT consultant Ainun Najib and a couple of Indonesian programmers working in Silicon Valley, it was an instant hit, showing the official vote recapitulation, updated every 10 minutes by volunteers, of which there were around 700. “We wanted to fulfill the calls to guard the election by showing the data openly,” Ainun tells TIME.

With this level of openness and scrutiny, the election is being hailed as Indonesia’s most transparent and democratic. But that hasn’t stopped the loser from complaining that the poll has been “defective.” Prabowo, a former general with a tainted human-rights record, has refused to concede defeat. He initially called for the public to wait for the official count, but as it became clear the victory wasn’t his, he began attacking the KPU, accusing it of not properly investigating what he alleged was massive vote fraud — an accusation the commission has rebutted. On Tuesday afternoon, hours before the KPU’s announcement, he declared that he would not accept the official tally. His decision was widely derided by citizens and legal experts alike. (“The Indonesian people are grateful because we have escaped from the catastrophe of having a heavily stressed-out presidential candidate [as leader],” one Twitter user said.)

On Wednesday, Prabowo’s team says they would challenge the result in the Constitutional Court. Already, however, there are signs that his coalition is falling apart. During the past two press conferences on Sunday and Tuesday, in which Prabowo lambasted the KPU, running mate Hatta was conspicuously absent.

The victor, meanwhile, has been basking in congratulations. In his midnight victory speech on Tuesday, delivered at Sunda Kelapa, Jakarta’s old port, Jokowi said, “This presidential election has given rise to new optimism for us, for this nation … It is time for us to move together.” Stirring stuff, but winning the election, it must be said, was the easiest task on Jokowi’s list. Now comes the hard part — of governing a sprawling archipelago of 18,300 islands that has emerged, blinking, into democratic daylight.

TIME indonesia

Jakarta Governor Widodo Wins Indonesian Election

(JAKARTA, Indonesia) — Jakarta governor Joko Widodo, who won the hearts of Indonesians with his common man image, won Indonesia’s presidential election with 53 percent of the vote, final results from the Election Commission showed Tuesday.

The numbers were released shortly after his opponent, former general Prabowo Subianto, declared he was withdrawing from the contest, saying there was massive fraud during the election and that it was unfair and undemocratic.

Widodo, a former furniture maker known widely as “Jokowi,” had maintained a slim lead of about 4 percentage points in unofficial “quick counts” by polling agencies released after the July 9 election.

But Subianto, who has declared assets of $140 million and was on his third bid for the presidency, repeatedly claimed that polling firms with links to his campaign showed he was ahead.

“We reject the 2014 presidential election which is unlawful and therefore we withdraw from the ongoing process,” he said.

There were no immediate reports of violence. About 100 Subianto supporters held a peaceful protest about 300 meters (300 yards) from the Election Commission building in downtown Jakarta, chanting “Prabowo is the real president” and holding banners saying that the commission should stop cheating.

The building was surrounded by thousands of policemen to maintain security after a particularly nasty presidential campaign. It was the first election that pitted two candidates directly against each other since the Muslim majority country of 240 million emerged from the long and brutal Suharto dictatorship 16 years ago.

Supporters of both men used social media for personal attacks, and Subianto’s supporters led a smear campaign against Widodo, spreading rumors he is not a Muslim.

The commission was to formally declare the winner later Tuesday evening.

Final results showed that Widodo won 70,997,859 votes, or 53.15 percent of the nearly 133 million valid ballots cast, while Subianto won 62,576,444 votes, or 46.85 percent.

Voter turnout was 70.7 percent.

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 indonesia

Indonesia Now Has the Highest Rate of Deforestation in the World

Indonesia Forest Fires
Firemen spray water to extinguish wildfires in Dumai, Indonesia, on June 18, 2014 Rony Muharrman—AP

The Southeast Asian nation's forests are now being decimated quicker than those in Brazil

Indonesia now has the highest rate of deforestation in the world, releasing Brazil from its former title, according to a new report published in the Nature Climate Change journal.

Led by researchers at the University of Maryland, the study found that the Southeast Asian nation lost over 6 million hectares of forest between 2000 and 2012. Despite government attempts to ban logging nationwide, the deforestation rate has increased in recent years. During the final year of the study, in 2012, Indonesia lost a whopping 840,000 hectares of forest while Brazil only lost 460,000 hectares.

Yuyun Indradi, forest campaigner at Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said in a statement that the findings should serve as a “wake-up call” for greater government action to protect vulnerable wildlife and curtail greenhouse emissions. “While it was a welcome step, it’s clear that Indonesia’s forest moratorium has not worked,” he said. “Law enforcement is weak, and even the country’s national parks are being logged — but now is a critical time for action.”

The findings will likely be a recurring topic of conversation during this month’s presidential election. Rival candidates Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto will discuss the environment later this week during a televised debate, and Greenpeace urges both to propose viable solutions to deforestation and to encourage sustainable practices.

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 Iraq

Sorry, Jihadis, but You Won’t Be Able to Buy ISIS T-Shirts on Facebook

A fighter of the ISIL holds a flag and a weapon on a street in Mosul
A fighter of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) holds an ISIS flag and a weapon on a street in the city of Mosul, Iraq, on June 23, 2014 Reuters

T-shirts for terrorists get a ton of dislikes

Facebook has blocked the attempted sale of ISIS hoodies, T-shirts and toy figurines on the social network.

The shirts include the Sunni militant group’s logo and slogans like “We Are All ISIS” and “Fight for Freedom, Until the Last Drop of Blood,” and cost around $10.

The group is currently embroiled in all-out insurgency in Iraq, where it has seized several key areas.

Facebook was swift to respond. “Where hateful content is posted and reported, Facebook removes it and disables accounts of those responsible,” a spokesperson told CNN via email.

ISIS merchandize is also available on Twitter, but CNN reports that the microblogging site declined to comment.

Many of the manufacturers selling ISIS paraphernalia come from Indonesia, where there is some support for the extremist group, but it’s not clear whether revenue from the merchandise is going to sympathizers, opportunistic entrepreneurs or ISIS itself.

Terrorism researcher J.M. Berger says he wouldn’t be surprised if profits go to the latter. “ISIS has a big base of support in Southeast Asia — a long history with Islamism and jihadism. A number of foreign fighters come from the region,” Berger stated to CNN.

The Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict published a report in January stating that conflict in the Middle East is attracting fighters from Indonesia.

“Indonesian extremists are more engaged by the conflict in Syria than by any other foreign war in recent memory, including Afghanistan and Iraq,” the report said.

[CNN]

TIME Hong Kong

‘Racist’ Insurance Commercial Draws Outrage in Hong Kong

Hong Kong's Domestic Help System Under Scrutiny Following Recent Cases Of Abuse
Indonesian domestic workers protest in the streets of Causeway Bay to demand better working conditions in Hong Kong on Jan. 26, 2014 Jessica Hromas—Getty Images

An insurance commercial in Hong Kong has been deemed as racist by advocates of domestic workers and prompted outrage on social media

An insurance commercial in Hong Kong that features a male Chinese actor who impersonates a clumsy Filipina maid has been deemed as racist by domestic-worker advocates and prompted outrage on social media — reminding many Hong Kong residents of the unfair treatment of foreign domestic workers.

The advertisement for domestic-helper insurance by Malaysia’s Hong Leong Bank shows the Chinese actor as “Maria” while wearing a curly wig and covered in dark orange makeup. Foreign maids who are mostly from Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand have become a common fixture in Hong Kong since the booming of the economy in the mid-1970s.

Along with the immigration of more than 300,000 domestic workers to Hong Kong have come horror stories of their unjust treatment by employers. Recent high-profile cases like the hospitalization of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, an Indonesian maid who was allegedly beaten by her employer for eight months, have brought to light the abuse of foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong and prompted many of them to speak up. During the One Billion Rising event in February, a global campaign to end the abuse of women, hundreds of domestic workers there joined together to demand fairer treatment.

Erwiana’s employer, Law Wan-tung, is currently on trial and has pleaded not guilty to charges of withholding payment, criminal intimidation and causing bodily harm.

An Amnesty International report in 2013 stated that Indonesian women trafficked as domestic workers face “slavery-like conditions” in Hong Kong and that both the Hong Kong and Indonesian governments turn a blind eye to the “widespread abuse and exploitation” that foreign workers endure.

The controversial commercial comes only a few weeks after pictures from textbooks that feature racial stereotypes went viral on social media in Hong Kong. One exercise in the book invited students to match job descriptions with nationalities, prompting children to associate domestic work with a seemingly Filipina figure.

Advocates for domestic workers say the recent outpourings of racial discrimination are only a fragment of the mistreatment that domestic workers have experienced for years. Eni Lestari, spokeswoman for the Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body, told AFP the commercial lampooned an entire community by dressing the Chinese actor up in blackface instead of hiring an Indonesian or Filipina woman to play the role. Although it was supposed to be funny to Chinese residents, Lestari added, “what they don’t realize is what’s funny is actually racist.”

[AFP]

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.”

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