Friday, March 28, 2014

Activists in Aceh declare a state of emergency . . . while Indonesia’s Supreme Court Secretary defends his daughter’s wedding party favors. Yikes!

Before we jump back into the Aceh election violence that “keeps increasing and is no longer normal,” according to the NGO Aceh Democratic Forum,
(, I’d like to return briefly to something a little lighter, but in a way indicative of the divide between Aceh and Jakarta: and that is Ipodgate.

My friend Wati is still getting a kick out of the wedding hijinx of the Supreme Court Secretary.
Apparently, so is the Indonesian press, who followed up the story of the Ipod-laced nuptials with an attempt to get the Judge to explain himself, and Wati translated it for us.

“This is so sad . . .
“Nurhadi, Secretary of the Supreme Court, ‘defends’ the gift polemics as follows:
1. The price of each iPod was less than the $44 maximum value allowed by law to be given as a gift to a public official (they would have exceeded that amount but they were bought wholesale from the US.  Appropriate paperwork has yet to be filed).
2. Even though the 2,500 IPods purchased as reception gifts for guests were directly imported from the US at $42 each, totaling $105,000, they shouldn’t really be considered gifts per se, since all the guests were high-ranking officials and judges [and so presumably would consider this more like a netted bag of candied almonds than a fancy piece of electronics?]
3. And they were only $42 each so should not be totaled together, and that’s why he shouldn’t have to have an importer’s license to get them all at once, or pay duty on them
4. And anyway it was his son-in law-the businessman who bought them, not Nurhadi (who as the court employee with the highest salary grade makes about $76,500/year and “it would be impossible to pay for such an expensive wedding on his salary,” said Indonesia’s Corruption Watch officials.)

“Then Nurhadi just laughed at reporters and said ‘Let’s stop this. This is not an important issue.’

“Can you imagine what you could do for the poor of this country with what it cost to give those wedding guests an Ipod that was considered so small as to not even be a ‘gift?’

“Oh, Indonesia . . . ”

[NB: Current Supreme Court Judge Gayus, who defended Nurhadi, has made headlines in recent months for his high-profile defamation suit against celebrity illusionist Deddy Corbuzier over claims that the justice had received bribe money from dangdut singer Julia “Jupe” Perez.  And in February, former Constitutional Court chief justice Akil Mochtar was charged with three counts of bribery and two counts of money laundering in connection to election disputes he stands accused of fixing.]

The US Resolution regarding Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya . . . doesn’t seem to be concerning Myanmar all that much

It was heartening to read the March 26 article in the Myanmar Times, if only to be glad that the US House Foreign Affairs Committee “approved a resolution that calls [Myanmar] to ‘end all forms of persecution and discrimination’ against the Rohingya, a mostly Muslim people who are not even recognized as citizens.”

Rep. Edward Royce, Chair of the Committee, said that "the government of Burma cannot claim progress toward meeting its reform goals if it does not improve the treatment of Rohingya Muslims and other minority groups."

What did this prompt Myanmar to immediately do?  Not much. The US has already lifted its sanctions, as “the once pariah nation embraces democratic reforms.”

Kyaw Myo Htut, Myanmar's ambassador to the US, spoke at the release of a report by the National Bureau of Asian Research that called for reforms and warned of risks from anti-Muslim violence. He didn’t seem to directly address the persecution of the Rohingya when asked for a comment, although it was reported that he “welcomed the report but said that some points ‘do not reflect reality.’

Gosh, I feel better already.

He said he hoped Myanmar would keep improving relations with the United States, and that he appreciated international "support, encouragement and understanding" for the reforms.”  Quite the diplomat. "Myanmar is cognizant that more remains to be done. Not all issues may be resolved in a day," he said. 

Plus ca change . . .

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sharia Law is an Odd Sort of Campaign Promise

The other day a colleague found herself in the position of having to defend herself to members of a committee she belongs to after having been called “a bad Democrat” by the Chair of the Democratic party in her town for her voting practice on that committee.  “I was just so angry,” she told me, “and I don’t know why it bothered me so much, or why I thought it was imperative that I defend my ‘honor.’  I had nothing to apologize for; my committee certainly did not think less of me and understood the stand I took, but boy, the notion that a bunch of people representing my party had decided that because of something they didn’t agree with they were going to declare me as 'no good . . '   well, it still pisses me off.”

I started thinking about this, this way that some groups can decide who’s a “good” or “bad” member, and how members willingly buy into this on a large scale, as I was writing the next-to-last post about Dar Islam and its advocacy of an “Islamist State.”  And how the original intent of this group has been perverted and twisted to serve the specific will of a few power-hungry politicians who have no real interest in sticking to the letter of Sharia Law but who understand the Pavlovian-like response that most people have to being called an unworthy member of a group that has given them, in the past, some measure of identity and comfort.

If you asked the average Acehnese citizen if they want the Sharia police breathing down their necks, or if they want this new Sharia 2.0 implemented, or if they felt that they themselves were good and devout Muslims, they would say heck no to the stoning, the veil mandates, and the countless prohibitions of anything that remotely resembles art or fun, and they would say yes I am a devout and pious Muslim.  Even the Aceh punks, who were arrested a few months ago for wearing Ramones-like clothes, playing music, dancing and sporting very snazzy Mohawks, regularly attended Mosque and stated that they were extremely good Muslims.  (; )

Former provincial governor Irwandi was in the position of losing either way when he was presented with the Sharia resolution.  He didn’t sign it, but he did not come out against it either. He couldn’t win-- the ulema (religious community) has everyone repeating the same. . . well . . .  catechism, if you will: “if you’re against Sharia law, you’re against Islam” and nobody wants to be accused of that. (Zaini, the current governor, signed it.)

For some reasons these challenges (actually just name-calling, like “You’re a bad Democrat”) are surprisingly effective in producing knee-jerk reactions that usually take the form of showing the accuser just how [progressive, pious, loyal, conservative, vegetarian, etc etc etc] we really are—including those of us who normally couldn’t care less what “they” think of us.

The push for Sharia law by de Tiro’s group in 1942 was the one way he knew of that would (non-violently, he hoped) separate the Aceh constitution from the Indonesian constitution.  If Aceh and Dar Islam could get Sharia recognized as the law of Aceh then it would be independent with no ties constitutionally to Indonesia/Jakarta.  Instant independence.  The freedom was economic and social as much as it was religious.  In 1970 Jakarta was appropriating most of the profits from petroleum extraction in Aceh.  Dar Islam, revived again,  wanted the profits to stay where they were.

Currently the ex-GAM/Partai Aceh politicians are pushing Jakarta further and further to see how far they can goad the administration. The Sharia police may be causing quite a kerfluffle around the province right now, but it’s my opinion that if Jakarta really saw some inherent danger in what was going on as far as excessive trampling of human rights, they’d come in and squash this “resolution” like a bug.  (Not because of any worship of human rights, but because of the perception that Aceh was in fact making and enforcing its own edicts when it has no legal power to do so.)  The first foreigner who gets arrested for not wearing a veil . . . the first non-citizen to be caned . . . and the Sharia police get sent back to the barracks without supper.  It’s just not enough of an issue right now for Jakarta.  Sharia law is NOT the legal purview of Aceh, no matter what it says.  Aceh is autonomous, not independent. 

But waving the Sharia banner gives these candidates the sheen of being “pro independence” which speaks to average citizens who remember the conflict.  Problem is, their leaders do not. The ex-GAM leaders have no idea what went on during the majority of the 30-year conflict—they were all in exile in Sweden or Malaysia.  Hasan de Tiro was exiled in Sweden for 30 years , Governor Zaini and his vice governor were in exile for the majority of the conflict , de Tiro’s second in command was also exiled, Nur Djali, the former head of BRA (the ministry for ex-combatants), was also out of Aceh.  The list goes on.

All these combatant leaders had no idea what was really happening on the ground—no feeling for what regular people (or regular foot soldiers) were going through because they were only in touch with their higher ranking members.  If they had been in the field they would have had more of a sense of fairness when the dust settled and the MoU was signed.  It was nothing for them to let 19,000 of their 22,000 members twist in the wind in the hinterlands, without job prospects, without pensions, without government positions . . . because (and this is the kind view) they just did not have any idea of how much these people gave up to continue the revolution on their behalf.

And it was bad enough that they didn’t know what their own people needed and wanted, they didn’t have a clue about what was happening in Jakarta.  In Jakarta, as in other large political communities, it’s a marker’s business.  These ex-GAM “leaders” did not understand the effects that political will in Jakarta would or could have on Aceh.  They came back with nothing to trade, no markers to call in.  No one owed them any favors, and in a very short time they owed many.

Remember, former governor Irwandi was seen as a “traitor” because he was not interested in the “Sharia Law or bust” method of getting the best deal for Aceh.  Unlike his colleagues, he did have some contact with Acehnese during the conflict, and was exiled in Malaysia only briefly (after spending some time in prison in Aceh until he escaped when the 2004 tsunami hit).  But he had a better idea of how politics operated in Jakarta, so he knew what might work better.  But this moderate approach was seen (or spun) as a “sellout” and a capitulation.

But even with his minor understanding of the workings of Jakarta’s political machinery, Irwandi could not fully understand how to set up a mechanism to appropriately compensate or reintegrate the majority of ex-combatants into the fabric of Aceh’s economy and social structure. Jakarta sent millions  per month in economic appropriations and allocations to Aceh, under the condition that what was not spent was returned to Jakarta.  One of Irwandi’s campaign promises was to compensate ex-combatants—and in fact the BRA was set up to do just that, with a $40 million budget.  Hardly any of it was appropriated, the rest was spent incorrectly, and the remainder, plus the monthly Aceh stipend, was returned to Jakarta.  No one in that group of Irwandi and all his favorite high-ranking GAM people, for all their rhetoric, could figure out how to set up the appropriate apparatus to compensate these men or provide social services—they just didn’t have real-world experience.  And it was far too much to steal, even for them . . . so back it went, and BRA folded, a well-funded but abject failure. 

Now this is pure Sara-based theory, backed up by absolutely nothing.  I want to make that very clear.
I believe that this whole mess ties in to Probowa and his desire to have Aceh in his pocket in order to win the presidential election.
Why?  Beside the fact that he’s a vicious maniac with no scruples?
He will promise Partai Aceh, “if you vote for me and I get in, I will promote Sharia law and you will be able to do what you want to do.”
This would be a form of independence in principle . . . but since what PA wants is true independence, and Sharia is only the vehicle and not the destination, this may backfire.
For one thing, what is to keep Probowa from going back on his word? 
And how will “true” Sharia affect Aceh’s economic resources that Jakarta is so fond of appropriating?  Speaking of which, what self-serving politician in his right mind is going to grant independence to its one true cash cow? [Think of now-independent Kosovo and its diamond mines that are still controlled by Serbia.]

At the end of the day Aceh will still not be independent, and it will have bought itself a repressive system that nobody, not even the clergy, truly wants. Ratcheting up this issue just to gain political points only makes regular citizens suffer.

As long as I’m on a roll I think I will dip a toe into the pool of Sharia Law as Crummy Administrator tomorrow, with some help from historians and law professors Sami Zubaida, Ebrahim Afsah, and Chilbi Mallat.

It’s Election Déjà vu All Over Again

The March 27, 2012 edition of the Jakarta Post had this headline:

Ahead of local election, police tighten grip on Aceh

The article speaks of increased tensions, weapons confiscation, heightened security in Aceh Utara, and then-incumbent gubernatorial candidate Irwandi’s reporting that his life had been threatened several times by Partai Aceh members.

The March 20, 2014  Channel News Asia/Asia Pacific outlet has this headline:

Political divide between former rebels fuels violence in Aceh

It reports that “former Aceh governor Irwandi Yusuf is a marked man and he is now being targeted by his former colleagues from rebel group - the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).” 

This is still on page one of the local papers, according to JMD staff.  They told me that yesterday was “a very hot situation in Lhokseumawe (Aceh Utara),” where Party Aceh members were shot during a campaign rally there. After the shooting on the same day,  PA members attacked PNA members at a coffee shop; the situation was finally brought under control by the police and army [possibly the Densus 88 counter-terrorism unit that was deployed in March 2012.  Plus ca change . . . ]

This current story is of interest because it gives a pretty concise overview of why there are currently 2 GAM parties duking it out for control of the province:

“Two years ago, Mr Irwandi failed to retain his position as governor and decided to form the Aceh National Party (PNA). The decision split former GAM members right down the middle.
“PNA is seen as a breakaway from the Aceh Party [PA] that has so far been the only political vehicle for former GAM members since the 2009 elections.
“The party is now contesting in this parliamentary election and the contest between former rebels has turned violent. Cases of attacks and killings have spiked since the start of the year.
PNA's vice chairman Kamaruddin Abu Bakar said: "People accused us of being behind the violence. We leave the criminals to the police to tackle. The police should enforce the law. We have called on our cadres in the Aceh Party not to resort to violence."
As the former commander of military operations in GAM, Mr Kamaruddin has a huge influence on former rebels.
However, it is unclear if he can cool tempers as political campaigning heats up.
PNA has claimed it has been the main target of attacks and might not be able to remain passive for long. [Apparently not!!]
The threat of retaliation from PNA would lead to an escalation of violence in Aceh, and that is certainly worrying.”
[so we shall see how the “coffee shop incident” plays out.]

With this being a former conflict zone, it is widely believed that former rebels have kept their old weapons. [this is common knowledge.] 
What's more worrying is that evidence suggests new weapons were used in some attacks.
Aceh Party maintains it bears no grudges against the PNA.
[Ahahahahahahahaha!  Perhaps “grudge”is not how they describe it.]
Aceh Party's vice chairman Abu Razak said: "I see my friends on the opposite side. Having their own party is normal. They are still my friends.”
Unfortunately, Mr Irwandy doesn't seem to share that sentiment. [!!!!!]
"In my view, he is still my friend. Maybe in his view, I'm his enemy," he said.
Leaders from both sides have yet to talk directly to each other, and until that happens, the former GAM rebels who were once on the same side remain enemies."

Well, as we know now, they did meet over coffee . . . .

Postcard to Exxon . . .hey, it could happen!

“ETAN's (East Timor and Indonesia Action Network) team of crack researchers found this disturbing thank you postcard buried deep in the archives in the back of a file cabinet. Indonesia thanks Exxon Mobil for its help in repressing opposition in Aceh.”


Graphic from Oscar-nominated documentary THE ACT OF KILLING

About East Timor and Indonesian Action Network
The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) advocates for democracy, justice and human rights for Timor-Leste, West Papua and Indonesia. In 2012, the government of the Democratic Republic Timor-Leste awarded ETAN the Order of Timor (Ordem Timor) for its role in the liberation of the country. More information about ETAN can be found at: 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Are you asking yourself: why is GAM against GAM in the Aceh Legislative elections?

It’s a good question, and bears some explanation.
It’s awfully convenient for Jakarta, with its long and bitter dispute with Aceh, to broadcast this version of why Aceh is so volatile: “well, it’s nobody’s fault but their own—they’re attacking each other after all.”

Unfortunately, in the history of Aceh, no one comes out smelling like a rose.

Here’s my brief Cliff-notes version (warning: small history lesson ahead):

Remember, the republic of Indonesia was not always independent; it was controlled by the British and then the Dutch until 1945, then after a bloody 4-year war with the Dutch it gained independence in 1949.  Aceh (north Sumatra) had been part of a larger and quite prosperous Sultanate (including all of Sumatra and the Malay peninsula) since 1511. 

Under the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 the British ceded their colonial possessions on Sumatra to the Dutch; the British named Aceh among these possessions even though they did not control it [of course they did!] The Dutch agreed to respect Aceh's independence at first but couldn’t help themselves and invaded again in 1871, possibly to prevent France or the US from doing it first.  This led to the 40-year Aceh War, in which the Acehnese established themselves as a formidable foe with exceptional military and fighting skills (this did not go unnoticed by the rest of Indonesia, which was having its own problems with the colonial powers at the time). The Dutch kind of won, and set up a colonial government in Aceh until World War II and the Japanese occupation of much of Indonesia.  During the occupation the Japanese tried to instill as much nationalist sentiment as possible in the more rural and remote parts of Indonesia, including Aceh.  Throughout all these events it was Aceh’s belief (fostered by various promises, agreements and assurances) that it would remain independent. Aceh revolted soon after its inclusion into an “independent Indonesia” in 1948, a situation created by a complex mix of what the Acehnese felt were betrayals and transgressions against their rights:

a)     Soekarno, the first president of Indonesia (and a member of the nationalist PNI party), reneged on his 1948 promise that if Aceh lent its trained military to assist in the war for Indonesian independence, it would be allowed to rule itself in accordance with its religious values which had been in place for centuries
b)     Aceh was politically dismantled and incorporated into the province of North Sumatra in 1950. This resulted in the Acehnese Rebellion of 1953-59, led by Governor and Ulama party leader Daud Bereueh.
c)     In 1959, the Indonesian government attempted once again to placate the Acehnese by offering wide-ranging freedom in matters relating to religion, education and culture.

 [let me tell you, we are zipping through history—this is by no means a thorough account!]

During the 1970s, under agreement with Indonesian central government (but not with Aceh), American oil and gas companies began exploitation of Aceh’s natural resources. Alleged unequal distribution of profit between Jakarta and Acehnese citizens induced Hasan di Tiro, the former ambassador of Darul Islam, to call for an Independent Aceh. He proclaimed Aceh Independence in 1976—the same year as East Timor proclaimed its own independence.  Both provinces were rewarded for this by severe and near-genocidal discipline that in Aceh’s case only ended when the 2004 tsunami killed 170,000 Acehnese with far more rapidity than the Indonesian army could have.

[Darul Islam is a group established in 1942 "aiming for the establishment of an Islamist State of Indonesia.It has many factions but in general the group recognizes only Shari'a as a valid source of law. It’s interesting to remember, however, that the declaration of Aceh independence had to do with the unequal distribution of wealth, and not religious practice.  See, it always, always comes down to economics.  I'll have a LOT more to say about this in the next post--all my opinions, mind you.]

The movement for Aceh Independence was called the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), and had very few followers initially, but as pressure and human rights abuses from Java mounted over the next two decades, it gained widespread support from Acehnese citizens.  A brief bone-throwing by Jakarta in 2001 that ostensibly broadened Aceh’s autonomy was followed by even more brutality, and a state of emergency was proclaimed in the province that was only broken by the Tsunami’s devastation and the subsequent 2005 “peace accord.”

          Women soldiers of the Free Aceh Movement with GAM commander Abdullah Syafei’i, 1999

The following text is excerpted  from a white paper that we delivered to the Clinton Foundation at their request in 2012 and regards the state of division within GAM and possible reasons for this.

Numbers vary slightly, but approximately 3,000 of the 21,000 known GAM combatants were reported by GAM leaders to the government immediately following the [2005] peace agreement/MoU signing. There are many reasons why the large remaining numbers were not reported, chief among them being that GAM feared that the Indonesian government, once receiving the surrendered weapons of GAM’s entire militia, would renege on any peace agreement and retaliate with violence on now-unarmed “enemies of the state.”  Subsequently, the 3,000 who were registered were compensated in the form of government positions, financial remuneration, etc.  GAM members felt that these 3,000 would be the harbingers of a finally integrated province and would act as their advocates and supporters in the form of insuring that their remaining ranks of 14-18,000 would receive reintegration assistance as well.

This was not the case.  While many of the 3,000 registered members became quite powerful and “reintegrated” comfortably into their communities (Governor Irwandi himself is a former GAM leader) they abandoned many of the promises to their constituents that had elevated them to this status in the first place.  Former combatants had taken to heart Governor Irwandi’s promise of approximately $40 million for rural development projects, as well as assurances that they would receive land and livelihoods training as part of reintegration activities.  Although many public documents state that all ex-combatants have received some type of assistance, the reality is that very few have received any assistance at all.  They live in remote districts where few if any government officials or agency has visited, and the assistance that they may have received has come through tsunami relief, which was far more broadly distributed and tracked than any relief to former GAM Members.  Indeed, the tsunami relief (Multi-Donor) funds were significantly lacking in any mandated provisions for ex-combatants and their particular issues and needs.  Notes one publication, “In their rush to provide assistance to tsunami victims, many international agencies signed undertakings that they would not ‘interfere’ in the conflict.  By and large the US$600 million Multi-Donor Fund (MDF) could not be used in conflict-affected areas that were not hit by the tsunami. As a result, there has been a significant discrepancy between the aid reaching tsunami-affected areas and that to many heavily conflict-affected regions, creating an artificial dichotomy between post-tsunami and post-conflict Aceh.”

Many of the authors of the documents extolling the (relative) success of the reintegration programs were in fact hand-picked by those government officials eager to put a successful face on the reintegration issue, and much of the data and conclusions are suspect.

In successive Governor’s Decrees, BRA (the agency responsible for reintegration) has been tasked with “formulating programs for the reintegration of former GAM into society in the fields of government, political participation, integration, and community empowerment in the social and economic spheres.” Public documents also indicate that BRA “has managed to directly facilitate individual assistance to approximately 20,000 conflict actors.”  This is not true.  Very little money has flowed directly to former combatants.  The reason for this are presented eloquently in a number of publications, usually accompanied by complaints from BRA as to why they could not comply, but the results are the same: approximately 15,000 fighting-age males in Aceh province feel as though they have been abandoned by the government that they believed, through the peace accord, had promised to welcome them as citizens with bright futures.

The violence surrounding the elections is a culmination of sentiment that has been percolating in Aceh for years.  The Aceh party [PA –Partai Aceh], comprised of former GAM members, is furious with Governor Irwandi [former PA and now PNA] for what they perceive as near treasonous actions towards them.  BRA and other agencies have not bothered to address the issue of appropriate reintegration and what it means.  Much-needed education and vocational training programs, land allocations, agriculture and livestock and training have never been launched, despite claims to the contrary.  “Field reports” go out of their way to explain the complexity of the MoU and how it can’t be implemented easily due to language regarding individual vs. community-wide benefits.  Partai Aceh is now seen as filled with strong-arming thugs who disrupt elections in order to get their needs met and who have their fingers on the pulse of all large development projects.  In a sense, these non-3,000 former GAM members have played as cast—marginalized, ignored troublemakers who according to those in power should have been grateful they weren’t all rounded up and dispatched.

These former combatants extend through the province like a web, earning money by growing marijuana, logging illegally in protected forests, and sometimes committing robbery and shootings for hire, trying to compensate for the sustainability the government refuses to give them, says it has already given them.  They are also resourceful, determined, and in some cases very well-respected in the communities they inhabit, and their disgust with the care that has been extended them and their families transmits exponentially through the districts so that young men in remote villages with few opportunities of their own begin to see these disenfranchised fighters as their role models.

It is JMD’s belief that far more attention should be paid to providing education assistance (high school equivalency programs) and vocational training to former combatants, and that the Acehnese government can facilitate this initiative quite easily.  The hardest thing for NGOs to address is a community of former GAM saying “Our government gave us nothing. We were promised land and training.  We were promised that we’d be able to care for our families legally and respectfully.  There is no way for us to survive now except through violence and crime.”  Because we can’t tell them “No, that’s not true, you weren’t abandoned, your government cares about you.”

Thursday, March 20, 2014

"The Jokowi Effect"

The Financial Times published an article called “Five Reasons to Love Jokowi” but the stinkers have blocked access unless you pay, so I’m reprinting this Post blog article which is lots better. [Highlights are mine.]
[Another good one is “Meet Joko Widodo” by Liam Gammon, posted  in Indonesia Votes, March 17. (tagline: “No, he’s not the Messiah, but a bit of reformist populism was just what Indonesia needed in 2014.”]

Here he is, the man himself, meeting U.S. Ambassador Scot Marciel in 13, 2013 at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta (

The key to understanding Indonesia’s upcoming elections? The Jokowi Effect

By Joshua Tucker

Indonesians are gearing up for the fourth round of legislative elections since the fall of the authoritarian New Order regime in 1998. By any stretch of the matter, this is big news: After the United States and India, Indonesia is the third most populous democracy in the world. It is also one of the only consolidated democracies that is primarily Muslim — about a fifth of the world’s Muslims are Indonesians. The course of democratization there is one of the most interesting political stories of the past decade, yet one that receives little attention in the United States media.
Right now the big news in Indonesia is the long-anticipated announcement that Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo will enter the race for president. Widodo — universally known as “Jokowi” among Indonesians — is by some degree the most popular of the many candidates for presidency this fall, which include a series of retired generals, businesspeople, and party apparatchiks.

[see my handy candidate-at-a-glance list at the end of this article]

Part of what makes Jokowi so exciting to many Indonesiansis his political story: even though he is the governor of Jakarta, he came to this position relatively recently, having made his political career as mayor of Solo, a smaller city in Central Java. Before that he was a local businessman. As mayor, Jokowi was widely credited for overseeing a range of local governance reforms in Solo, resisting corruption and streamlining the local business environment without alienating the masses (he won reelection with 90 percent of the vote in 2010). His folksy demeanor charms many IndonesNEWS.GNOM.ES and foreigners alike, and he can be credibly portrayed as a relative outsider to national politics.
Yet rather than focus on his personal style, hands-on leadership, pragmatic outlook, and populist appeal, it may be more profitable to think through Jokowi’s implications for party politics in Indonesia. Here, Jokowi’s candidacy could be no less than transformative. But to understand how, we need to take a detour to understand party competition in this sprawling archipelago.
Political scientists have long been wary of multiparty presidentialism in democratic systems. Presidential systems feature a separation between legislative and executive branches, which means separate elections for the two. When there are high levels of party fractionalization in the legislature, this makes it difficult to form stable coalitions within the legislature, and very unlikely that the president will have a strong legislative ally in his or her own party. To get things done, the legislature must assemble a large coalition of small parties, and the president must almost certainly bring members of other parties into his or her cabinet, diluting executive independence and effectiveness without subjecting him or her to immediate partisan sanction, as in a parliamentary system.

As can be seen in the figure below, all of the parliaments since 1998 have been highly fractionalized. None of this makes for stable and coherent policymaking at the national level.

Indonesian Legislative Parties by Seats (Figure: Tom Pepinsky/The Monkey Cage)

True to form, democratic Indonesia is in some ways an ideal illustration of what happens in a multiparty presidential democracy. Indonesia’s president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has had to govern since 2004 with a large and unwieldy cabinet drawing from many parties. Legislative coalitions are always oversized — meaning that they contain far more than a simple majority of the lawmakers — which is consistent with existing research that suggests that diverse, polarized, multiparty legislatures ought to yield big and oversized coalitions.
That said, the Indonesian case does not quite match the standard description of the dangers of multiparty presidentialism. Given the challenges of democratic consolidation, extreme inequality, weak rule of law, and the sheer human and physical diversity of Indonesia, national politics has actually been remarkably stable, with little room for immoderate parties. Indeed, rather than spinning out of control, party politics has tended in the opposite direction, toward “promiscuous powersharing,” where too much cooperation among too many parties erodes the ability of any one party to represent its supporters. On the whole, Yudhoyono remains fairly popular, but his second term especially is viewed as somewhat disappointing from the policymaking perspective. Many Americans may know Yudhoyono best from the report on his album of pop ballads from National Public Radio.
Here’s where Jokowi comes in. His meteoric rise does not have to signify that he’s a new kind of politician, untainted by corruption or backroom deal-making. (Back in 2004, that was the hope for Yudhoyono, too. Observers also note that Jokowi could never have risen to his position without getting involved in the messy business of money politics.) Instead, it could help to inject some more competition into Indonesian politics by threatening the status quo of party competition and forcing a reorganization of the party landscape.
On this note, the most important thing is that unlike Yudhoyono before him, and unlike most other politicians with national aspirations, Jokowi did not form a new party to contest the election. Instead, he is joining the established Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), one of the only parties to have remained in opposition under Yudhoyono. PDI-P’s programmatic focus has been weakened in the past decade, but Jokowi’s populist appeal — which is consistent with PDI-P’s nationalist and populist heritage — could help to revitalize it. By joining PDI-P, Jokowi also does not have to build a party organization from scratch, or invent some kind of ideology or platform for his “movement.”
This makes the Jokowi-PDI-P alliance a strong one. In turn, because legislative elections precede presidential elections, PDI-P can use the Jokowi candidacy to build its legislative strength. If the PDI-P manages to get 25 percent of the vote in legislative elections, or 20 percent of the seats in parliament, then under Indonesia’s electoral laws PDI-P can nominate Jokowi for the presidency without seeking a coalition from other parties. That could in turn incentivize a reorganization of the remaining parties to create something less fractious as an opposition. One can start to discern the roots of a more coherent and competitive party system under these circumstances, one less amenable to multipartism and more to effective presidential leadership.
There are lots of “ifs” in this scenario. It is a long shot, simply because the structural constraints are really strong — in a country with lax party discipline and fluid partisan attachments, it is unlikely that power-seeking retired generals and businessmen will give up the parties that they have spent so much money to create. Yet if there is a Jokowi effect, it may have little to do with what Jokowi himself does as candidate or president, and more about how his candidacy threatens the existing political landscape.

Summary Details of Parties Registered for 2014 Elections (Nation-wide; excluding Aceh-only parties)

Main nationalist parties
As of 3/17/2014

Party: PDIP Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle
Presidential Candidate: Joko Jokowi Widodo, current Governor of Jakarta

Party: Golkar, Partai Golongan Karya
Presidential Candidate: Aburizal Bakrie

Party: PD, Partai Demokrat/Democratic Party
Presidential Candidate: None announced Leading figures: Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), Edhie Baskoro Yudhoyono

Party: Gerinda, Partai Gerakan Indonesia Raya, Great Indonesia Movement Party
Presidential Candidate: Prabowo Subianto

Party:Hanura, Partai Hati Nurani Rakyat, People’s Conscience Party
Presidential Candidate: Wiranto

Party: NasDem, National Democratic Party
Presidential Candidate: none announced yet; leading figure: Surya Paloh

Party: PKPI, Partai Keadilan dan Persatuan Indonesia, Indonesian Justice and Unity Party
Presidential Candidate: none announced yet; leading figure: Sutiyoso

Party: Partai Amanat Nasional, National Awakening Party
Presidential Candidate: none announced yet; leading figure: Hatta Rajasa (Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs in the SBY cabinet)