Happy 69th Birthday, Indonesia


August 17, 2014

Happy 69th Birthday, Indonesia

To All Our Friends, Associates, Bapak Presiden, Government and People of Indonesia

Indonesia's 69 th Year of Independence

indonesiaindependenceday_300Dr Kamsiah and I warmly congratulate your great country on the occasion of its 69th Birthday which falls today. As a major partner in ASEAN, you have a crucial role to play for peace and stability of South East Asia. Your economic prosperity too is vital to all of us. That is why your recent Presidential Elections was closely watched by all of us. It was a resounding success and we can be justifiably proud of what you have achieved in furthering the cause of democratic politics.

August 17, 2014

On this very special day, we pray for your continued success and prosperity, and extend our warm salams to you  all. Dirgahayu, Republik Indonesia –Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican

Indonesia’s New Leadership


July 23, 2014

The Guardian view on what the election of Joko Widodo will mean for Indonesia

EDITORIAL

The Guardian, Tuesday 22 July 2014 19.55 BST

Jokowi JK

Indonesia is the fourth most populous country, the third largest democracy, and the biggest Muslim nation. It made the transition from dictatorship to democratic rule after the fall of Suharto in 1998 with remarkable smoothness. For years it counted with Turkey as a leading model of democracy for the Islamic world. Now, with Turkey showing signs of a regression to authoritarianism, troubled democracies in Pakistan and Bangladesh, and only Tunisia still holding on to what now seem the very fleeting achievements of the Arab spring, Indonesia constitutes, because of its size and importance, a massive and even more relevant proof that democracy can work as well in Muslim societies as in others.

The victory of Joko Widodo in the presidential elections, although still disputed by his opponent, represents a further advance in Indonesian political life. It means that for the first time a person with no direct connections with the older, authoritarian era will occupy the country’s highest office. The departing president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was an ex-military man from the Suharto years and the son-in-law of a general involved in the massacres of communists in the 60s.

His predecessor, Megawati Sukarnoputri, is the daughter of the first head of state, Sukarno, who also ruled, under his “Guided Democracy”, in an authoritarian way. The first president after Suharto, Abdurrahman Wahid, was the scion of a leading religious family. Although these two were opposition figures, they still had connections with the largely military ruling class. The other candidate in this election, Prabowo Subianto, a former Special Forces General and a son-in-law of Suharto, was very much from that class. Joko Widodo is not. He comes from a humble background, working his way through school and then becoming a successful but middling businessman.

Indonesia managed its way out of the shipwreck of the old regime by a series of complex compromises between old and new, with the dangers of violence, separatism, parliamentary dysfunction and party proliferation very much in mind. These had destroyed Indonesian democracy in the 50s. There was no generalised purge. The problem was that too much of the old might survive, with only slightly reconstructed figures from Suharto’s “New Order” continuing to dominate, and service in the armed forces or membership of the intertwined business elite of those years continuing to be a qualification for power. The connections between old and new are by no means entirely hacked away. Prabowo may be gone, but Jokowi, as he is known, is the protege of Megawati and has as his vice-presidential running mate Jusuf Kalla, a former Chairman of Golkar, the old government party under the New Order. But there is nevertheless a sense that a new chapter has now begun in Indonesia.

Indonesia’s Decisive Moment


July 21, 2014

Indonesia’s Decisive Moment

by Farish A. Noor@www.nst.com.my

TOMORROW will mark the decisive moment when Indonesians will know who will be the country’s next president. The mood in the country — already anxious and tired after a long wait and a hard-fought contest — is one of anticipation and also concern about what will happen next.

Prabowo lawan JokowiIt is interesting to note that despite the fact that both candidates have refused to concede defeat, cracks have begun to show among some of their supporters already: Abdillah Toha, one of the founding leaders of the Peoples’ Trust Party (PAN), has appealed to the Prabowo Subianto-Hatta Rajasa camp to admit defeat and to accept the results, whatever the outcome may be.

Unfortunately, it is not likely that this stalemate will be resolved any time soon. For starters, the final margin between the two candidates proved to be much smaller than hoped for, by both sides.

The Joko “Jokowi” Widodo-Jusuf Kalla camp had signalled that it expected, and wished for, a lead of more than 10 per cent. This has not happened, and after the quick count results came in two weeks ago, it appeared that the lead enjoyed by Jokowi-Kalla’s camp was less than five per cent. A smaller number of quick count agencies suggested that the Prabowo-Hatta camp had gained the lead, but again, with a margin of less than five per cent.

Thus, there is the likelihood that whoever wins the race by tomorrow would have done so by the narrowest of margins and, thereby, opening up the opportunity for the other side to dispute the results and, perhaps, even take the matter to court. Hopeful though many political analysts are at the moment, it seems that tomorrow will not see a final, neat, clean conclusion to what has been a messy race.

Then, there is the question of how the new President of Indonesia will be able to gain support within the Peoples Assembly, or DPR. At the moment, the parties that dominate DPR happen to be aligned with Prabowo’s Gerindra and Hatta’s PAN. The Gerindra-PAN-led alliance totally dominates DPR at the moment, and should Jokowi-Kalla manage to win, the next president of Indonesia will be faced with the challenge of having to push for laws and reforms against what may well be a hostile assembly.

But, the uncertainty does not stop there, for the Gerindra-PAN alliance may also face its own internal difficulties if some of the parties aligned with it now decide to jump ship and hop over to PDI-P (Indonesian Democratic Party — Struggle)-led alliance. Over the past week, voices of discontent have emerged among the ranks of Golkar, in particular (that is currently part of the Gerindra-PAN alliance), where members have called for a serious rethinking of their current position. Golkar has never been in opposition, and should it turn out that Jokowi-Kalla wins after all, some of the leaders of Golkar have called for the party to join the ruling and winning coalition.

All this is taking place amid a society that has grown bored and tired with sensational politics, and where everyone seeks a quick and neat resolution. What is worrisome, however, is that already there is talk of parties sending out thousands of members and supporters to “safeguard” (mengamankan) the election results and announcement of the new president tomorrow. When analysts note that this may well be Indonesia’s most serious challenge and test so far, they were not exaggerating. Indonesia’s fate may well be decided by tomorrow, and the rest of ASEAN will feel the impact as well.

MH 17 and the Failure of Soft Diplomacy


July 20, 2014

MH 17 and the Failure of Soft Diplomacy

 

MH17

 
COMMENT: by John Ling@www.malaysiakini.com

“In this time of grief, we need to ask ourselves some hard questions. With the failure of soft diplomacy, who will now bring Putin’s Russia to account? Who will choose to look at the crime instead of averting their eyes?”–John Ling

When Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States, he had done so on the back of a campaign that promised hope and change. Among other things, he urged a ‘reset’ in relations with Russia.

This would be the cornerstone of his new administration – a radical approach in ‘soft diplomacy’. One designed to defuse tensions with America’s former adversary and pave the way for warmer ties. This was a monumental undertaking, but with a young and vibrant president now in the White House, it looked like it might actually have a chance of succeeding.

In Geneva in March 2009, we witnessed what appeared to be an initial thawing in relations between America and Russia. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and with the cameras of the world looking on, she presented him with a big red button made out of plastic.

The word ‘reset’ was prominently stenciled on it, accompanied by a Russian translation. However, in an unfortunate gaffe – perhaps an omen of things to come – Clinton’s aides had messed up the Cyrillic words on the button.

Instead of ‘perezagruzka’, which would have been the correct translation, the one that was used instead was ‘peregruzka’, which meant ‘overcharged’. It was an embarrassing mistake, but Lavrov appeared to be a good sport, laughing off the error.

Good start short-lived

Around the same time, President Obama noted that Vladimir Putin (below) had recently stepped down as President of Russia, and in his place, Dmitri Medvedev had ascended to the highest office in the land. Like Obama, Medvedev was a former academic and of a similar age.

Naturally enough, Obama perceived the new Russian President to be a transformational figure, and it was in that spirit that he wrote a secret letter and instructed a trusted aide to hand‑deliver it to Moscow. In the letter, Obama expressed a willingness to make American concessions in return for Russian goodwill.

In an age of wireless communication, this unorthodox approach was a throwback to simpler times. Nothing short of remarkable. In Malaysian culture, we might call this ‘giving face’.

In July 2009, Obama, encouraged by Medvedev’s optimistic reply, flew into Moscow for his first official visit to the nation. The two leaders met in congenial fashion. They seemed like a natural fit for each other. And a grinning Obama took the opportunity to solidify America’s commitment to a reset in relations with Russia. All in all, it looked like an unqualified triumph for hope and change. Not bad for a president who had been in office for barely six months.

Russian reset in tatters

Five years on, however, Obama’s Russian reset is in tatters, and the world we find ourselves in now is a far cry from that buoyant period. Since 2012, Vladimir Putin has regained presidential power, and he is currently pursuing an agenda of ultra-nationalist expansion. A former KGB officer in his youth, he has spent a lifetime perfecting the black arts of murder and intimidation.

As a result, Russia today has become a nightmarish country. It’s a place where free speech is crushed,MH17 Crash site 2 political dissidents are assassinated, and government‑sanctioned thugs roam the streets, attacking everyone from homosexuals to foreign students.

Putin has placed the whole of Russia under his iron will, and he is now driven to expand its influence abroad. Soft diplomacy is not what runs in this man’s veins. Rather, he craves the aggressive projection of power, Soviet‑style. The invasion by proxy of Eastern Ukraine and the senseless shoot‑down of Flight MH17 serves as a testament to his vision.

While the world mourns this horrific tragedy, President Obama, for his part, is looking increasingly haggard. Right‑wing critics have savaged his attempt at soft diplomacy with Russia, calling it naive and idealistic. They claim it never should have been attempted in the first place. The Russians, it would seem, have perceived Obama’s overtures as a sign of weakness, and they have since exploited it to the fullest.

Malaysia blissfully ignorant

In Malaysia, most of us have remained blissfully ignorant of the storm that’s been brewing for the past couple of years. Even as Putin’s brand of ultra-nationalist fervour has taken hold, we have chosen to invest in the Russian aerospace, oil and gas industries. We have sent our children to study the Russian health sciences. And even after the crisis in Ukraine erupted, our political leaders did not respond with a note of protest. No one had the gumption to call a spade a spade.

But now, like it or not, we have been drawn into Vladimir Putin’s dysfunctional world order. It’s not what we asked for. It’s certainly not what we wanted. But innocent blood has been spilled; hundreds of civilians have been murdered with no warning.

And to make the atrocity worse, Putin loyalists have interfered with the site of the crash, making a fair and transparent investigation all but impossible. In this time of grief, we need to ask ourselves some hard questions. With the failure of soft diplomacy, who will now bring Putin’s Russia to account? Who will choose to look at the crime instead of averting their eyes?

JOHN LING is a Malaysian‑born author based in New Zealand. You can find out more about him and his work at johnling.net

 

Well done,Foreign Minister Anifah for Doing the Right Thing


July 2, 2014

Well done,Foreign Minister Anifah for Doing the Right Thing: Rizalman is to be Extradited

–The Malaysian Insider

Putrajaya’s decision to extradite Muhammad Rizalman Ismail was conveyed today by Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman to his counterpart Murray McCully.

AnifahAman2Well done, Foreign Minister Anifah

Former Malaysian defence staff assistant, who is wanted for sexual assault and burglary in New Zealand, will be sent there to assist in the investigation. Wisma Putra said today. Second Warrant officer Muhammad Rizalman Ismail will be accompanied by a senior military officer from the Ministry of Defence. Putrajaya’s decision to extradite Rizalman was conveyed by Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman to his counterpart Murray McCully.

Malaysia in 2014–a perspective from Singapore


June 30, 2014

Malaysia in 2014–a perspective from Singapore

MALAYSIA-SINGAPORE-DIPLOMACYFor Singapore, due to history, geography, demography, economy and recent political experiences, Malaysia has perpetually been its lynchpin concern and preoccupation. In the past, S Rajaratnam, the Republic’s first foreign minister, had described Singapore’s relations with Malaysia as ‘special’ and there is nothing to suggest that this has changed in anyway.

If anything, the ‘specialness’ has been intensified and further reinforced due to a whole array of factors, not least being the imperatives of national, regional and international economics. A weakening United States, an assertive China, an unstable Thailand and a new nationalistic leader in Indonesia can change the political and security architecture in the region to the detriment of both states and hence, their bilateral ties.

In the 1950s and 1960s, culminating in Singapore’s expulsion from Malaysia in August 1965, the emotive dimension of Singapore’s view of Malaysia was dominant. Even though this has largely dissipated, it is not totally absent. Still, the pragmatism with which both states have moved forward is definitely a milestone achievement in bilateral ties in Southeast Asia.

For Singapore, continuity rather than change remains its key perspective on Malaysia. This was especially true after the May 2013 general elections where the Barisan Nasional (BN: National Front) was returned to power albeit with a weaker majority. Still, Prime Minister Najib, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and the BN are in power and that is what matters even though the winds of change must also be disconcerting. The disquiet would be more, not so much from the economic aspect as it would be from the rising racial and religious polarisation of Malaysia in the last few years that was brought to the forefront during the last general elections. The ‘Allah’ issue has not been helpful and the recent firebombing of a church in Penang has merely raised the ante of what this will mean for Malaysia and possibly, even multiracial and multi-religious Singapore.

All that aside, the single most important development of late has been the rising warmth in Singapore-Malaysia bilateral ties under Lee Hsien Loong and Najib Tun Razak. While past imperatives of history, geography and demography remain relevant, most dominant in the new narrative has been the personal warmth of the two prime ministers and the strategic nature of their bilateral ties.

Most of the past issues have been addressed or settled such as relocation of Customs and Immigration Complex, land reclamation and even water. Most importantly, has been the breakthroughs that both leaders have made vis-à-vis two issues, namely, the resolution of the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and the land exchange deal as well as Singapore’s support for the Iskandar Development Project in Johor. Other positive developments in ties include the holding of annual leader’s retreats, re-establishment of links between both countries’ stock exchanges, Malaysia’s agreement to sell electricity to Singapore, the agreement to build high speed train link from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, the amicable post-Pedra Branca technical talks to resolve legacy issues over the islands’ dispute and finally, the establishment of a Singapore consulate in Johor Baru.

ST-Iskandar

If there is one key factor that has brought bilateral ties to a new height, it is the cooperation in the Iskandar Project. Not only is the Singapore Government supporting investments in the project through Government-linked companies such as Temasek Holding but also playing an important role in encouraging the private sector to invest in the project. Additionally, thousands of Singaporeans are expected to be permanently based in the Iskandar region and Johor as a whole, bringing interdependence to a level that was never seen before. To that extent, Iskandar has been the key game changer in Singapore-Malaysia bilateral ties of late.

The breakthrough in bilateral ties was a function of a number of factors. First, the decision by both sides to adopt a new approach to bilateral ties in order to garner win-win results. Second, the personal warmth of the top leaders was extremely helpful. Third, the calculation of the mutual benefits that would be gained by both sides in view of the increasing regional and global competition. Fourth, over the years, there has also been increasing economic interdependence with Singapore as one of the top investors in Malaysia over the last two decades or so. Two-way trade and investments are among the highest between the two states. Fifth, there is also the realisation of increasing security indivisibility of both states. Finally, the ideological pragmatism of both sides has also helped in boosting bilateral ties.

While Singapore expects Malaysia in 2014 to have a largely ‘normal’ year barring any unexpected events – all the more to be the case as the UMNO annual assembly has opted for status quo – the Republic is also mindful of the many uncertainties that can unexpectedly crop up to affect bilateral ties. While 2014 can expect the warming of ties to continue, this cannot be taken for granted. First, the warm ties of two prime minister, both of whom are sons of two former prime ministers  who were not close, may not survive personalities if a more nationalistic prime minister takes over in Singapore or Malaysia. Second, tensions could surface if the promised cooperation proves futile or produces one-sided benefits, say in Iskandar Project. Finally, growing domestic tensions in Malaysia, especially among the Malay and Chinese communities in Johor or in Malaysia could spill over into Singapore-Malaysia relations.

Hence, for Singapore, while Malaysia in 2014 is expected to continue ‘good business as normal’, there are also potential minefields that might explode, and hence, the need for caution. ‘Special relations’ are important but can never be taken for granted, and this also holds true of Singapore’s view of Malaysia in 2014.

Bilveer Singh is associate professor at the Department of Political Science, National University of Singapore, adjunct senior fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies and President of the Political Science Association of Singapore.