Dr Welsh on PAS’ 60th Muktamar and the Doublespeak of Abdul Hadi Awang

October 7, 2014

Dr Welsh on PAS’ 60th Muktamar and the Doublespeak of Abdul Hadi Awang


Hadi3The Political Comedian with Ambition to be Malaysia’s Next Prime Minister

COMMENT: With emotional outbursts, walkouts and contradictory statements, PAS’ 60th muktamar last week was more of a confrontation rather than a celebration.

With the PAS President referring to the Islamic party’s Pakatan Rakyat partners as “minor enemies” and its members who stood with ally PKR as “lackeys”, it has become evident that PAS under the leadership of Abdul Hadi Awang appears to be no longer a party that can be trusted to listen to the people and work with other parties to bring change to Malaysia.

There is a sense of betrayal among the public, whose hopes have been dashed by a reactionary faction of conservative ulama within PAS who think they are the ‘chosen ones’ – many of whom who have acted in a manner that is neither in keeping with their religious values nor reflects wisdom.

In the wake of this muktamar, where the reactionary forces have dominated the bitter discourse, the Pakatan coalition has suffered a serious blow from within. It appears that the opposition coalition is over. This conclusion is understandable but – for now – premature.

Pakatan is clearly deeply wounded, but the intensity of the battle inside PAS reveals an ongoing struggle that suggests that there are many more battles ahead and the fight to develop an alternative political narrative is not over. In fact, arguably, the PAS muktamar reveals the scope of struggles that are necessary to overcome in order to give the majority of Malaysians what they have voted for – a better Malaysia.

In this muktamar, the divide within PAS has come into the open. The skirmishes have been ongoing for many years, repeating historical tensions inside the party and paralleling struggles within Islamist parties globally.

PAS has moved from a pattern of working toward consensus – even this was fragile – to open conflict. Those that are the most insecure, the conservative religious ulama, have taken to the reactionary tactic of destruction, aiming to derail political reform within PAS itself and nationally.

Most of the focus of the discussion has centred on Abdul Hadi Awang. The underlying issues facing the party go well beyond its president. There are three interrelated crises facing the party – identity, leadership and democracy. Let me elaborate these further.

PAS identity – in UMNO’s image?

PAS’ political advantage has traditionally been that its leaders are portrayed as moral and non-corrupt. This ‘upright’ standing has allowed the party to be compared favourably to UMNO. It has underscored the profound respect for spiritual leader Niz Aziz Nik Mat, for example, whose missing moral authority was keenly felt at the Johor muktamar. But PAS’ righteous advantage is disappearing.

Rightly or wrongly, PAS’ response in the Selangor MB crisis has caused many to question the honesty and integrity of its leaders. Double-speak, contradictions and inconsistencies – in direct contrast to the theme of the muktamar – have left a mark on party’s image.

PAS has always had a trust deficit among the majority of the country; it only managed to win on average a third of support among Malaysians on its own. The actions over the last few months have deepened distrust and, for many non-Muslims and Muslims alike, shattered the perception of PAS as the ‘good’ party.

People are asking why PAS leaders have misled the public, visited certain places in the shadow of night and avoided answering questions directly. In the wake of the muktamar, PAS has come off as a party interested in its own power, not listening to the public nor apparently keeping its promises. Has PAS taken a page from UMNO, many wonder?

In fact, while scholars point to UMNO becoming like PAS in its advocacy of exclusionary Islamist policies, there has been another phenomenon, PAS – or at least some within the party – is becoming more like UMNO.

This perception is reinforced by a closer look at the backgrounds of PAS leaders. Gone are the days of humility and humbleness. Today many PAS leaders appear to be interested in securing international positions, wealth and material goods. The sins of greed and pride appear evident.

Observers are asking how religious schools led by some PAS leaders have amassed such wealth, while others secured lucrative business contracts. Questions are being raised about the ties of many PAS leaders with those from UMNO over assets and finances.

Corruption and nepotism within PAS are even being quietly discussed in the sense that some are using the party for position, their families and personal wealth rather than the ideals the party supposedly espouses. Worse yet, religion is being used to justify positions that appear to be more about self-interest rather than actual religious principles.

For decades, PAS has been wrestling with how to promote an Islamist agenda and what sort of Islam it should be advocating. As it engaged in a more inclusive manner through Pakatan, the myopic focus on implementing hudud and syariah laws has been challenged by more inclusive shared religious values of justice, good governance and stronger humanity.

A spirit of humanism and community has been fostered, where greater inclusiveness and appreciation for equality have disputed the narrow-minded thinking of many conservative ulama that see themselves a step above ordinary people.

Many conservative ulama within the party are uncomfortable moving outside of what they know, and in fact have increased their efforts to indoctrinate younger members with their interpreted religious views. They advocate an exclusionary approach that not only divides Malaysian society, but also follows the line of dictating to others.

They just don’t get that the overwhelming majority of Malaysians want to choose how they practice their own religion, and that the majority believe that the country is not ready for hudud.

Moreover, they do not realise that citizens are not willing to turn over moral authority to religious leaders that appear to be acting immorally. PAS’ conservative ulama appear to have forgotten that the means are as important as the ends, and by choosing to adopt practices that promote division and disrespect they are not acting righteously.

Sadly, of late, a path of destruction has been adopted by Hadi and his ulama camp against their professed goals. The message that stands out is not only one of further parallel to Umno in the prominence of arrogance and use of division, but it is also a signal that ironically strengthens Umno as the choice for government over the long term.

Crisis of leadership

Malaysians have been searching for leaders they can respect and put their faith in. More and more have been putting their belief in PAS. But this muktamar has not inspired any such confidence.

Rather than working together to move the country forward, PAS under Hadi appears to want to move the country and his party backward. When Hadi assumed the presidency in 2002, he had difficult shoes to fill following the death of Fadzil Noor. Not only was the former president willing to listen and work with others, he inspired support that brought new people into the party and won additional states to govern.

By any measure Hadi cannot be credited with the same gains, especially in recent months. Hadi’s decisions contributed to the loss of Kedah, Terengganu (twice), Perak and potentially Selangor, and his leadership has weakened rather than strengthened the party.

The future of Hadi’s leadership will continue to play out until the next muktamar when a party election is scheduled. The rally-around-the-leader dynamic of this muktamar was as much a reflection of weakness of Hadi’s leadership as it shows that many within his own party are alienated by his actions.

The leadership problem in PAS is broader than one person. One dimension is the role of the ulama in the party hierarchy. Many in PAS do not agree that the conservative ulama should lead the party. It is a long-standing battle in PAS, and this battle has intensified.

Until this muktamar, the conservative ulama have been losing ground. Conservative ulama have played limited roles in Pakatan, with many of them not even attending decision-making meetings. The ulama leadership in states like Kedah was rejected by the electorate.

The key PAS actors involved in successful Pakatan governance have been those with the direct skills and knowledge to address the country’s problems, the non-ulama. The party delegates and general public understand this. In last year’s muktamar, progressives were elected in the majority for positions, as the delegates opted for more non-ulama leadership.

The conservative ulama fear marginalisation and in this muktamar fought back. They defended the decisions and positions of their teammate Hadi who has increasingly taken on less reform-oriented positions.

The conservative ulama clearly are unwilling to accept a different and more advisory political role. The recent meeting shows that they are willing to do anything to stay in premier positions, even if it means dividing PAS and weakening the opposition as a whole.

Painting themselves as martyrs for the conservative cause, the current ulama are seen to be trying to assure the survival of younger conservatives, many of whom are from the same families of the current ulama leadership. At its root is a reactionary goal – to stop reforms in the party and nationally.

A second leadership problem is that PAS currently does not offer a viable prime minister candidate. This has to do in part with the competition among the more progressive leaders among themselves. It also stems for a lack of grooming and experience of many PAS leaders in government and on the national stage.

For a party that supposedly claims to seek national power, it has a deficit in giving voters an alternative that can not only lead the country but also inspire confidence. While there are many PAS leaders that have potential to fill this role, the current situation and traditional PAS party culture of accepting hierarchy has prevented them from coming to the fore.

If the progressives are to have any chance at all they will need to agree and present an alternative leader. This will require significant reform within PAS, and successful measures involving courage that thwart the reactionary turn.

Moving away from democracy towards theocracy

A third interrelated dimension of PAS’ current crises involves democracy. PAS is grappling with the conflict between different political bodies within the party, namely the syura council versus the central working committee.

It is wrestling also to respond to an increasingly demanding and diverse membership and electorate. In recent months, the PAS ulama leadership has moved in a more authoritarian direction, with decisions by fiat rather than through consultation.

In fact, minority views have prevailed, as the majority were ignored, dismissed and even ridiculed. Clearly, the mandate of the delegates and voters has been ignored. The conservative ulama appear not to understand that dictatorial practices lead to the downfall of Islamist parties, as happened in Egypt. They similarly do not understand that as an opposition party calling for more democracy, their own lack of democratic governance reveals hypocrisy.

PAS, like other parties, wrestles with engaging democratic practices. As Umno and PKR have introduced more democratic internal party elections, allowing members to select the party leadership, under Hadi PAS has resisted opening up. This has not allowed new blood to come into the leadership and different ideas to emerge. It has signaled a lack of respect for the wisdom of its members.

Another challenge has been including women in political positions within PAS. The party leadership’s recent attacks on a politician – although not everyone in PAS – because she is woman, has not conformed to democratic values of inclusion.

Equally important, members in PAS have been supporting decisions that are not in line with the public mandate on who was voted into office and why. Unlike a decade ago where PAS was leading the path toward democracy in the Malay community, the Islamist party has stagnated in expanding democracy. In this muktamar, the reactionary conservative ulama have further resisted democratic reforms.

An example is the supremacy of the syura council in party decisions. Syura members have the undemocratic power to choose their members and they are not accountable to anyone. Is this the type of body that Malaysians are willing to accept to wield ultimate decision-making power and those who assume positions not from an open election?

Who should have power and whether that power should be accountable to the delegates and ordinary voters has come to the fore.

This involves the difficult issue of legitimacy. Who should legitimately hold power? How should leaders be chosen by the people? What should be the source of legitimate power is right for PAS? Should it be the party constitution, elections from members or archaic practices of a syura council that is neither representative to the party itself or appears willing to respect and listen to the views and aspirations of ordinary voters?

Reforms to the party constitution will be necessary if the party is to move in a more democratic direction. The reactionary push-back in PAS has resisted these democratic pressures. More broadly, the party’s authoritarian turn had been damaging for democracy in Malaysia.

Difficult future for Pakatan


The Doublespeak of Hadi weakens Pakatan Rakyat

The reactionary elements in PAS have been there for decades. In this muktamar, they have come out into the open. The intensity of their responses reflects ongoing struggles over identity, leadership and democracy.

The fact that they have come out as they have, fighting in a no-holds-barred manner, reveals weakness not strength. They are afraid and insecure. They are willing to do everything to stay in control of PAS to maintain their reactionary position.

The use of reactionary politics is sadly increasingly common across the political spectrum in UMNO as well as PAS. Its roots however have to be seen to derive from the increasing democratic pressures and demands from the public on leaders who are neither willing nor able to accommodate them.

The fact that more of these reactionary measures are being used shows that Malaysia is changing and those in power are unwilling to change with it.

PAS is headed for further internal struggles. The more progressive forces in the party may appear to have lost ground at this muktamar, with reactionary forces dominating the discourse. They clearly were not prepared to fight openly against the reactionary forces. But they have survived to fight another day, and the party election in the next muktamar as well as the Selangor issue will be the next battlefields.

The muktamar showed that the internal battles will continue to rage, and that the fight within PAS is far from over. The important decision ahead for the progressives in PAS involve whether or not to stay within the party, the development of strategies that strengthen internal party reform and movement toward offering an alternative leader to Hadi.

What does this mean for Pakatan? Is it dead as many have claimed? No question, the working relationships of leaders and partnerships have soured, and will likely to continue. The opposition coalition may enter a period of decline. As long as the reactionaries control the party decisions in PAS, the Islamist party will not be seen as a trusted partner. This will feed distrust among the opposition parties.

Pakatan’s future will heavily depend on the outcome of the battles within PAS. It is important at this juncture not to completely dismiss PAS and the reality of the difficulty of its internal struggles. Indeed, the battle for democracy in the Malay community is taking place on many fronts.

It also needs to be acknowledged that PAS alone is not responsible for all the troubles in Pakatan and considerable responsibility lies with the folly of the ‘Kajang move’ and inflexibility of other Pakatan leaders in the handling the Selangor crisis. PAS’ Pakatan partners need to look inside themselves to appreciate why reactionary forces in PAS have become so predominant.

Pakatan now enters its most difficult phase and this will decide whether the coalition will survive and the struggle for political reform is a genuine one. It will involve courage, faith and wisdom. One decisive factor ahead will be the willingness of leaders across the opposition coalition to learn lessons from Selangor and set in place measures that offset the damaging cycle that has emerged.

Current conditions suggest this is not yet promising. People are increasingly losing confidence in Pakatan and words will not be enough. What will matter is whether the opposition remembers why it is in office in the first place – to serve the people.

Malaysians want results and solutions to problems rather than politicking that results in more problems. The time now is for reflection, not reaction or ‘reactionarism’, and a return to respecting the mandate that made the Pakatan coalition a reality in the first place.

BRIDGET WELSH is a Senior Research Associate at the Center for East Asia Democratic Studies of National Taiwan University and can be reached at bridgetwelsh1@gmail.com.

PR down with Kajang Flu and MB Dysentery

October 4, 2014

PR down with Kajang Flu and MB Dysentery

The current dysfunction within PR is all too obvious as seen in the Pengkalan Kubor wash-out.



PR lost sight of its mission

All about the news portals and cyber-space we read that GE-14 is for Pakatan to take. This is the prevalent view from the comments made by Pakatan supporters.

No one can tell what will happen in the next three years in the run-up to GE14. They can only observe the signs and the portents that inform if the health of the coalition will be up to the task or not.

Coming out of the influenza which was the Kajang Move and followed soon after by a bout of the Selangor MB dysentery, the signs of the current dysfunction are all too obvious to see in the Pengkalan Kubor (PK) wash-out. The cooperation that pushed PR through the GE12 and GE13 seems to be missing in PK.

DAP still has a long way to go

Anwar-UbahDAP is intact probably because they only took a minor blow from not being in the forefront.The reality is that they never had any Malay politician of a sufficient stature to vie for the post in Selangor. It is still behind in transforming itself into a truly Malaysian party from the inside out.

There are outward appearances that this change is beginning to happen by their increased number of young and attractive non-Chinese recruits. But one cannot consider that radical when their ideological thrust is for a Malaysian-centric society. It comes across more as a marketing pull to interest the youth who are not into the dry politics of a social welfare state.

Until it speeds up its transformation with solid and serious minded Malaysian-centric politicians, the accusations hurled at them for being chauvinistic will continue to ring true for many. It is not merely the faces that convince the electorate but the perceived bent towards a chauvinistic framing of issues. On that front, DAP has yet to convince it can be a solution for all until it proves to Malaysians otherwise.

PKR’s troubles far from over

If PKR believes that the appointment of Azmin to replace Khalid as the MB ofMB Khalid Ibrahim Selangor will solve all its problems then it had better think again. The Khalid supporters who are still within PKR will probably be working quietly from the inside to undermine the party that removed him, and particularly Azmin who replaced him.

It is an open secret among PKR insiders that Anwar preferred Dato’ Saifuddin Nasution tor Azmin for the post of Deputy President. That in itself ought to suggest that Saifuddin is no real fan of Azmin and that multiple camps in PKR exist with their divvied up loyalties. Perhaps Anwar needed to do that to shore up support for Wan Azizah because he couldn’t count on Azmin’s pledge, as events have shown.

After the official appointment of Azmin to the MB’s job, one cannot but notice how muted the congratulatory wishes were, although PAS was quick to make their stand that he was fated to take the job and wish him well. Members from his own party were relatively tardy and restrained with their well wishes for the new MB.

Azmin AliIs his future really rosy when PKR itself can’t be sure if he can be trusted after he took the side door to his new office?

If the de facto leader of PKR feels that he no longer holds the reins, it may be because Azmin’s new found fame may be denying him the media focus and attention that used to be reserved for himself. The media hounds have found a new darling in the new MB and have been giving him the royal treatment. With Azmin in the big house, will the PKR court now move from Istana Segambut to Istana Bukit Antarabangsa?

PAS, the unlucky stepchild

The party that took the most hits has to be PAS. They put themselves in harm’s way and the consequences were nothing short of catastrophic. They have been told that they are the stepchild in the PR union and it seems that they are starting to believe this themselves. In politics one must never believe the lies of others, but one must be convinced of those from yourself.

PAS has shown even before the MB crisis, that its penchant for implementing HududHadi3 has never waned. This puts it immediately into opposite corners of the boxing ring with DAP. We know where Hadi stands on this but do we know if the progressives who tout the welfare state like candy to soften the injection of Hudud, will continue to say that the time is not yet right?

PAS may be riding on its Islamic credentials and popularity in the East Coast but conditions in the West Coast do not in any way reflect this. Political cooperation with PR may be the way forward for Hadi Awang and Nik Aziz to realise the Syariah dream one day. But ask Tok Guru’s son Nik Abduh, Haron Din and Nasrudin Hassan Tantawi and they will say that the chaos within PAS isn’t worth the political expedience offered by PR.

Their aversion to Wan Azizah’s candidacy for the MB’s post, has been the single most damaging factor. The maverick ADUNs who stood by Wan Azizah are as good as outcasts waiting to be stripped of their membership, but many top tier progressive leaders may also take their dissent one step further by splintering at some later date. So a schism of sorts has been brought on by the Kajang and MB malady.

DAP has shown little reluctance in removing PAS’ Iszuree Ibrahim from three committees in Penang, and even Azmin Ali is perceived to be cutting back on his exposure to PAS in his EXCO. These are not the tunes played by a happy family.

Nik Aziz with AnwarThe common strand in PAS for all the disparate camps to clutch on to is its politics principled on Islam. If this ideological common ground is firmer than the political drive to reach Putrajaya at any costs, then they may yet avoid further turmoil. The relative progressiveness of the moderates in PAS is still too conservative for many of the West Coast non-Muslims. But it has three years left to make up for the loss of confidence in Selangor.


Open Letter to YAB Azmin Ali, Menteri Besar, Selangor

September 23, 2014

Congratulations, YAB Azmin,

I share the sentiments expressed in this Malaysian Insider Open Letter. But I also want offer my views which I hope will be useful to you as the new Menteri Besar of Selangor.

MB Azmin

There is no doubt that your predecessor has left you with a difficult job of regaining public confidence and trust in your own party PKR and Pakatan Rakyat (PR). PAS has become a major problem while PKR is a house divided with many factions working at cross purposes. The task of establishing rapport among PR leaders will be probably your biggest challenge. Right now you have limited freedom of action, given the influence Anwar Ibrahim and Wan Azizah have over the party and your close ties to them.

I have known you since 2007 and had the opportunity to work closely with you during 2008 General Elections, which saw the rise of Pakatan Rakyat as an alternative coalition to UMNO-BN. I know you to be a very intelligent and tested political leader with strong academic background in Mathematical Economics and Statistics from the University of Minnesota, United States. You have excellent organisational and oratorical skills and connect well with people, irrespective of their colour, race or religion. Your loyalty to PKR is unquestioned and the manner in which you handled the recent crisis in Selangor bears testimony to the fact that you are a true blue party man. These qualities now make you eminently qualified for the job as Head of Government of the richest state in Malaysia.

We have to wait for your state budget 2014/2015, which will be tabled at the next StateDin Merican lastest Assembly to know what you have in mind for the first year of your administration. I would, however, suggest you should focus on affordable housing for Selangorians, upgrading of roads and social infrastructure, and health services, especially having a general hospital in Shah Alam, and revamping of local councils and state GLCs.

In the next 100 days you should make personnel changes in the public services. You should not hesitate to remove those civil servants who have shown themselves as being incapable of administering the state. You need to select civil servants who are less inclined to play politics. Loyalty to the state is of utmost importance. And the state needs competent and loyal  civil servants. Lead by example , do not succumb to the temptations and trappings of your office, and never for one single moment let power go to your head.–Din Merican

Open Letter to YAB Azmin Ali, Menteri Besar, Selangor

by The Malaysian Insider

“There is no honeymoon period. You have to hit the ground running and do well from Day One. Unfair? Not really. The people in the state have had to put up with a lot of nonsense of late. This is the laundry list of shame: betrayal by a coalition partner; seeing the Constitution and the Rule of Law trampled; witness a Menteri Besar refuse to walk away from his position gracefully; seeing PKR stumble with one snafu after another. There is little patience among voters for more dithering and mistakes.”–The Malaysian Insider

Selangor gets a new Menteri Besar today in you and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) gets to continue running the country’s wealthiest state after a messy nine months of politicking that has left people wondering why it even happened.

How different will you be from the previous occupant of the office in Shah Alam, Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim? You cut your teeth in politics, serving Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim from early in the PKR de facto chief’s political career, while Khalid has been a corporate man for most of his life and burst into the political limelight in the 2008 general election.

Azmin AliIn the past six years, we have seen Khalid turn from political greenhorn to a man who shook his own party and coalition, sacked his allies, made deals after years of rejecting them, and hurt PR from the inside. Here is what we expect from you as you make your debut as the leader of the state government of Selangor.

1. You must avoid back room deals with powerful individuals. One theory floating around is that some powerful lobby was always concerned that Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail would have been a stumbling block to one-sided transactions, etc.

2. You must consult the Selangor people on major projects and be willing to explain the rationale on controversial deals such as the Kidex expressway.

3. You must be fair and even-handed in dealing with minorities in Selangor. For example, instead of staying on the sidelines, you must be willing to speak out and act when the rights of others are trampled upon. The Khalid administration did not cover itself with glory in the handling of the seizure of Bibles earlier this year.

4. You must be prudent in using the RM3 billion funds in the state’s coffers. This money belongs to the rakyat, and not PR.

5. You must remember that you owe your allegiance and loyalty to the rakyat, the same small men and women who have supported PKR since its inception and have stood by you and your party even during the most trying days, when it was unfashionable and costly to be a PKR supporter. The powerful and the connected may demand a pound of you but ultimately, you are where you are today because of that housewife in Sekinchan or that teacher in Subang Jaya.

6. You must remember that this is PR’s one shot – the last chance to show Malaysians that it has the ideas and policies to run not just the wealthiest state in Malaysia, but the country also. After all, the “Kajang move” was all about removing the insipid Khalid and replacing him with the dynamic Anwar, who was going to use Selangor as a frontline state for inclusive and just policies.

7. There is no honeymoon period. You have to hit the ground running and do well from Day One. Unfair? Khalid Ibrahim2Not really. The people in the state have had to put up with a lot of nonsense of late. This is the laundry list of shame: betrayal by a coalition partner; seeing the Constitution and the Rule of Law trampled; witness a Menteri Besar refuse to walk away from his position gracefully; seeing PKR stumble with one snafu after another. There is little patience among voters for more dithering and mistakes.

8. You are a public official. There is no aspect of your life that can be nicely carved aside as private.For example, if there is a deal brokered between you and a financial institution or another business entity, it has to be declared to your political party and to the state assembly.

9. You risked arrest and were part of thousands of Malaysians who marched in favour of free and fair elections. You have been threatened with detention without trial and other draconian laws by a regime that has shown little respect for freedom of speech and disdain for the Rule of Law. You have been fighting the establishment for more than 20 years. Being the MB does not make you part of the establishment.

10. It is better to be remembered for doing the right thing and for standing up for the right principles than amassing wealth and influence. Would you rather be Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, or Marcos?

11. Your report card will be marked by the voters in three or four years, and not by JAIS or MAIS or UMNO power brokers or Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad or Datuk Seri Najib Razak. Getting a ringing endorsement by Utusan Malaysia or any of the mainstream media is a death knell and not something to write home about.

12. Your promise is to the people of Selangor. All of them, not just the civil service or your own party. You are the MB for all of them. Serve them well. Praise will come from all quarters, not just the civil service or other vested interests, when it is due.

YAB Azmin, you carry a heavy burden after what has happened the last nine months and even from PR’s second term as the Selangor government from 2013. Most of the issues have been self-inflicted, either by your party, some officials or even allies. Make the most of the remaining mandate left to show that you are the right choice and that the Selangor Sultan has chosen well.

All the best, to you and the people of Selangor.


Jokowi’s Rise and Indonesia’s Second Democratic Transition

August 2, 2014

APBNumber 273 | August 1, 2014


Jokowi’s Rise and Indonesia’s Second Democratic Transition

By Vibhanshu Shekhar

“Indonesian democracy no longer feeds off an elite-led political framework and Indonesia’s elected leaders need not have a military background or connection with political families or business elites. For the first time, a village (kampung) boy and a commoner with no political legacy managed to defeat a powerful coalition of traditional political elites that had gathered around Prabowo Subianto, who is a former military general and son-in-law of former Indonesian dictator Suharto. The bulk of Jokowi’s election financing came in the form of small donations, in comparison to Prabowo’s large-scale contributions from a small group of elites.”–Vibhanshu Shekhar

The electoral battle for the presidency in the world’s largest Muslim–and Asia’s second largest–democracy finally came to a close on July 22 when the Indonesian Election Commission (KPU) announced Djoko Widodo, popularly known as “Jokowi,” as the winner. Jokowi’s victory highlights the growing popular and political support for a new kind of democratic politics in Indonesia that is progressive, transparent and broad-based, and that thrives on the expectations of a generation of young people born in a democratic Indonesia.

Jokowi. IrJokowi’s rise marks the beginning of Indonesia’s second democratic transition. The official announcement of the result has put an end to weeks of divisive and emotionally charged campaigns, and two weeks of post-election stalemate that pushed the country towards political uncertainty. Both candidates–Jokowi and Prabowo Subianto–had each claimed victory based on unofficial counts. Prabowo has accused the KPU of “massive, systematic and structural cheating” and petitioned before the Constitutional Court, Indonesia’s apex body on election matters, for an annulment of the KPU results and its declaration of Jokowi’s victory. It should be noted that the Constitutional Court received such petitions during both the previous presidential elections of 2004 and 2009, and rejected them.

Out of the approximately 135 million valid votes cast, Jokowi received 53 percent and won the majority of votes in 23 provinces, whereas Prabowo won the majority of votes in 10 provinces in West Java and further west. Jokowi received the majority of his votes from the most populous island of Java–approximately 54 percent–and the outer islands of Sulawesi, Kalimantan, and Papua. He also won a majority of votes in those provinces where minority communities are in the majority, such as Bali, Papua, and West Papua, highlighting support for his policy of inclusivism. Total eligible voters in Indonesia are nearly 190 million.

Jokowi’s victory, besides putting democracy in Indonesia on a much stronger footing, has highlighted the changing characteristics of democracy in that country, which can well be viewed as Indonesia’s second democratic transition. While the Reformasi movement of 1998 introduced democracy to Indonesia under a negotiated settlement between the political elite and civil society, this second transition has witnessed civil society effectively wresting control of the political process from the hands of the political elite. This is what Philips J. Vermonte of CSIS Indonesia terms the “beginning of an end of old oligarchic politics,” an ascent of a new generation of leadership without any political legacy or long-standing patronage system.

Indonesian democracy no longer feeds off an elite-led political framework and Indonesia’s elected leaders need not have a military background or connection with political families or business elites. For the first time, a village (kampung) boy and a commoner with no political legacy managed to defeat a powerful coalition of traditional political elites that had gathered around Prabowo Subianto, who is a former military general and son-in-law of former Indonesian dictator Suharto. The bulk of Jokowi’s election financing came in the form of small donations, in comparison to Prabowo’s large-scale contributions from a small group of elites.

Megawati Sukarnoputri, the leader of Jokowi’s party, the Indonesian Party of Struggle (PDI-P), read the winds of change better than her counterparts. Sensing the growing popularity and electability of Jokowi, Megawati decided to hand over the mantle of the PDI-P to him and nominate him as her party’s presidential candidate, shunning both her own and, moreover, her daughter’s budding presidential ambitions. Jokowi’s victory, along with his sporadic and spontaneous mobilization of voters, took place despite his unorganized election campaign and the continuing unpopularity of Megawati.

A new political voting class in Indonesia is now beginning to emerge that is keen to play a role in the country’s democratic politics, is well-informed of issues and interests, and expects a government that is accountable. They are assertively pushing forward an agenda of good governance and transparent leadership that is reform-oriented and free of corruption. They treat democracy as intrinsically ingrained in their identity and place a premium on transparency and accountability. As their expectations are going up, this new-emerging techno-savvy voter bloc is demanding effective responses from the political elite over various issues, such as countering corruption, addressing current economic challenges, and a more responsive government. Their continuing frustration with political parties is evident from the fact that no single party received more than 20 percent of votes in the April general elections. On the other hand, Jokowi’s lackluster and commoner’s image attracted their attention, and their vote.

Rules of the game in Indonesian politics have become more democratic with political parties, institutions and citizens adhering to democratic norms. For example, even though the recalcitrant Prabowo had objections to the KPU process, he has, to date, adhered to the institutional procedures laid out by the electoral rules and regulations. Indonesian democracy has just survived the nerve-racking pressure of political mobilization amidst a highly charged emotional situation, and at the same time, successfully resisted the temptation to resort to violent conduct.

No major case of violence was reported on the actual day of the presidential elections, during the process of tallying votes, or during the celebrations afterwards. This trend of democratic consolidation is also discernible from the increased capacity of the different governing institutions to regulate and manage the election process. Indonesian elections are being managed with increased efficiency by the relevant agencies and institutions carrying out their allocated roles, notwithstanding procedural complexities, and logistical difficulties associated with the elections. The KPU has delivered very efficiently and without bias. Indonesia conducted this electoral exercise twice within three months, first to elect the parties and candidates for the national, provincial and municipal legislative bodies (April 9), and then to elect the country’s president (July 9). In total, approximately 190 million citizens exercised their voting rights twice. Each of the elections took place in a single day, making it the largest electoral exercise in the world.

The failure of Prabowo’s Suharto style of politics of fear and intimidation in bringing about the desired result augurs well for Indonesian democracy to let go of its extremely difficult and torturous past under Suharto. Jokowi’s presidency now offers Indonesians another five years to move beyond the baggage of Suharto’s dictatorship and usher the country into another chapter of solidifying real democratic governance. Many, both within and outside of Indonesia, had feared that the Prabowo variant of elite-led politics dominated by moneyed interests, oligarchs, and religious extremists along with his advocacy of strong leadership, would arrest Indonesia’s democratic momentum and plunge the country back into the dreaded authoritarian politics of the Suharto era. It was in this context of safeguarding their fledgling democracy that two Indonesian newspapers–the Jakarta Post and Media Indonesia–went to the extent of officially endorsing Jokowi and breaking their neutrality on the ground that stakes were too high in this election.

Notwithstanding Jokowi’s rise, Indonesia’s second democratic transition remains a work in progress. It is a not going to be a completely smooth process, due primarily to the minority nature of Jokowi’s government and the inevitable continuity of coalition politics within Indonesia. A rough road lies ahead for the Jokowi presidency, particularly in the legislative body that will offer strong resistance from the conservative elite to any effort to introduce more democratic change and politico-economic reforms. Now that voters have had their say, the difficult act of balancing various political forces and factions will require deft diplomacy from newcomer Jokowi.

About the Author

Dr. Vibhanshu Shekhar is a Scholar-in-Residence at ASEAN Studies Center, School of International Service, American University. He can be contacted via email at vibesjnu@gmail.com.


The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue. Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Damien Tomkins, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

Indonesia’s New Leadership

July 23, 2014

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


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.