Nation Multimedia Group chairman Suthichai Yoon discusses Indonesian politics and the future of the new president with Indonesian Ambassador Lutfi Rauf
Indonesia’s election commission announced the official results of last week’s election, endorsing Joko “Jokowi” Widodo as the country’s new president, while his rival Prabowo Subianto, is contesting the result in the Constitutional Court. Fears have been raised that politics in Indonesia may not go very smoothly.
It was feared a few days ago that supporters of both sides might take to the streets and start clashing.
Sometimes people misread the situation, which is a surprise for us. We held the election in a very smooth way and I then hoped that when the result was announced, whatever the result is, people will accept it.
On the day of the announcement, there were many predictions, many views that they might come down to the streets to press the Election Commission to favour their respective sides, but that didn’t happen.
My president [Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono] appealed to both sides in a polite manner, asking both sides to keep calm and leave the things up to the legal institution. He said whoever was dissatisfied with the result should appeal to the court. And the second factor, I think, is that our security apparatus at the beginning made it clear that they were in neutral position and would deal with those who disturb the order in accordance with the law.
What is the role of the military now in politics?
As a part of reforms dating back to 1999, the police – which used to be part of armed forces – was separated to take care of only the internal order and the armed forces were for defence. So they are now [stick] strictly doing their roles, they continue to follow the result of the reform 15 years ago.
They have become professional soldiers, staying inside the barracks and continuing with their duty as mandated by the constitution. They always participate in the United Nations peacekeeping forces.
There is no possibility of a military coup in Indonesia?
We don’t have a history of this kind of thing. The history of our armed force is to be unique as they came from the People’s Army during the fight against the Dutch for the republic. This is the philosophy of our armed forces.
But your army is very strong and has experience in running the country for a long time. Do you think this tradition could be changed in only 15 years?
In terms of strength, our armed forces were relatively small compared to the size of the country. The number of [soldiers in] active service is only 500,000 men compared to the 250-million population. The armed forces needed to be strong during the transition period in order to unite the country. But the reforms [after Suharto] to the military... we did it from within. This is the whole package of reform. It is not easy but we had good faith and political will at that time when we changed the political landscape in Indonesia.
What is the main factor, which made reforms in Indonesia quite a success story?
Probably, we should talk about success to a certain extent, because we have challenges ahead.
But Thai people look at Indonesia in the way that you have had peaceful elections, you have people exercising their votes and you have the military confined only to the role of national defence.
The main factor from the Indonesian perspective is that because people want it after experiencing political turbulence from time to time. Looking back in history, during the time when we gained independence, every time we changed the government, it was always done in a very bloody environment, you name it during Sukarno to Suharto. Of course, during president Suharto’s [time] we had stability and a successful economy, but lacked human rights and democracy, and later it became bloody again... I mean we had riots.
This became a starting point to meet the wishes of the people. When the president stepped down, starting a civil society from the grassroots and freedom of media came up. People can express their views in a free way.
Do you think you have enough democratic institutions to protect democracy?
This is one of the outcomes of the reform. We have total reform. It was not easy because it came up at the same time with strong pressure from the people. That’s why we started with rule of law, good governance and establishing political institutions, with political parties becoming one of the important components.
We established independent agencies, which had never existed before.
But corruption is still a problem, and democracy cannot solve it.
It is a big problem. Well, there is good faith with strong commitment, with the wish of the people to have transparency.
We have a very active, wide range of media. Corruption grows in a community that has a lack of transparency. The corruption, nobody can deny, is still a big problem for Indonesia. But, with the existence of independent institutions... Five or 10 years ago we would have never realised that an active police general was involved in corruption practice. Now he is in jail. We would never have realised before that governors, ministers and members of parliament could now be in jail.
Even the highest authority in the legal system, the president of the Constitutional Court, is now in jail for involvement in taking bribes.
If Jokowi finally becomes the President of Indonesia, how would he change the country?
We could see it during the campaign. We could see the platform. We see from, our perspective, the consistency.
He makes it clear that he wants to improve the economy, he wants to improve the lives of the people by continuing with policies that have been proved to be working, for instance social programmes, education and human resource development, healthcare and small and medium enterprises.
Also in terms of foreign relations, we anticipate that there will be no change because our foreign policy is based on our constitution. I hope, and all Indonesians hope that as long as the commitment is consistent with the policy that had been mentioned during campaign, then we are confident that Indonesia will be moving forward.