Asia Pacific Report 64
  • An Indonesia-Australia Security Pact?
  • Emerging Democracy in Indonesia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

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    Asia Pacific Report Number 64, 26th November 2004

    In this Issue:

    As everyone knows, former general Dr. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono or SBY as he is commonly known, and his vice presidential partner, Mr. Jusuf Kalla, easily defeated the incumbent President Megawati Sukarnoputri and vice president, Dr. Hamzah Haz, in the recent presidential election run-off. Once again, Indonesians were delighted with how well and peacefully the whole process went. Overall, it was a remarkable achievement.
    SBY, widely regarded as a very cautious and uncertain man, came to the presidency promising major and immediate campaigns against corruption and reforms in economic and social policy generally. However, it was always known that he would have trouble with a parliament he did not control and which was heavily factionalised and corruption ridden. That trouble has come a lot sooner than anyone anticipated. Within days of his inauguration, the House of Representatives (DPR) became deadlocked over internal commission posts while Megawati irresponsibly appointed General Ryamizard Ryacudu as TNI commander replacing General Endriartono Sutarto during the post-election transition period without consulting either the parliament or the president. This has caused a stir, not only because Ryamizard is close to Megawati's husband, Mr. Taufik Kiemas, but because he is something of a paranoid nationalist. How these issues work themselves out remains to be seen. As things stand, further parliamentary deadlocks can be expected in the future.
    CabinetIn the midst of this parliamentary tussling, Dr. Yudhoyono appointed his first cabinet naming a large team of 36 members1 in order to accommodate various political interests. On balance the cabinet is OK. The technocrats and professionals appointed to the economic, defence, foreign affairs, legal and other ministerial posts are competent people. The political appointees are a mixed bunch in terms of competence, some of them being not very impressive at all. But given that cabinets are essentially political bodies and this one inevitably a compromised multi-party entity, it is fair to describe it as being, on balance, acceptable. Some of its members have served in earlier cabinets, while there are six former military officers. The latter has raised some concerns as to how far the president will look to his old mates in the military for advice and support and whether that will effect adversely reform programmes in that area. It is natural for him to look in that direction - to people he has long known, trusted and understood. However, fears of a military comeback to power through stealth seem unfounded and in some cases paranoid.1 Profiles of all 36 ministers are now online - see APR 65
    IslamismOne of our major concerns is the extent to which Dr. Yudhoyono understands the true nature of the Islamist issue. It seems he gives to the Islamist groups too easily, something that goes back to his time in the Habibie government which was inordinately influenced by Islamists and where he would have engaged with many of them. Consequently, the two major Islamist parties, the Crescent Star Party (PBB) and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) supported him for president. This led him to agree to the appointment of Dr. Yusril Ihza Mahendra, the chairman of the PBB, and a former minister in previous governments, to the key, strategic post of State Secretary which gives him not only privileged access to the president, but the ability to block the access of others. It is being said in some circles that already Dr. Mahendra has used his influence to have the president review his proposal to set up a National Security Council (DPN) and a National Economic Council (DEN) for fear that these councils might have direct access to the president bypassing the State Secretariat. Similarly, it is rumoured that he has had the idea of a presidential "West-Wing" of 11 expert advisers scrapped on the grounds that it would interfere with the work of the Secretariat. While we think Dr. Mahendra's appointment is highly unwise and carries unnecessary risks, perhaps in the long run it won't matter much because Indonesia is essentially a secular polity with the vast majority of Indonesian Muslims being moderate and anti- Islamist. Perhaps the cautious President Yudhoyono is one of those many military men who lack the sort of political antennae that enables one in conversation and interaction to discern the differences between a socialist, a social democrat and an Islamist democrat. Even if no serious damage to the nation is done in the long run, Dr. Yudhoyono's courting of and giving to the Islamists could count heavily against him electorally in the future should it continue.
    FactionsPresident Yudhoyono's problems in the parliament stem largely from the fact that the dominant coalition in the house, the Nationhood Coalition (Koalisis Kebangsaan), is led by the Golkar Party which supported Megawati for president, while the minority People's Coalition (Koalisi Kerakyatan) comprises a number of Muslim parties as well as Susilo's own Democrat Party. If this situation continues, the president is going to have a very difficult time getting his reform and other legislation through the House. However, both the Vice President Jusuf Kalla and Dr. Yudhoyono's chief economic minister, Mr. Aburizal Bakrie, the Coordinating Minister for the Economy, are recent Golkar figures who switched to Dr. Yudhoyono during the election campaigns. At the end of this year, Golkar will hold its national congress. If Vice President Kalla and his associates can influence the make up of the new Golkar leadership, it could bring a new balance in the parliament, if not one in support of the president, at least one easier for him to manage.
    President Yudhoyono's major, immediate tasks are clear. They should involve tackling corruption; dealing with the conflicts in Aceh and Papua; improving the investment climate; and continuing the programs of political and military reforms. How he handles these matters will tell us where Indonesia is going in the immediate future - and perhaps himself in the longer run. No one expects miracles - just solid progress. As they say, Indonesian democracy is a work in progress. It'll take another couple of elections - a decade or so - before things have worked themselves out, by which time it is hoped the economy will have got itself up and running again in a more or less new technological era and all sorts of political changes will have evolved both in respect of the parties and the nation's other institutions.
    A year ago a group of self styled Left intelligentsia anti-Bush types we encountered spoke of the "disaster" in Afghanistan which some of them described as a total anarchic mess. Amidst the chaos they said the warlords were "rampaging" and the Taliban coming back into power. The Americans and their "pathetic puppets" ruled in Kabul but nowhere else and were afraid to venture out of the city for fear of being killed by the people. At the suggestion that the Americans were planning for elections to be held throughout the country in 2004, they burst into sniggers and laughter. This, they said, just showed how little the "stupid", "idiotic" Americans knew about places like Afghanistan which, they said, were populated by uncivilised warlords and illiterate tribes who had never experienced democracy and would not know what an election or a vote looked like.
    LandslideWell, one year later, on 9th October 2004, a highly successful and peaceful presidential election was held throughout Afghanistan with ballot papers and ballot boxes distributed by the central government months beforehand to over 21,000 polling booths throughout the country - even to distant mountain districts accessible only by donkeys. The winner in a landslide was the incumbent pro-American interim President Hamid Karzai who bravely declared that while his country faced enormous problems, he planned to remove the warlords on the grounds that only the army and the police should have weapons. The Taliban had threatened violence throughout the country against polling booths and voters, but approximately 85% of the 9.8 million registered voters defied these threats and turned out on election day. More than a third them were Taliban-despised women. The Economist journal, which up to a week beforehand had been highly sceptical of the whole exercise, declared on 16th October, ". . . most Afghans cast their ballots unimpeded by death threats. Their delight as they did so was thrilling, and turnout seemed generally high. Little is yet certain about an election that was hardly observed by foreign experts, except this: for the first time in Afghanistan's history, the country's next leader will be the people's choice." President Karzai declared the Taliban to be a spent force. "It's absolutely finished as a militant organisation," he claimed.
    That the success of this election - indeed the very fact that it was being held - came as a surprise to so many people around the world, was a consequence of yet another western media intelligence failure. Very few, if any, Western media outlets had informed their readers that as far back as July-August an amazing 8.7 million of an estimated 9.8 million eligible voters had voluntarily registered and collected their ID cards for the 9th October election. While most journalists in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan knew this, the Western media constantly left the world with the impression that the country was in such violent chaos that the government was afraid to stick its head out of Kabul.
    ManglapusThat Afghanistan has been able to so easily adapt to a democratic process and hold such a successful election gives credence to a thesis put forward in 1987 by the late Philippine Senator and Foreign Secretary (and Pacific Institute associate), Raul S. Manglapus, in his book Will of the People: Original Democracy in Non-Western Societies, Freedom House, New York, 1987. In that book (see excerpt), Manglapus argues that democracy is not a Western concept but a value that has been treasured and practiced in the East - in Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere - at least as far back as 2500 BC. With impressive research through eighteen case studies in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and the Americas, some of them going back to pre-historic times, he argues persuasively that democracy is the natural state of most of mankind. He says it was practiced naturally in the earliest tribes and villages through among other things discussion, consensus and customary law and that it preceded despotism in all civilizations. And, interestingly enough, he argues that the earliest formal democracy gradually developed in Mesopotamia, that is, today's Iraq, between 2500 and 4000 BC. Clearly, Manglapus would dismiss as nonsense the claims of people like French President Jacques Chirac and many members of both the conservative right and the Left intelligentsia today who, like Clare Booth Luce, George Kennan and others in the past, argue that democracy in the Middle East and other nations of the Third World is an "impossible dream" because these nations are not "culturally adapted" to it. If he were around today, Manglapus would be arguing that the Americans are not 'imposing' Western democracy on Afghanistan and Iraq but opening up for them the opportunity of resurrecting their own ancient democratic traditions after decades, and in many cases centuries, of despotism.
    2. IRAQ - The Next New Democracy?
    Iraq is currently scheduled to hold elections for a 275 seat Constituent National Assembly on 30th January 2005. There will also be provincial elections. The Assembly will form a new government and write a new constitution. While some people, such as King Abdullah of Jordan, to the obvious joy of much of the Western media, have declared that the "elections are impossible" or "will prove a disaster" because of security conditions, preparations are going ahead. While you won't have read much about it, the United Nations says that 126 political parties have been accepted and registered, over 85% of 542 voter registration centres are operating "normally" across the nation signing up the 14 million eligible voters, while facilities are being developed to enable 4 million out-of-country voters to register. In addition to that, thousands of polling stations are being organised as well as protection for those who will work and vote in them. As Raul Manglapus might have said, if democracy comes to Iraq it will not be for the first time, and we would expect most Iraqis to welcome it as do most people in the world, whatever the 'cultured' President Jacques Chirac and its confreres might think about it.
    Whether the violence in Fallujah, Mosul, Ramadi and some other parts of the country will cause the elections to be postponed, at least in some areas, remains to be seen. UN officials at the moment do not think so. But even if the elections were put back a few months it would have little effect on the long term development of the new Iraq democracy. It needs to be recognised that despite the fighting and insurgent violence in the above mentioned towns and some other places, most of Iraq, including Saddam Hussein's home town of Tikrit, remains, at least for now, essentially at peace. You don't hear about it in the daily press, but in most of Iraq, democratic local elections have been held, hundreds of newspapers and TV stations have sprung up, hospitals and universities have opened and so on.
    We are not sure that a new Australian-Indonesian security pact is necessary at this time. The idea of one was raised twelve months by Dr. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono when he visited Australia as the Minister for Politics and Security and reiterated a few weeks ago by the Australian Foreign Minister, Mr. Alexander Downer, following the Australian elections. Mr. Downer explained that if it went ahead it would be different from the agreement secretly negotiated between former Australian prime minister, Mr. Paul Keating and former Indonesian president, Mr. Soeharto in the late nineties and which was abrogated by Indonesia during the East Timor crisis.
    Common Strategic InterestsThe most important thing is to improve Australian - Indonesian defence and security co-operation and understandings across the board. As we have said on many occasions, Australia and Indonesia have common strategic interests which can be summed up briefly by saying that they both face the north strategically. While the two nations may at times run into difficulties and misunderstandings over various issues, at the end of the day we are natural strategic allies. Furthermore, with the development of liberal democratic institutions in Indonesia, we are beginning to share more common values.
    APECDespite its name, the regional entity that became known as Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation or APEC, was conceived for grand strategic purposes, and not merely economic ones, important as trade liberalisation across the board is. Following last week's November 2004 APEC Heads of State meeting in Santiago, Chile, and recent heightened tensions in North-East Asia between China and Japan and China and Taiwan, it is pertinent to restate APEC's grand strategic objectives in respect of that region. As we have explained before, APEC, which was established in 1989, grew out of a 1960s idea of economic, political and eventually military and security cooperation between Australia, Indonesia leading ASEAN, Japan and eventually other nations including China and India backed by US economic and military power in the Pacific. This idea was called the Pacific Community and its was promoted among governments of the region by a little known and unique regional grouping called the Pacific Institute (our editor was its secretary general and the afore-mentioned Raul Manglapus one of its prominent members). From the outset in the mid sixties it was said that the Pacific Community, and hence later APEC, was aimed strategically at providing a political framework to take in Japan and China so that they were welcomed and accepted as parts of the comity of Pacific nations and thereby prevented from dominating the region either individually or together or, if left alone, feeling obliged to act as the sole balances to each other. Whatever else it does or does not do, APEC continues to play this essential grand strategic balance of power role.
    ASEANAnd it should be said that within this APEC framework, ASEAN itself, whose heads of state meet in Vientiane next week, plays a key strategic role for it sits on the sealanes of communication (SLOCS) running through the Malacca Strait and the Indonesian archipelago between the Indian and Pacific oceans through which a quarter of the world's commerce, most of Japan and China's oil and most of Australia's trade.

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