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A Test of Democracy – Indonesia’s New Normal


14 Feb A Test of Democracy – Indonesia’s New Normal

The Jakarta gubernatorial election has been dominating headlines with the incumbent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (better known as Ahok) being accused of blasphemy. This election has become more than just a race for the governor’s office, with wider implications for Indonesia’s religious freedom, transparency, and democracy.

To discuss Indonesia’s current social temperature and Indonesians’ willingness to work together amidst diversity, the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) hosted Mr. Meidyatama Suryodiningrat. Personally appointed by appointed by President Joko Widodo, Mr. Suryodiningrat is the current President Director of Antara and the former Chief Editor of The Jakarta Post.

More photos from the event are available on our Facebook page.

Event Summary

Although the Jakarta elections have created a tense social and political climate, Mr. Suryodiningrat said: “This is not a tectonic ground shift in Indonesian politics but it is actually part of the evolution of power as a whole.”

He acknowledged that the recent developments are tricky and concerning, but he reminded the audience that this is “part and parcel of Indonesian politics”.

“[Indonesia is] the third largest democracy in the world with the largest Muslim population,” said Mr. Suryodiningrat, so such developments should not be surprising.

“If it happens in American politics it can happen anywhere else, especially with a country like Indonesia,” he joked. He explained that this is not a new phenomenon but instead represents a common challenge that any new administration can face.

President Joko Widodo “broke the mould” and came into power as “a non-Jakarta elite with no military backing”. In this context, Ahok’s blasphemy charges signifies a “perfect storm” and represents a “baptism of fire [which] President Jokowi has to go through.”

However, Mr. Suryodiningrat pointed out that while President Jokowi entered the Presidential Palace without having a majority in parliament, “within 18 months he consolidated his power”.

Despite Ahok’s blasphemy charges being a highly contested issue, President Jokowi’s cabinet has remained neutral. “[Jokowi’s] political alliances have been consolidated well,” said Mr. Suryodiningrat, suggesting that he is in a much stronger position today.

Regardless of the outcome of the elections, Mr. Suryodiningrat said there is a worry that a “victory against Ahok [could] embolden even more conservative” elements of Indonesian society.

“What happens in Jakarta does not necessarily reflect the country as a whole,” Mr. Suryodiningrat noted.

There has been a change in politicking, but the Jokowi administration is aware of these voices and understands that “the key is not to assume that things are going to just be the same”.

Original Event Synopsis

The Jakarta gubernatorial election created an unexpected ground shift in domestic politics which has forced the Jokowi administration and many other political entities to reassess its political consolidation in guarding the plurality of the world’s third largest democracy. This evening’s talk at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs looks at the wider implications for Indonesia’s secularism and democracy.

Event Details

Date: Tuesday, 14th February 2017

Time: 5:30pm – 7:00pm (Registration at 5:30pm; Talk begins at 6pm)

Venue: Singapore Institute of International Affairs
60A Orchard Road #04-03 (Level 4M) Tower 1
The Atrium @Orchard, International Involvement Hub
Singapore 238890

*Event is by invitation only.

About the Speakers

Mr. Meidyatama Suryodiningrat
President Director of Antara & Former Chief Editor of The Jakarta Post

Mr. Meidyatama Suryodiningrat was appointed by President Joko Widodo as head of the national news agency, LKBN Antara, in January 2016. In its eighth decade of service, LKBN Antara is not only one of the main arms of government public communications with a network of over 34 bureaus across the archipelago, but also the largest content distributor of news content in the country to over 250 media and other government and private offices in Indonesia and abroad.

As president director of LKBN Antara, he also serves as chairman of the board of commissioners of PT IMQ Multimedia Utama, and PT ANPA International. His engagement in foreign policy initially began with his role as journalist with The Jakarta Post (whom he eventually served as Chief Editor for six years) where he became a witness to the rise of multilaterism in Southeast Asia in the 1990s. This ultimately led to an active involvement in numerous regional Track II and Track III activities.

Photo Credit: Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA)