Recent high-profile state events in Indonesia have cast unstable rumblings within the nation that would weigh considerably upon the Richter scale.
While the ‘restaurant bomber’ has been cleared of having any links to US President Bush’s November 20 visit, the visibility of protest against the state for endorsing the tour in the wake of the Iraq and Israel-Hizbollah war spells trouble for the SBY government. Hundreds of protestors from students to Islamic groups are picketing almost daily, in front of universities and parliamentary buildings. Antara News noted at least three demonstrations on November 14, in Jember (East Java), Mataram (West Nusa Tenggara) and Kendari (South East Sulawesi).
In Jember for example, members of the Muslim Anti-US and Israel Committee (KUMAIL) which included women and children, burned a US flag outside the office of Jember District Head MZA Djalal. KUMAIL spokesman Sudarsono said President Bush must be held responsible for the destruction of Iraq and the deaths of more than 600,000 Iraqi civilians, and that he “will bring disaster to Muslims”.
The epicentre of the civic unrest lies in Bogor (Kujang Memorial), where President Bush is scheduled to meet President SBY. Antara News reported around 500 veiled Muslim women from the popular Islamic Prosperous Justice Party carrying black paper flowers and posters depicting Bush as a devil. Elsewhere, hundreds of members of the Indonesian Muslim Students Action Front (KAMMI), the Indonesian Muslim Workers Brotherhood (PPMI), and the “Bogor Alliance to Crush Bush” (ABGB) also staged rallies.
Apart from sharing KUMAIL’s sentiment, KAMMI holds the suspicion that President Bush has an ulterior motive to drain Indonesia`s natural resources such as oil, natural gas in the Arun and Cepu blocks, as well as copper and silver in Papua. PPMI called on all Muslim workers in the country to oppose all forms of USoppression. Going further, the ABGB interpreted Bush’s visit as a "counter-revolutionary" move initiated by the government.
More hardline Indonesian Islamic groups such as the Islamic Society Forum (FUI) are also considering a no-confidence motion against President SBY, of which the Indonesian Mujahedin Council – chaired by firebrand cleric Abu Bakar Bashir – and the Front for the Defenders of Islam is a part of.
According to Secretary General of the Islamic Society Forum (FUI) Muhammad al-Khaththath, “Yudhoyono was elected by the people and if he ignores the wish of the people, then it is only appropriate that he gets a vote of no confidence”. FUI also claims the support of the country’s two largest Islamic mainstream organisations, the Nahdlatul Ulama and the Muhammadiyah, as well as leaders of the Indonesian Council of Ulemas (MUI), the highest authority on Islam in the country.
But civic unrest also witnessed a rare counterbalance from a pro-Bush rally organised by around 50 people linked to the Red-and-White Force, a pro-government youth group. They raised banners welcoming President Bush and issued a statement saying “As a nation that is not against democracy, there is nothing wrong to act wisely and welcome the visit of Bush, as long as the dignity of the nation is not put at a disadvantage”.
Amid the ongoing protest, earlier this week witnessed the signing of the Lombok Agreement on security cooperation between Indonesia and Australia. The agreement carries much hope in terms of paving the way for future bilateral cooperation and mutual respect of territorial sovereignty and unity, nudging aside the previous woes of Canberra's support for Timor Leste’s independence and the more recent West Papuan asylum seekers.
But doubts remain as Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer warned during the press conference that Australia could not guarantee that it would not give visas to Indonesian asylum seekers in future, which would certainly prompt an outcry from Indonesia and nullify the aims of the agreement.
A more disturbing issue lies with Australia providing assistance to Indonesia’s nuclear energy programme as part of the agreement. The former stands to benefit from the sale of its vast uranium resources, around 40 per cent of the world’s supply, while the latter does not have a sound infrastructure to support nuclear energy development, and may generate dire consequences for the region in the event of a nuclear disaster.
According to Greenpeace campaigner, Nur Hidayati, “all the associated risks (of nuclear power) when placed in an area with a volatile geological structure likeIndonesia will only pose a danger to the Indonesian public”. Elsewhere, Indonesian Anti-Nuclear Community spokesman, Dian Abraham, said, “There seem to be no plans to consult the people in developing nuclear plans in Indonesia as written in the Nuclear Energy Act”.
The Straits Times’ Australian correspondent, Roger Marnard, cautioned that an earthquake in Java “could have devastating consequences for the region if it led to the release of radioactive fall-out from a nuclear power station”. Studies conducted by the Australian National University also confirmed such a scenario, affecting specific states from Singapore to Brunei and Australia based on the wind direction at particular periods of the year.
On a different note that bears mention is the diplomatic strain between Singapore and Indonesia as a result of the former’s raising of the haze issue at the UN General Assembly last month, in spite of the latter’s disapproval.
Second Foreign Minister Raymond Lim disclosed in Parliament on November 14 that President SBY had written to PM Lee Hsien Loong last week to update theSingapore leader on his country's battle against the haze. Minister Lim also stressed that there is 'no reason' for the haze problem to affect relations between the two countries.
Indonesian restaurant bomber not linked to terrorist groups: police (AFP/Channel News Asia, 13 November 2006)
Indonesia, Australia sign Lombok Agreement on security (Antara, 14 November 2006)
Security pact with Australia gets a warm welcome (The Jakarta Post, 14 November 2006)
A nuclear Indonesia could be a reality with Australia's help (The Straits Times, 14 November 2006)
Greenpeace: Nuclear power is risky (The Straits Times, 14 November 2006)
S'pore-Jakarta ties not clouded by haze (The Straits Times, 14 November 2006)
Anti-Bush protests staged in Jember, Mataram, Kendari (Antara, 14 November 2006)
Indonesian leader faces no-confidence motion over Bush visit (AFP/Channel News Asia, 14 November 2006)
Indonesian group stages pro-Bush rally (Antara, 15 November 2006)
Anti-Bush rallies continue in Bogor (Antara, 15 November 2006)
Security pact restarts Indon nuclear energy debate, green groups unhappy (Today, 15 November 2006)