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Indonesia’s credibility mismatch?

Updated On: Oct 20, 2006

Indonesia’s foreign policy efforts have paid dividends with its election as a non-permanent United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for 2007-2008 on October 16.

Five months ago, the country was also elected to the UN Human Rights Council.

This “international success” afforded a confidence booster to a nation gripped by a range of human security threats from earthquakes, mud flow, forest fires/haze pollution to the avian flu especially since the beginning of the year.

Indonesia's Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, Rezlan I. Jenie, said the country has earned the acknowledgment from world nations that it plays a key role in maintaining global peace, security and stability. Indonesian Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Makarim Wibisono added the election gives the country momentum toward playing a key role in the international arena.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) promptly rode the wave with an announcement the following day that the Middle East and North Korea would beIndonesia’s priorities as the new non-permanent member in the UN Security Council.  "I'm confident that, if the Middle East problem can be solved justly, peacefully and permanently, half of the world's problems...can be solved," SBY said.

For North Korea, especially since the October 9 nuclear bomb test, SBY said Indonesia would comply with the recent UN resolution that allows for inspections of cargo heading to North Korea and prohibits the shipment of material linked with unconventional and advanced weapons. He also pushed for the resumption of six party talks, saying diplomatic efforts were the best way to "avoid a greater crisis."

The archipelago’s international relations thrust harken back to the time of SBY’s presidential campaign focus which touted ‘foreign policy’ as an extension of domestic policy to promote trade and attract foreign direct investment. SBY’s keynote foreign policy speech last year also signalled dramatic shifts in diplomatic conduct, as the country spearheaded moves to build bridges with Myanmar, serve mediator roles for North and South Korea, and broker nuclear crisis talks between Iran and the Western nations of US and Europe.

Much political energy will also be directed at the upcoming Indonesia-China Energy Forum, where Indonesia will sign a contractual agreement with Chinese energy firms, and the ASEAN-China Commemorative Summit, where Indonesia will sign a joint statement, all within a span of five days on October 27-31. President SBY will also hold bilateral talks with Chinese PM Wen Jiabao, and lead a discussion on North Korea’s nuclear programme.

There appears to be a clear mismatch in Indonesia’s “great” success at the international front vis-à-vis its treatment of domestic issues that have captured as much worldwide attention and provoked domestic criticism.

The country’s uncontrollable forest fires and subsequent transboundary haze pollution have incurred much irk from the affected states – Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Brunei – from the local and foreign media and civil society, and even within the domestic polity.

In light of the worst haze episode this year since the 1997/1998 bout that crippled the region alongside the financial crisis and political upheaval, the democratic-elect SBY administration – with arguably greater capacity to deal with the forest fires – is fast losing credibility with mounting GDP decline, biodiversity loss, and disrupted social lives.

A World Bank expert also recently reported that Indonesia is unlikely to meet its Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target on sanitation if it carries on with business as usual. To be sure, according to a monitoring program jointly conducted by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Indonesia will fall short of its MDG target by 68 million people.

Elsewhere, mud continues to flow unabated in Porong, Sidoarjo district, prompting national emergency action to deal with the human error-turned-natural disaster which according to some observers, will persist well into the turn of the century.

On the same day Indonesia was awarded the UNSC seat, the country also received the dubious honour of adding to its world’s highest bird flu death toll of 54. Some of the governance problems in dealing with the pandemic threat were symptomatic of the forest fires/haze problem as well, especially in terms of multi-level coordination and awareness-building on the ground.

Scrutiny of Indonesia’s credibility also came at the end of President SBY’s second year in office on October 20. He marked his two years in office with an approval rating of 67%, a turnaround from the 50-55% in March during the fuel-subsidy cuts. While analysts generally agreed that SBY had initiated all the right moves, its government fell short in delivering results.

For example, SBY was seen to have begun well on the economic front by putting in place a good economic team and “rolling out a raft of well-received business-friendly policies”. In a series of articles published by The Jakarta Post on this matter, some of the authors have commented on a reduction of macroeconomic risks and fiscal improvement. Yet the economy remains vulnerable to shifts in investors’ sentiment and occasional asset market volatility as a result of short-term speculative capital flows. Poverty has also increased by 11.25 percent, or 3.95 million people, to almost 40 million people or 17.75 percent of the total population between February 2005 and March 2006, due to the removal of fuel subsidies and the global oil price hike.

A harsher sentiment reported of President SBY’s misguided foreign policies – ‘all about image’ – that fail to properly address domestic needs as originally purported. As the author opined, “such image building and projection will be useless unless the government recognizes the fact that there is indeed a true linkage between international exposure and solving [the country’s] economic, social and domestic security problems”. 

Sources:

RI becomes UNSC member  (Jakarta Post, 17 October 2006)

Bird flu toll rises to 54 as woman dies (Jakarta Post, 17 October 2006)

Advancing beyond macroeconomic stability (Jakarta Post, 17 October 2006)

Tackling bird flu is a matter of right decisions, right actions (Jakarta Post, 17 October 2006)

Indonesia says it will use UNSC seat to push for Mideast peace (Jakarta Post, 18 October 2006)

Sanitation target remains out of reach (Jakarta Post, 18 October 2006)

Yudhoyono to discuss energy, ASEAN in China (Jakarta Post, 19 October 2006)

Yudhoyono' s foreign policy is all about image (Jakarta Post, 19 October 2006)

Strong showing, but not enough in delivering (Straits Times, 20 October 2006)