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SBY’s deft handling of Indonesia’s foreign and domestic policies

Updated On: May 23, 2006

The intensity of Mount Merapi’s volcanic activity has garnered much interest and speculated anticipation of its effects, offering an apt depiction of the current tempo of Indonesia’s foreign and domestic policies.

Indonesia appears set to play an active role in jump-starting the six-party talks as an official announced on May 19 that President SBY will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il on June 5 to discuss ways to reduce tensions from Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme and to enhance bilateral relations. SBY’s subsequent visit to South Korea two days later is also aimed at forwarding the Koreas' reunification process.

Tensions between Indonesia and Australia over Papua have been simmering since last month’s decision by Australia to grant asylum to over 40 Papuans despite Indonesian’s appeal to send them back. However, with Foreign Minister Alexander Downer announcing on May 21, the Australian government’s decision to acceptIndonesia’s request for a written agreement to formally recognise its territorial integrity and sovereignty, bilateral ties looked set to be back on track. Jakarta in return, has indicated the possible reinstallation of Indonesian Ambassador Teuku Mohammad Hamzah Thayeb to Australia. President SBY’s upcoming meeting with Australian Prime Minister John Howard will also pave the way for further reconciliation, though questions on Timor Leste may also test the relationship.

The Indonesian Ad-Hoc Human Rights Court recently tried 18 members of the military on human rights charges relating to Timor Leste, including the chief of the Dili military, Lt. Col. Sudjarwo. Eurico Guterres, former leader of East Timor pro-Indonesia militia group Aitarak, was also sentenced to 10 years in prison on May 4. Much remains to be done in the area of fact collection from witnesses and alleged perpetrators for the Commission to achieve efficacy and serve as a model for the international community.

Indonesia’s fight against the bird flu – having killed 30 of 39 confirmed patients in the country – reached a new level of heightened awareness and urgency with President SBY’s call for international assistance during the 28th Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific on May 18.

The President’s call came at a time when the country recorded one of the largest clusters of cases in Kubu Simbelang village, North Sumatra on the same day, with four members of one family (from an infant to a 29-year-old) dying from the H5N1 virus, prompting the World Health Organisation (WHO) to send an emergency team to the location.

Social protest and challenges to the state authority are also palpable in the domestic arena, but they took a brief respite on May 20, Indonesia’s National Awakening Day. President SBY used the occasion to launch a new clean air campaign and promote the use of alternative fuels with the official opening of a compressed natural gas (CNG) station and the country’s first biodiesel blend fuel, Biosolar. SBY also attempted to ward off eruption of domestic tensions over the past months, by making a broad appeal to the people to use the occasion as a moral drive toward unifying the nation.

“We are experiencing a crisis at the moment. We want to become a civilized nation. What must be done is to build it. Don't let it self-destruct,” he said. In stark contrast however, various groups responded to National Awakening Day by pursuing their individual agendas, such as announcing a new political party called the Reform Democratic Party (PDP).

The public voice also grew stronger over the anti-pornography Bill and Suharto’s impeachment. Around 100,000 people, led by the country’s Muslim organization giants, MUI, NU, and Muhammadiyah in the largest display of force, participated in the ‘million Muslim march’ along the streets of Jakarta the following day on May 21, to pressure Parliament to pass the Bill. On the same day, marking the eighth anniversary of Suharto's downfall, demonstrators donned Suharto masks and black capes in several cities including Jakarta, to protest the attorney-general Abdul Rahman Saleh’s decision to drop corruption charges against the former dictator last week as a result of his ailing condition.  

Chances of the state passing the Bill remain high, after undergoing revisions in March, but this would stand opposed and serve as a threat to the country's plurality and secularism. The government’s failure to impeach Suharto also prompted criticisms against the President’s leadership, but SBY deflected them away when he told student activists in Bandung during the protests, that he has no authority to intervene in the legal process.

Sources:

Indonesian gets 10 years for East Timor deaths (The Financial Times, 5 May 2006)

SBY calls for int'l assistance to fight bird flu (The Jakarta Post, 19 May 2006)

Village unnerved by bird flu scare (The Jakarta Post, 19 May 2006)

RI-Malaysia labor agreement meets strong opposition (Jakarta Post, 19 May 2006)

Yudhoyono to meet North Korea's Kim (AP/The Straits Times, 20 May 2006)

RI asks Australia to recognize territorial integrity in treaty (Jakarta Post, 20 May 2006)

A dream of using clean fuels (Jakarta Post, 20 May 2006)

Indonesia urges Myanmar trade partners to use clout (Reuters/The Straits Times, 20 May 2006)

RI, Timor Leste urged to get behind truth commission (The Jakarta Post, 20 May 2006)

Govt promotes CNG, biofuel to save energy (Jakarta Post, 21 May 2006)

Canberra to formally recognise Jakarta rule in Papua (Reuters/AFP/ The Straits Times, 22 May 2006)

Awakening day reaches new heights (Jakarta Post, 22 May 2006)

Anti-porn Bill backed by massive Jakarta march (The Straits Times, 22 May 2006)

Protesters want Suharto to face trial (AP/The Straits Times, 22 May 2006)

President calls for national unity (Jakarta Post, 22 May 2006)

SBY leaves Soeharto case to law enforcers (The Straits Times, 22 May 2006)

Merapi's hot clouds again billow reach 1,5 km (Antara, 22 May 2006)