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The Forum > Article Comments > SBY still an enigma - Indonesia in review > Comments

SBY still an enigma - Indonesia in review : Comments

By Graham Cooke, published 28/5/2007

It is difficult to understand why Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has done so little to exploit the fact he was elected with such a large mandate.

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SBY may have had the people's support, but his hold on parliament is far from secure. His newly-formed Democratic Party won only 7.5 per cent of the vote while the ever adroit Jusuf Kalla as head of well-entrenched Golkar has real political clout.

Some think it's curious that a military man saturated in the culture of the army (his father, one son and his wife's family are all past or present members of the TNI) should be so indecisive. Generals are expected to be action men, not ditherers. But they can only exercise authority with the support of other staff; the backing of foot soldiers (read electors) isn't enough.

Many Western commentators overlook SBY's military past. They see the suit and forget the uniform. The army is an integral part of the nation's culture. It's not so up front and obvious as in the past but it remains the hidden power. SBY was a four-star general; his former superiors are still influential in a rank and status-conscious society.

Outside Jakarta the villagers and kampong dwellers look back with nostalgia to the Suharto era. Human rights abuses and economic mismanagement were of little concern because a controlled media didn't reveal the truth. The price of rice, cooking oil and other staples stayed low, and that's what they recall. Nor were there natural disasters on the scale of the 2004 Tsunami and the 2006 Yogya quake – factors the superstitious link to the overthrow of Suharto.

So SBY hasn't measured up to expectations. That isn't surprising – running Indonesia is an almost impossible job. He's still the best going, though only when ranked against other contenders. The ONA, with access to so much more information than the average onlooker, should be able to provide a more subtle analysis of the enigma. Or would helping the public understand these important issues 'dumb down' the agency?
Duncan Graham

Posted by Duncan Graham, Monday, 28 May 2007 2:38:55 PM
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More funny expat views of natives, through a gin haze in our Raffles Hotel? Some questions:

So Duncan claims that Indonesia stands out as different from Australia by being "a rank and status-conscious society"? Maybe he means that Indonesians don't kid themselves with Australian-style mantras about meritocracy and egalitarianism? But notice too how all of the Western focus is on SBY, as though the formal top of the hierarchical heap must define automatically the country's real political direction or progress! Very status and rank-conscious indeed...yet we Australians suffer daily media pontification by such pampered pheasants as CEOs, bankers, fund managers and their politician-minders. As for our journos, there seems (accurately, I think) little self-deprecating irony left in their use of the label 'fourth estate'.

And why should we believe that reduced fuel subsidies are a good thing (ask any Indonesian commercial drivers)? Because the IMF says subsidies are bad? Soeharto's resignation came finally because he knew he couldn't meet such post-1997 crash IMF demands without losing all credibility as a national leader - leaving aside Duncan's hazy anecdote about nostalgia among village and kampung dwellers.

Why should we expect Ward and ONA to make "more subtle analysis" of Indonesia? If they have had more-than-average access to information, it hardly follows that they'll make better sense of it. And if they place too much value on secrets then they'll be captive to whatever 'secrets' their targets depict as important information.

Please consider some examples largely ignored by our media and its 'Indonesia experts'. Just last year, Indonesia has made: serious nuclear plans with Russia and South Korea, doubtless spurred by the success of German nuclear technology in Central Java since 2001; military national service for countrywide activation from 2008; major naval acquisition and expansion projects, and; a shift to Russian credit schemes and Chinese defence cooperation.

Why would Ward claim that many Indonesians suspect evil Australian intentions in eastern Indonesia? Better ask Mari Alkatiri, or maybe anonymous Rio Tinto sources.

Dumbing-down at ONA (and the entire Australian Intelligence Community) happened long ago, when they were deemed foils for sleazy, over-confident policy.
Posted by mil_observer, Monday, 28 May 2007 6:26:38 PM
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Charged with the sacred duty of holding the disperate Indonesian archipelago together the TNI is the most powerful force in Indonesia. This mandate together with the economic clout the TNI continues to enjoy through legal and corrupt business activities ensures that Indonesian politics remains a Javanese puppet show manipulated, influenced and at times directly controlled by the TNI.
Bruce Haigh
Posted by Bruce Haigh, Monday, 28 May 2007 6:31:19 PM
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Good Onya mil_observer

Your lucid observations and apt level of cynicism must make you a very naughty employee in this world of Opinion Channelling Employers.

You’re right that it is important to analyse our own society when dissembling other societies.

In addition to your fair comments on ONA one shouldn't forget that it (and DIO) must always be aware of the Government’s firmly held beliefs when writing "frank and fearless" assessments on such topics as SBY, Indonesia and Iraq (where of course OIL is naturally not a driving issue...).


Posted by plantagenet, Tuesday, 29 May 2007 12:51:58 AM
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Thanks Pete. Ex-employee actually: character-assassinated, stitched up, blacklisted, the whole anti-dissident deal.

Yes Bruce, valid point. But perhaps we could also explore some English metaphor for the Punch-and-Judy show of Australian federal politics, and its string-pullers? Damn, those anonymous sources at Rio still haven't come through! No 'corruption' from those quarters, or from Defence, DMO, ADF or DFAT? Maybe I should try checking with their respective lawyers, PR spinners and ministers?

But relativism aside for a moment, let's reflect on some results from corrupt Indonesia policy in Australian intelligence services.

Tampa was probably ONA's signature tune; even DSD got a guernsey there. While I accept that TNI chiefs had the means to stop Australia-bound migrants if they wished, and the high likelihood that the TNI took bribes to ensure they did not stop such travel, the hysteria, vilification and 'Pacific Solution' were a costly and embarrassing disgrace.

Last year's West Papuan 'asylum seekers' episode was a logical consequence of such over-reaction: the ensuing bilateral security agreement was (and will probably remain for some time) a windfall for the TNI. The puppet masters here got well and truly puppeteered in that case.

Our country's leadership elite has consumed itself - and most of its constituents - with Huntingtonesque visions of cultural and religious paranoia. In the absence of therapy from a mature, honest and competent intelligence, the only palliative to such paranoia would seem to be neo-con adventurism and opportunistic foreign policy.

But that latter is no cure, and it seems the TNI has been getting ready as a logical response. I don't mean to feed White Australia-inspired invasion fears, but any future TNI payback will likely be regional, strategic, allied with greater powers - and creative.

And lest we distract ourselves further by regarding corruption as a particularly Indonesian problem, think of just where much of the Soeharto clan's lucre has been received safely with open arms: Channel Islands, Knightsbridge, Toorak, etc. The TNI needs that funding too, not just what it can extort from Australian paranoid Islamophobes. Hence Tommy's recent release from jail and his attendance at Kopassus' birthday.
Posted by mil_observer, Tuesday, 29 May 2007 3:31:52 AM
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So many of us are lurking here, not knowing enough to even pose a sensible question.

- it's a fascinating thread. Don't stop for perceived lack of interest. Go on. Go on.
Posted by Chris Shaw, Carisbrook 3464, Tuesday, 29 May 2007 9:54:28 AM
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