Indonesia sets an example

Indonesia will mount an impressive specta­cle of popular
choice, in which around 174m voters across 14,000 tropical islands will
choose a president and vice-president and 560 parliamentarians. The
chances are good that, as in the previous national elections in 2004,
polling will be mostly peaceful and that the overwhelming majority of
successful candidates will be committed to a pluralistic Indonesia with
freedom of both speech and religion. Once again, the world’s most
populous Muslim country will demonstrate that there is nothing
incompatible between practising Islam and being democratic.

This achievement will be all the more remarkable considering where
Indonesia was just ten years ago: in chaos. After three decades in
power, the authoritarian regime of President Suharto had collapsed amid
rioting and no one knew what might take its place. Could such a huge,
diverse and impoverished archipelago, with hundreds of ethnic groups,
possibly hold together, given the weakness and corruption of its
national institutions?

Since then the country has consistently surprised on the upside, even
if the pace of reform has been ploddingly slow. Indonesia’s shattered
finances have been repaired. It has developed a free press. The army’s
hands have been prized from the levers of power. And, above all,
Indonesia has become a democracy in which the voters can chuck out
their government. Freedom House, an American think-tank, now rates
Indonesia as the only completely free country in South-East
Asia–putting its richer neighbours, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand,
to shame.

Popular Wisdom

The elections allowed Indonesians, for the first time, to choose
their president directly. The man they selected, Susilo Bambang
Yudhoyono, a liberal ex-general, was deemed by international observers
to have been the wisest choice from those on offer. Though the
speculation about possible presidential candidates and governing
coalitions has already begun, the parties will wait and see how they do
in the legislative elections in April before entering into serious
talks about the presidential vote (whose first round will be in July
with a run-off, if needed, a few months later).

Even so, it is quite likely that the two main presidential contenders
will be the same as last time: Mr Yudhoyono and his immediate
predecessor, Megawati Sukarnoputri. Mr Yudhoyono’s popularity has been
dented by decisions to cut fuel and electricity subsidies, so as to
avert financial ruin and redirect state spending towards the poorest.
Miss Megawati has been on a meet-the-people comeback tour since early
2008 and has benefited from discontent over rising living costs. Yet
the election is Mr Yudhoyono’s to lose.

A few other candidates will run, probably including Wiranto, a former
army chief indicted by a UN-backed tribunal over the violence that
accompanied the break­away of the former East Timor in 1999. Mr Wiranto
will argue that an old-fashioned strongman is what the country needs
but it will be surprising if he does any better than the third place he
got in 2004. Golkar, the party that used to support Suharto, is now led
by Vice-President Jusuf Kalla but his opinion-poll ratings are probably
too weak for him to win the presidency. Thus Golkar may, as in the
second round in 2004, offer him for the vice-presidential slot on Mr
Yudhoyono’s ticket.

FM says Islamophobia in world declining

Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda said Islamophobia in the world had decreased but the Islamic community needs to continue its efforts to correct wrong perceptions about Islam.

The foreign minister made the remarks in an annual coordination meeting of countries grouped in the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) at the United Nations` headquarters here on Friday (Saturday in Indonesia).

“When we met here last year we were concerned over the negative image of Islam in various parts of the world. Now the frequency of incidents related to Islamophobia has declined,” the Indonesian foreign minister said.

He said the decline in Islamophobia was the result of better communications made by various parties in convincing the world that Islam is a peace-loving and compassionate religion.

In this regard , Indonesia itself, he said, had continued to make efforts to convince the world about the true teachings of Islam.

The efforts included the holding of the Third International Conference of Islamic Scholars in Jakarta in July, a Global Intermedia Dialog and an Interfaith Youth Camp.

“Efforts made by other Islamic countries have also begun to yield results,” Hassan said.

During the coordination meeting, which was held on the sidelines of the 63rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, the Indonesian foreign minister also referred to the world`s food crisis and what role the OIC could play to overcome it.

He said food availability was decreasing in line with the increasing world population growth while prices of basic necessaries such as rice and wheat had also increased two-fold.

“As most of us, OIC members, are agricultural countries, we can play a role by increasing our food production,” he said calling on OIC members to put emphasis on development of the agricultural sector.

“Let us empower our farmers,” he said.

Various events keep tourist number high

The peak season may be over, but the number of foreign tourists visiting Bali is projected to remain high this month due to several international events being held on the popular island.

In October, Bali will host the Nusa Dua Fiesta, Asian Beach Games 2008 and Kuta Karnival.

Head of the Bali chapter of the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association (PHRI), Perry Markus, said Monday that in October alone at least 6,500 foreign tourists were expected to come to Bali per day, a similar to the figure experienced during the July-September high season earlier this year.

While average tourism levels for October in Bali sit around the 4,500 per day mark, Perry, also a hotel owner in the famous Kuta beach area, says this year’s levels could be the highest in Bali’s history.

“October usually constitutes the low season for tourism in Bali, but this October Balinese tourism will get a kind of reward,” he said.

“These (events) will automatically increase the hotel occupancy rate in Bali as well.”

Yus Suhartana, a transportation business owner in Bali, has noticed an increased demand for vehicles in preparation for the high numbers of visitors.

“This month there have been many orders for tourism vehicles,” he said.

“There are a wide variety of vehicles for hire including minibuses, with a capacity of eight seats. Each of them has been ordered for hire.” Data from the Bali Tourism Office show the number of foreign tourist arrivals in Bali reached 1.29 million in the period between January and August this year, with visits registered in July and August both peaking at more than 200,000 per month.

Palambang Get ASEAN award

Palembang, the capital city of South Sumatra, will officially receive an ASEAN award for being the cleanest city in Indonesia, to be presented in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Wednesday.

One city in each ASEAN country, except Singapore, will receive a cleanest city award, in categories for clean water, land and air, Palembang mayor Eddy Santana said Tuesday.

“We are so happy to receive this award. This achievement is part of our success. Residents and officials have cooperated to realize Palembang’s potential as the nation’s cleanest city,” said Eddy, adding the success was also partly the work of previous municipal administrations.

Eddy said Palembang had once been considered the dirtiest city in Indonesia, especially at the 16 Ilir traditional market and around pack Ampera bridge.

That was until the city launched a campaign with the motto BARI (Clean, Safe, Neat and Beautiful) during the 1980s to encourage citizens to transform the dirtiest city into the cleanest, he said.

The government’s cleanest city award incentive program prompted all provinces in Indonesia to clean up their act.

Palembang managed to receive the Adipura award twice in a row (2006-2007) for its success in cleaning the city.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has also declared Palembang the cleanest city in Indonesia this year. “We hope that the award will encourage us to keep the city even cleaner,” said Eddy, adding that Palembang received the honor because of its success in developing clean land and providing clean water for more than 80 percent of its residents.

RI does not want to be trapped

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has said Indonesia did not want to be trapped in the dichotomy of climate change discussions between two interests in the world.

President Yudhoyono made the statement after listening to a report from Indonesian representatives about the preparation of the country`s participation in the 62nd UN General Assembly at UN Plaza`s Millennium Hotel in New York Sunday night.

The Indonesian head of state admitted that there were two opinions about the meaning of climate change. He said that the first opinion was that the climate change did not pose a threat, and the second one was that it was a real threat to the world.

Therefore, Yudhoyono added that Indonesia did not want to be trapped in the dichotomy.

“In fact we have been suffering from the result of climate changes,” Yudhoyono said, referring to droughts, floods, landslides, and tidal waves (tsunami) which had hit several parts of the country.

Consequently, the president said the Indonesian government has opted to something in its effort to save the earth from further destruction.

“Therefore, the issue of climate change is real,” Yudhoyono said, adding that the objective of his participation in the UN forum on climate change was to strengthen Indonesia`s position in gaining concrete benefit from global cooperation.

According to the president, Indonesia has the world`s second largest tropical rain forests after Brazil.

“In addition, we have a large amazon of the seas. On the other hand, Indonesia is considered a contributor of carbon dioxide because of the frequent forest fires in the country,” Yudhoyono said.

Democratization in un security council

Indonesia underlines the need for a democratization of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) by among others putting an end to the misuse of the veto right of its members.

“The practice of misusing the veto right by the permanent members of the UNSC that often paralyzed the council must no longer be allowed,” Indonesian foreign minister Hassan Wirajuda told the 63rd UN General Assembly (UNGA) meeting here on Saturday (local time).

Democratization is one of the aspects that Indonesia has paid its attention to in the meeting besides issues of food crisis and climate change.

Hassan said state sovereignty had to be protected if the world wants to see the spirit of democracy in international relations.

“This is important because without democracy a world organization like the UN will not be effective,” he said.

“The failure of the Security Council so far in dealing with various challenges to global security was the result of its being still undemocratic,” he said.

The minister said to make the Security Council more democratic, the exercise of a veto by the UN permanent members must be regulated.

So far only the permanent members have a vetoright, namely the US, the UK, France, Russia and China.

Parliamentary introduces fresher faces

Whereas the presidential race will feature some very familiar
per­sonalities, the parliamentary contests will also introduce fresher
faces. In recent elections for provincial governors, voters have
spurned established figures. This has convinced the main parties that
they will need an infusion of new blood to do well in the parliamentary
races: Miss Megawati’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P)
says up to 70% of its candidates will be newcomers.

At first sight the parliamentary elections look like a recipe for
confusion. There will be something like 12,000 candidates from 38
parties bat­tling for the 560 seats. This is a big increase on the
num­bers in 2004 but the next parliament will in fact be less
fragmented than the current one. This is mainly because a new rule
requires parties to get at least 2.5% of the na­tional vote to win any
seats. Of the 17 parties that won seats in 2004 only eight would have
met that test.

Furthermore, several mid-sized parties, such as the National Awakening
Party of Abdurrahman Wahid (president in 1999-2001), are riven by
splits. So the new parliament will be dominated by Golkar, the PDI-P
and Mr Yudhoyono’s Democrats–all of which are staunchly
secularist–plus the mildly Islamist Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).
The PKS, like the smaller Islamist parties, has found that moderating
its calls for SHARIA and embracing pluralism is the only way to win new
votes. It will be the cost of living that dominates the campaign, not

Riot-prone because of hunger

Democratization in the Security Council also means distributing membership evenly namely not to geographical representation only, he said. “In view of that the majority of world civilization also has to be represented. The number of Moslems in the world reaching 1.1 billion needs to be represented in the Security Council if the Council really wants to be democratic,” he said.

He said Indonesia also felt the importance of democratization at regional levels. “In the Association of Southeast Asian Naions (Asean) we have paid attention to it. We have changed Asean into a community committed to advancing democracy and human rights,” he said.

In this context, the minister said Indonesia in December 2008 would launch a Bali Democracy Forum which is open to countries in Asia and the Pacific for an exchange of experience in developing democracy.

On the food crisis the minister reminded that the problem was really serious. “I did not exaggerate it. According to the FAO the price of foods will continue to be high in the next three or five years,” he said.

He also said that rice supplies had fallen to the lowest level since mid-1970s, adding supply of flour had also dropped to its lowest point since 1948.

He said a dire need of food was seen in various parts of the world, as shown by several food-related riots in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and the Carribean.

Thirty-three countries with different socio-political backgrounds are riot-prone because of hunger and starvation in certain countries.

“We must in full spirit overcome global food supply vulnerability, otherwise there will be a food crisis that may threaten peace in the developing countries and pockets of poverty in the developed countries,” he said.

OIC praises Ri for democratic credentials

The United States recently not only praised Indonesia for adopting democracy but also expressed its willingness to make Indonesia its new partner in boosting relations with the Muslim world. Likewise, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) commended Indonesia for continuously showing the world how Islam and democracy can live in harmony.

On Monday, OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu met with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and conveyed the OIC’s “appreciation” to Indonesia for showing that democracy could emerge in the nation with the world’s largest Muslim population.

“The secretary-general of the OIC said Indonesia played a significant role in developing Islam and democracy simultaneously,” presidential spokesman Dino Patti Djalal told reporters after the meeting between the two leaders at Merdeka State Palace in Jakarta.

He added Ihsanoglu also appreciated Indonesia’s push for reforms within the OIC. The reform includes the adoption of democratic values to make it more relevant to the 21st century.

As part of the reforms, the OIC has begun working on building a bridge between the Muslim world and the West, such as by inviting representatives from Western countries, including the US, to its 11th Ordinary Conference in Dakar, Senegal. The conference discussed how to cope with negative images of Islam.
“One of the principles the OIC has adopted is that the Muslim world has to build a bridge with the Western world. The OIC has to be part of the bridge because there will be no peace without this bridge between the East and the West, the North and the South, and so on,” Dino said.