Photo by Flickr user BxHxTxCx.

Photo by Flickr user BxHxTxCx.


We will again be taking a short break over the Christmas and New Year period. But before we put the blog to bed for the year, we take a look back at some of the articles and podcasts that Indonesia at Melbourne posted in 2016.

Ahok dominates 2016, and the blog

Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama has dominated headlines in Indonesia over the past few months and appropriately he has been a prominent feature of commentary on Indonesia at Melbourne. In our most viewed piece for the year, Associate Professor Greg Fealy presented a meticulous analysis of the recent protests against Ahok, including some fascinating first-hand reportage from the 2 December rally. The most popular episode of the Talking Indonesia podcast for the year also focused on the Ahok case, with Dr Nadirsyah Hosen chatting with Dr Dave McRae about the long history of debates over race, religion and leadership in Indonesia.


Professor Tim Lindsey also looked at the blasphemy case against Ahok, suggesting that at a deeper level it was really about competition for power among political elites. In a prescient piece published a couple of weeks before the blasphemy allegations emerged, Dr Robertus Robet noted that Ahok’s political party opponents had shown that they were not against relying on the backing of Islamic social organisations that rejected Ahok for primordial reasons. Ihsan Ali-Fauzi, from the Centre for the Study of Religion and Democracy (Pusad) Paramadina, looked at the huge sums spent by police to keep the rallies safe, but said of far greater significance was the cost to Indonesian democracy.


Before police declared Ahok a suspect, Lies Marcoes wrote that the blasphemy allegations revealed the challenges involved with interpreting the Qur’an. Dr Melissa Crouch offered her insights into the use of the 1965 Blasphemy Law in democratic Indonesia, and said that if past cases were anything to go by, then Ahok was unlikely to receive a fair trial.


Indonesia at Melbourne also featured a range of commentary on the forced evictions of poor communities in Jakarta. Dr Ian Wilson examined how residents were organising in response to the “unprecedented scale” of evictions. Earlier in the year, we featured Imam Syafrudien’s beautiful yet bleak photos of the forced evictions in Kalijodo, North Jakarta. And in a post that was incredibly popular among Indonesian readers, psychology lecturer Dicky Pelupessy captured the growing discomfort with the evictions, suggesting that they failed to take into account human attachment to place and its importance for identity.

Moral panics

The first part of 2016 was marked by sustained panics about an apparently resurgent threat from communism and the challenge to national morality and culture posed by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Indonesians. Hendri Yulius looked at the controversy over the University of Indonesia research centre that triggered the months-long campaign of hate against LGBT Indonesians. As the controversy dragged on, Hendri also examined efforts by police to ban gay social networking applications. Predictably, the conservative Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) also got in on the act, and Hani Yulindrasari wrote about its efforts to enforce its narrow version of masculinity. In another of the most popular posts for the year, veteran gay rights activist Dede Oetomo provided some astute reflections on the origins and implications of the LGBT backlash. The LGBT panic led a small conservative Muslim group known as the Family Love Alliance (AILA) to challenge three articles in the Criminal Code dealing with same sex relations and sex outside marriage. PhD candidate Daniel Peterson wrote that considering the Court’s approach when it upheld the Blasphemy Law in 2010, the outlook for Indonesia’s LGBT community was grim.


For a while, it looked as though Indonesia was finally prepared to take steps to reckon with the violence of 1965-1966. Since last year, however, fears about a communist revival have been growing, and these peaked in early 2016, around the time of the historic national symposium on 1965. These fears saw the leftist “Belok Kiri” festival and film screenings broken up under pressure from hard-liners and military officials. One notable exception was the successful screening of “Buru Island, My Homeland” at Airlangga University in May, described by Dr Airlangga Pribadi Kusman in his lovely review of the film. Associate Professor Katharine McGregor and Dr Jemma Purdey offered their characteristically sharp insights into the activist-led International People’s Tribunal on 1965, and questioned whether this “historic moral intervention” would be able to spur action. Months after the IPT delivered its findings, hopes of any meaningful action on 1965 are now fading, following the transfer of Coordinating Minister of Politics, Law and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan.

Whither human rights?

Following President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s disappointing response to both crises, rights activists abandoned any expectations that the president would meet his election promise to end impunity for past abuses. Earlier in the year, Yati Andriyani and Nurkholis Hidayat had already expressed pessimism about the government’s intentions in its efforts to promote reconciliation. Nurkholis followed this up with a scathing piece about the rise of “penal populism” in Indonesia – a situation where officials promise to solve the nation’s troubles by punishing crime, rather than by pursuing social justice. A strong national human rights institution could be expected to maintain pressure in the face of these challenges. But Ken Setiawan reported on worrying signs for the credibility of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), which was rocked by allegations of corruption. Human rights were a strong focus in the Talking Indonesia podcast, with Ken chatting with Sandra Moniaga about indigenous people’s rights, Dr Ross Tapsell about media ownership and press freedom and Slamet Thohari about disability.


Religious freedom was also in the spotlight in 2016, following the persecution of former members of the Fajar Nusantara Movement (Gafatar) in West Kalimantan. Dr Al Makin penned an insightful piece arguing that Indonesia needs to get better at dealing with new religious movements, as they will only continue to emerge. Broadly related to the issue of religious freedom, Nadirsyah Hosen wrote about Nahdlatul Ulama’s efforts to promote “Islam of the Archipelago” and the tensions within NU about their understandings of the concept.

Politics and security

Indonesia at Melbourne also featured several posts analysing political developments. In one of the most read posts of the year, Emeritus Professor Richard Robison expressed scepticism about Indonesia becoming Asia’s next giant, mainly because its business and political elites have no need to project national power to maintain or expand their wealth. Professor Vedi Hadiz, meanwhile, suggested that the dominance of these elites would mean that Jokowi would struggle to deliver on the simultaneously populist and reformist rhetoric of his campaign.


Jokowi’s second cabinet reshuffle was big news in July. Burhanuddin Muhtadi argued that it was a pragmatic reshuffle largely aimed at securing new coalition partners while keeping existing parties happy. Matthew Busch said that while the reshuffle showed that Jokowi had become more politically savvy, it did not bode well for economic policymaking.


Two pieces examined the turbulence within the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS). Luqman Nul Hakim argued that Fahri Hamzah’s dismissal represented an effort to reorient the party in a more “ideological” direction, while Abdil Mughis Mudhoffir and Andi Rahman Alamsyah suggested his sacking was more about PKS trying to increase its bargaining power with respect to the ruling parties. Also on Islam and politics, Burhanuddin argued that Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia’s (HTI) courting of figures like Bogor Mayor Bima Arya Sugiarto was part of its broader strategy for influence in Indonesia.


In regional politics, Dr Avery Poole wrote a strong piece looking at the ASEAN Summit in Vientiane, Laos. Despite Jokowi’s calls for regional unity, Poole said, on security issues such as South China Sea disputes it was “simply unrealistic to expect the unity or centrality of ASEAN”. Following several confrontations between Indonesian and Chinese vessels, Dr Makmur Keliat argued on Talking Indonesia that Indonesia could not allow its relations with China to be defined by the South China Sea.


Terrorism remained in the headlines in Indonesia this year, starting with the January attack on Jakarta’s main Jalan Thamrin thoroughfare, which was covered in a special episode of Talking Indonesia with jihadism expert Solahudin. Also on the podcast, Nava Nuraniyah outlined changing patterns of online activity among pro-ISIS groups in Indonesia, and Dr Jacqui Baker explored the implications of former terror chief Tito Karnavian’s elevation to national police chief. Back on the blog, Adriany Badrah scrutinised security operations in Poso to capture Indonesia’s most wanted terrorist Santoso, who was subsequently killed in July.


Although it might have not attracted much attention in the mainstream media, Centre for Legal and Policy Studies (PSHK) researcher Bivitri Susanti issued a grave warning about the People’s Consultative Assembly’s (MPR) plans to amend the 1945 Constitution for a fifth time. Her colleague, Muhammad Tanziel Aziezi, also penned a great piece highlighting the serious lack of transparency and accountability in the selection process for Constitutional Court judges, in light of some of the conservative comments made by judges hearing the challenge to the Criminal Code. Hal Tilemann examined Indonesia’s efforts to reform its Criminal Code (KUHP), finding that some progress was being made after years of stagnation. In a piece that struck a nerve with Indonesian readers, Dr Dina Afrianty looked at the rise in legal divorces in Indonesia, and how the rights of women post-divorce are too often neglected.

Public health

Public health posts were again popular in 2016, and several of the public health issues examined also involved gender concerns. PhD candidate Belinda Raintung looked at how mainstream health promotion messages place pressure on Indonesian mothers to simultaneously excel at being mothers, wives, and employees or students. And Dina Afrianty responded to a United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) report that placed Indonesia third behind Egypt and Ethiopia in the global practice of female genital mutilation and cutting. Some people see this prominent expression of religious identity as a positive development, she said, as a means of creating a more united Islamic ummah, or community. But it is dangerous when creating an ummah takes the form of targeting women’s bodies. Dr Krisna Hort, meanwhile, examined recent research suggesting that doubling the price of cigarettes would increase tax revenues to a level that could cover the current deficit in the national health insurance scheme (JKN). Professor Hasbullah Thabrany, who authored the report, and Professor Laksono Trisnantoro outlined their contrasting visions for JKN in a rich episode of the podcast. And Dr Tim Brickell picked up a looming public health crisis – the often discussed but rarely examined issue of preventable road deaths.

Middle class readers, middle class interests

Finally, two of our most popular pieces of the year examined the phenomenon of the growing middle class in Indonesia. Dr Salut Muhidin’s piece on “the awful middle class” reflected a growing sense of unease about the social changes occurring with economic growth. Dr Manneke Budiman’s fun article on “Vicky-bulary”, meanwhile, looked at how ordinary Indonesians such as Vicky Prasetyo have adopted academic-sounding language to try to imitate the elite. Wealth disparities were also of broad interest on Talking Indonesia, with the March episode on inequality with Dr Matthew Wai-Poi the second most popular for the year.


Once again, thanks for your readership and for your support of Indonesia at Melbourne throughout 2016. We look forward to seeing you again in the New Year.


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