It’s time again for Indonesia at Melbourne to take a short break over the Christmas and New Year period. But before we go, we wanted to reflect on some of our favourite and most popular blog posts and podcasts from 2018. Thanks for your engaged readership and support – the blog’s readership continues to grow steadily and this year has been our biggest ever. We look forward to seeing you again when we return in mid-January.
In our most popular blog post for 2018, Dr Jess Melvin discussed some of the findings outlined in her ground-breaking new book, “The Army and the Indonesian Genocide: Mechanics of Mass Murder”. She explained how rather than reluctantly stepping in to save the nation from a coup, Soeharto and the military used existing military chains of command to actively seize power.
Complaints about transactional politics are widespread in Indonesia. But there is little data on how common it is across the country. Dr Ward Berenschot presented research examining perceptions of clientelism across Indonesia, finding that clientelism was more common in regions that depended heavily on state budgets or natural resource extraction. This post was part of our Policy in Focus series, in collaboration with the Knowledge Sector Initiative.
Indonesia at Melbourne marked 20 years since the fall of Soeharto in May with a range of reflective and analytical pieces spanning politics, law, the arts, religion, gender and more. One of our picks was Professor Howard Dick and Jeremy Mulholland’s examination of what has happened to Soeharto’s cronies and, more broadly, the relationship between power and capital, over the past 20 years.
In another of our “20 Years After Soeharto” pieces, Dr Helen Pausacker took a look at what Soeharto’s children have been up to since their father stepped down. The children might have seen their influence decline, she wrote, but continue to live prosperous lives, and have in fact acquired further wealth.
With the 2019 Presidential Election fast approaching, both pairs of candidates seem to have discovered the power of Indonesian women, invoking the term emak-emak (mama, or mum) in campaign activities or when talking to the media. But as Dr Dina Afrianty wrote in October, the term emak was traditionally understood by many Indonesian women to imply mobility, resilience, independence, as well as stubbornness. When politicians speak of emak-emak “it no longer sounds empowering – it sounds patronising”.
One of the major disappointments of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s term in power has been his neglect of human rights issues. In late May, Jokowi met directly with participants in Indonesia’s longest running human rights protest, Kamisan (“Thursdays”), the first time an Indonesian president had ever met the protestors. Dr Ken Setiawan was not impressed. The meeting, she wrote, was nothing but “a deeply cynical attempt” to give the impression of interest in the human rights agenda ahead of the 2019 elections.
How did a visit to Israel by a senior Islamic figure lead to members of Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), accusing the nation’s second largest Islamic party, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), of behaving like communists who are out to destroy Indonesia? In another of our most popular posts for the year, Associate Professor Greg Fealy presented a fascinating account of the growing animosity between two these major Islamic communities, writing that in the run-up to the 2019 elections, this ramping up of polarising, vituperative campaigning augurs badly for the civility of Indonesian democracy.
Back in March, the Indonesian National Police announced they had arrested 14 members of the so-called Muslim Cyber Army (MCA) network for defamation, spreading hoaxes and hate speech. Damar Juniarto, regional coordinator of the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet), presented the results of more than a year of in-depth research conducted by his organisation into the shadowy network.
In one of the most bizarre political events of 2018, Ratna Sarumpaet, a vocal critic of President Jokowi, claimed she had been attacked by unknown men on the way home from a conference. Her political supporters attempted to link the attack to the government but it later emerged that her “injuries” were the result of cosmetic surgery. PhD student Hellena Souisa reflected on how serious the problem of hoaxes has become for Indonesian politics.
In November, Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) head Grace Natalie was accused of blasphemy for remarks she made on shari’a-inspired local regulations. In one of the most popular posts this year, Daniel Peterson looked at the weak case against her and questioned whether there is now no room for non-Muslims to comment on religion in the public sphere.
In July, the General Elections Commission (KPU) sent shockwaves across the political establishment when it passed a regulation to prevent corruption convicts from participating in future elections. Melbourne PhD candidate Bahruddin suggested supplementing this regulatory approach with a strategy to shame corrupt candidates and parties on the ballot paper.
Indonesia received widespread praise for its successful organisation of the 2018 Asian Games and Asian Para Games. But Dr Slamet Thohari wrote that the Asian Para Games also highlighted outdated attitudes about people with disability. “People with disability are not superhuman or sources of inspiration,” he wrote, “they are just people and part of Indonesia’s diverse society”.
A week after the Palu earthquake and tsunami in late September we spoke to the director of peace building organisation Celebes Institute, Adriany Badrah, who had some harsh words about the initial local government response.
Recently a series of regional leaders have offered their visions of the Indo-Pacific. Natalie Sambhi argued that the complex security challenges of this vast region are best tackled bit-by-bit. She put forward a case for what she terms the “Indo-Australis” – a strategic concept involving closer trilateral cooperation between Australia, India and Indonesia.
Although legislators now appear to be caught up in preparations for the 2019 elections, earlier this year it looked very likely that the House of Representatives was about to pass a dangerously flawed revised Criminal Code (KUHP). In March, Dr Dave McRae had an illuminating discussion with Anugerah Rizki Akbari, a criminal law expert and lecturer at the Indonesia Jentera School of Law, about the most regressive aspects of the proposed revised code, and why passing the revised code has taken so long.
The 2018 regional elections brought victories for several candidates who have made a name for themselves as innovative and reform-oriented. But can this new breed of local leaders really change entrenched patterns of politics in Indonesia? How do they navigate established patronage channels? And how do they see their place within the broader political environment in Indonesia today? Dr Dirk Tomsa sat down with Dr Bima Arya Sugiarto, the recently re-elected mayor of Bogor, about the challenges he has faced in tackling a sluggish and reform-resistant bureaucracy.
Regulation of pornography was back in the headlines in late 2017 and early 2018 when police began investigating Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) head Rizieq Shihab over a leaked WhatsApp chat he had with one of his followers, Firza Hussein. In the most popular podcast episode this year, Dr Dave McRae spoke to Dr Helen Pausacker about Indonesia’s anti-pornography laws, morality and Islam.
Bandung-based Pemuda Hijrah is followed by millions of young Indonesian Muslims on social media. It presents a cool, hip image that combines youthful energy with revivalist Islamic teachings. Dr Quinton Temby spent most of the past year in Bandung researching Pemuda Hijrah. He spoke to Dr Charlotte Setijadi about what the youth-focused revivalist movement and other groups like it can tell us about the type of Islam that appeals to young Indonesian Muslims.
When Dr Sharyn Graham Davies released her co-edited book with Dr Linda Bennet on “Sex and Sexualities in Contemporary Indonesia”, she was optimistic about the prospects for sexual and gender minorities. But that was before the nation-wide moral panic about lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Indonesians that began in early 2016. Dr Davies spoke to Dr Jemma Purdey about what the strengthening of conservative voices means for sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and speculated about the role this debate is likely to play in next year’s elections.