Photo by Andy Al Mesura on Unsplash.


Indonesia at Melbourne will again be taking a break over Christmas and New Year. In this final post of the year, we look back at the major stories covered on the blog and podcast in 2017. Thanks for your continued readership and support of Indonesia at Melbourne throughout the year. We look forward to seeing you again when we return on 16 January 2018.

All-consuming Ahok

The Jakarta gubernatorial election and the trial for blasphemy of former Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama continued to dominate the blog through much of 2017. Leading up to the first round of the election on 15 February, Nathanael Gratias Sumaktoyo published fascinating survey results that showed that voters were more likely to reject Ahok because of his Chinese heritage than because of his Christian religion. Dr Jemma Purdey also explored the intersections of race and religion in the election with Professor Ariel Heryanto in a popular Talking Indonesia podcast; in a later episode, Dr Charlotte Setijadi spoke with Dr Rita Padawangi about the forced eviction of urban kampung dwellers, another of the election campaign’s major themes.


Ahok lost the second round of the election on 19 April, in what Professor Tim Lindsey described as “a triumph for hard-line Islamist agitators”. Dr Dina Afrianty wrote that although there was little suggestion that incoming Governor Anies Baswedan would seek to implement an explicitly Islamic agenda, his win boosted the conservative groups that backed his candidacy, such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) and the Islamic Community Forum (FUI) and this could have significant consequences for Indonesian women. Looking back on the demonstrations against Ahok, Ahmad Syarif Syechbubakr examined why mainstream Muslim organisations Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah were seemingly sidelined by these smaller, hard-line groups.


One of the defining features of the Jakarta election campaign was the mobilisation of religious and ethnic sentiment for political ends. Postgraduate students Abdil Mughis Mudhoffir, Lukman-nul Hakim and Diatyka Widya Permata Yasih looked at the growing use of identity politics in Indonesian electoral democracy. When Baswedan was inaugurated on 16 October, he continued to deploy the divisive language of the campaign, stating that it was time for pribumi (‘native or indigenous Indonesians’) to be masters in their own land. Professor Denny Indrayana provided a useful explainer on the history and meaning of the term. In this environment of anti-China fear-mongering, Charles A Coppel also offered a timely and detailed reading of census data on Chinese Indonesians.


Just weeks after Ahok lost the election, on 9 May, the North Jakarta District Court sentenced the former governor to two years in prison. Simon Butt presented a meticulous legal analysis of the decision. Professor Tim Lindsey, meanwhile, offered his views on the broader implications of the decision for Indonesian pluralism, suggesting many minorities would now feel that they had no place in mainstream politics. Blasphemy scholar Dr Stewart Fenwick took a close look at the Blasphemy Law, and said that the outcome of the trial demonstrated how the law and the courts could be exploited for political and religious purposes.


The highly charged Jakarta election had significant spill-over effects, giving rise to an almost absurd cycle of reporting and counter-reporting and an overreliance on criminal law to target opponents. In an insightful post that was also one of the most popular of the year, Sana Jaffrey and Siswo Mulyartono examined the Islamic Defenders Front’s (FPI) vigilante campaign against social media users. While FPI was the main instigator of these campaigns, FPI leader Rizieq Shihab was himself targeted with flimsy criminal charges. Dr Helen Pausacker wrote that although many Indonesians would like to see him behind bars, there was little basis for charging him under the Pornography Law.

‘Freedom to hate’: the rise of hoaxes and misinformation

Social media and the internet played a large role in the divisive Jakarta election. Early in the year, Dr Charlotte Setijadi discussed the rise of hoaxes and misinformation with media activist and researcher Ignatius Haryanto in the second most-listened podcast of 2017. This issue was also taken up by Dr Jemma Purdey and media scholar Dr Merlyna Lim, who explored the extent to which social media was to blame for the racism and sectarianism that was a feature of the election campaign. In another popular post, Muninggar Sri Saraswati profiled controversial social media star Jonru and provided an excellent backgrounder on the rise of so-called political ‘buzzers’. Dr Airlangga Pribadi Kusman also looked at the damage partisan “fake news” was doing to Indonesian democracy. Amid this pessimism, Dr Ross Tapsell offered a remedy, suggesting that Indonesia wanted to combat fake news and disinformation online it had better fix its public broadcasters.

Civil society under attack

It was a tough environment for Indonesian civil society in 2017. In response to the rise of Islamist hard-liners in the anti-Ahok protests, the government passed an emergency regulation to amend the 2013 Law on Mass Organisations, allowing it to ban civil society organisations like Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) without having to go through the courts. Leading up to the passage of the regulation, legal scholar Eryanto Nugroho warned that this was a dangerous path. In one of the most popular talking Indonesia episodes of 2017, leading jihadism expert Sidney Jones warned that a ban would simply drive the organisation underground, rather than eradicate it, and may even persuade some of its members to turn to abandon the group’s non-violent strategies. Similarly, Professor Tim Lindsey wrote that the emergency regulation could just as easily be used against pro-democracy civil society organisations, and it may end up creating as many problems as it solves.


Late 2017 saw an unprecedented attack on an icon of Indonesian civil society, the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI), when it planned to hold an academic discussion on the 1965 violence. Never before had authorities broken up a discussion at LBH, even under Soeharto. Former LBH Jakarta director Nurkholis Hidayat wrote a sharp piece about the attack, just hours after he was trapped inside the LBH office by Islamist and nationalist protestors. Civil society described the incident as a “democratic emergency” and some asked whether Indonesia was sliding towards a “Neo-New Order”. Human rights lawyer and former YLBHI director Professor Todung Mulya Lubis offered a slightly more sanguine assessment, writing that although Indonesian democracy was fragile, there were good reasons to be optimistic that the country would not return to authoritarian rule.

Islamic leaders and the ‘conservative turn’

Some of the most popular posts in 2017 examined developments and dynamics within Indonesian Islam. In the top post for the year, Ahmad Syarif Syechbubakr looked at the origins and influence of so-called ‘Habib’ in Jakarta politics. Meanwhile, Dr Inaya Rakhmani looked at how neoliberal economic policies and consumerism have contributed to the “conservative turn” in Indonesian Islam. In July, Nava Nuraniyah looked at the government’s sudden blocking of messaging app Telegram because of its popularity among pro-Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) groups. Removing access to Telegram might be effective in pressuring the tech company to comply with government regulations, she wrote, but as a measure to counter extremist propaganda and recruitment efforts online it was ill-informed and unlikely to effective. On Talking Indonesia, Dr Diego Fossati examined correlations between support for political Islam and other political attitudes. Stewart Fenwick also examined how changes to the halal certification regime could have significant implications for the Indonesian Council of Ulama’s (MUI) influence over the legislative process.

Human rights

Human rights again featured prominently on the blog. In one of the most read posts of the year, genocide researcher Dr Jess Melvin provided comprehensive and disturbing analysis of newly declassified files detailing the US role in the 1965 violence. Historical human rights abuses also featured in Elly Kent’s beautiful review of the film “Solo, Solitude” (Istirahatlah Kata-Kata). Jemma Purdey spoke to the film’s director, Yosep Anggi Noen, about the opportunities that film can provide for exploring obscured histories.


In another widely read and insightful post, Dave McRae picked up on a worrying upswing in extrajudicial killings of narcotics suspects, influenced by President Joko Widodo’s hard-line rhetoric about the “drug emergency”. A concerning feature of this development, McRae noted, was the almost complete lack of critical reportage of the killings in Indonesian media. The so-called war on drugs was also explored by Dr Dirk Tomsa in conversation with death penalty lawyer Ricky Gunawan. Earlier in the year, Ricky and his colleague, Raynov Tumorang Pamintori, wrote about an increase in new death sentences in 2016, but noted a number of political and legal developments suggested a moratorium was still possible. The death penalty was also a key feature of the criticism faced by the government when its rights record was reviewed under the United Nation’s Universal Periodic Review mechanism, as Dr Ken Setiawan explained.


The blog also covered the rights of Indonesian migrant workers. Migrant Care Director Wahyu Susilo explained why the moratorium on sending workers to the Middle East was not working. Many workers have chosen to defy the ban, and have left for the Middle East with little to no legal protection. Dr Wayne Palmer also spoke about these issues on Talking Indonesia. 

Self-determination and violence: the perennial problems in Papua

Dr Richard Chauvel offered his characteristically thorough and considered insights on recent developments in Papua in two strong and widely read posts, and an interview on the Talking Indonesia podcast. In October, Chauvel looked at how Jakarta is manoeuvring to get the leadership ticket it wants in the 2018 gubernatorial election. Several weeks later, Chauvel examined the surprise petition signed by 1.8 million Papuans calling on the United Nations to hold another vote on Papuan independence, placing it in the context of increasing attention to the Papuan issue at the UN. Indonesian diplomats have made headlines at home over recent years for their impassioned defence of Indonesian sovereignty at the UN. The credibility of these presentations, Chauvel wrote, is undermined by continuing reports of human rights abuses by the security forces, such those described by Hipolitus Yolisandry Ringgi Wangge.

Constitutional Court continues to surprise

Some of the most read posts of the year broke down and sought to explain crucial decisions made by the Constitutional Court. Simon Butt issued a grave warning about two decisions made by the Court that revoked the power of the home affairs minister and provincial governors to revoke problematic local regulations. On 14 December, in a five-to-four decision by the nine-judge panel, the Court rejected a petition by a conservative group called the Family Love Alliance (AILA) that aimed to criminalise same sex sexual relations and sex outside marriage. Earlier this week, Rafiqa Qurrata A’yun examined the legal reasons why the Court was right to reject the petition. In a prescient post several months earlier, Muhammad Tanziel Aziezi noted that hopes were high for Saldi Isra to restore faith in the Court when he replaced the disgraced former justice Patrialis Akbar. There are suggestions that the vote could have gone the other way if Patrialis was still on the bench. Meanwhile, Dr Herlambang Wiratraman looked at the dysfunctional Industrial Relations Court, suggesting that bringing the state back into the dispute resolution process might improve conditions for workers, despite its poor record under the New Order.

Foreign policy and the bilateral relationship 

The Australia-Indonesia relationship started 2017 on shaky ground, with Commander of the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) General Gatot Nurmantyo announcing the suspension of defence cooperation with Indonesia. Tim Lindsey tried to get to the bottom of the incident and suggested it may be the sign of things to come for the bilateral relationship. Lindsey looked at the bilateral relationship again last month, following the release of Austraila’s Foreign Policy White Paper. Despite the often-stated importance of Indonesia to Australia, Lindsey noted that the white paper had relatively little to say about Indonesia. The problem for Australia, he warned, was that Indonesia probably doesn’t care. Earlier in the year, on the eve of President Joko Widodo’s visit to Australia, Dave McRae offered a slightly more optimistic view, stating that despite the at times superficial nature of the relationship, both countries share a belief that constructive ties must persist.


US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israeli’s capital has provoked some of the largest demonstrations against the US in Indonesia for more than a decade, and calls for a boycott of US products. When Trump first came to power, opposition to the new president was relatively muted in Indonesia, despite his anti-Muslim rhetoric. Andrew Mantong explored the possible reasons why. But earlier in the year, in the Talking Indonesia podcast, former Deputy Foreign Minister Dr Dino Patti Djalal had cautioned that the Palestinian issue was one where adverse changes in US policy could grab Indonesian public attention. Also on the podcast, Dr Arief Havas Oegroseno, a senior Indonesian diplomat and maritime law expert, outlined the road ahead for Indonesia as it seeks to transform itself into a maritime power.


Under President Jokowi, Indonesia has appeared relatively apathetic about its traditional leadership role in ASEAN. In an incisive piece, Randy Nandyatama said that this was largely a result of Jokowi’s short-term and pragmatic approach to policy making. He argued that Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials have an important role to play in explaining ASEAN’s relevance and its connection to Jokowi’s political agenda. Randy also looked at the Rohingya crisis with civil society activist Diah Tricesaria, stating that diplomatic engagement with Myanmar must be matched by capability in the management of refugees at the domestic and regional levels.


The massive Rp 2.3 trillion (AU$218 million) electronic identity card (e-KTP) graft scandal was one of the biggest stories of 2017. Reflecting on the affair, Kanti Pertiwi wrote that too often discussions of corruption focus on the individuals or sums of money involved and do not pay sufficient attention to the social, political and cultural conditions that have allowed it to occur. The Corruption Eradication Commission’s (KPK) investigation of the case saw the agency and its staff come under attack. Most prominent was the horrific acid attack on investigator Novel Baswedan, detailed on the blog by Denny Indrayana. The national legislature also retaliated against the investigation, using its special powers to launch an investigation into the KPK. Rifqi Assegaf provided a thorough explainer on the inquiry and its possible consequences for the embattled anti-graft body. Finally, Rezza Velayati Deviansyah wrote that despite the weak transparency and accountability of lawmakers, plans to increase state subsidies for political parties by a factor of 10 could help to reduce the incidence of corruption scandals like the e-KTP case.

Gender and sexuality

The rights of women and sexual minorities faced numerous setbacks in 2017. A number of these issues were explored in two fascinating conversations on the Talking Indonesia podcast, with tireless author and academic Intan Paramaditha, and Devi Asmarani from online magazine Magdalene. To mark the release of Hanung Bramantyo’s Kartini, Dr Joost Coté, a researcher and adviser on the film, reflected on the feminist icon, who he described as having been mythologised, misused and misread. Other than her 150 letters, Coté wrote, there is actually little factual historical information about Kartini.


Back in October, two online applications, AyoPoligami and Nikahsirri, made waves across Indonesia for promoting polygamy. Hendri Yulius wrote that the rise of the applications was a consequence of the shame and fear that exists around sex in Indonesia, as well as competing religious and secular definitions of marriage. Earlier this week, Hendri also reflected on the somewhat surprising decision of the Constitutional Court to reject a petition that would have criminalised same sex sexual relations. Hendri said the decision was a reminder that the state was far from uniform in its response to the demands of sexual and gender minorities for citizenship rights.


The blog said goodbye to three important Indonesian figures in 2017. Associate Professor Greg Fealy reflected on the life of former Nahdlatul Ulama leader Hasyim Muzadi – a steady, competent and somewhat conservative figure. Ihsan Ali-Fauzi wrote a lovely tribute to his friend and mentor, liberal Islamic scholar Djohan Effendi. Finally, Andreas Harsono wrote about Ahmad Taufik, a courageous journalist and founder of the Association of Independent Journalists (AJI), who was sent to prison by the Soeharto regime for his defence of media freedom.


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