Where/who should the anger over Ahok’s conviction be directed at?

Many Indonesians and friends of Indonesia are understandably angry at the sentencing of Ahok to two years jail for blasphemy.

But to where or whom should this anger be directed at?

Getting the measure of the man. Is he who we think he should be?

At Bu Yani whose mistranslation started the whole blasphemy charges? He was only an inconsequential pawn in the game.

At the Islamic radicals who have bayed for Ahok’s blood? They were only being themselves, just as it is in the nature of a scorpion to sting.

At the prosecutors who indicted Ahok when there should be no grounds to do so? They were minnows who caved under pressure.

At the judge who delivered the verdict? Again a minnow who could not stand up to the enormous forces at play.

At the Police who cannot seemingly enforce the law and arrest protesters even for small crimes? They take their cue from higher powers.

At the mysterious forces arrayed against Jokowi? They are formidable but not invulnerable, certainly not if they faced the wrath of a president.

At the Military that is purported conspiring with the mysterious forces? They are pledged to remain loyal to the Commander-in-Chief, aka The president.

Yep, no matter how you look at it, all signs point to The President if you ask what and to whom should the anger be directed at.

Now about the President: Jokowi has been enjoying a honeymoon all this while, especially among the self-perceived progressive Indonesians, precisely the type of people who have been supporting Ahok. Jokowi enjoys their support, or failing that, their looking the other way when he fails to live up to his obligations as a president. And why not? After all he’s one of the very few honest men in government, he’s humble and likable.

This disarms the progressives and blinds them to the inadequacies of the man who, frankly, has been disastrous as a president where the upholding of liberties, human rights and the law is concerned. Jokowi is the only man in a position to set the tenor of law enforcement, yet he does nothing, so the Police do not know how much to exercise their power.

The result: wishy washy handling of protesters and FPI typed who flagrantly break the law and do not go punished. This builds in them a sense of impunity.Out of small crimes they graduate to bigger ones because they know they can get away with it. This emboldens them.

And even when the Police act, as in those treason cases, they take forever to process the cases. Justice delayed, as they say, is justice denied. Again it reinforces the sense of impunity.

This has allowed the hardline Muslims to take ever bolder steps to press for what they want, to flout the law and eventually to start dictating to the government.

It is time that the progressive Indonesians wake up to the fact that their skinny President has no clothes and rightly direct their anger and pressure at him. On his scrawny shoulders lies the fate of Indonesia. No one else has the power and the influence that he can yield. The least he can do is to set the tone and manner of how the law should be enforced in such a way that all and sundry understand that enough is enough. It is time to toe the line or face the consequences.

if he can do this he can still bring Indonesia from the precipice that it is slouching toward. If he can’t then we’ll be watching Indonesia descend into chaos, bigotry, intolerance, violence and a tyranny of the boorish.

 

 

 

 

 

Where is Jokowi in our hour of need?

Today most Indonesians who pride themselves as progressive would have felt let down by the news that Ahok has been sentenced to 2 years jail for blasphemy. They view Ahok as innocent and a victim of bigots, Muslim hardliners and vested interests in politics.

On the other side are those who feel a sense of justice because they feel that Ahok had been contemptuous of them. Them loosely defined as those mostly Muslims that see his speech at 1,000 Islands as blasphemous or at least insulting, and those who feel that Ahok had gone too far in his outbursts against those who disagree with him.

The important question to ask is firstly whether Ahok’s punishment fit the crime? Ahok has certainly been brash and maybe even abuse in his outbursts against those who are sometimes clueless of how government should work and try to appeal to him directly, he has also been contemptuous, this time perhaps rights, against those who want to take advantage of the system, be they  politicians or civil servants.

So if anything Ahok can be said to be guilty of being insensitive, callous and sarcastic, “crimes” that may earn him a reprimand but certainly not two years in jail.

But jail he must go, says the judge, and while Ahok’s lawyers are sure to appeal the decision, the question to raise now is what does his conviction portend.

Today’s decision is sure to embolden further to an already emboldened religious Muslim Right who will now not stop until they become the political ruling class. And why not. They smell blood in the air. Against legal norms they have managed to wrap the blasphemy charge against Ahok, seemingly against the implicit wishes of the President himself and the more liberal and dominant Muslim sector represented by the NU. They can virtually see the light at the end of the tunnel with Ahok’s conviction.

Today was also a good day for Prabowo who has his eyes on the next round of the presidential elections in 2019. At the present there is only Jokowi who is the only viable opponent for 2019. With Jokowi dithering and meditating on his own non-action in a very Javanese way, Prabowo is starting to look even better as presidential prospect in two years, what more with him cozying up to the leaders of the Islamic hard liners. Whether he can, like Lee Kuan Yew who rode the communists like a tiger to power and afterward subdued them, ride the Islamists to power and then subdue them remains to be seen.

The only thing that can forestall all of this coming to pass is Jokowi himself who apparently is locked in inaction because he does not want to be accused of being authoritarian and brutal as Suharto and who feels that he does not have enough control of the political parties and factions and the military to crack down on the Islamic hardliners.

Hence legal violations like inciting racial hatred, acts of vandalism during demonstrations and the FPI taking the law into their own hands goes unpunished, adding to the sense of impunity these thugs already feel.

Jokowi takes no hard decisions and instead he seems to be looking elsewhere but the right place for a solution. While Ahok’s verdict was being read, for instance, the President’s advisory council was meeting influential people to discuss how best to “socialize” Pancasila. Another meeting is being held tomorrow with another group of social leaders on the same subject.

This is all nonsense. The Pancasila may espouse the best values that a nation could want but unless the government is ready and willing to show that it is ready to stand up and defend these values, no amount of spin and socialization would have real lasting effect.

In this dark hour, the people of Indonesia want a decisive leader, a firm leader and a resolute one to lead them out of the present path leading to division, sectarianism and confusion. It is time that Jokowi discard that Javanese facade and act as a national leader, lest Prabowo be tempted to shoo him away like ants trying to get at his cakes.

Jokowi, do not forsake your people. They need you to be strong for them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mystery behind the Cisewu Tyger

OK, so everyone had a chuckle and some fun over the Cisewu Tiger. And rightly so because it looks like the sculptor was smoking something illegal that the police confiscated when fashioning his magnum opus. But as usual, people miss asking the right questions when it comes to such stories.

The questions:

  1. Who was the sculptor and what’s his claim to fame if not being the relative of some high ranking military man?
  2. Who in the military commissioned the sculptor?
  3. How is it that presumably sensible military commanders could approve this comical sight and pay the sculptor?

In short (with apologies to William Blake):

What immoral hand or eye,
Could frame thy laughable symmetry?

Comical tiger statue at military base torn down but netizen frenzy remains

Amusement is one thing you might rarely find in a military base.

But this was not the case at the Subdistrict Military Command (Koramil) 1123 in Cisewu, West Java, when a smiling tiger statue at the base generated laughter and glee around the country.

On Monday, however, the odd-looking statue located at the base’s main entrance was taken down into pieces. The tiger is the symbol of the Siliwangi Military Command, which oversees the entire West Java province. For a few days prior to Monday, netizens shared the hashtag #MacanCisewu (Cisewu Tiger), with the picture of the statue going viral.

With its wide smile, the tiger would surely put a smile on the face of any visitor to the base. Social media users had every reason to post hilarious comments on the statue, but high-ranking military officers felt irritated by the online fuss.

The cheeky netizens were deemed bullies by the military and alas, the military eventually decided to dismantle the tiger.

Source: Comical tiger statue at military base torn down but netizen frenzy remains – Entertainment – The Jakarta Post

Is Trump the best thing to happen to America, and the World?

This idea, like Trump himself, seems preposterous.

Here is a man who violates all form of political correctness, a racist, a misogynist, a racist, a pussy grabber….and the lost of deplorables goes on. As a result most people around the world, let alone Americans, woke up with the shit!-was-I-so-wasted-I-went-to-bed-with-THAT! expression the morning after the November 8 elections.

We blink, and hope that it was only a bad dream after all. But no such luck. Trump is now the President elect. We got screwed by Hideous and that’s a fact of life.

liberty

No point whining about it now, or be outraged by the electoral system or the type of people who voted him in.

There is a good reason why Trump won, and the sooner we all come to grips with it, the sooner we, the rest of the world (excluding the Brexit Brits, they too had already been screwed) would be able to avoid a similar fate.

Among everything Unspun has heard and read about this election and Brexit, I’ve found two articles to be particularly enlightening.

The first is an article by former Wall Street Journal reporter and co-founder of Muslim Reform Movement Asra Q. Nomani. She’s a Muslim, a woman, an immigrant and she voted Trump. Until now, she had been one of Trump’s silent supporters, because to declare her preference would have exposed her to all sorts of bullying by the more liberal members of America’s population.

Today she wrote an article for the Washington Post here. You could disagree with a lot of the things she said but what fascinated me is that for her and people like her, the possibility of Trump being an agent for change in the US’s policy on bread-and-butter issues and on the Islamic State was so important it overwhelms all this weaknesses. She also sees Clinton as a member of the establishment that will not change anything substantially.

Read Asra’s article together with George Monbiot‘s article Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems and an interesting picture develops. It is a long but thoughtful piece on how neoliberal we all – our governments, our businesses, our educated classes – have become without even realizing it.

So pervasive has neoliberalism become that we seldom even recognise it as an ideology. We appear to accept the proposition that this utopian, millenarian faith describes a neutral force; a kind of biological law, like Darwin’s theory of evolution. But the philosophy arose as a conscious attempt to reshape human life and shift the locus of power.

The bottom line of the article is that neoliberalism (no not the pejorative term in use today but the actual economic concept) has taken over most part of the world. As a result we have become a world in which the strongest (read: the cleverest, most educated and networked) thrive while the rest are not only left to languish but scolded for being unable to climb out of their gutter.

In this world, social and welfare safety nets have been dismantled, and – to simplify matters – the poor get poorer while the privileged jet around, attend Ted talks, do yoga, fashion themselves as entrepreneurs with their startups, networking sessions and get richer.

In any society you can’t have the relatively few eating richer cakes while the poor become more disenfranchised, find themselves deeper in depth and get angrier because even if they are willing to work hard and long there is simply no way out for them.

It is this anger that has propelled the need for change at any cost, and Trump and Brexit are the results.

The pertinent questions we should ask ourselves is what can we do to meet the challenges wrought on us by Neoliberalism. Trump/Brexit is a bit like Communism facing Capitalism. There was once a time when Capitalists looked on Communism as a threat as frightening as the Mongol Hordes. There was once a time when it seemed as if Communism would swallow up Capitalism.

Staring into that abyss, Capitalism changed from the raw Dickensian form of ruthless exploitation to a gentler and more caring form, and that eventually defeated Communism.

Today history may have come around to pitting the forces that ensued the success of Trump/Brexit against Neoliberalism. Can we change so that we embrace a liberalism that is more inclusive of all the segments in our society, so that the rich may have an opportunity to become richer, but only if they also help take care of the welfare and empower the less fortunate of sectors of society to become more prosperous as well. Call it Creating Shared Value if you would.

In a rising tide all ships rise, in an ebbing tide all ships fall.

If we are able to take Trump’s victory as a wake up call for us to address the deficiencies of neoliberalism we may yet catch that tide. In this sense, Trump may be the best thing to happen to us all, lest we descend uncomprehendingly in a falling tide.

So who’s behind #NoWitchHuntKarHut?

Update August 28: One of the buzzers involved in the campaign has admitted to being asked to Tweet, the client remains a mystery, and he has apologised for taking on the assignment here.  Unspun thinks it takes a big man to admit that they were wrong and to ask for forgiveness. Perhaps the Netizens should cut him some slack from now on.

Since my post some netizens have named the alleged digital agency and one of them have come up with a shitlist of all the buzzers involved. The company or alliance financing the campaign remains a mystery (at least to Unspun).

The original post:

The hashtag #NoWitchHuntKarHut (KarHut stands for Kebakaran Hutan or Forest Fire) began life on Twitter ostensibly on August 20, three days ago, by a buzzer. It sat there innocuously until this morning, when it seemingly caused a civil war among the Twitterati of Indonesia.

What was it about and why did it cause such a furore?

burning-13As far as can be pieced together the hashtag was a campaign initiated by a digital agency based in Jakarta. It gathered and paid some buzzers to use the hastag and get through the message that large corporations have been unfairly singled out when apportioning blame for forest fires. The unfairness resulted from the fact that smaller corporations were just as guilty for starting forest fires.

All sorts of buzzers were recruited, even those who normally would be more comfortable with lifestyle and consumer consumption than environment and public affairs. They were apparently told by the digital agency that the campaign was also an Indonesian reaction against Singapore that has been trying to assert pressure on Indonesia. Naively some of the buzzers swallowed that story, hook, line and sinker.

So when the buzzers got to work, a civil war, not unlike that in  Marvel comic that many of them are fond of,  broke out between them and the other buzzers who smelt something fishy about their fellow-buzzers suddenly taking up the cause of Big Palm Oil. Not being wall flowers, they spoke, or rather tweeted their minds, and soon there seemed to be a groundswell of sentiment against their fellow buzzers that had apparently sold out to land grubbing, environment-destroying, cynical large corporations.

The war  got so bad that one prominent buzzer was reported to have closed his account because of all the criticisms he was receiving.

Being curious about such things and having a suspicious mind Unspun thought that the usual large corporation suspects were behind the move so he checked with friends he had in their woodwork. They told him that they were flummoxed as anyone as to who was behind the campaign as they weren’t. These are friends, not the organisations, talking so Unspun tended to give them the benefit of the doubt.

So if it is not the usual suspects who could it be? Who was sophisticated enough to engineer a campaign ostensibly on behalf of the large corporations but in reality aimed to discredit them? And who else would have the kind of money to pay the digital agency to run the campaign and pay the buzzers? And why that peculiar hashtag #NoWitchHuntKarHut? It is a clumsily long hashtag. The use of the “no withch hunt” idiom suggests a Western mind or one brought up on western education (or an agency whose strategy is led by a Westerner).

One source, who corroborated on the identity of the agency, said he heard that an alliance of companies (that was not part of the usual suspects) was behind the funding of the campaign. But there was no more information. This deepens the mystery. Are there other players out there out there trying to discredit the established Big Boys? Who would gain from such a move, if true? Are we about to see a round of musical chairs in the Palm Oil industry? What is going on?

Go Jek, Uber, Grab and other ride-hailing services is a KPPU issue

The demonstration by taxi and the public transport rivers yesterday received much criticism from the Netcitizenship, who naturally gravitate to things Webby, disruptive and saves them money.

The transport drivers are apparently disgruntled over dwindling income caused by their ride-hailing services and the ostensible reason for objecting to the latter’s presence are claims that they do not pay tax, do not have proper permits and may be foreign companies invading Indonesian turf.

 

These are wrong reasons to demonstrate, even though a demonstration is justified. It is justified because the ride-hailing services are engaging in unfair trade practices. It is unfair to the taxi and other public transport drivers because they cannot compete against heavily subsidised prices of Go Jek and the other ride hailers. The ride hailers aren’t making money at this stage but trying to win market share through heavily discounted prices. They can sustain their discounts because they have investors who are willing to pump money into them in the gamble that they would turn out to be the Next Big Thing.25d067bf-a9b8-4276-b8a9-53df94733391_169

How long will these subsidies last? As long as investors are willing to inject capital into the ride hailers. It may be six months ayear or beyond but what’s interesting are the repercussions they cause in the meantime.

Never mind the fly-by-night and dubious taxi companies who provide shoddy and unreliable service. They deserve to perish. But a company such as Blue Bird that has won the trust of many Indonesians because they had relative clean and serviceable cars and reliable drivers when the market was full of bad ones are affected too.

So a scenario could develop where the taxi companies, even Blue Bird, all start to fold or deteriorate because of reduced revenues. This situation, however, is no guarantee that the ride hailers would succeed or become a viable replacement. What if most of them fold because the investors got bored or dismayed by the continual financial losses? Where would we be then? Bereft of quality traditional public  transport as well as affordable ride hailers?

This issue also raises a question of how much and how long it is fair to provide discounts to win market share. Most products hold promotions and provide discounts to do just that but they are usually short-lived ones as the real economic pressures assert themselves. But with ride hailers the only economic hidden hand is that of the investor, often with access to huge funds.

So is this unfair business practices, that should be looked at by the KPPU? Or is this the new world of disruption that will herald new business models for public transport?

 

The incredible silence and welcome to China’s effrontery to Malaysia

Something incredible, unprecedented and potentially dangerous happened in Malaysia last Friday that most Malaysians do not seem to have paid much notice to.

In fact many of the Malaysian Chinese actually welcomed it, fed up as they were by Malay hooligans trying to stir up Malay supremacist and anti-Chinese sentiments in Malaysia.

Photo from Free Malaysia Today: “He was there to assure Chinese traders that they will be safe tomorrow and that the police were watching over them in the event there was trouble.”

The incident took place in Petaling Street, an enclave of Chinese traders and shopkeepers right smack in the middle of Kuala Lumpur, that has become the symbol of Chinese presence in Malaysia ever since the Red Shirt Rally on September 16.

Before we go on, a bit of context for those that don’t follow Malaysian political developments closely. The Malaysian Prime Minister is in trouble, not least because of his own stupidity. Already unpopular, he was caught with a smoking gun – US$700 million deposited in his personal account.

His refusal to explain how a large sum come to be in his account, apart from it being from a mysterious Middle East donor, has added to the attacks on him and his government. Adding on the pressure was a huge rally of about 500,000 people that was organised by Bersih, originally an elections watchdog grouping on August 29.

Besieged, Najib or his followers retaliated with a Red Shirt Rally on September 16. The Red Shirts ostensibly were rallying to protect “Malay dignity” and the disrespect the Chinese (the predominant ethnic group in the Bearish rally) have shown to the Malays and their leader, Najib. During their rally a group of the Red Shirts attempted to enter Petaling Street but they were stopped by Malaysia’s Federal Reserve Unit, a specialist division of the police that deals with crowd control.

They were left licking their wounds but threatened to stage a comeback on September 26 where the Red Shirts would enter Petaling Street to stage a protest and demand better conditions for Malay traders so they can also do business there. That was the ostensible reason but in the meantime the organiser Jamal Yunos threatened violence and was, rightly arrested by the police on September 25, a day before the planned rally.

In the meantime, though, the Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia Huang Hui Kang made a bizarre visit to the traders at Petaling Street on the evening of September 26 where he calmed the nerves of the traders by saying, as reported by Free Malaysia Today:

PETALING JAYA: China’s Ambassador to Malaysia has stated his firm belief that all Malaysians, save a handful, already enjoyed racial harmony and appealed to those bent on causing trouble tomorrow, to kindly refrain from doing so.

At a press conference, after distributing mooncakes to those present, Huang Hui Kang said, “I believe that 99 per cent of the Chinese and Malays live harmoniously and only a small number of them want to cause trouble tomorrow.

“We told businesspeople here that they can open as usual tomorrow if they want but if they feel unsafe, the choice is theirs to close instead.”

He also said that the traders at Petaling Street only wanted to carry out their business in peace and that for those who chose to open tomorrow, the police would be on standby to offer security in the event there was trouble.

“So far, about 50 per cent of traders, which equals to around 600 in number, are still fearful of opening tomorrow. However we will keep abreast of the news and act accordingly,” he said.

If you look at the social media feeds, his actions have been lauded and praised. The Chinese welcomed his comments and visit as a show of solidarity and brotherhood. Some even gave the impression that they would welcome China being their benefactor.

Others, including Chinese and Malay leaders in the Government and Opposition have been strangely silent. Only Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry, Wisma Putra, seems to be concerned by this development and has leaked the news that they will be summoning the Chinese Ambassador  for a discussion.

Where foreign relations go this is an incredible development on some levels.

On one level you have China blatantly meddling in the internal affairs of another sovereign country. The ambassador was making statements more appropriate for a Malaysian Minister than an envoy. Who begs the question of whether his message and gesture was sanctioned by China’s government. If it had been we should all shudder as you ask what China has to gain by stoking the racial fire. If it had not, was the Ambassador totally out of line and why has he not been recalled yet? The Chinese Embassy’s explanation sounds as credible as Mao doing a hip hop song. 

On another level, the Malaysian Chinese are making a grave mistake by accepting the Ambassador’s words and deeds as a sign of solidarity and empathy. The ancestors of the malaysian Chinese have been migrating out of China for at least the last couple of centuries – and for good reason, China is not a place that they would want to live in because of the socio, political and economic hardships. IN the intervening years, whole generation of Malaysian Chinese have grown up in a different political and social environment. The last thing they would want is China dictating their politics and social norms. China’s interest is not necessarily the same as those of the Malaysian Chinese and they should never forget that. Yet no prominent Chinese leader has come forward to denounce the Ambassador’s blatant assault to Malaysia’s sovereignty. And why? Because what’s popular now among the Chinese is anything slamming Najib and Umno. They won’t do the right but popular thing. 

 

On the third level is the response of the government. Has it become so weak that Wisma Putra has to leak stories to the media that it was summoning the Ambassador to chastise him? His offence has very clearly broken diplomatic protocols. Will this weakness lead to even bolder moves by China? The only criticism so far has come from the Government mouthpiece Utusan Malaysia and Umno Youth but no officials?

 

Light at the End of the Road for Bersih?

Then commentary in Malaysiakini by Neil Koh headlined End of the Road for Bersih?  is great food for thought.

Unspun agrees with the author that by allowing the Bersih 4.0 rally to go on Najib has let the steam out of the pressure cooker.

Part of the allure of the Bersih 4 rally was that it was forbidden fruit and as such it provided many Malaysians a forum to vent their frustration and defiance at the Government. But if there was nothing to defy in the calling of the next protest rally, would the Malaysians turn out in such numbers again? One doubts this.

“So, what is next for Bersih? ” the author Neil Khor asks, and answers: “I see a network of micro-neighbourhood level action that is truly colour blind and that serves to connect Malaysians at the individual level.

“Only then can the movement breach the walls that politicians have put up to separate us. Only then can we truly connect.”

That might be the case but IMHO that would not do much for the future for Malaysia. With a ruling Umno-led coalition that is corrupt to the core and will cling on top power at any cost; and an opposition that is helmed by outdated leaders that have a difficult time keeping the opposition intact, let alone being able to imagine ruling the country, it is clear that no change will come if Malaysia leaves politics to the politicians.

Perhaps it is time for the people behind Bersih and other concerned Malaysians to think of taking politics away from the politicians. Perhaps they should think of organizing themselves to, as a first step, take a few crucial urban parliamentary seats from the government at the earliest opportunity. Any why not?

Social media has resulted in a much more informed public. It has also made the cost of disseminating messages extremely low. With social media, you can effectively have your own newspapers (blogs), radio stations (podcasts) and TV stations (YouTube channels, periscope etc). You can easily level the playing field, especially when you can crowdsource support.

In Indonesia, for instance, a whole new crop of politicians like jakarta governor Ahok and Ridwan Kamil are riding high and securing lots of support through the use of social media. Granted they both came to power on the backs of political parties. But in Ahok’s case when the party tried to rein him in he resigned from the Gerindra party. He’s now an independent, his supporters are the ones using social media to support him, and if he has to run for Governor again without any political party backing, he’s likely to win.

Consider, for instance, if, say, the Parliamentary seat of Federal Territory of KL were to become vacant for some reason. Someone of Ambiga’s stature stands for election to the seat. What would happen? The DAP would probably field their candidate, the Barisan would field theirs. The party machinery would swing into action.

But Ambiga would have a groundswell of supporters and followers. They would use social media to broadcast her messages, coordinate support and raise funds. In a plugged-in, urban electorate this has a good chance of working.

let’s just say she wins. What are the implications then? It would change the power equation in Malaysia entirely. Both Barisan and Pakatan or whatever form of coalition the Opposition takes would be shocked to their core because their duopolistic hold on political power in Malaysia would have been broken. They would have to truly change or face one defeat after another as other Malaysians, inspired by Ambiga’s win, take them on.

Such grassroots leaders would unlikely capture seats where there is no urban, educated and plugged in populations. They would never capture enough seats to be a significant opposition. But they would become symbols that the people can take power from the politicians. And that’s a lesson that Malaysia’s politicians must learn quickly before the country gathers too much momentum in its decline.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mt. Kinabalu tragedy: what are schoolchildren doing there?

Last year a group of us decided to climb Mt. Kinabalu. We weren’t the fittest 40-50 somethings but we weren’t slouches either.We had in tow a 12-year old.

a member of the group, Unspun, for instance,  is in his mid-50s but hits the gym at an average of three times a week chalking up 40 minutes each session on the treadmill at a clip of about 9km/hr.

In spite of this we found the going up Mt. Kinabalu pretty tough. It was one of the mist difficult climbs Unspun has undertaken as the climb up the mountain was an relentless series of fairly high uneven stone steps. And it gets worse the higher you go because the air thins.

Our group managed to trudge the 6.5km or so the first day up to the base station at Laban Rata. It was perched 3,270 meters above sea level. We were exhausted and thought we could sleep well after dinner. But we all spent a restless night tossing about in our bunk beds as the altitude got to us. Kinabalu

At 3am the next morning we all woke up, had our breakfast and began our ascend to the summit, hopefully, in time to catch the summit. It was cold, dark and very difficult because the thin air made the climb tougher. Our 12-year old had a headache, probably a sympton of altitude sickness so we left him to recover at the laban Rata base station.

The remaining four of us trudged on. The trail was manageable until we hit the section where the trail became a wall of granite rocks that we could only scale with the aid of ropes. It was challenging for someone like me who has no fear of heights but it was terrible for some of us in the group who had to scale those walls in the dark and with the cold wind blowing.

We started thinking that it was a good idea that we had left the 12-year old behind as the steep climbs was actually too dangerous for children. We also started getting a bit angry over two things – why the park authorities had not posted a warning to climbers of the extent of the difficulty in the climb and the potential dangers; and why it allowed children below at least 16 or 18 years to scale the mountain when it was already difficult and dangerous to reasonably fit adults? We also spoke among ourselves what park authorities in Western countries – who generally have a higher level of care to such details – would have done. We concluded that they would at least have adequate warnings on their website of the challenges that climbers would face.

We managed to clear the section and got up to about 3,400 meters above sea level where there is a reporting station. Our guide (and yes its true what they say about the stamina, courage and level of care of the Kinabalu guides) told us that we would not be able to make sunrise at the pace we were going.

As we were all exhausted, we decided to abort the climb and started trekking down, through the wall of granite and back to Laban Rata. The rest of the climb down was jarring and difficult but manageable.

I thought of posting something about the danger to children climbing Mount Kinabalu but got busy and forgot about it.

The recent earthquake and the tragedy unfolding at Mount Kinabalu has prompted me to write this in hopes that the Park authorities will at least in the future provide adequate warning to would-be climbers and considering upping the age-limit of the climbers.

Right now the official Mt. Kinabalu website cheerily gives the impression that anyone between 10 and 80 years old who’s reasonably fit can make the climb. That is inaccurate and dangerous information.

But a disturbing question is this: did the teachers are the Singapore primary school not do their research before deciding to take the schoolchildren on the hike up Mt. Kinabalu? Our did they, like us, take the information on the Kinabalu official website on surface value as well?

 

The most dangerous thing about Jokowi for us in Indonesia.

When the subject of Jokowi comes up, there is usually an awkward pause as everyone tries to express the mixture of frustration, despair and disappointment over the man they elected as President with high hopes for reform just a few months ago.

The pause, Unspun suspects, is because they are not really ready to confront their true feeling about Jokowi: ennui.

That is the most dangerous feeling one can harbour for Jokowi. That feeling is so powerful that Unspun, who had once been spirited to criticise SBY for his shortcomings, haven’t taken to writing on this blog lately.

Why is this most dangerous? Well, when there is hope left you would still criticise on the slim chance that it would be noticed by the person being talked about and maybe, just maybe, it would change the way they do things. With SBY you at least knew that Ibu Ani read the media clippings and SBY was sensitive to criticism. There was hope that change could still come about.

With Jokowi, there is no one home. One wonders if he’s really aware of what’s being said about the policies of his government and his decisions. And if he knew, would he care? There is no evidence he would.

So despair gives rise to a feeling of ennui. A tiredness so heavy and cumbersome you give up hope trying to do anything about it. Perhaps this is why the criticism against Jokowi are relatively muted these days. Perhaps many people have already given up on him, but do not have any alternative to turn to.

Ennui also because things are spiralling out of control so much that it sometimes feels like lunatics are running the asylum. How then can one account for anti alcohol laws that does not stop at banning the sale of beer at convenience stalls but making drinking alcohol illegal all together?

Or mining laws that are seemingly designed to kill the very goose that has laid the golden eggs of revenue fort the government. This is a time when, faced with declining commodity prices and a global economic downturn the government has to raise enough money to finance its massive infrastructure plans so that it can meet the campaign promise of 7% GDP growth?

Or that stubborness to execute drug offenders and piss of investor countries for the totally unsubstantiated and willy thinking that executions would help prevent drug abuse in Indonesia.

Why is all this happening? Unspun’s theory, formulated over lunch chatter with a client and a journalist, is that the apparatchik in Indonesia have always harboured a devil-may-care nationalistic attitude. Given the chance they would enact nationalistic laws and show the rest of the world that they bow to no one, even when they have to cut off their noses to spite their faces. Fortunately, however, Indonesia has been blessed by fairly open-minded, pro-business and pro-investment leaders. Suharto certainly, to a smaller extent Habibibie, Megawati and Gus Dur and certainly SBY (except for the Hattanomics he had to endure). They were no Einsteins or Keyneses but they had enough authority to keep the apparatchik in line and keep a lid on the destructive nationalistic impulses.

Now comes Jokowi. He’s isolated in his own government. His closest advisors Rini Sowandi and Arief Widjajanto are as alienated from the politicians than he. Together they have no power base in any political party. Then there is Luhut Pandjaitan, by all accounts a solid chap but he’s also a military man, and there is feeling that military men – apart from those wielding great authority like Suharto – cannot make the Government bureaucracy work. And then there is, of course, Megawati who thinks she’s royalty and deserves to be treated as such.

So the result is a president that is ineffective and a bureaucracy gorging itself on its newfound freedom to exercise its long-latent nationalism. Nobody seems to be directing this spate of events, not least the anti-investment, anti-foreigner legislation that we’ve been seeing lately.

So nobody’s home. The lunatics are running the asylum and a dark and heavy ennui is descending over us all. Will we succumb? Or will we, like Indonesia has done so many times before in the pass, muddle through and find a solution to the current malaise?

Najib’s PR Guru: The Talented Mr Stadlen

The Sarawak Report contains a fascinating story of the staying power and nocturnal pursuits of  Najib’s propaganda chief Paul Stadlen.

Stadlen apparently used to head APCO, a lobbying/PR firm appointed by Malaysian Prime Minister to help with his PR needs, which are legion. Unspun’s written about them here and here.

Many people then wondered why a firm that has been associated with its close contacts with the Jewish lobby was appointed by a sanctimoniously Islamic Malaysian Government. An explanation was that they wanted to lobby the US. This seemed a plausible answer.

But when APCO got nowhere and were dismissed by the Malaysian government it was then difficult to understand why Stadlen, who had headed the firm’s Malaysian operations, was retained to advice Najib on his PR.

Was Stadlen somehow more clever and had greater insights into Malaysians than any Malaysian Najib could find? Was he more strategic and savvy? Was he willing to be more brutal and unquestioning to his boss’s orders?

In all counts it is difficult to find a reason why Stadlen could have been a superior choice. This task is made all the more difficult if you consider that someone in his position would allow himself to be photographed having wild times and cavorting with Malaysian Bunny girls.

Surely even a humdrum PR advisor would know the reputational risks he exposes his boss and himself if he indulges in such good times?

So Malaysians, why is this Mat Salleh chosen over all the clever and equally scheming local boys and gals that Najib could have hired for a fraction of Stadlen fees?

(Unspun didn’t have enough coffee this morning and somehow thought Stalin was Steadly. Have made corrections to the copy. Apologies for not being too steady this morning)

Are good intentions harming Indonesia in the new Cicak-Buaya episode?

Five year from now when Indonesians look back at this moment in the nation’s history what conclusions would they draw?

What seems to suggest itself is that the Police-KPK issue is likely to be perceived as  watershed moment. On one extreme is a scenario depicting the last gasp of the Lords of Corruption and the Old Guard; On the other extreme is a scenario in which the nation takes a nosedive, erases much of the progress it makes and continues to muddle through or even begin to decline.

The first scenario is difficult to imagine as it would involve Jokowi prying his integrity and will from the clutches of the political parties that he’s beholden to. It would need some radical action such as the President dissolving DPR and appealing straight to the people for support. (Can the President Constitutionally even do that?) Or providing an ultimatum to Mega, Surya and the overlords – back down or I quit.

The second scenario, unfortunately, is more likely. Hemmed in by all sides Jokowi is discredited in to his most ardent supporters and resigns or is impeached. Jusuf Kalla takes over and we all go back to the old ways of doing things – turning a blind eye to privilege and power. The Party Overloards loading over the rest of the country as the rape and collage the land – in short, business as usual. This will be the beginning of a decline that will erase all the progress Indonesia has made in the past 20 years.

Future analysts might also conclude that what caused this second scenario is a confluence of malignant, well-meaning forces, and a KPK that is less than pristine.

The malignant forces are easy to identify in persons, institutions and motivations. There is Mega who is known to harbour grudges and let personal considerations rule the day. There is Surya Paloh who moves in his own world of morality and logic, fuelled by a large ego and unbridled ambition. An there is Jusuf Kalla who has judiciously decided to sit back and let Jokowi feel the heat, not running his chances to step in as President should things go to hell in a hand basket. There are also the party apparatchik and the Police, whose interests are to prop up a corrupt system that has lined their pockets and those of their acolytes and relatives.

The well-meaning forces are the earnest supporters of Jokowi. Professionals, celebrities and activists who campaigned hard for his victory in the belief that he would help rid the country of the rotten, corrupt system that the political insiders have nurtured over all these years. They are passionate, bridle with righteous piety and they are noisy – especially over social media that has become their loud hailer in these times.

Most of their efforts are motivated by an understandable deep hatred for the police that is a symbol of an institution that is corrupt to the core. For them the KPK has become the symbol of defiance against the Police and therefore the #SaveKPK hashtags and protests.

Unfortunately, the KPK has been less than impeccable. One should question whether the KPK overstepped its bounds when it announced that Budi Gunawan was one of the candidates flagged in Jokowi’s list of ministerial candidates. It may be true, and there may have ben very strong evidence that Budi is guilty of corruption but it does not make it right for the KPK to make this information public. Individuals inside could have leaked it to the media but officially they should not have made the announcement.

Then there is the KPK’s indictment of Budi as a suspect. If you have to indict somebody then, to be fair, you need to read out the charges. Otherwise it’s guilt by insinuation. Coming as it was on the eve of Budi’s appointment, and bereft of the charges that would substantiate such indictment, one could argue that the KPK fell way short of the principles of justice and law enforcement.

The KPK’s behaviour, combined with the passion of Jokowi’s disillusioned supporters has, arguably, made it more difficult for the President to manoeuvre as it hardens the resolve of the Police and the Old Guard rather than to get them to reconsider their actions.

So perhaps a rethink of strategies and tactics are needed. Protesters should perhaps try to be fairer, call for the preservation of the KPK but at the same time hold the KPK accountable for their actions. In the meantime pressure should be kept up on the Police to explain how Budi could have accumulated such massive wealth in spite of his low salary. And they should also be pressured to explain the basis and procedures for arresting Bambang Widjajanto.

So the angle of attack should perhaps not be a heuristic impulse to save the KPK as it contains the same contradictions and logical faultiness as the #JeSuisCharlie movement after the Paris attacks. Such an approach is attractive, sexy and populist but does not attack the problem at its core.

If the pressure are sustained on both these institutions it would make it easier for Jokowi to step in to settle matters. It is not ideal. A President should be made of sterner stuff but that is the inexperienced politician that the Indonesian electorate voted for – and as the saying goes voters deserve what they get.

It seems like a choice of helping out Jokowi or descending into a dark period for Indonesia.