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?

I thaw 10,000 fathes in a thea of red and white

A few days ago Unspun, and Anita Mackay in our respective blogs, asked what next after #indonesiaunite, at that stage a Twitter movement comprising of Indonesian Twitterers changing their avatars to red and white themes and using the hashtag #indonesiaunite.

Today, a group calling themselves The Twibbon Team responded with a website with this visual below as centerpiece that works well with Silverlight.

The idea apparently came from Stormideas that is based in Edinburgh (Unspun doesn’t know what the connection is here) and it’s very visually arresting. Whether this will inspire other ideas with even more tangible effects remain to be seen but initiatives like this, the initial spurt of #indonesiaunite on Twitter resulting it it at one time being the top trending topic and the Prita Mulyasari case leads Unspun to be more convinced than ever that 2009 is a watershed year for social media in Indonesia.

What we see is a flourishing of creativity and a sense of empowerment as the younger generation in Indonesia find a common voice through the tools of the New Media. Where it will lead, what all this will change, will be something fascinating to watch.

10,000 Supporters for IndonesiaUnite cause – A Twibbon Twibute

On Friday 17th July 2009, terrorists, presumed by authorities to be suicide bombers, launched co-ordinated attacks on two up-market hotels in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital. Nine fatalities were confirmed, whilst at least fifty more people were reported injured in the atrocity.

As a worldwide audience gradually learned of these events over the subsequent hours, many began to form part of an extraordinary online movement, which has grown exponentially since in a moving and powerful display of solidarity. By Sunday 19th July, just two days later, the IndonesiaUnite Twibbon cause has already brought together 10,000 supporters on Twitter from across the globe. Tweeple used the Twibbon service to overlay a small icon depicting the Indonesian flag on the corner of profile avatars. #IndonesiaUnite supporters have ensured that their cause has remained the number one Twitter trend, eclipsing other popular online topics such as Michael Jackson and the Iran Election.

To celebrate this awesome demonstration of the power of social networking communities to unify in protest on a matter of such international significance, Twibbon have created a massive DeepZoom mosaic twibute to those individuals who have affiliated themselves visually with this important and inspiring cause.

The movement is still flourishing, and you can help spread awareness across the world. Join at http://twibbon.com/join/IndonesiaUnite and follow @Twibbon at http://twitter.com/twibbon.

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Indonesia not fussed bout science and maths in English

For many normal countries like Indonesia, getting instruction in English is something desirable and they move ahead, maybe slowly but surely,  in an increasingly globalized world. Countries like Malaysia seems bent on moving in the opposite direction. Malaysia Boleh!

Students being taught English in an open-space class in Aceh. The use of English as the language of instruction at national schools is limited to some 700 schools out of 5,000. (Antara Photo)

via the Jakarta Globe:

Ministry Turns a Deaf Ear to Critics Over Use of English in the Classroom

While the use of English as a language of instruction in schools has often sparked controversy, the government says it is unlikely to follow neighbor Malaysia and drop the use of English for math and science classes.

The Ministry of National Education’s director general of management for primary and secondary schools, Suyanto, told the Jakarta Globe the ministry would stick to its agenda of increasing the number of schools that use English for math and science lessons.

“No way will we drop it,” he said. “Students have a great capacity to learn, so we should encourage them.”

Last week, the Malaysian government announced that it would dump English as the language of instruction for math and science in schools. Malaysia’s deputy prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, as reported by Agence France-Presse, said his government was convinced that science and math needed to be taught in a language that would be easily understood by students.

Critics of Malaysia’s nation-wide policy of teaching these two subjects in English say that student performance has declined since the policy’s introduction in 2003, and that it is particularly unfair for children who are not proficient in the language.

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The silence of the jingoists

Even as late as a week ago, the nationalistic card was being played against international investors and the springboard for the jingoists was the Commission for Business Competition Supervisory Council (KPPU).

Each time they found a foreign investor guilty was, to these jingoists, proof  that the foreign investors were haughty, that they were sneaky and sought to exploit Indonesian businesses and that they showed no respect for Indonesian laws.

The foreign investors would protest that they had adhered to the prevailing laws, that they had sought for and received the appropriate permissions and permits and that they had nothing wrong.

But Indonesia’s jingoist would not hear about it. They beat their breasts leveled all sorts of criticisms and dominated the conversation. And, like Yeat’s Second coming where “the worst was full of righteous piety; the best lacked all conviction” everyone else kept silent, looked the other way or, even worse, believed in the improbable and outrageous decisions of the KPPU. Even the courts blindly upheld these KPPU decisions, as we saw in the Temasek case.

Now, with the arrest of KPPU member Mohamed Iqbal who was caught red-handed taking money from Billy Sindoro, the president director of Lippo Group-owned First Media, the truth is out. Iqbal was on the take to fix the KPPU’s decisions.

Which decisions did he fix? We may not know the truth for a long time but two cases come to mind because they were so bizarre. The first is the Temasek case. Temasek-affiliated companies’ acquisition of Telkomsel and Indosat were not an issue for many years. Then all of a sudden it became an issue when a Russian telco player was reportedly interested in acquiring Telkomsel.

The BUMN workers union were encouraged to file a report to the KPPU. The Union then later withdrew the report but the KPPU was steadfast in pursuing the case. Why? And after it took up the case it bent the rules and manufactured their own interpretations of existing laws to make sure that Temasek was guilty of cross-ownership. What was intriguing was how could the other members of the KPPU be manipulated by Iqbal to such a degree. Or was he not the only KPPU member on the take?

Then there is the Barclay’s Premier League. The KPPU said that there was no evidence of any customer loss but nonetheless said that an Astro subsidiary and ESPN Star Sports were guilty of violating the Anti-Monopoly Law.  But what’s really out there together with Frank Zappa was its decision to order Astro to maintain supplying PT Direct Vision with their boadcast signals until Astro had resolved their ownership dispute with Lippo Group. What’s  a Business Competition Supervisory Council doing in mediating between parties in a commercial dispute? What ask]pect of business competition were they supervising when they made the decision? Iqbal, was one of the council members forming the panel reviewing the KPPU investigation into the BPL case. Did he take money from Billy to keep Astro supplying Direct Vision with programs becaue Astro was about to cut the supply of them after Sept 30?

We do not know. Yet. But the fact that Iqbal is almost certain of taking bribes to fic the KPPU’s decisions means that all these questions must be answered. And after they have been answered, someone must tell the jingoists here that they are wrong. There is a huge chance many of the foreign businesses who have been judged by the KPPU to have violated Anti-Monopoly Laws were innocent and the victims of the corruption that is endemic in this society.

How could unscrupulous individuals hijack the KPPU and the news agenda of a nation to turn perception against foreign investors? This and other questions must be asked. What happened to the Press, the venerble Fourth Estate that was supposed to be a check and balance against precisely such rapacious and unprincipled individuals? What happened to the good guys who would speak up without fear or favor regardless whether the business players were local or foreign? What happens to all that talk about national interests and disrespect for local laws now?

It would be interesting to see whether these questions will be answered in the forthcoming days or whether Indonesia will sink back into the cocoon of amnesia, righteous piety and jingoism that has characterized the rhetoric so far. They a say a nation that does not remember its history is condemned to repeat its mistakes.

(Disclosure: one of more parties or their affiliates mentioned in this posting may be Unspun‘s clients. But this posting is done indepently without consultation with, or suggestion from, them. In other words, its Unspun‘s opinion and Unspun did not receive a black bag, not knowing that it contained Rp500 million inside, to incentivize Unspun into doing others’ bidding).