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Simultaneous regional head elections in Indonesia 2015

Igor Dirgantara

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Indonesia is one of the largest democratic countries in the world. Legislative elections and presidential election 2014 have passed quite well, although there are still many problems in terms of implementation.

Mass media is also one of the freest in the world. The General Election Commission (KPU) is now preparing the implementation of the Regional Head Election simultaneously in the first wave on December 9, 2015, for the regional head and regional deputy head towards the end of the term of service in 2015 and the first half of 2016. Registration of candidates for regional head election in the first wave simultaneously had started on July 26-28, 2015, provided that the candidate promoted by political parties with seat acquisition of 20 percent or 25 percent of valid votes, got a decree from the central leadership of the party, got the management Decree of political parties in Regency, City and the Provincial Level.

This simultaneous election modelis the first time in Indonesia, even in the world. Indonesia should be recorded in the history of world democracy because there will be 269 regions consisting of 9 provinces, 36 cities and 224 regencies simultaneously elect regional heads. That is, about 53 percent of the total 537 number of provinces and regencies / cities in Indonesia that will carry out elections simultaneously at the end of the first wave of 2015 into the ideal design, ie the simultaneous nationwide to choose the House of Representatives, Regional Representatives, the President and Vice President, as well as simultaneously to choose the regional heads and the DPRD at the provincial, regency and city level. After the elections simultaneously in 2015 in 269 regions, there will be followed by a second wave of simultaneous elections in February 2017 in 99 regions, the third wave in June 2018 in the 171 regions. Then another one wave will be implemented simultaneously again until towards the national elections in 2027.

Of course this is not an easy thing to do, because there are a lot of challenges to be faced. Some have suggested that the implementation of simultaneous elections should be postponed for various reasons, including budget issues, human resources, and handling disputes. Financial Supervisory Agency (BPK), for example, has issued a number of recommendations related to audit issues and the preparation of elections simultaneously in 2015 concerning, among others, about the unpreparedness of the budget, the signing of the regional grant agreement, plan budgets, grants account and security costs.

Nevertheless, the president Jokowi ensure the implementation of the first wave of simultaneous elections later remains on schedule, considering the preparations have been riped and in accordance with the stages. The Government and the Commission determined to rectify the deficiencies discovered by the CPC. Therefore, perhaps it is only natural disasters, social conflict, or war which could make simultaneous elections in Indonesia withdrew from the schedule. This paper saw eight crucial problems in the implementation of the first wave of simultaneous elections that will start on December 9, 2015.

1.   High Intensity of Conflicts

The elections simultaneously are heavier than the legislative and presidential elections. Competition of elections at lower levels is prone to security problems. The political dynamics in these areas are more difficult to predict. Because the strength of the local politicians have started immeasurable, both in terms of number of supporters, the distribution of influence, as well as the patronage of the party elite in central power. Approximately 827 pairs of regional leader’s candidates will compete in the first wave of simultaneous elections.

Based on data from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the losses on recapitulation of the post-election in 2013-2014 at the provincial and regency and city level tend to increasingly high, the number of victims died are 59 people, injured are 230 people, damage to residential houses are 279 units, the damage to local government offices are 30 units, six police office units, and Election Commission (KPU) offices are 10 units, 159 public facilities in disrepair, also 11 offices of political parties, 3 offices of mass media, 25 vehicles, and also 1 shopping stores. Potential conflicts especially in areas that have a conflict-prone maps, such as in Sumatra, Madura, Central Sulawesi, Maluku, East Nusa Tenggara and Papua. Assault incidents of Eid prayer congregation and the burning of mosques in Karubaga, Tolikara, Papua, on July 17, 2015 can be a leasson to anticipate ahead of elections later. So effective coordination between the Central Government, Local Government, Election Commission, the Election Supervisory Body (Bawaslu), police, military, and also the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) is needed.

The main challenge for the holding of simultaneous elections later is to minimize conflicts in its implementation. Conflict pattern occurs mostly among election participants and supporters accompanied by anarchy and destruction of public facilities. Source of conflict is generally from unelected elite or who can not accept the victory of another candidates. Potential conflicts in 2015 elections is very high because it is done in areas involving various parties and only lasted one lap. No elections are devoid of conflict. Not neutrality of the electoral administration in the area is also a source of conflict.

2.   Neutrality of Regional Election Organizers

The regional head office in autonomy era is so attractive in the eyes of search powers for extraordinary authority to manage the full regional head of each region. That position could make a regional head like a little king with great power. Organizing simultaneous elections is the biggest celebration in the reign of President Jokowi, which can create an aura of competition and passion of the candidates to contest.

The organization of elections in the regions are mostly technical work, such as the nomination of candidates, ballot paper making and ballot boxes, sending results of the voting on the national committee, counting, distribution of seats and so on. The existence of the impartial or independent election organizing committee greatly determines the quality of democratic elections. The General Election Commission (KPU) and the Election Supervisory Body (Bawaslu) is the institutions established by the government and given the freedom to organize the stages of the election. From the data of Election Honorary Council (DKPP) until now there are 207 electoral organizers who had been fired. DKPP has received 740 complaints related to codes of conduct of legislative elections and the presidential election in 2014, which contains 3,960 names of election organizers, both of the KPU and Bawaslu at the level of the central, provincial, and district and city.

Election organizers simultaneously in the regions later should be neutral in carrying out each stage of the election, instead of ‘collusion’ with the local bureaucracy or into a successful team of competing candidates of regional heads. Neutrality of the election organizers will make the elections simultaneously be qualified, credible, and avoid conflict. The responsibility of organizing regional elections should be able to increase voter participation and minimize potential fraud that might occur, such as inflation and the reduction of noise, phantom voters, multiple voting, or voters who eliminated their right to vote.

3.   List of Permanent Voters

List of Permanent Voters (DPT) will remain a crucial issue and the object of the dispute. Moreover, polling stations (TPS) are very vulnerable in the intervention, especially in remote areas. The most crucial is the population data that until now have not been able to cover the entire population, especially those living outside the area. Ministry of Internal Affairs has submitted a list of Potential Voters in Elections (DP4) to the Commission which are used as data in arranging voter registration of simultaneous election. The number of voters have been recorded in the Ministry of Internal Affairs until now has reached 102 068 million people. The amount represents the total number of potential voters in the list that will follow the election of 269 Regional Head and Deputy Regional Head on December 9, 2015. Total registered voters exceeded 50 percent of the voters that gives right to vote on the 2014 Presidential Election. Total 269 regions that hold elections have exceeded 50 percent of the total of 514 regions in Indonesia.

Unfortunately, the election system in Indonesia do not consider the mobility of the population that is already very high. Residences are still statically defined. In fact, many people are outside the official address, including overseas, because of jobs and education. Governments need to create the population administration system and Pilkada system that can accommodate the mobility of people who are very varied. There is injustice to the voters in the regional election system. Article 56, paragraph 3 Perppu No. 1/2014 on the election of Governors, Regents, and Mayors, said if voters have more than one residence, the voter must select one residence listed in the voter list based on E-ID Card or certificate of domicile from the village chief. But there is a different treatment if a person wants to run for governor, regent or mayor. The candidates can run in an area that is not domicile. For example, when the election for Governor of Jakarta in 2012, Joko Widodo (Jokowi) was still served as mayor of Solo. Someone is possible to be a candidate for regional head in areas that is not domicile. It means, residential status can be more than one place. However, this flexibility does not apply to voters. Another problem is that not all people have e-ID Card because it is outside the eligible categories such as bums, beggars, migrant workers, domestic workers, and the like. They do not have an e-ID card so they can not involve in the election. It means, not all people have the right to vote because of their poverty. Not to mention also a matter of voters who have died but are still registered as voters, or voters who are registered at two different locations.

4.   Dualism of Management of Political Parties

The General Election Commission (KPU) had to revise Commission Regulation (PKPU) Number 9 of 2015 on the nomination by adding a ‘reconciliation limited’ for the sake of allowing the party who has’ double management, such as the Golkar Party and the United Development Party (PPP) to nominate candidates for regional heads together. In addition the candidate must submit the same pair, the two camps double management of political parties must also file the candidate pairs at the same time. Before the revision, regional head candidates must come from the political parties whose staff are recognized by government or have the Decree of the Minister of Justice and Human Rights (Menkumham). Dualism of leadership in the Golkar and PPP can also cause serious problems for vulnerable civil suit and of interests of each camp. Actually, the laws on political parties does not recognize dual management. While the stages of the elections are still running, the conflict in the body of Golkar and PPP whose legitimacy will be decided later in the court that had the legally enforceable decision (inkracht).

Why did the Commission need to accommodate the participation of Golkar and PPP in the simultaneous elections of 2015? The votes of both parties (Golkar and PPP) reached more than 26.5 million votes in the 2014 election. That is, the two parties accounted for more than 21 percent of valid votes in the election. Achievement of seats from the two parties reach 130 seats. This means exceed the number of seats of the Struggle Indonesian Democratic Party (PDIP) as the winner of the election that is only about 118 seats. At the local level, PPP as a whole has 1,400 seats, while Golkar has about 3,000-seats. Judging from these data, Golkar and PPP are quite significant in political and legal decision-making, at the local level and the central level.

PKPU revision is done not only to facilitate the dualism of leadership in the party of Golkar and PPP alone to participate in the elections, but also to comply with the decision of the Constitutional Court (MK). Thus, the revision also includes rules to permit family of incumbent to advance in the election, and requires that members of the parliament (DPR / DPD / DPRD) resigned their positions when they have been determined as candidates by the Commission. Previously, members of parliament (DPR / DPD / DPRD) are only required to report to the leadership of each institution. Of course this affects the political map of the nomination from all the political parties participating in the elections simultaneously in 2015. Many parliament members who subsequently withdraw as candidates for regional heada, otherwise a lot of the family members from the incumbents, even former inmates come forward to compete in the simultaneous elections next December 9, 2015.

5.   Doll Candidates

Another problem is the possibility if there is only one single candidate in an region. Commission Regulation No. 12 of 2015 set the whole stage of regional elections are stopped and postponed on next simultaneous election in 2017, if there is only a single candidate for the regional head after the extension of registration for 3 days. Steps must be done because the elections are held simultaneously in December 2015. Automatically, if there is one region that stage is only delayed, it will affect the overall implementation. However, the goal of the simultaneous election of regional heads is simultaneously inauguration, so that the end of their services are also simultaneous. There should be no regions that followed, except participate again in 2017. The Commission does not want to wait until the region has additional candidates for regional heads for a limited time. If the elections in an region later have to be ‘put on hold, then the position will be filled by the regional head of the temporary officials, or officers while being taken from staff transfer. There are 15 regions that potentially have only a single candidate in the simultaneous elections in the first wave.

Incumbent candidates are too strong making the whole political parties carry the same pair to run for regional heads. But it could happen in regions with strong incumbent do stratagem in order registering candidates not just one pair, namely by generating candidate pairs for regional head doll (false) as a challenger, could be independent pathway or request some political party that carried them. Legally regulation doll candidate is not problematic in the Commission if it meets the requirements. However, from a political education, it is a setback to democracy.

Single candidate is likely to occur in simultaneous elections later. This is evident from the higher minimum support candidates from political parties to 20 percent of parliament seats, or 25 percent of valid votes of the election results last year. Conditions that make the coalition become more stringent. In addition, individual candidates from independent pathway will also a difficulty become competitor, because of time constraints and the severity of a support condition. Especially against the strong incumbent supported by political parties it is tantamount to wasting the cost.

Until recently, most political parties chose to support a strong candidate to win. In this simultaneous regional election, coalition parties of supporting the government, namely the Superb Indonesian Coalition (KIH) is very liquid with balancing coalition parties of government, or the Red and White Coalition (KMP) in proposing candidates for regional head. However, ‘political dowry’ that is raised each political party is also still looks like the tip of the iceberg that is difficult to remove. Many unscrupulous parties will utilize the elections to gain political dowry from the prospective regional heads. Instead, many pairs as regional head candidates that offer dowry can be able to qualify the support of 20 percent. The issue is initially exists in poor political party cadres and the weak party funding. People can only vote for candidates who submitted it. If the incumbent is qualified and well developed, it deserves to be reelected. The problem is that no quality incumbent but also prepare candidates for a doll that can be defeated in the next election. Prospective doll could be the choice of strategy for winning in the simultaneous elections. It is also the solution to anticipate a strong candidate for the regional head to remain chosen without delaying the implementation of the next elections in 2017. Candidates ‘dolls’ can also appear with the only aim to break down opponents who are considered the dominant voice in an region, especially in the region of three pairs of prospective candidates. But if the elections take place with only one candidate it could be a bad precedent for election implementation in other regions, because there are local leaders who have the power to monopolize the political parties in the regions. There is no choice of candidates, certainly not democratic.

6.   Political Dynasty

The Constitutional Court (MK) removes the restriction clause on prohibition of incumbent family or political dynasty in the election law. According to the Court, the 1945 Constitution gives equal rights to all citizens to use their constitutional rights, namely the right to vote and be elected, including former inmates. The Constitutional Court’s decision could open up a gap of one family control of certain regions, because the political rights of the incumbent relatives in the election is not removed. In 2013 there were as many as 61 regional heads, or 11 percent of all regional heads in Indonesia having kinship political networks or political dynasty. Ironically, from experiences that occur in almost every contestation of the elections that followed by the incumbent, often found the game of local budgets to the needs of the campaign. PNS subordinates that are supposed to apply neutral are often the incumbent winning team. Mobilization and politicization of civil servants are inevitable. The potential for corruption and violations or abuse of power by local bureaucracy increases.

Because the Constitutional Court’s decision is final and binding, then today society need to be given the political aspects of socialization and education in order to more critically assess the regional head candidates who will compete in the simultaneous elections later. However society that has the rights to vote determine how the future of the regional head candidate who comes from a political dynasty. Moreover, the people of Indonesia are still many irrational voters. Gaetano Mosca once wrote in his book “The rulling Class”, that almost in every class or nation will always be a tendency to build a tradition handed down in reality, if not in law. Oligarchy is an inevitable Iron law. And political dynasty in Indonesia is a necessity in a democracy now because it comes from the old oligarchy and patrimonial culture. The emergence of dynastic politics is directly proportional to the unhealthy political competition. Increasingly unfair rules of the game in political contestation, promotes wider political dynasty.

7.   Money Politics

The democratic process in Indonesia raises many opportunities for corruption. Because the democratic process in this country requires a huge cost. Regional election always had negative tendencies, ie transactional politics. In fact as many as 346 regional heads and deputy regional heads tangled legal cases. A total of 11.45 percent of the approximately 500 regencies thick with dynasty politics. In addition, many of the elections results in the past were broken joint between the head and deputy head of the regions. Currently there is no criminal chapter on money politics and the criminal chapter on the political dowry thus causing dirty political practices in the elections.

Simultaneous Regional Election 2015 budget swell to Rp 7 trillion compared to the implementation of the previous elections. There are three factors that influence. First, the inflation factor that can affect the value of the goods in the regions. Secondly, amounting to 65 percent of the total budget for the elections will be used to pay salaries of Voting Committee (PPS), District Election Committee (PPK) and Voting Organizer Group (KPPS). Third, based on Law No. 8 of 2015 on Regional Elections, the local government is obliged to bear almost all participants of the election campaign costs in 2015. Only two types of election campaigns are borne by participants themselves, ie limited campaign and dialogue campaign.

Implementation of the simultaneous election is originally meant to reduce the high cost of politics and money politics turn out to be an illusion. Financing campaign charged to revenue and expenditure budget can actually increase money politics. Regional head candidates would have more funds in view of campaign financing that become the responsibility of Regional Election Commission. By doing so, the candidates will have more funds to carry out the practice of vote-buying. Money politics also can occur when optimizing campaigns at the limited meeting. They can take advantage of unlimited meetings, where money politics is packaged in such a way in the meeting. Simultaneous regional elections in 2015 will be rife of money politics, in addition to political dowry, voters buying, that are also used to bribe electoral administration in the regions.

In addition, the use of campaign funds would also be a vulnerable point for the implementation of simultaneous elections, and misused to improve electability of candidates. Election campaign is more widely used as imaging media, not apply for a work program. Also the ‘game’ between the candidates by state officials still leaves a problem in any election in Indonesia until now. Education and political socialization to voters take lack of decent places. Misappropriation of budgetary funds and state facilities can also occur, such as social grants (Bansos), school operational funds (BOS), and funds from the budget, as well as vehicle or building facilities into a campaign tool.

8.   Violations and Dispute of Election

Elections Supervisory Board (Bawaslu) is not given the authority to execute the offense. Therefore, Bawaslu action is limited to giving recommendations. If the violations are administrative, submitted to the Commission and forwarded to the police. Simultaneous handling of cases of electoral violations this year will refer to the two laws. In addition to using the Law of the Elections, a number of violations will be processed by using the Criminal Code, such as inflate the voices and the problem of money politics. Money politics will be charged under Article 149 of the Criminal Code concerning bribery in elections, under penalty of nine months in prison. Perpetrators of votes are subject to Article 263 of the Criminal Code on forgery penalties of six years in prison. If there is a criminal offense, the police soon take over. For administrative violations, the Provincial Election Supervisory Committee (Panwaslu) directly provide recommendations to the Local Commission. Statements relating to the code of conduct is directly forwarded to DKPP. For disputes between participants and the Commission, the case will be solved alone by the Supervisory Committee.

Another important aspect is the matter of time limits of 45 days (including holidays) for the Constitutional Court (MK) in handling disputes of the election results. The Court will not be able to handle the dispute lawsuit of election results if more than 50 percent of the simultaneous election resulted in the Court, moreover there are 269 elections in the first wave later on December 9, 2015. The assumption, the Court had only 37 minutes to finish the one case. Therefore, it is quite natural that the Court then asks the number of days increased to 60 working days from receipt of the request. It also became one of the driving so that the revision of Law No. 8 of 2011 regarding the Constitutional Court is limited, because the Court has not set the authority in dealing with election disputes. To date the Court only handles election disputes. The Supreme Court (MA) – mandated to adjudicate election disputes in the regional election law – considered not ready to settle the dispute in 2015 simultaneous regional elections, because of its human resources.

Closing

The successful indicators of the simultaneous and massive regional elections in Indonesia later can take place peaceful and relatively free of the various modes of cheating. Credibility of regional election organizers is at stake in the regions, let alone a first test of the simultaneous elections held. Likewise with the Constitutional Court which was given the role of resolving disputes of regional election results, the future should be promoted for a special agency to resolve election disputes outside of the Constitutional Court or the Supreme Court. The government also needs to regulate population administration system that can accommodate a very varied population mobility to be put into list of legitimate voters. Therefore, updating the voters’ data is an absolute necessity.

Conflict, money politics and political dynasty, will still color the implementation of simultaneous regional elections on December 9, 2015 in Indonesia. Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has an important task to verify the entire State Officials Wealth Report (LHKPN) registered by the regional head candidates, to be opened and made known to the wider community at large. Public participation is essential to oversee and monitor the regional head candidates, misappropriation of funds related to social assistance and grants for the campaign and capture votes. Neutrality of Civil Servants (PNS) also must be enforced, by prohibiting engage in campaign activities, whether a member or involved in it. Ministry of Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform can open a complaint service about the involvement of civil society in influencing voters and give strict punishment for civil servants who become involved in the election. KPU through an independent auditor should audit all finance of political parties, especially concerning the funding of cadres and outsiders. Bawaslu from central and local levels should optimize their role to take action against the perpetrators of money politics.

In prediction, candidates of independent pathway has also difficulties in this simultaneous election. Due to increasing electability, there are more advantageous for the candidate promoted by political parties. Independent candidates must have a minimum requirement of 80 percent popularity. Moreover, if you look at previous experience, very few candidates were elected as regional heads coming from independent paths. Even if elected, they will also have difficulties when running the government program, because they have to deal with Parliament who comes from political parties. Problems can also arise if there is a candidate who is a cadre of a particular political party, but it was carried forward as a candidate by the other political parties because his own political party to support another candidate. Looking ahead to reform political parties should continue to be done in a comprehensive manner, especially concerning rules, campaigns and financial budget. Law also needs to be changed, do not need a quota of 20 percent of seats, but every political party that has seats in parliament could propose regional head candidates. Or political parties and coalitions of political parties can still register the candidate with the minimum quota of 20 percent of parliament seats, but with a maximum of 50 percent of the seats. Terms of candidates from independent pathway also needs to be alleviated. In addition, the recruitment process of political parties also need to be open and democratic. In the future, the General Election Commission (KPU) should continue to conduct a study for the implementation of electronic elections (e-voting, e-recap, e-counting) and build public confidence (trust) for these technologies. Of course, all have to start first with the integrity and independence of the electoral administration which is currently implementing in the first wave of simultaneous elections on December 9, 2015 later.

Igor Dirgantara is Lecturer at Faculty of Social Politics, University Jayabaya, Jakarta, and Director Survey & Polling Indonesia (SPIN).

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Malaysia’s Efforts in Improving Education: Lessons for Developing Countries

MD Staff

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Image from the Malaysian Times

Malaysia’s efforts to tackle education challenges, particularly through the establishment of a ‘delivery unit’ that tracks results, can help other countries seeking to improve implementation in the sector, says a new World Bank report.

The report, Improving Education Sector Performance: Lessons from the Delivery Unit Approach, highlights the role of the Education Performance and Delivery Unit, or PADU, under the Ministry of Education, in improving education outcomes, a key government priority.

The report examines how PADU facilitated program implementation and delivery of results through the Literacy and Numeracy Screening program, or LINUS. Unlike other interventions, the LINUS task force – comprised of several divisions – worked closely with agencies across government to provide an effective framework for coordination, tracking, monitoring and reporting.

“Following the World Bank’s analysis of the LINUS approach, we are glad to share the approach with other countries seeking to improve education outcomes,” said Dato’ Seri Mahdzir bin Khalid, Minister of Education. “As we progress, we will constantly refine ways of delivery and continue to engage relevant institutions such as the World Bank to gather feedback and improve implementation.”

The Government Transformation Program, announced in 2009, set improving education outcomes as a key priority, and a detailed plan in the Malaysian Education Blueprint followed.  Making improving education outcomes a national priority can elevate the profile, stakes, and resourcing for the initiative. Building in evaluations of impact into the program design would further bolster efforts to improve education outcomes.

“The delivery of the essentials of a thriving nation – better schools, healthcare, public transportation – is a mutual goal of all nations, but implementation is a common challenge. The delivery unit approach taken by Malaysia is a creative and effective way to address this challenge,” said Faris Hadad-Zervos, World Bank Group Representative to Malaysia. “This report distills useful lessons learnt in improving the performance of its education sector, and makes recommendations to bring Malaysia one step closer towards its aspirations of becoming a high-income country.”

The study is the latest installment in the World Bank Group’s Outbound Knowledge Report Series that curates, distils and disseminates Malaysia’s development experience. This report is part of the Malaysia Development Experience Series, which strives to capture key learnings from Malaysia that are relevant for developing countries around the globe as they transition out of poverty and into shared prosperity.

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Asia’s dark underbelly: Conflicts threaten long-term stability and development

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A host of conflicts, stretching across the Asian landmass from the Middle East to Southeast Asia and northwest China, are likely to spark violence, complicate economic development, and dash hopes for sustainable stability.

The conflicts and tensions range from ethnic strife in Kurdish areas of Syria and Iran, mortally wounded Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, embattled Baloch nationalism in Pakistan, disposed Rohingya in Southeast Asia, and widespread discontent in Iran, to iron-grip repression in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Xinjiang. Individually and collectively, they promise to create black swans and festering wounds that threaten economic growth and social development.

Stripped to their bare essence, the conflicts and tensions have one thing in common: a quest for either cultural, ethnic or national, or political rights or a combination of those, that governments not only refuse to recognize but are willing to suppress with brutal force.

Repression and military action are designed to suppress political, ethnic and/or national, and economic and social grievances in the false belief that a combination of long-term suppression and economic development will weaken ethnic and/or national and political aspirations as well as undermine dissent.

That is true in case of the Rohingya and Uyghurs as well as for brutal repression in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and northwest China, and military actions such as the Turkish intervention in Syria’s Afrin.

Problems in the Middle East and South Asia are aggravated by a debilitating struggle for regional hegemony between Saudi Arabia and Iran that threaten to destabilize the Islamic republic and Pakistan, have already produced a devastating war and a humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, and are dragging the Horn of Africa into its orbit.

If history teaches anything, it is that only a minority of autocrats have achieved economic and social development. General Augusto Pinochet ensured that Chile is the only South American member of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), albeit at a high human cost, while Asia gave birth to tigers like South Korea and Taiwan.

Moreover, Asia’s multiple conflicts and tensions do not distract from the fact that by and large, the continent is flourishing economically.

History, however, also teaches that ethnic and/or national aspirations explode with vehemence the moment opportunity arises. Seventy years of communist rule in the Soviet Union failed to smother nationalist sentiment in parts of the empire like Chechnya and the Caucasus or erase nationalist differences between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Forty-seven years of communism did not prevent nationalist sentiment from breaking Yugoslavia apart in a series of bloody wars in the 1990s in the wake of the demise of the Iron Curtain.

Carved out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire, modern Turkey has failed to erase demands for Kurdish cultural, if not ethnic or national aspirations, through economic development and political integration based on the principle of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the visionary who founded the republic, that “happy is he who is a Turk.”

Similarly, Palestinian nationalism is alive and kicking 51 years into Israeli occupation of lands conquered during the 1967 Middle East war.

The aftermath of the 2011 Arab popular revolts, involving a concerted counterrevolution co-engineered by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, has laid bare the essence of current conflicts and disputes: a determination of regimes to impose policies on minorities or states at whatever cost.

The UAE-Saudi-led diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar is a case in point as are Asia’s multiple ethnic conflicts. They erupt in a world in which post-colonial borders are being called into question in countries like Syria, Iraq, Libya, Myanmar and Pakistan.

The Rohingya, amid the dizzying array of ethnic and national conflicts stretching from the Middle East or West Asia to China in the East, exemplify the problem in, perhaps, its purest form. Potentially, the Rohingya could become Southeast Asia’s Palestine.

What makes the Rohingya unique is the fact that their aspiration, unlike Palestinians, Kurds, Baloch or Uyghurs, does not involve attachment to a specific piece of land despite a centuries-old history in the Myanmar state of Rakhine. That is also what potentially enables creative thinking about a solution that could open the door to innovative thinking about a multitude of other conflicts.

To many Rohingya, lingering in abysmal conditions in Bangladesh’s Cox Bazaar, after some 650,000 fled repression and terror in Myanmar, securing a sense of belonging on whatever territory that guarantees them protection from persecution as well as economic and social development, is more important than returning to an uncertain existence in Rakhine state. “All I want, is a place to which I can belong,” one refugee said.

Few Rohingya, analysts and officials believe that an agreement that in theory allows Rohingya in Bangladesh to return to Rakhine state will solve the problem. Even if the Rohingya were allowed to return in significant numbers, something that many doubt, nothing in Myanmar government policies and statements suggests that they would be anything more than a barely tolerated, despised ethnic group in a country that does not welcome them.

The makings of a Palestine-like conflict that would embroil not only Myanmar but also Bangladesh and that could spread its tentacles further abroad are evident. In a rare interview with Al Jazeera, Mohammed, a spokesman for the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) using a false name, predicted that suicide bombings constitute the next phase of their effort to secure a safe and stable existence.

The Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation, a charity associated with Lashkar-e-Taiba, one of South Asia’s deadliest groups, claimed in December that it had established operations in Rakhine state where it had distributed blankets and cash.

“We attacked them (the Myanmar military) because they refuse to give us our basic rights as citizens. Again and again, [the] Myanmar government lies to the world. They say they treat us well and give us rights, but they don’t. We are unable to travel from one place to another. We are not allowed to run a business. We are not allowed to go to university. The police and military use various way to suppress us. They beat, torture and humiliate us. That is why we decided to stand up,” Mohammed said.

Preventing the Rohingya issue from spiralling out of control and becoming a problem that can no longer be contained to a specific territory, much like the multitude of similar conflicts, disputes, and repression-based regime survival strategies across Asia, requires out-of-the box thinking. Short-term repression and efforts to impose one party’s will at best buys time and sets the scene for avoidable explosions.

With out-of-the-box thinking a rare commodity, nationalism and protectionism on the rise, and regimes, emboldened by an international community unwilling to stand up for basic rights, able to go to extremes like the use of chemical weapons against rebels in the Syrian province of Idlib, long-term prospects for stable and secure development in Asia are dimmed and potentially threatened by predictable black swans.

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Our teachers need a stern lesson

Rattana Lao

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Outspoken Thammasat graduate Rattana Lao has very definite ideas on how to reform the education system. (Photo courtesy Ms Rattana)

It is no surprise that our local news reports on education have usually been replete with how bad the Thai learning system is.

From a national perspective, the country’s recent Ordinary National Educational Test (O-Net) test results for Grade 12 students reveal the average scores are below par in all subjects. The only subject that the average score is higher than 50% in is Thai language. This does not mean the average quality of students’ Thai language competence is high or adequate.

The World Bank’s report provides a bleak picture of the level of Thai language attainment among students. Its report states that 32% of 15-year-old students in Thailand are “functionally illiterate”. This means their reading comprehension is so poor that they barely understand what they read, hence they even struggle to survive or cope with menial jobs.

When it comes to an international comparison, Thai students are falling behind their peers in Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore. This is most evident in the Programme for International Students Assessment (Pisa) which evaluates the ability of randomly selected 15-year-old students to attain scientific literacy, reading literacy and mathematics literacy. Sadly, for the past 10 years, Thailand’s performance in the Pisa test has never met the world standard. The average 15-year-old Thai student is 1.5 years academically less competent than their peers in Vietnam.

Thai educators are well aware of how bad the system is. For decades, considerable energy, attention and resources have gone into education reform in order to revamp the system. However, the system has not changed much. Since the National Education Act was promulgated in 1999, the system is still heavily centralised and overtly unequal resulting in low academic achievement of students.

One of the main problems of the Thai education system is the rampant rote learning pedagogy. Thai classrooms apply a top-down approach that lacks interactive engagement with students. Teachers stand in front of the class with the expectation to know it all and be the masters of knowledge, while students are given limited engagement and thus show little enthusiasm.

To make matters worse, teachers are not always present in class. The Quality Learning Foundation reported that Thai teachers spend more than 42% of their time outside the classroom.

Worst of all, Thai schools are overloaded with demanding curriculums. Students are expected to know so many topics without being provided with substantive explanation or examples of difficult concepts. They are expected to learn through memorisation rather than understanding, or acquisition of knowledge.

In the recent bi-annual meeting of Anandamahidol scholars, Charas Suwanwela, President of the Education Reform Committee appointed by the current government, offers a compelling insight to the reform process. He highlighted why the two decades of education reform do not produce the needed result and what needs to be done.

Firstly, our education system must shift from a top-down approach to a bottom-up one. By all standards, the Thai system needs greater decentralisation. Reformers of the 1999 National Education Act were aware of this and put decentralisation at the forefront. However, realistically speaking, most — if not all — decisions and resource allocations still depend largely on the discretion of the Ministry of Education, which is heavily bureaucratised and highly hierarchical. Such reliance and dependency has limited the ability of educational service areas to be able to perform.

“To successfully implement any kind of reform, such effort must be bottom up where everyone owns it. As things stand, nobody is accountable for educational problems in Thailand. We all blame each other but nobody takes charge of how things must change”, Mr Charas said.

Greater participation of the public and private sectors is needed. For so long, educational responsibility has belonged to the state, which leaves the rest of the society inert and irresponsible for change. But education is the responsibility of every party: The state, schools, families, private sectors, communities and even temples. Everyone must participate to make a difference.

Second, there must be a renewed sense of hope for teachers and students.

“Teachers and students must be empowered to become active agents. For teachers, they must be motivated to constantly acquire new knowledge to inform and inspire students. While specialisation teachers in all subjects are needed, we do not have the resources to do so. Therefore, teachers must be eager and empowered to improve themselves”, Mr Charas said.

The heart of it all, however, is that students must be awakened. In the new era of digital technology, students cannot rely on top-down, rote learning and memorisation as the method of education. They must learn to be digitally literate so that they can acquire information on their own. A digital revolution is needed for students to learn online, on-air and on the ground.

Third, education reform must take the issue of inequality seriously. Prasarn Trairatvorakul, National Economic Reform Chairman, recently shared his vision of the state-run Equitable Education Fund that aims to address educational disparity.

“A new law is being drafted to mobilise [financial] resources from national budgets, donations and lottery profits to create an Equitable Education Fund in order to mitigate educational inequality,” Mr Prasarn said.

“The annual educational budget is around 500 billion baht. This new law will propose that 5% of that will be allocated precisely to offer educational resources to support the most marginalised and underprivileged in the country. Starting from early childhood education, this new fund aims to offer financial supports for students up to upper secondary schools.”

The system cannot be overhauled overnight. However, with vision, collaboration and real commitment, there is a beaming light of hope that education in Thailand might improve over time.

First published in Bangkok Post, repost under author’s permission

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