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Jakarta Gubernatorial Election 2017: Who Will Be Eliminated?

Igor Dirgantara

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Approaching the polls February 15, 2017, competition has been increasingly rigorous among the three candidates who are contesting in the Jakarta Gubernatorial Election (Pilgub) 2017, namely, incumbent duet Basuki Tjahaja Purnama-Djarot Saiful Hidayat (Ahok-Djarot), Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono-Sylviana Murni (Agus-Sylvi), and Anies Baswedan-Sandiaga Uno (Anies-Sandi).

Many said that the fight in Jakarta gubernatorial election this time is a ‘proxy war’ of the rivalry among the political elites Megawati Soekarno Putri, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Prabowo Subianto. Ahok-Djarot is supported by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), the People’s Conscience Party (Hanura), The Functional Group Party (Golkar), and the National Democratic Party (Nasdem). Agus-Sylvi is supported by the Democratic Party, the United Development Party (PPP), the National Awakening Party (PKB) and the National Mandate Party (PAN). Whereas Anies-Sandi is supported by the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS). Presently, the Jakarta gubernatorial election is entering the stage of formal debate among the candidates that will begin on January 13, 2017. In the previous informal debate that was aired by some private televisions, the Anies-Sandi duet looked dominating over other candidates.

Predictably the Jakarta Gubernatorial Election 2017 will take two rounds, because the winner is required to get 50%+1 vote. Agus-Sylvi, Ahok-Djarot, and Anies-Sandi are having equal opportunity to win and at the same also potentially to lose, or will not qualify for the second round. Support to the three pairs of candidates are still fluid and attitude of the voters tend to be still able to change until the end days before the voting day February 13, 2017. Supporting votes for the three pairs of candidates is nearly the same in number. Electabilities of the three pairs of candidates who will compete are still overlapping each others within the margin of error. Statistically, no certainty can be made on which pair of candidates will win.

Despite of Good Performance’s of Ahok, Jakarta’s Residents Want New Governor

From the results of survey conducted by SPIN (Survey & Polling Indonesia) during August-December 2016, it was revealed that Ahok is still considered by the public as the figure who best understands the problems in Jakarta (73%), compared to Anies (40%), or Agus (33% ). The pair of incumbent governor Ahok-Djarot has had the advantage in selling the programs they have achieved.

On the other hand, his two contenders focused on issues that have not been covered yet by Ahok-Djarot. Anies-Sandi pairing, for example, developed issues of job availability, basic stuff price control, and clean water availability in Jakarta. These issues were raised as a criticism against Ahok’s policies that were more physical, rather than human oriented. Anies-Sandi also intends to stop the policy on reclamation in Jakarta Bay which has been being contested by many environmental activists. Meanwhile, Agus-Sylvi’s programs highlighted more the provision of financial assistance, such as the granting of Rp 5 million per poor family, or Rp 1 billion per RW (Rukun Warga) in Jakarta. It is obvious that the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election will be the momentum to evaluate the incumbent governor’s performance and to draft the overall improvement.

Significantly, the trend of favorability to Ahok as the incumbent has decreased. Only as low as 30% believe that Ahok deserves to be re-elected Governor, while 55% want a new figure for Jakarta governor. Ahok’s positive popularity is equal to his negative popularity. Negative sentiment against Ahok is also prevalent in various segments of Jakarta voters due to the alleged religious defamation case which has resulted in a commotion and protest by Muslim community. Presently, Ahok is the accused (defendant) on the religious defamation case before the court for quoting a Quranic verse in surah Al-Maidah 51 during his working visit in the Thousand Islands. As at January 10, 2017, the case of alleged religious defamation by Ahok was entering the fifth trial round.

Despite, in one side, majority of Jakarta people being rational voters, but on the other hand they are in fact unable to escape from the political choice based on primordialism. The anti-Ahok struggle is stronger due to the religious motive. Ahok is at a disadvantaged position because he comes from minority ethnic and religion. Ahok is now in trouble with a sensitive issue of religious defamation. His status as the accused becomes a psychological barrier for the public from reelecting him. Primordial identity has been used for political benefit and gaining support. Ahok’s weakness is none of Muslim-based parties supports him. However, for Ahok’s supporters, he was merely a victim of religion politicization. Although it is possible, but somewhat difficult, for Ahok to rebound his electability within this remaining one month.

In contrast, Anies Baswedan is seen as a figure who is more caring to the Jakarta people (57%), than Ahok (52%), or Agus (47%). Anies is also considered more as representing the entire strata of Jakarta people (52%), compared to Ahok (41%), and Agus (39%). Jakarta’s public is indeed expecting a new leader who has respect and integrity, represents all strata of the Jakarta people, capable of creating jobs, and has the ability to improve education of his residents.

Agus Harymurti Yudhoyono is today very popular as a candidate for Jakarta Governor. His personal branding as a young man and handsome has heavily attached in Jakarta’s people. By hearsay, human is an eye animal. A candidate who is physically attractive may earn 3 times more votes, particularly from the first-time and female voters segment. This is because the first impression that begins from physical appearance of someone is usually difficult to change. Theoretically, one’s first image is usually based on visual aspect. Furthermore, human’s mind is limited, thus the voters’ perception tends to be filtered by a physiological filter. This is the advantage of Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono that is also possessed by Sandiaga Uno.

This differs with Ahok who has controversial leadership style in the public eye. The voters in Jakarta presently give Anies Baswedan and Agus Harimurti an opportunity to be the new governor of Jakarta. However, Anies Baswedan is very vulnerable to be rushed by negative religious issues, such as allegation as a follower of Shia or Liberal Islam. Whereas Agus Harymurti Yudhoyono is deemed lack of experience and as a part of a political dynasty or a son of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Closing Remark

In 2017, the Jakarta people will predictably have a new Governor on February 15. He will be either Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, Anies Baswedan, or Djarot Saiful Hidayat. This means, if the incumbent Ahok-Djarot pair even wins, there will be very little chance for Ahok to be the Jakarta Governor for the second period because of his accused status and potential imprisonment related to the religious defamation proceeding to which he is now subjected. Ahok will remain able to survive if there is a gigantic power intervening his case. However, this may trigger a national political uproar that is even greater. Jakarta Gubernatorial Election 2017 indeed correlates with the process and decision of Ahok’s court trial that is still current.

Approaching the voting day February 15, 2017, each of the candidates will be campaigning more actively to grab undecided votes and swing voters, particularly of first-time voters, Muslim voters, Javanese voters, and the urban middle class. In the capital Jakarta, social media can be used as a tool to grab supports and influence these voters. However, undeniably, the Ahok’s religious defamation case indeed gave benefit and opportunity to Anies-Sandi and Agus-Sylvi pairs to win on the Jakarta gubernatorial election on February 15, 2017. Even if Ahok loses the election, the public will still look at Ahok’s performance that has been deemed good as a work barometer for anyone who will succeed him, no matter whether he is a polite Muslim or not.

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

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Could Malaysia’s Political Feuds Let the 1MDB Scandal’s Architect Through the Cracks?

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From gifting Basquiat paintings to Leonardo di Caprio to pouring millions of dollars in champagne over himself and Paris Hilton, allegations of outrageous exploits and profligate spending surrounding fugitive Malaysian financier Jho Low are being read about across the globe—but not in the UK.

That is because Low’s lawyers have used Britain’s notoriously strict libel laws to effectively muzzle Billion Dollar Whale, a new book from investigative journalists Tom Wright and Bradley Hope that describes the playboy banker’s alleged role in siphoning off more than $4 billion from Malaysian sovereign investment fund 1MDB. Even though the book was released amid critical praise on September 18th, anyone in the UK will be hard-pressed to find a copy in their local independent bookstore— or even on the UK websites of Amazon, Waterstones, or WH Smiths. Not a single UK-based publisher agreed to take on the book due to fears over libel suits.

The Guardian published an expose this week detailing the efforts of London-based law firm Schillings to suppress the book’s sale in Britain. Low’s lawyers have tried to head off the book’s distribution by sending intimidating letters threatening to sue booksellers across the world. Outside of the UK, however, this legal campaign has failed to curb the book’s launch. The Australian owner of Boomerang Books, for example, simply rejected the threat as lawyers “blowing smoke“ and refused to take the book off shelves.

While his attorneys threaten booksellers, Low has also launched a website proclaiming his innocence and disputing allegations of his involvement in corruption, going so far as to claim his astounding wealth—at one point, Low may have had access to more liquid cash than anyone in history—comes from inheritance. A staggering inheritance is less likely than Billion Dollar Whale’s assertion that Low managed to get Goldman Sachs to transfer $3 billion of Malaysian state funds into a private Swiss bank account. Low allegedly used the stolen money to, among other things, bankroll the film Wolf of Wall Street and purchase a $250 million superyacht.

Low’s alleged role as mastermind in the 1MDB scandal may be the focus of Billion Dollar Whale, but nonagenarian prime minister Mahathir Mohamed has instead zeroed in on predecessor and onetime protégé Najib Razak. Last week, Najib’s lawyer Muhammad Shafee was detained on money laundering charges. Najib himself was then arrested on September 19th and is now awaiting trial on more than 20 counts, with anticorruption agency officials hinting at more charges still to come.

The 93-year-old Mahathir has previously stated that he has the “almost perfect case” to convict his disciple-turned-enemy. As Mahathir’s young government has moved against them, however, Najib and Shafee have pushed back. Najib has repeatedly insisted that he believes Mahathir’s focus on his role in the corruption scandal is politically motivated. He also claims the $681 million bank deposit at the heart of the money laundering accusations against him was a donation from the Saudi royal family, an assertion the Saudi government backed in 2016. Shafee revisited the details of the funds transfer this week following Najib’s arrest, pointing out that the former PM returned the vast majority of the $681 million and disputing the money laundering charges against his client as “illogical.”

While Mahathir doggedly pursues Najib, he seems to be making less of an effort to pursue or apprehend Jho Low and the billions the financier allegedly pilfered. Why the discrepancy? The answer likely lies in Mahathir’s own past as a member of the same class of strongman as the Philippine’s Ferdinand Marcos and Indonesia’s Suharto, as well as his personal history with Najib.

Mahathir may have only come to power in May, but he has already served a nearly two-decade term as Prime Minister that earned him an international reputation for ugly ethnic politics and strongarm tactics. He ushered in the “Malaysia Inc.” policy that tried to follow the Japanese model of nationalizing certain industries, but is best known for the failed nationalization of the automotive industry and the Malaysia-produced Proton car. He is also known for throwing another potential successor, Anwar Ibrahim, out of power and into prison on sodomy charges suspected to be politically motivated.

Ironically enough, Mahathir retook power this year by campaigning on the return of rule of law and an end to corruption – and is once again pointing to Anwar as his anointed successor. More than a few observers suspect Mahathir’s aspirations to return to office were born less out of any interest in saving his country, and more from a desire to wreak political vengeance on his former ally. Najib, who came to power in 2009, oversaw the reversal of many of Mahathir’s policies. Steps such as rolling back import tariffs on automobiles to the detriment of the Malaysian Proton led Mahathir to perceive Najib as undoing his political legacy.

With this personal animus playing out in the Malaysian press over the past few years, Mahathir’s current persecution of Najib risks crossing the line separating a fair judicial process from the jailing of a political rival. Asian affairs analysts have raised the specter of Mahathir using Najib as a scapegoat to avoid genuine reform. It was, after all, under Mahathir’s previous tenure that shady backroom dealings and authoritarian behavior became the norm in Malaysia.

With that track record, it certainly seems illogical to hope the man most emblematic of Malaysia’s old guard will steer the country back towards democracy after finishing with Najib. Mahathir will allegedly hand off power after two years per the terms of his agreement with Anwar Ibrahim. Two years is a long time in the context of Malaysia’s unpredictable politics and the rumblings of discontent with the arrangement within the ruling coalition.

In the interim, the new government’s single-minded focus on Najib could help Jho Low fly as low under the radar in Malaysia as he has in the UK.

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Will There Ever Be Justice For Rohingya Muslims?

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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There is an image engraved in our minds of a stoic, reserved, elegant Aung San Suu Kyi unbending in her struggle against Burma’s generals for democracy, and we assumed for human rights.  Last year, when the refugees streamed out of her country in the wake of atrocities, it blocked all UN agencies from delivering food, water and medicine to affected civilians; her office accused aid workers of helping terrorists.

Her iconic stature long gone, she made a public appearance the day after the International Fact-Finding Mission released its initial 20-page overview to the UN Human Rights Council on August 27, 2018.  The damning evidence of murder, rape, torture, persecution, burned villages, landmines along escape routes reported on by NGOs and news media over the past year had been confirmed.  Elegant and patrician as usual, Aung San Suu Kyi discoursed on poetry and literature.  No mention of the genocide or the UN report.  No longer an icon, there have been calls to relieve her of the Nobel Peace Prize.

The UN group criticized her for her continued refusal to condemn the genocide.  The full report detailing unspeakable horrors in its 440-page account has now been released (September 18, 2018).  What might surprise people is a simple shocking fact:  This is not the first UN report on Rohingya massacres.

On February 3, 2017, the UN issued a detailed account of the military’s operations in north Maungddaw with “the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”  It recounted the murders, rapes and tortures that have now become the trademark of military operations against the Rohingya.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein is quoted as saying ” … what kind of hatred could make a man stab a baby crying out for his mother’s milk.  And for the mother to witness this murder while she is being gang-raped by the very security forces that should be protecting her.”

There were no major consequences for Myanmar then and what happened the following summer was the same magnified over Rakhine state.  As a result we have 700,000 refugees, and they are still coming — “11,342 new arrivals as of mid-June this year,” Mr. Zeid has noted.

Will this time be different?  Following the UN Commission’s summary report, 160 British parliamentarians across party lines signed a petition to Prime Minister Theresa May to refer the Myanmar military to the International Criminal Court (ICC).  The UN report accuses the military of genocide, and identifies six generals, singling them out for investigation and prosecution.  They are, the senior general who heads the military, the commander of the army, and four operational commanders.

ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has now been authorized to begin a preliminary investigation to gather evidence before launching a full investigation.  Myanmar is not a signatory to the Rome Statute establishing the ICC but Bangladesh hosting the refugees is, thus giving the court jurisdiction.

Marzuki Darusman providing details of massacres and unmentionable atrocities said in reporting to the Human Rights Council, “I have never been confronted by crimes as horrendous and on such a scale as these.”

If the UN Security Council is to be stymied by veto — China preventing any action against Myanmar — will the ICC effort also fizzle out in practice if not in theory?  Justice remains tenuous for the weak and powerless in our world.

Author’s Note:  This article first appeared on counterpunch.org

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Seven Years of UNITE Thailand: Freedom to be Free

Rattana Lao

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An art camp in Loei Province with the painting of UNITE Thailand on the theme of “our home” done by Archee. photo: Rattana Lao

BANGKOK – During the peak of Thailand’s political warfare between the Red and Yellow shirts, I was a graduate student at Teachers College, Columbia University pursuing a Doctorate in Political Science with a specialization in Comparative and International Education.

As Bangkok’s buildings were burnt down, I sat in tears in front of my computer could not comprehend nor tolerate the sights and senses of such catastrophe.

What’s happening to Thailand? A place we once called the land of smile.

I put myself together and defended my proposal. I came home for my dissertation research. But once I landed, I began something entirely different.

I called my friends from all walks of lives: academics, businesses, politics and civil society and we started talking about the future of Thailand what to do, what can we do?

Inspired by the KEEPS project at the London School of Economics, where I did my Master of Sciences in Development Studies, we initiated an art project for political liberation.

Something Freire would be proud of.

We took paint colors, brushes and canvases to rural areas and began using art as mean to break political deadlocks – to initiate a conversation. We asked our students to paint the future of Thailand in their visions.

From a humble beginning in 2011, we grew in size and scope. UNITE Thailand is now a global youth networks of like-minded individuals who want to make a difference for Thailand. We are an educational project with 3,000 members.

We have collaborated with the Open Society Foundation in 2012 to create the 1st IDEA Asia Youth Forum where we brought together 200 Asia youth from 22 countries to work with Thai university students in Thailand for 2 weeks.

We have worked with the International Labour Organizations in 2013 – 2014VDO to promote the Sapansiang Campaign that addresses the positive images of migrant workers in Thailand.

Anna Olsen, the Technical Specialist TRIANGLE in ASEAN program of the ILO said, “working with UNITE Thailand allowed us to reach young Thai people with our messages of protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers who contribute so much to Thai society and development.”

Since its inception, MCOT Thailand and the Anandamahidol Foundation have helped to scale up our 20 art camps for our students nation-wide by creating ongoing documentaries that capture the essences of what we try to do on the ground.

Sitting here on the eve of International Youth Day of 2018, I am writing to my students globally that never let anyone tell us what we are and are not capable of. The power of the young is momentous and paramount. Never let your inspiration, motivation and determination die down just because what we think seem impossible or someone else tell us so.

Thailand is far from where we want it to be. It’s still rotten with corruption, rampant inequality and lack democracy. But each brush we stroke, each project we strike, we do it with hope and dignity, we do it to empower and we aspire to make a difference.

Mayaclear Aphornsuvan, UNITE Thailand Youth Representative, encapsulates her seven years experiences with the movement.

“Opportunities, dreams, and chances seem so far away when no one is by your side. That’s how it felt to me when I was in high school, at least. But I crossed paths with UNITE Thailand by chance, and it was the first time a group of people believed in me. And in turn, this gave me all the strength I needed to believe in myself and others. UNITE Thailand gives opportunities to those who often get ignored. But the first opportunity in one’s life is oftentimes the most important.  UNITE Thailand means the world to me, because they gave me a whole new world of opportunity and dreams.”

On behalf of UNITE Thailand, we thank our friends from all over the world for showering us with your trust and enabling us to keep dreaming.

We, 3,000 of UNITE Thailand, dedicate this project to His Majesty the King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama the ninth to the Chakri Dynasty, our King of Education, for not only sponsoring my transatlantic education through the Anandamahidol Foundation, but for providing Thailand with a necessary guiding light. We wish his soul rest in peace. We wish him well.

We promise to be kind and find peace from within outward.

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