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AsiaGlobal Voices

Trending Opinions From Across the Region

AsiaGlobal Voices is a curated feed of summaries of opinion articles, columns and editorials published in local languages in media from across Asia.

The publication of AsiaGlobal Voices summaries does not indicate any endorsement by the Asia Global Institute or AsiaGlobal Online of the opinions expressed in them.
An Unconscionable Prisoner Policy
Wednesday, May 27, 2020
An Unconscionable Prisoner Policy

Usman Hamid, Executive Director of Amnesty International Indonesia, and Veronica Koman, human rights lawyer, in The Jakarta Post (May 25, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: Marcel Gnauk/Pixabay)

An Unconscionable Prisoner Policy

The United Nations is right: It is impossible to practice physical distancing and self-isolation in an overcrowded prison. We therefore applaud the decision by Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly to release almost 40,000 prisoners at risk from the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet Minister Yasonna’s policy falls crucially short: Prisoners of conscience are excluded from the policy, despite the UN urging that “political prisoners should be among the first released”.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s government has detained 69 prisoners of conscience (PoCs) on treason charges, a record in recent times for Indonesia. The majority of them, 54, are indigenous Papuans. All are peaceful activists who have been detained for political expression -- simply carrying flags, organizing or participating in peaceful protests, or being members of political organizations. No one should ever be arrested or detained solely for exercising their human rights.

The majority of these PoCs were arrested during and in the immediate wake of the 2019 West Papua uprising that took place from August 19 to September 23 last year. These protests against racism and for self-determination, likened to an “earthquake” of anger and hope, took place in towns and villages throughout Papua.


Economic Recovery Sidelines SMEs and Cooperatives
Thursday, May 21, 2020
Economic Recovery Sidelines SMEs and Cooperatives

Suroto, Director, INKUR (Induk Koperasi Usaha Rakyat, or People’s Cooperative Effort), in Republika (May 18, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: Danumurthi Mahendra/USAID)

Economic Recovery Sidelines SMEs and Cooperatives

Looking at the scheme for the recovery of the economy, I doubt if this will improve the purchasing power of the public, which the Covid-19 crisis has damaged far more than the monetary crises of 1998 and 2008. The virus has affected both upstream and downstream sectors of the economy where micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) and the cooperatives operate, representing 99.3 percent of Indonesian enterprises, contributing 57 percent of GDP.

The recovery scheme envisages a leading role for major companies, including the state-owned enterprises. The role of MSMEs and cooperatives is minimal. Out of the state funding of 318.09 trillion rupiahs (US$21.5 billion), MSMEs and cooperatives get only 34 trillion rupiahs (US$2.3 billion), and that in the form of interest subsidies.

I suspect there is a hidden agenda in this program in which certain elements have lobbied for a leading role in policy. Our recommendation is for a bigger role for the MSMEs and cooperatives.


The President Should be Supreme Commander in Covid-19 War
Thursday, May 14, 2020
The President Should be Supreme Commander in Covid-19 War

R Siti Zuhro, Senior Researcher, Indonesian Institute of Sciences, in Kompas (May 14, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: Cabinet Secretary of the Republic of Indonesia)

The President Should be Supreme Commander in Covid-19 War

A while ago, the public was shocked by video of a regent from North Sulawesi stating that regulations from the central government regarding assistance for the public during the Covid-19 crisis were confusing and created problems for his region. The comment was understandable. As a local leader dealing directly with the public, people like this have to provide a sense of security at a time when the central government is seen as having taken too long to adopt policies.

At the central level, ministries and central government institutions have not developed the unity required to confront the crisis so it is hardly surprising that problems emerge when they should be developing synergies with local governments. Communication and coordination with local governments are critical. Indeed, leaders at the village level represent the front line in serving the public and must be involved.

The president should be the “supreme commander” in the war against the Covid-19 pandemic. The assumption is that if the president is the supreme commander, decisions can be made more rapidly, with better focus and integration.


Education During the Pandemic
Friday, May 8, 2020
Education During the Pandemic

Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, Chairman, Democratic Party, in Media Indonesia (May 8, 2020) 

Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: King Fajr / Shutterstock.com)

Education During the Pandemic

Along with virtually all parents at this time, my wife and I have to accept responsibility for helping our child study at home. Like others, we have to admit that explaining various lessons and assisting our children in their schoolwork is not as easy as we thought. And it now appears that the face of education in Indonesia is going to be changed enormously because of the pandemic. 

Online education is not simple. It requires personal discipline and certain facilities. I am grateful that I am able to assist our child. But I am also aware of the complaints of many other parents and people working in the education system about the availability of smartphones or laptops and an internet connection. In simple terms, online learning has the potential to expand socioeconomic inequity. Some are facing the very difficult choice of spending on food for their families or paying for their children’s education.

The potential for students dropping out of school is high. There are already indications of higher drop-out rates in Papua, North Maluku and Jakarta, all areas badly affected by the pandemic.


The Spirit of Prayer in the Midst of the Covid-19 Pandemic
Friday, April 24, 2020
The Spirit of Prayer in the Midst of the Covid-19 Pandemic

Muhammad Rajab, Director of Islamic Studies, Tazkia International Islamic Boarding School, Malang, East Java, in Media Indonesia (April 22, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: Gunawan Kartapranata)

The Spirit of Prayer in the Midst of the Covid-19 Pandemic

Conducting the requirements of Ramadan this year will without doubt have to come within a different environment. The opportunity to take part in practices such as the evening tarawih prayers will be disturbed, if not cancelled. In previous years, it has always been a problem for mosques to accommodate all the people who want to take part in these prayers but this time around mosques will be less than full, and perhaps even empty.

Nevertheless, the spirit to fulfill religious practice this month should not be allowed to weaken. Tarawih can be performed with your family at home. Indeed, if this is done to avoid damage to the public, the benefits are doubled. We need to understand that the spirit of Islam in blocking all forms of damage is extremely high. This provides the opportunity to make Ramadan this year more meaningful, weighty and perfect if it is combined with a strong “social jihad”.


Amid the Politics, Where is the Empathy?
Tuesday, April 21, 2020
Amid the Politics, Where is the Empathy?

Azyumardi Azra, Director, Graduate School, and rector (1998-2006), Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, in Kompas (April 16, 2020) 

Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: Denis Moskvinov / Shutterstock.com)

Amid the Politics, Where is the Empathy?

The struggle against the Covid-19 virus is going to be a long one, especially in Indonesia. The worst scenario is if attempts to enforce social distancing fail or regional lockdowns are not able to control an undisciplined population that continues to move from hot zones to other areas. If that happens, the number of coronavirus cases could climb to over two million.

What is clear is that there are already many victims. These include those who have died but also those who have been affected economically. In the Jakarta area, it is estimated that since a lockdown was introduced on April 4, as many as 5.28 million people have been affected in addition to the 7.05 million already unemployed.

Indonesia is lucky to have a long tradition of philanthropy. Yet very few officials have been willing to donate all or part of their wages to help those affected. There is no political empathy among senior officials or the political elite. Meanwhile, the parliament and government are going ahead with discussions of the highly controversial work-creation bill.


The Covid-19 Pandemic was not a “Strategic Surprise”
Tuesday, April 14, 2020
The Covid-19 Pandemic was not a “Strategic Surprise”

Evan A Laksmana, Senior Researcher, Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), in The Jakarta Post (April 13, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: Mohamad Sholeh)

The Covid-19 Pandemic was not a “Strategic Surprise”

Indonesia was and remains utterly unprepared to deal with the Covid-19 crisis. Many have argued that the pandemic has been Indonesia’s biggest “strategic surprise” in decades. But by uncritically painting the pandemic as such an unforeseen occurrence, some analysts may implicitly or inadvertently absolve the government of any responsibility. After all, they argue, Covid-19 was a “non-natural disaster” that many states could not have predicted.

This claim is clearly wrong. Scientists, epidemiologists and global health scholars have warned about a pandemic for years. Over the past two decades, various public health outbreaks, from severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) to Ebola, should have driven this point home.

Despite ample warnings from dozens of countries hit by Covid-19 outbreaks throughout February and early March, Indonesian policymakers were in denial. They publicly clung to unfounded assumptions about the “saving power” of Indonesia’s temperature or humidity. Some even implied that traditional herbs or dishes could be antidotes to the virus, while others suggested that prayers would be sufficient to stem any viral tide.


China's Traditional Fishing Rights Claim is Baseless
Wednesday, April 8, 2020
China's Traditional Fishing Rights Claim is Baseless

Aristyo Rizka Darmawan, lecturer in international maritime law and senior researcher at the Center for Sustainable Ocean Policy at the School of Law, University of Indonesia, in The Jakarta Post (April 4, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: Stratman2)

China's Traditional Fishing Rights Claim is Baseless

Tensions arose afresh between Jakarta and Beijing following a series of incidents in the North Natuna Sea last December. China’s fishing activities in the seas north of the Natuna Islands, protected by that country’s coast guard, were deemed a violation of Indonesia’s sovereign rights in the natural resource-rich maritime territory.

China has insisted on its maritime claim covering almost the entire South China Sea, known as the “nine-dash line”, which overlaps Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the northern parts of the Natuna Sea. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which China and Indonesia are parties, there is no such thing as the nine-dash line. Moreover, the July 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling on the case brought by Philippines against China stipulated that the nine-dash line had no basis under international law.

An article by Lei Xiaolu of Wuhan University that appeared in The Jakarta Post on March 11 argued that China has traditional fishing rights in waters of the Natuna Islands. On at least three counts, she wrongly analyzes the legal concept of traditional fishing rights under UNCLOS. Clearly, China’s traditional fishing rights in Indonesia’s EEZ surrounding the Natuna Islands is misleading and constitutes a misconception.


Don’t Victimize the Bats
Monday, March 23, 2020
Don’t Victimize the Bats

Joko Pamungkas, Lecturer in veterinary science, Institut Pertanian Bogor (IPB University, in Kompas (March 20, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard

Don’t Victimize the Bats

Steps to eradicate bats as a result of their alleged role in spreading the coronavirus are unreasonable, representing a form of panic without foundation whether from the perspective of science or animal welfare. The regent of Subang in West Java has issued a memorandum calling on the public to eradicate bats in their surroundings. 

Plenty of scientific articles discuss the role of bats in spreading viruses including emerging infectious diseases. While it is true that bats often carry viruses related to those that affect the respiratory system in humans, the connection is not a direct one. For humans to be affected requires a complex process involving a third-party animal. There is, therefore, no reason to declare war on bats. 

What we need to do is work in a more systematic way rather than descend into panic. The closure of markets selling wild animals for food needs to be accompanied with a ban on hunting. The chain of the marketing of wild commodities needs to be broken. 


Violence Against Women Should Not Be Ignored
Thursday, March 12, 2020
Violence Against Women Should Not Be Ignored

Neni Nur Hayati, Executive Director, Democracy and Electoral Empowerment Partnership, in Republika (March 11, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: Mamat Suryadi / Shutterstock.com)

Violence Against Women Should Not Be Ignored

There is nothing unusual when every year on March 8 we celebrate International Women’s Day. It is an opportunity to reflect on how far women have been able to achieve equality, welfare and a democratic lifestyle free from violence. The most important task facing us at the moment is to free women from a variety of forms of sexual abuse.

Recently, there has been an escalation of sexual violence toward women. It does not only occur in the real world but also online and in the privacy of our homes – for instance, in the form of incest. Sexual abuse is committed in public spaces such as public transport. Rather than providing a place for relaxation and rest, what happens is that unreasonable behavior occurs, with victims experiencing trauma and a reduction in their quality of life.

Based on data from the National Women’s Commission, in 2019 there were 5,509 cases of sexual violence against women. We may not want to admit it, but from year to year, many issues confronting women fail to get the required attention and indeed are often ignored.


The Stagnation of Civil Society
Monday, March 9, 2020
The Stagnation of Civil Society

Azyumardi Azra, Director, Graduate School, and rector (1998-2006), Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, in Kompas (March 5, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock.com)

The Stagnation of Civil Society

In keeping up with the chatter among experts and observers from both inside and outside Indonesia, we have to conclude that the retreat of democracy in Indonesia over the past few years is connected to the stagnation of civil society. If this stagnation continues, the fate of democracy in the country becomes increasingly unsure. 

In the past, institutions and international advocates of democracy praised Indonesia as a “full democracy” because of a public that was alive, dynamic and motivated. But some political developments over the past few years, especially relating to democracy and governance, have stripped civil society of its enthusiasm. 

Peter van Tuijl, a civil society expert and democracy activist who lived for a long time in Indonesia, writes that civil society is now on the defensive. Surveys in Indonesia confirm this picture. 


With Omnibus Laws on Jobs and Taxes, Jokowi Gambles with Democracy
Thursday, March 5, 2020
With Omnibus Laws on Jobs and Taxes, Jokowi Gambles with Democracy

Rizal Mallarangeng, founder and Executive Director, Freedom Institute, Jakarta, in Media Indonesia (March 3, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: US Department of State)

With Omnibus Laws on Jobs and Taxes, Jokowi Gambles with Democracy

In the world of politics, there is a saying “Be careful what you wish for, you might get it”. Today, many people are shocked, including supporters of President Joko Widodo, because it appears that he intends to realize his campaign promises at full speed. Two draft omnibus bills – one on tax and the other on job creation – are in front of the parliament and at the center of public attention. 

Indonesia needs a breakthrough, and these laws are it. In essence, the concept is harmonization, integration and simplification of various regulations that have created distortions in our economy. The draft omnibus laws represent an ideal middle way in creating an Indonesian welfare state. Our industrial relations can become more flexible, while continuing to respect the rights of workers.  

They will create a situation in which Indonesia can adapt more rapidly to change and become more transparent and competitive. That does not mean these draft omnibus laws are perfect, but the opportunity is there for discussion. 


Wrong to Make Islamic State Fighters Stateless
Tuesday, February 25, 2020
Wrong to Make Islamic State Fighters Stateless

Al Araf, Executive Director, and Anton Aliabbas, Senior Fellow for Security Reform, at human rights monitor Imparsial, in The Jakarta Post (February 24, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: Sriyana / Shutterstock.com)

Wrong to Make Islamic State Fighters Stateless

The decision of President Joko Widodo not to repatriate Islamic State (IS) sympathizers due to their potential security threat to the public may be justified in the context of the fight against terrorism. Other officials have stated that this will render them stateless. In formulating a counterterrorism policy, the state must fulfill its obligations in upholding the liberty of the person in a permanent balance with the protection of his or her security. The revocation of the citizenship of Indonesians who have joined IS is neither reasonable nor justifiable.

The revocation of citizenship does not solve terrorism; it instead legitimizes IS as a state. The IS sympathizers are legally Indonesian citizens, and the government cannot evade its constitutional mandate in dealing with them. Further, the government’s authority to rescind citizens’ citizenship has no legal grounds.

Leaving them stateless may breed new problems for global security. As we do not have any measure to closely monitor them, they can still re-enter Indonesia through its porous borders.


The Middle Class and the Problem of Inequity
Wednesday, February 19, 2020
The Middle Class and the Problem of Inequity

Ichlasul Amal, Lecturer in International Relations and Rector (1998-2002), Universitas Gadjah Mada, in Kompas (February 19, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard

The Middle Class and the Problem of Inequity

The middle class has become an important topic in the context of reinforcing democracy but the discussion about the relationship between the two often arrives at only ambiguous conclusions. Given the increasing role of technology in society, the existence of a middle class is no longer directly related to the level of democracy.

The size of the Indonesian middle class has risen dramatically along with the reduction in poverty (now below 10 percent of the population) over the past 15 years. The statistics, however, belie the reality. Economic growth has only benefited the richest 20 percent, while 80 percent – around 205 million people – have not seen much change in their living standards. Inequity has accelerated faster than in neighboring economies and between different parts of the country.

Indonesia has a large workforce of around 133 million. There are 6.87 million unemployed, 56 million formal sector workers, and 70 million in the informal sector. This and many other factors create a complex situation, which makes it difficult to talk about the middle class and democracy. This presents a challenge for President Joko Widodo, but the issue does not yet appear to have become a policy priority.


Time for Indonesia to Decriminalize Drugs
Thursday, February 13, 2020
Time for Indonesia to Decriminalize Drugs

Ricky Gunawan, Director, and Will Doran, intern, LBH Masyarakat (Community Legal Aid), in Jakarta Globe (February 11, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard

Time for Indonesia to Decriminalize Drugs

When they visited Jakarta, three members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP) told civil servants, NGOs and government officials that it was time to move forward on drug policy. The “war on drugs”, they said, had failed to achieve its intended objective and only resulted in the opposite – more production of drugs, an increase in drug consumption, the global phenomenon of mass incarceration, and more powerful organized crime.

Indonesia would benefit greatly from an approach that ceased to treat drugs as a criminal justice issue but instead treated them as a public health matter. The nation has draconian punishments for drug offenses, including the death penalty. Out of 369 death row prisoners in the country, 230 are awaiting execution on drug charges. It is time to open a dialogue with police forces to find ways to make changes that would benefit law enforcement and society as a whole.

Decriminalization would right the wrongs of the “war on drugs”. It would be accompanied by measures to promote voluntary drug treatment. It will not result in more addicts. Decriminalization will remove the stigma of drug use. It will save money and allow law enforcement to concentrate on more serious crimes. It will save lives, not ruin them. Reason, not prejudice, should drive the government’s policy.