Executions in Indonesia: How to Explain Joko Widodo’s Hard line Stance?

30 avril 2015
Le point de vue de Barthélémy Courmont
Joko Widodo, the president of Indonesia elected in July 2014 wishes to carry a message of hope and modernity for his country. What is his political path? What were his commitments during his presidential campaign?

It must be kept in mind that during his election in July 2014 Jokowi established a genuine shift in the path of Indonesia since its democratization in the beginning of the 2000’s. Indeed, he is the first Indonesian president who is not a product of the “establishment”. He has no family or social ties to the previous president, nor any figure of the Indonesian political class. He is, in a way, an intruder, a new figure in the Indonesian political landscape. It’s actually what makes his election spectacular if not historical.

Jokowi comes from a very modest background and has a pretty impressive political path. He was first mayor of Solo, a big city in the center of Java and was reelected over the 2000’s with more than 85% of the votes as part of a perfectly democratic election. This score already revealed his great popularity resulting from the actions he had taken during his first mandate. Solo is also the city of Java where Islamism hotbeds are in place. By imposing himself in this city with a speech completely opposed to these conservative, if not radical, circles Jokowi had shown at that time a great political strength. He had managed to be accepted by everybody, including these groups. This shows Jokowi’s very consensual personality and great sense of negotiation.

This success in the city of Solo pushed him into becoming a candidate for the office of Governor of Jakarta where he once again did work that was much appreciated by the population of the capital. The fact that, when Jokowi was candidate for this office in the biggest city of Indonesia -city with a great majority of Muslims-, he had chosen a Christian running mate is an interesting detail. In spite of this he managed to win the election and never suffered from this strategy. His assessments as governor show great social improvements, especially the subway project in Jakarta aimed at relieving buildup of traffic in the city, as well as the massive sanitation projects for extremely poor neighborhoods. Thus, he has a practically exemplary political career and managed to become very popular among the most underprivileged classes. Last year, he used these achievements as the basis of his presidential bid.

This program’s scope is primarily social. His wish is to reproduce on the national scale what he managed to achieve at the level of the biggest Indonesian city. On the other hand, he is also a very pragmatic person. He has managed to associate the different political trends of the country to guarantee his rise to power. He especially relied on Jusuf Kalla, his former running mate and now vice-president who comes from the other important political force of the country. Formerly his political rival, native of another region of the archipelago, he is now very appreciated and has been admitted into financial circles. This alliance enabled Jokowi to maintain a political balance which is an interesting and opportune strategy to avoid being painted at as an overly socialist or reformist candidate.

It is obviously too soon to draw up a report of his presidency since he has only been in office since last fall. He has however garnered criticism, and not only from conservatice circles who feared he would engage in overly radical reforms, but also from those who expected rapid results at the social level. Of course these achievements cannot be noted after only six months of presidency. He is only at the beginning of his mandate and this has to be taken into account, especially regarding the positions he might have towards international relations.

Many Indonesian and foreign citizens are today sentenced to death or have alredy been executed for drug-related affairs. The Indonesian president refuses dialogue and shows absolutely no mercy. How would you explain this hardline stance?

First, it must be reminded that even though we might have a different perception of the conviction and of the sentences that these persons might risk, it is the Indonesian justice which handed out the verdict. The Indonesian president does not unilaterally decide to sentence to death foreign citizens. The Indonesian justice rules according to the Indonesian laws, even though they are firm and might seem a bit too firm for us. It is important to remind that Indonesia is not a lawless state which would sentence foreign citizens to death for obscure reasons. It would be a mistake to compare this situation to the ones in dictator or authoritarian states. Of course some doubts remain concerning the way the investigation and the trial have proceeded and I have no certainty on whether or not Mr Atlaoui is guilty of the charges he’s been accused of.

The Indonesian president remains as a last resort on this matter, even if he has the power to grant some kind of presidential pardon and consequently avoid any death sentence. The question is not over the legality of the verdict, but rather Jokowi’s stance on the matter. This firm attitude can be explained by the fact that he is at the head of the legal institutions and systems of his country. He cannot hope to re-legitimize the Indonesian judicial system by arbitrarily deciding to hand out pardons merely because the accused are foreigners. Secondly, he has arrived in power only very recently. He cannot allow himself to relax his stance on a subject that is taken very seriously by the Indonesian people. Drug traffickers are subjected to very severe jurisdiction, but are also the center of attention of a population that is highly worried over the matter. Jokowi finds himself between stuck external pressure and the realities of his country which dol not encourage him to show mercy.

Finally -something very important- Jokowi stands for a social program for Indonesia. He has, perhaps above all, a strong will to give restore some dignity to the country in its relations with the world’s leading powers. For the record it must be reminded that Jokowi’s predecessor had voted in a law about Indonesia’s mining. This law aimed at reducing foreign intrusions of operations on Indonesian soil. This law had finally been lifted under pressure from big industrial companies and, potentially, from foreign governments (notably the United States or China). Jokowi finds himself in a context in which his country expects him to prevent such situations from happening again and expects Indonesia to be able to make its own decisions moving forward. The country now refuses to let foreign powers dictate its behavior. These sentences, which are ultimately quite routine in Indonesia, are actually a genuine test for the president since it it gives him a way of showing he is able to take charge of his country’s destiny and not yield to pressure from foreign governments. In my point of view, this contributes greatly to the firm stance he is displaying.

What could be the diplomatic consequences of these death sentences in the future?

Indonesia has always dealt death sentences and some have already taken place in early 2015. In 2014 there were no sentences, an exceptional result due to the electoral calendar. These sentences are part of the Indonesian legal system no matter what our perception may be. Consequently, I do not think that the ongoing diplomatic crisis will provoke a change in the Indonesian laws nor in the way Indonesia perceives its legal system.

From a strictly diplomatic point of view, a genuine turning point must not be expected. Once again, we are dealing with a democratic state. This case is taken very seriously by the French diplomacy and it is absolutely normal that they require the extradition of its citizens. It is likely that we will witness in the future some discussions over this matter, if not more transparency. It can be imagined that France or the European Union will manage to negotiate some measures regarding extradition with Indonesia. That may actually be the most plausible consequence of this crisis. There is indeed a focus on this situation, but it should not lead to a deterioration of the relations between the two countries. It must be noted that France has some interests in Indonesia and that Indonesia has no interest in getting on the wrong side of France or the European Union in general.

Translated by Emilia Capitaine and Elie Khoury, students at IRIS Sup’.
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