Last week, Graeme Dobell wrote that ‘Australia has had no influence on the course of events since Suharto fell’. Not so. Although the decision to hold a referendum in East Timor in 1999 was made by Indonesia, the widespread—and I fear, unshakeable—view then and now is that President Habibie was pushed by Australia and the vote was hugely influenced by Australia. Right or wrong, those perceptions are powerful and reinforced by our prominent role in supporting the new nation. The TNI has been greatly influenced by those events.
We are undoubtedly better off with Jokowi as President, if only because he isn’t Prabowo. However we know next to nothing about Jokowi’s foreign affairs policy—and at this stage he probably doesn’t either as domestic issues are more pressing. Much will depend on who he appoints as Foreign Minister. We could end up with someone who’s indifferent or even hostile to us. Consider the impact if former intelligence head A.M. Hendropriyono (an advisor on multinational issues) gets the job. His position on Jokowi’s team has already been attacked by human rights groups worried by his alleged links to the assassination of activist Munir in 2004.
Having a democratic neighbour is important indeed, but we do democracy differently. So far, the Indonesian version depends heavily on what Indonesians call ‘money politics’ and patronage.
Duncan Graham is currently a blogger on Indonesian affairs.