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Jakarta's election and its message to the world

Publication Date : 06-10-2012


Indonesia's Jakarta has just conducted its gubernatorial election. Against the odds, newcomers, Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and his running mate, Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, emerged the winners.

As soon as pollsters revealed their quick count results on that election day on Sept. 20, my mother, a lifetime Jakarta citizen, sent me a message, saying, "Today we welcome a Chinese-Indonesian as deputy governor of Jakarta. You are right, times have changed!"

The times, indeed, really have changed, a new era of Indonesian pluralism has come to the fore. My mother's view is a reflection of other ordinary Indonesians of her generation, who were guided by the old paradigms; pessimism and scepticism about the likely changes in Indonesia concerning democracy and pluralism.

Nevertheless, beyond domestic politics and how it affects ordinary citizens, the victory of Jokowi and Ahok in the Indonesian capital's election is indeed an important milestone in the country's quest for a bigger role on the international stage. But what does this election result actually mean to the world?

The most important lesson we can take from the election is the image of Indonesia as a pluralist and democratic country.

It is a very clear message to the world that the largest Muslim-majority country chose a member of a minority group, both ethnically and religiously, as deputy governor of the national capital.

How can this unprecedented phenomenon send an important message to the world?

First of all, we have to consider the history of pluralism in the capital. Acts of violence targeting Chinese-Indonesians ahead of the regime change in May 1998 inflicted deep wounds on pluralism in Jakarta. But Ahok's election as second-in-charge in the capital means Jakartans have left religion and ethnicity behind, despite the widespread ethnic and religious slurs targeting Jokowi and Ahok.

The Indonesian government needs to exploit this sign of maturity to reaffirm the country's credentials as a predominantly Muslim yet democratic, pluralistic and non-aligned nation. With the third-fastest growing economy among the G-20 countries after China and India, plus political stability, the republic surely has to aim for a greater international role.

Chairing Asean in 2011 has given Indonesia opportunities to actively represent Asean in global forums such as the G-20 and the United Nations Security Council. However, following the Jakarta election, Indonesia can stake a claim to a role beyond that of promoter of the "Asean Community in a Global Community of Nations", which was the theme of the Asean chairmanship in 2011.

The strengthening of its pluralistic image resulting from the Jakarta election can further lay the foundation for Indonesia's "active" participation on the world stage, as mandated by the Constitution, particularly its preamble.

As a nation that that upholds pluralism, Indonesia stands a bigger chance of bridging conflicts, for example, between the Muslim world and the West.

Indonesia can support the causes of the Muslim world under "Muslim brotherhood", but at the same time encourage democratisation in the world.

Indonesia's US$2 million worth of food assistance to North Korea recently marked a new twist in decades of good relationship between the two countries, proving not only Indonesia's commitment to an active and independent foreign policy but also its readiness to help any country in need.

With such potential, Indonesia should not only "navigate in the turbulent world" as President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono put it. Indonesia today has arrived at the right moment to steer between many reefs and at the same time help guide other ships on to the right course.

The people as stakeholders of this foreign policy should however reap all these dividends. They are responsible for advocating the pluralistic character of the nation.

Foreign policy analysts such as Robert Putnam, Peter Katzenstein and Kenneth Waltz have paid considerable attention to the importance of domestic politics in foreign policy.

In this sense, therefore, keeping a democratic and pluralistic society intact is a must in supporting and enhancing Indonesia's global role.

The recently concluded Jakarta election is just a starter. There are more challenges that need addressing before Indonesia can boast its adherence to pluralism.

The writer is studying Asian studies at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.


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