Indonesia’s new paradigm must include the past

The day after the result of Indonesia’s presidential election was announced, I joined crowds of excited Indonesians at the Proclamation Monument in central Jakarta to celebrate president-elect Jokowi’s election as Indonesia’s seventh president.

The day after the result of Indonesia’s presidential election was announced, I joined crowds of excited Indonesians at the Proclamation Monument in central Jakarta to celebrate president-elect Jokowi’s election as Indonesia’s seventh president.

Did you see the rainbow? asked a supporter, pointing to a blurry photo on his mobile phone as Jokowi arrived to address the crowd and break the Muslim fast with them. I hadn’t, but even if the heavens had opened and soaked everybody to the skin, it would have been taken as another sign that God too had voted for Jokowi.

The monument commemorates the proclamation of Indonesia’s independence from the Dutch made by Sukarno and Hatta in 1945. Their statues looked down on Jokowi as he proclaimed what many believe and hope is a new era in Indonesia, including its liberation from the twitching hand of Suharto’s New Order. Many Indonesian commentators feel Prabowo’s bid to have the result reversed in his favour by the Constitutional Court and threats to haul the Election Commission before the Parliament are no more than the New Order’s death rattles.

In his speech Jokowi did not rubbish Prabowo though he was entitled to given the dirty tactics employed against him and Prabowo’s petulant claim on BBC that Jokowi was a fraud whose much lauded closeness to the people was fabricated for political purposes. The personal attack fell flat. I asked my taxi driver and a street vendor what they thought of the comment. Both said how proud they were that a wong cilik or little person like them could achieve the highest office in the country. It gave them hope, not just in Indonesia, but in themselves.

In fact, Jokowi did not even mention Prabowo in his speech. It was as though Prabowo and what he stood for was no longer relevant. To avoid candidates of this kind running in future elections, the respected commentator Wimar Witoelar has proposed that aspirants for high office should receive endorsements from both Indonesia’s respected Commission for Human Rights and its crusading Corruption Eradication Commission. It is to be hoped that a Jokowi administration will act on this proposal. It would enhance the quality of candidates, spare Indonesia considerable embarrassment and help eliminate impunity.

The president-elect focused his comments on the contribution to his election made by volunteers, that is, civil society. His campaign achieved an unprecedented level of citizen participation that included millions of small donations from ordinary Indonesians and jealous monitoring of the count. This represents a substantial shift in Indonesia’s political culture, the significance of which can only be appreciated by comparison with the Suharto era when the people were treated like children not citizens. Politics in Indonesia is no longer the exclusive domain of party machines, the elite and wealthy, or slick campaign advisers hired from the US.

Jokowi made this point eloquently. Speaking from the deck of a magnificent traditional schooner late at night after the result was announced on 22 July, he surprised many by saying, ‘There is happiness and goodness in politics … it represents freedom.’ He went on to applaud the sense of responsibility and optimism that ‘has blossomed in the souls of the new generation’ and the rebirth of the Indonesian tradition of ‘voluntarism’.

Jokowi has urged everybody to go back to work. His legions of supporters, however, are not about to vacate the scene and leave it all to him. His fans will hold him accountable.

Before he spoke at the Proclamation Monument, a respected civil society leader, standing near the president-elect, read out a long list of the promises Jokowi had made during the campaign. The list included addressing past human rights violations. Behind him, conspicuous by his dark skin and indigenous headdress, stood a proud Papuan, a silent reminder to Jokowi of his campaign commitment to Papua and that it should no longer be off-limits to international journalists and human rights organisations.

In an editorial following the election, The Jakarta Globe put it this way: ‘Joko should dare to rewrite history and debunk the lies fed to Indonesians for far too long, while revealing the truth, no matter how bitter — including the real story behind the 1965–66 massacre and the other atrocities of the Suharto era. The victims deserve justice and Indonesia deserves to move forward into an open and more honest new era.’

Jokowi promised a revolusi mental or paradigm shift in Indonesia. He is no revolutionary but a significant shift has clearly occurred and can be confidently expected to continue. Whether those around him like Megawati, the Wanandi brothers and ex-military Wiranto and Hendropriyono will allow the new paradigm to include the past, including crimes in Timor-Leste, will test both Jokowi and Indonesia’s civil society to the maximum.