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The politics of death – The Edge Review

The Indonesian parliament just before the start of a recent debate on direct local elections (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – Despite his election on a reformist platform, Jokowi, as he is widely known, has made it clear that ending Indonesia’s death penalty for drug traffickers is out of the question. “Wars against drug mafia can’t be half-hearted, because drugs have ruined the lives of both the users and family of the users,” he posted on Facebook on January 18. David Mcrae, senior research fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute, believes Jokowi’s uncompromising stance is a disappointment, given that he came to office with “a blank slate” on capital punishment.

Outcry after Indonesia executes 6 for drug trafficking – Los Angeles Times

Indonesia President Joko Widodo poses with supporters at Salihara, south Jakarta , before election result announcement in July  2014 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – Indonesia’s capital punishment policy leaves it open to charges of double standards, given that the Jakarta government is seeking a pardon for Satinah Binti Jumadi Ahmad, an Indonesian domestic worker who has been on death row in Saudi Arabia since 2010. “It is ironic to see how we strive to save lives of Indonesians abroad from death penalty executions while in its country Indonesia practices the execution to other countries’ citizens,” said Indri D. Saptaningrum, executive director of ELSAM, a Jakarta-based human rights group.

Blasphemers beware – The Edge Review

Steps leading into the men's prayer section at the Baiturrahman mosque (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – On July 3 last year, The Jakarta Post published a cartoon critical of the Islamic State (IS) militant group. The first reaction to the cartoon surfaced only the week after the publication, when a group called the Jakarta Muslim Preachers Corps filed a police complaint calling the cartoon blasphemous. But how would Indonesia’s roughly 200 million Muslims react to a local newspaper running some of Charlie Hebdo’s output? “Even though the majority of Indonesian Muslims are moderate, some can be offended by this caricature,” said Taufik Abdullah, a prominent scholar of Islam and a member of the Indonesian Academy of Sciences.

The builder’s budget – The Edge Review

At Jakarta's Tanjung Priok port (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – Indonesia’s government has proposed boosting capital spending on infrastructure to Rp 290 trillion (US$23 billion) this year, a doubling of last year’s Rp139 billion that is intended to drive much-needed development across the archipelago. Aziz Pane, chairman of Indonesia’s Tyre Manufacturers Association, blames lagging investment in infrastructure for problems including inefficiencies and high costs in Indonesia’s rubber and other agricultural sectors. “We need roads, we need harbors,” Pane said. “That is both for farmers getting raw material to producer, and for producer distributing later on.”

A grim search for answers – The Edge Review

Fransiskus Bambang Soelistyo, head of Indonesia's search and rescue agency, updating media about the search mission for AirAsia flight QZ8501  (Photo Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – Despite the sea into which the aircraft plummeted being relatively shallow, only 40 victims’ bodies had been found by midweek. “The waves are above two meters, so it is difficult to operate,” explained Hendro, Director of Facilities at Basarnas. “We need to locate the big part of the aircraft,” he told The Edge Review, speaking at Basarnas headquarters in Jakarta. By Wednesday, the day the aeroplane’s tail was first seen lying on the seabed, the cause of the crash still had not been established, but Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency has said that bad weather appears to have been a factor.

A decade on, Aceh looks forward, not back – Nikkei Asian Review

Bursting bubbles outside the the Baiturrahman Grand Mosque, a popular meeting place in downtown Banda Aceh (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

BANDA ACEH – If Bali-style hedonism is out of the question for Aceh, visitors might be drawn by what locals are calling “disaster tourism.” That means promoting the region’s stirring tsunami memorials — such as the imposing PLTD Apung, the Tsunami Museum, with its dank and sheer water tunnel, designed to mimic the soaring tsunami waves, and the disaster research center, which doubles as an evacuation tower and sits near a mass grave holding the remains of almost 15,000 tsunami victims. Reminders of the tsunami dot Banda Aceh, ensuring that although the disaster happened a decade ago, memories remain poignantly and ominously vivid in the minds of survivors.

One election, two visions – The Edge Review

Joko Widodo signs guitar at event organised by supporters in south Jakarta in July (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

SOLO – Even before Jokowi took office as president, Indonesian democracy was dealt a blow when MPs allied to Prabowo – who needed an August constitutional court ruling to tell him he had lost the election – voted to end Indonesia’s system of directly electing heads of local government – the same format that enabled Jokowi get his start in politics in Solo back in 2005. “If there wasn’t any direct election, he [Jokowi] would still be selling furniture,” said Asti Suryo, assistant manager of the Danar Hadi museum in Solo

Brunei set for another flogging – The Edge Review

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah chairing the ASEAN-US summit in Bandar Seri Bagawan in Oct. 2013 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – Petroleum-rich Brunei rarely makes the news. Hardly a surprise, given that the Sultanate’s 422,000 population and 5,200 km sq. land area make it one of the world’s smallest countries. But last year the Abode of Peace was headline material. And it wasn’t because 2014 marked 30 years since independence from the United Kingdom, a time-marker that went unnoticed. In April, Brunei’s autocratic ruler Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah introduced harsh punishments for infractions of Islamic law.

Dreadlocks, dreamers and do-gooders – The Edge Review

Novelist Amitav Ghosh speaking at the 2014 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

BALI – As ground zero for Bali’s beach and booze crowd, Kuta has no literary pretensions beyond the bawdy car stickers and smutty T-shirts hawked along the main drag. Wading through the tat, it is hard to believe that this is the same island where literary luminaries such as Amitav Ghosh and Tash Aw enchant crowds with exquisite exegeses of exile, loss, memory and tacky women on the make, as they did recently at this year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. Ubud, a hillside town of Hindu temples and wind-chimes in Bali’s heart, is a magnet for dreadlocked, tie-dyed Westerners who seem to subsist on little more than quinoa and squirrel droppings and bits of tree bark.

Split personality – The Edge Review

Aburizal Bakrie watches results from Indonesia's parliamentary election at Golkar party HQ on April 9 2014 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – Another messy split looms for the one-time political powerhouse Golkar, the party of Indonesia’s former dictator Suharto, following a rancorous annual conference over the past week. Aburizal Bakrie, a billionaire businessman, was re-elected as party leader on Wednesday evening after sidelining several senior party rivals who wanted Golkar to join the coalition government. In what sounded like a scene from British comedy classic Blackadder, a recording surfaced of a Bakrie aide telling delegates in Bali that he had a “cunning plan” to ensure Bakrie was re-elected. It worked: Bakrie won unopposed after his six opponents dropped out or refused to run, claiming the vote was tainted.