Just last week, a smiling President Jokowi told foreign investors that they could contact him personally about any problems they faced in Indonesia. 'Please come and invest in Indonesia,' he told the attendees of the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Jakarta. 'And if you have any problem, call me.'
But as the executions of foreign drug convicts grew closer over the weekend, the lines of communication closed. The international community was calling, but Jokowi was not answering. By Sunday, the Indonesian president was refusing to make any comments at all regarding the executions. 'I won't answer any questions about that,' he told local media on his way to the ASEAN summit in Kuala Lumpur. 'I have given enough answers on that. I don't want to talk about it anymore.'
As Aaron Connelly observed yesterday, Jokowi's resolve on going ahead with the executions has not changed since he signed the warrants last December. The president's determination to implement the death penalty for the foreign drug traffickers appears to have been unmoved by party politics, by an ongoing crisis between the police and the anti-corruption body, and by domestic and international pressure. So what is driving this determination? And what will it cost Indonesia internationally?
One major reason why Jokowi has stuck by the death penalty is because it is a popular policy at home. Jokowi has repeatedly argued that Indonesia faces a 'drug crisis', calling for the strictest measures against those producing or trafficking drugs. Despite the faulty statistical basis for this claim, it has continued to gain popular traction and remains one of the top reasons cited in local media to justify the death penalty for drug-related offenses. Drugs kill, the logic goes, so drug dealers deserve death.
Another reason the death penalty has remained popular is because, aside from one Indonesian citizen executed in January and another scheduled for execution this week, the bulk of the cases this year have involved foreigners.
This allows Jokowi to cast the national 'drug crisis' as the result of foreign influence, reducing the need for any serious re-evaluation of drug policy in Indonesia. It also stirs up a secondary well of emotion related to national pride and the protection of Indonesian sovereignty.
Sovereignty is a particularly sensitive element of Indonesia's national identity. As a post-colonial state, Indonesia is highly defensive of its right to enforce its own laws within its own borders. It is from this defensive standpoint that negotiating with foreign powers over the execution of their citizens is cast as a sign of weakness rather than strength. This assumption about power relations could also be the reason why the Indonesian Government sees no conflict between its hardline stance on executing foreigners and its own pleas for clemency for Indonesians on death row abroad — in both cases, Indonesia casts itself as the underdog.
This position of victimhood was evident in Jokowi's speech at the 60th anniversary of the Asia-Africa Conference in Jakarta last week. When newly independent Indonesia hosted the first Asia-Africa Conference in 1955, the country pioneered the concept of a developing, post-colonial, non-aligned 'Third World' focused on improving the welfare of its people via mutually supportive partnerships between Asian and African states. While much of this concept has become outdated, Jokowi took the occasion to revive the original conference's call for a world economic system that did not disadvantage the 'global south'.
Jokowi called for 'reformasi' of global financial architecture, including institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank. He also called on Asian and African nations to support an overhaul of the UN 'so that it can function as a world organisation that supports justice for all nations'.
So it's no surprise that Jokowi did not respond to an appeal from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon over the weekend to call off the executions. As elaborated by University of Indonesia International Law professor Hikmahanto Juwana in an interview with local media last week: 'The Indonesian[s] also have a right to ask why there was not a statement from the UN Secretary-General recently when two Indonesian domestic workers were executed in Saudi Arabia'.
Nonetheless, there is a contrast between Jokowi's open invitation for foreign investment at the World Economic Forum and his defensive stance over perceived foreign interference. If Indonesia is ready to engage on a common platform with other states, then there is no need to take such a defensive approach to international negotiations, whether it is on the death penalty or the global economy.
Aside from the tragic loss of human life, Jokowi's hardline stance on the death penalty has already caused damage to otherwise healthy relations with nations such as Australia, France, the Netherlands and Brazil, among others. With lines of communication closing over the incident, it could cost Indonesia foreign investment in its development.
Photo by Flickr user Eduardo MC.