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This week in Jakarta: Diplomacy, deals and the death penalty

This week in Jakarta: Diplomacy, deals and the death penalty

Indonesia's President Jokowi will welcome Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Jakarta today, making it his third meeting with an international leader this week. Jokowi hosted British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday and visited Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday in a bid to strengthen ties and promote investment in Indonesia's slipping economy. 

In the first two bilateral meetings, Jokowi encouraged the UK and Singapore to diversify investment and increase trade with Indonesia, even as his government raised import taxes on a long list of goods this week. The contrast between Jokowi's welcoming words to foreign leaders and his increasingly nationalist stance at home has reportedly puzzled investors. Jokowi held talks with 31 major British business leaders who accompanied Cameron on his visit and joined a Singapore-Indonesia business dialogue to deliver his message. He is expected to make a similar invitation for Turkey to boost economic ties when the two leaders hold a Turkey-Indonesia business forum in the coming days.

Aside from business talks, relations were pleasant between Jokowi and his counterparts from the UK and Singapore.

Lee invited Jokowi to visit Singapore's Botanic Gardens, where a new orchid hybrid was named after Jokowi's wife, Iriana. Cameron toured Jakarta's mosques and markets, delighting social media and the tabloids by taking a selfie while sharing banana fritters with an Indonesian celebrity.

Meanwhile, Singapore's environment minister, in front of his Indonesian counterpart, urged for action to be taken on the subject of haze from Indonesia's forest fires affecting health in Singapore, and critics prompted Cameron to ask about the fate of Lindsay Sandiford, a British citizen now on death row in Bali. [fold]

Cameron claimed that he did raise the issue of the death penalty with Jokowi in private, but was pessimistic that his plea would help Sandiford achieve a lesser sentence. The 59-year old woman, who is often referred to sympathetically in the press as a 'British grandmother', has been on death row in Indonesia for two years. Australia's unsuccessful pleas for mercy for its citizens has given the UK little confidence about finding a diplomatic solution. Sandiford has instead appealed to celebrities like Richard Branson and Russell Brand to support her case. With or without diplomatic and celebrity support, Sandiford's execution may be postponed a while longer. Indonesia's Attorney General's Office announced this week that scheduling the next round of executions was not high on its list of priorities, saying 'We hope that it was clear through the first and second round of executions that we will be firm and not tolerate any drug violations.'

However a few days later, the Attorney General's Office confirmed that Filipina drug convict Mary Jane Veloso would not be freed, regardless of legal proceedings in the Philippines. Veloso, who has attracted the most public sympathy in Indonesia of those currently on death row, gained further support during Ramadan when she was visited in jail by popular Filipino boxer and Congressman Manny Pacquiao. Her execution was scheduled for after the Islamic holy month, which ended two weeks ago, but no date has been confirmed. It could be that Jokowi is toning down the more aggressive sides of his nationalism now that he is becoming more serious about seeking foreign investment.

Capital punishment was not a diplomatic obstacle this week for Singapore, which also enforces the death penalty. The city-state agreed to several areas of cooperation with Indonesia, from tourism to anti-corruption efforts and counter-terrorism.

Turkey abolished the death penalty in peacetime in 2002, and under pressure from the European Union banned it completely in 2004. However, Erdogan has previously said he would consider reinstating it, indicating that Indonesia's record on the issue will not be a problem for his talks with Jokowi in the coming days. The two leaders are expected to find common ground as leaders of Muslim-majority democracies and presidents who found their beginnings in city-level governance.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Number 10.

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