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Saturday 15 Dec 2018 | 06:33 | SYDNEY
Saturday 15 Dec 2018 | 06:33 | SYDNEY

This week in Jakarta: Is Jokowi changing direction?



4 September 2015 17:00

As Indonesia's economy continues to slow, President Jokowi is attempting to steer his Government away from the introspective policies of the early part of his term.

Executions of foreign drug convicts have barely been mentioned since the amnesty of the Islamic fasting month in July, and visa restrictions are easing for foreign tourists, journalists and other workers. Meanwhile, the implications of last month's cabinet reshuffle have continued to play out as the President welcomed a new chief of staff and a new party into his coalition this week in Jakarta.

Indonesia's Alliance of Independent Journalists praised Jokowi's commitment to media freedom this week when the President swiftly shut down a proposed regulation that would have required all foreign journalists to run their assignments past every level of government, as well as the National Intelligence Agency, when working in Indonesia. 

The proposed conditions mirrored those that were previously applied in Papua and West Papua, before Jokowi vowed to open access to the region this year. Home Minister Tjahjo Kumolo, as a major advocate of the new regulation, said it was crucial for the Government to be able to monitor the activities of foreign journalists working in Indonesia. He had previously accused foreign journalists of operating in the country as spies. Meanwhile, visa conditions still apply for foreigners working as journalists. Two British filmmakers are currently facing a maximum penalty of five years in jail after they were caught making a documentary in the Malacca Strait while holding tourist visas.

Changes are also underway to ease the process for foreigners to obtain work permits. Under the proposed changes, foreigners will no longer be required to hold a university degree, or master the Indonesian language, to obtain a working visa. The move is a reversal from an announcement in March that stipulated an existing regulation would be enforced that requires foreign workers to pass an online Indonesian language test. The move has been interpreted as a signal to welcome foreign investment to boost Indonesia's slowing economy. It will also help prepare Indonesia for the ASEAN Economic Community, under which citizens from all Southeast Asian countries will be able to work across the region.

Another visa issue attracting attention this week related to the addition of 47 countries to the list of 30 already enjoying visa-free access to Indonesia as tourists. Australia was initially announced as one of the countries joining the list, but after Foreign Ministers Retno Marsudi and Julie Bishop met in Sydney on Thursday to discuss the issue, Australia was once again scrapped from the list.

The reason given was that Indonesia expected a reciprocal arrangement, whereby its citizens would also be able to enter Australia visa-free. When Bishop said that wouldn't be possible, the arrangement was called off. However, this condition was not applied for other countries covered under the visa-free rule, including the US and several European countries. The refusal to add Australia to the list suggests that there is still some tension between the two countries following the executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in April this year, when Australia was scrapped from the first round of visa-free visitors.

Aside from developing a more open attitude towards foreign relations, Jokowi has been busy consolidating his cabinet and coalition after a rocky start to his term. On Wednesday, Teten Masduki replaced Luhut Pandjaitan as the presidential chief of staff. Luhut, who is known to be one of the President's closest advisors, was promoted to the position of Coordinating Minister of Political, Legal and Security Affairs in last month's cabinet reshuffle. From this position he is likely to maintain a high level of influence. Teten has been positively received as a clean candidate for chief of staff. He started his career as a legal aid activist, and went on to lead national-level anti-corruption efforts before joining Jokowi's communication team. On the same day, the National Mandate Party announced that it would be putting its support behind the ruling coalition.

Despite Indonesia's economic woes, the Government's growing openness and stronger political support base bodes well for a better ending than beginning for Jokowi's first year as President.

 Photo courtesy of Flickr user sightmybyblinded.

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