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This week in Jakarta: Terror, business and memes

This week in Jakarta: Terror, business and memes
Published 20 Nov 2015 

Jakarta joined other world capitals this week in condemning the Paris attacks, while Australia built up business opportunities with its neighbour, and the speaker of Indonesia's House of Representatives became embroiled in a kickback scandal.

President Jokowi reaffirmed Indonesia's strong stance against global terrorism this week in response to the attacks in Paris, which were claimed by ISIS. The President said that 'terrorism of any kind cannot be tolerated', and urged greater international cooperation in response. Indonesia recently added a military counter-terrorism squad to its already strong police-run Detachment 88 and National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT). The formation of the elite military squad is intended to bolster efforts to tackle terrorism, but concerns have been raised over the potential for the overlapping authority to add to existing tensions between the police and military.

Even with these three authorities in place, ISIS-affiliated terrorist groups continue to operate in Indonesia, and almost 300 Indonesians are suspected to have joined IS in Syria and Iraq. A civil servant from the Riau Islands reportedly joined ISIS in Iraq together with his wife and three daughters in recent months. Analysts have warned that even a small number of such cases should be cause for concern for Indonesia's security.

Religious leaders in the Muslim-majority nation have been quick to condemn the latest violence in Paris. The country's two biggest Islamic organisations, Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama, have called the attacks 'inexcusable' and accused the attackers of having 'tainted Islam's image'.

Within Indonesia, inter-faith intolerance has become a more widespread issue than global terrorist ideology. A recent survey by the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace found Jakarta's satellite cities of Bogor, Bekasi, Tangerang and Depok to be among the least religiously tolerant regions nationwide. One region in West Java this week took the unusual step of issuing a circular demanding respect for freedom of religious expression, in line with the constitution and the state ideology of Pancasila, which guarantee freedom of worship for those practising state-recognised religions. The step was taken in response to mounting anti-Shiite activity in the region. [fold]

Anti-terrorism was on the agenda for Malcolm Turnbull's trip to Jakarta last week, but following the Prime Minister's visit, bilateral discussions turned to matters of business. Australia's trade minister, Andrew Robb, led a huge delegation including 360 Australian business representatives to Yogyakarta on Tuesday for Indonesia-Australia Business Week. Business seems to be the safest foundation from which to rebuild relations between Australia and Indonesia at present, following tensions over spying, executions, and various issues regarding borders and boats. The trade and investment delegation to Yogyakarta was the biggest of its kind to date, signalling Australia's interest in pursuing business opportunities with its nearest Asian neighbour.

A report by the Australia-Indonesia Centre titled Succeeding Together was launched at the event, detailing the ways in which the two countries could develop joint comparative advantage in certain sectors if they improve cooperation. However, as President Jokowi remarked during Turnbull's visit last week, the proximity of Australia and Indonesia brings as much potential for friction as it does for friendship. Better business cooperation between the two countries cannot be guaranteed while government and cultural ties remain strained.

Meanwhile, US miner Freeport this week found itself at the centre of a scandal in Indonesian politics. House of Representatives speaker Setya Novanto, who was last in the international spotlight for his appearance at a Donald Trump campaign rally in New York in September, has again come before the House ethics council, this time over allegations he asked for kickbacks in return for a contract extension for Freeport. It is alleged that Setya asked for shares in Freeport in the names of President Jokowi and Vice President Jusuf Kalla during government negotiations with the company.

A report on the incident filed by Energy Minister Sudirman Said also implicates politically connected businessman Muhammad Reza Chalid and chief security minister Luhut Panjaitan, who was until recently Jokowi's chief of staff. But Jokowi has opted to leave the case to the ethics council, commenting only to media that he's aware of the online memes regarding the scandal that riff on the infamous mama minta pulsa ('mama wants phone credit') text message scam. The current trending topic is papa minta saham ('papa wants shares'), the President reportedly joked to journalists.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user hendrikMINTARNO.

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