A couple of Indonesian lawmakers are in hot water following their bizarre appearance at a Donald Trump campaign press conference in New York, the National Mandate Party turned non-committal in regards to its pledge last week to support President Jokowi's political coalition and Japan and China were let down by the scaling back of plans for a high-speed train this week in Jakarta.
Selfie dgn Donald Trump di Trump Plaza, New York. pic.twitter.com/w7hcoNIMVS
— Fadli Zon (@fadlizon) September 4, 2015
The Speaker and Deputy Speaker of Indonesia's House of Representatives, Setya Novanto and Fadli Zon, drew international attention and domestic outrage this week when they made an appearance at a campaign rally for Donald Trump in New York.
In a seemingly spontaneous gesture, Trump introduced Setya to his supporters as 'one of the most powerful of men and a great man' and said that together they would 'do great things for the United States'. Trump then asked Setya, 'Do they like me in Indonesia?' To which Setya replied 'Yes, highly'. Fadli, who is also Deputy Chairman of Prabowo's Gerindra party, could also be seen in footage of the exchange, by which time he had already posted a starstruck 'selfie' with Trump and a photo of mogul's autograph to social media.
Many Indonesians have unsurprisingly rejected the House Speaker's declaration of support on their behalf for the controversial US presidential hopeful, and have questioned what the two leaders were doing there in the first place. Fadli later explained in an interview that they had gone for a meeting with Trump to discuss his business ventures in Java and Bali, and called him a 'friend of Indonesia' because of his investments in the country. This didn't satisfy critics, who launched an online petition for the pair to be dismissed over the incident.
Elsewhere online, outrage has erupted over the lawmakers' portrayal of Indonesia as subservient to American interests. Setya's party, Golkar, issued an official apology for the gaffe, while also criticising Trump's reputation as a 'gambling king, playboy, racist' and 'anti-Islam'. The House Ethics Council has moved to investigate, bringing the possibility of sanctions ranging from official warnings to dismissal.
The Trump incident has been embarrassing for Golkar and Gerindra, but the National Mandate Party (PAN) this week announced it was not ready to leave their Red and White Coalition.
Last week, PAN was reported to have declared support for Jokowi's Great Indonesia Coalition, indicating that the President was finally gaining some legislative support. But this week PAN back-pedalled, saying that although it supported the Government, it was not prepared to leave its coalition or join the President's. After explaining this delicately balanced position, Party Chairman Zukifli Hasan then told the press that in fact the two coalitions were 'no longer relevant', begging the question as to why he was so particular about which one his party belonged to. Golkar has criticised PAN's 'politics of polygamy', while other observers have suggested the party is manoeuvring to secure access to resources for the upcoming regional elections in December.
Meanwhile in another polyamorous power play, just as Jokowi was expected to announce whether China or Japan had secured a long-fought over deal to construct a high-speed rail line between Jakarta and the West Java capital of Bandung, the President handed the decision over to the Ministry of State Owned Enterprises before the National Planning Ministry on the same day scrapped the idea altogether.
After months of negotiations weighing up proposals and feasibility studies from Japan and China for the US$5.5 billion deal, the Indonesian Government decided that a medium-speed train would be better suited for the stretch between the two cities, where the short distance between stops would prevent a high-speed train from reaching its potential speed. Price is likely to be another factor in the decision, since a medium-speed rail line is estimated to cost 40% less to build than a high-speed one.
President Jokowi took the opportunity to say that the move was a fairer one for Indonesia, since the high-speed line would represent another Java-biased development when Indonesia's other islands are in sore need of better infrastructure. He made the same comment a few days later at the groundbreaking ceremony for a Light Rail Transit project in Jakarta, promising the start of construction work on a railroad in Sulawesi by the end of the month, and a feasibility study for a railroad in Papua.