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Jakarta Post

Jokowi'€™s stance on death penalty ignores unfairness

  • Tobias Basuki

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, February 2, 2015   /  10:22 am

The death penalty, and particularly the executions of drug traffickers by the
government of President Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo, have recently generated two vastly differing reactions.

The government'€™s policy has been widely criticized internationally but has the near-unanimous support of the Indonesian public and politicians.

Regrettably, the only visible segment of the Indonesian public strongly opposed to the death penalty are the human rights activists.

In the sights for the next round of executions are two Australians, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, leaders of the Bali Nine drug ring.

The stern and swift executions tell something of Jokowi'€™spPresidency and his leadership. It perhaps came as a shock to the international community, which had euphoric expectations of Jokowi when he won the presidency.

Many distant observers had unrealistic expectations that Jokowi as a '€œnew'€ politician would strive for all the '€œgood'€ things: clean government, effective bureaucracy, human rights and so on.

President Jokowi is indeed untainted by human rights violations, and seems to genuinely care for the welfare of his people.

However, he is a pragmatic politician and bureaucrat, not the idealist with visionary grand concepts that some have made him out to be.

As we have seen in the first three months of his presidency, in terms of policy and actions within his control, he lived up to his '€œpackaging'€, including the expected tug-of-war against the string-pulling of the old guard.

Disregarding the current mess caused by the oligarchs within his coalition on political appointments and the chief of police debacle, Jokowi has proven himself to be an assertive leader true to his words and intentions.

He is not swayed by the whims of public opinion as his predecessor was. Scrapping the fuel subsidy was an action the significance of which has been somewhat overlooked.

The fact that it did not create a huge uproar, in spite of its perception as a Pandora'€™s Box by previous presidents, shows that Jokowi'€™s leadership and political capital are greater than any other president since the beginning of reformasi.

That said, his rejection of clemency for death-row inmates and today'€™s line-up of executions is not uncharacteristic of his leadership.

Many of his policies and actions in these past three months, excluding the '€œbig-mother'€ drama alluding to the influence of his patron, speak of a leader who is not easily pressured by either domestic public opinion or international pressure.

Jokowi has shown that to some extent he has tunnel vision, concrete and measurable goals that fit his rather narrowly defined goals and vision.

He saw the need to reallocate money to support his infrastructure build-up and health and security protection programs.

Hence, he was prepared to risk a tidal wave of public uproar.

The same thing can be said of his leadership of Indonesia vis-a-vis other countries and the international community. Jokowi is not a hyper-nationalist leader who would ferment nationalism against other countries to garner public support or show himself as a '€œman of the people'€.

But nor will he cave in to international pressure if, in his calculation, it is not beneficial for his measurable goals to do so. He is not a friend to a million strangers like his predecessor, as clear from the recent executions of foreigners and sinking of illegal fishing ships.

The saving of any of the lives in the second execution roll-call, in particular the lives of the much-publicized two Australians, is now a forlorn hope.

The fact that the first batch of executions included foreign citizens, exempting just the two Australians would be perceived as a double standard and as peculiar subservience to Australia.

In light of rows between the two nations over issues including Australia'€™s obstinacy on boat people and the lack of apology for the wire-tapping incident, it is particularly tricky for the Australian government to lobby for the lives of
Chan and Sukumaran.

It is lamentable that the Indonesian government, backed by overwhelming public opinion, looks likely to continue with the executions.

It is particularly sad to see that of the convicts in the next batch, Martin Anderson from Ghana, waiting to be executed for possession of a mere 50 grams of heroin.

It seems probably that President Jokowi'€™s stubborn stance on executions, in spite of the international outcry and the constitutional provision for the right to life, is down to the advice he is getting.

He is likely being supplied with data and statistics on the drug problem plaguing Indonesian society. It is thus only logical in his mind to go ahead with the executions.

Advocates against the death penalty will need to be able to connect their arguments to concrete and measurable goals within Jokowi'€™s programs.

They will also need to be able to show a clearer picture how the death penalty, as well as being prone to error, is also very unfair and can create a mess of the Indonesian justice system.

One clear contrast is the execution of Anderson with the perfunctory sentences of between three and six months in prison for the killers of three Ahmadi villagers in Cikeusik, Banten, in 2011 '€” an outrageous disparity.

The conclusion: abolish the death penalty to allow time to rethink and review the fairness of the sentences.

Foreign countries understandably need to lobby for the lives of their citizens, but this will prove futile if it means Jokowi having to show preferential treatment to certain countries, which he will probably not do.

Foreign diplomats will need to help human rights activists frame the issue in the larger context and articulate how an end to the death penalty is in Indonesia'€™s interests.



... abolish the death penalty to allow time to rethink and review the fairness of the sentences.




The writer is a researcher with the department of politics and international relations at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Jakarta, and was selected as a Munich Young Leader in 2014