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Democracy rules!

The official results are in from last month’s parliamentary elections. An anti-corruption chief gets arrested for a drive-by shooting, over an alleged tryst with a caddy. The Rupiah surges, and foreign investment grows. And the government offers to rent islands to nations threatened by climate change.


News: It’s official. The National Election Commission finally finished counting the votes from the April 9 parliamentary elections, confirming what everyone already knew — the secular Democratic Party won the day with more than 26 percent of the seats in parliament, tripling its performance from 2004.


Golkar, the former political vehicle of Suharto and for decades the country’s most influential party, came in second with little more than 20 percent of the 560 parliamentary seats. The Prosperous and Justice Party, or PKS, the country’s most popular Islamic political party, won 59 seats.


Unofficial results have been known for about a month and as such the various political parties have since been jockeying to form coalitions to contest the all-important presidential elections in July. Incumbent president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono looks poised to partner with PKS as Golkar, his partner the first time around, chose to field its own presidential candidate. Current Vice President Yusuf Kalla of Golkar is in talks with former general Wiranto for a possible coalition.


One of Yudhoyono’s most important accomplishments during his first term was the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Commission, which over the last five years has brought numerous lawmakers, central bank officials, governors, judges and police to court on  corruption charges in a bid to rid the country of endemic graft.


But the praiseworthy commission took a hit May 4 when its director, Antasari Azhar, was arrested in connection with the mob-style murder of a businessman outside a golf course in April. Police believe Azhar organized the drive-by shooting because the businessman knew of an illicit relationship Azhar had with a golf caddy.


The president quickly stripped Azhar of his post, and the good news is the commission has gone on with work as usual, proving that the institution is stronger than any one individual. Analysts say the scandal will not hurt the president’s reelection campaign.


Money: Indonesia continues to buck the worldwide economic downturn. The Rupiah has jumped almost 10 percent in the last month and 4.5 percent in the last year. The six-month high is attributed partly to the release of official election results this week. Yudhoyono is seen as reform-minded and investor friendly. But the central bank officials remained wary of the upward trend, pointing to the volatile nature of the world economy at the moment.


The president urged oil contractors on May 5 to intensify their exploration in the hopes of increasing production. Indonesia pulled out of OPEC last year when the oil-rich country became a net importer of crude oil. Production has slipped in recent years from about 1.5 million barrels a day in the 1990s to little more than 800,000 barrels today. The government has offered new exploration rights and financial incentives to stem the decline.


At the Indonesian Petroleum Association conference earlier this month the country signed 20 new contracts worth more than $1.3 billion — a sign that the country’s investment climate is becoming more attractive. Contracts were signed with Hess, Marathon, Exxon Mobil and others.


Despite the parade of good — or at least not bad — economic news here, Indonesians continue to lose their jobs. Almost 300,000 formal sector jobs have been lost since January, a number that is sure to rise as  hundreds of thousands of overseas workers begin returning home after being laid off from their jobs in Western countries hit hard by the economic crisis. Indonesia’s Employer Association estimated that about 1,200 workers a day were returning through Jakarta’s International Airport.


Elsewhere: The Indonesian government has offered to rent some of its uninhabited islands (there are thousands of them) to so-called “small island states” that are under threat from rising sea levels. Meanwhile, the country’s forests are still being cut down at record rates, a decades-old trend that is thought to be a major contributor to climate change and rising sea levels.


In an effort to bring more focus to the effects of climate change on the oceans, Indonesia is hosting the first ever World Ocean Conference this week in Manado. One of the major goals of the conference is to sign an initiative that would protect the Coral Triangle. Six Southeast Asian countries straddle the coral triangle, which is half the size of the United States and is home to the most diverse sea life in the world. If signed, the initiative would be the largest reef conservation project ever undertaken.