Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Monday, July 28, 2014

MH17: Bringing the Fight to Your Doorstep

We here at CWCP have tended to cover things generally from two angles- my colleagues (with some exceptions) have tended to focus their analyses on events in Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, while I myself have tended to produce pieces pertaining to Russia and the former Soviet Union. Now, most unfortunately and for all the wrong reasons, we see the two areas of the world united in one analysis, namely the shooting down of MH17.
 
The US State Department has established that the weapon used to down the Malaysian airliner was an R-1 rocket, known to the Russians as SA-11 (a weapon made by the Soviets, based on the V-2 rocket), and that it was used by separatist rebels who knew what they were doing (at least as far as handing and operating the weapon). We now know for sure it was fired by the pro-Russian Ukrainian rebels in Eastern Ukraine.
 
Petr Poroshenko has stated that while the rebels in Ukraine were known previously as “terrorists” in Ukraine, they will now be known as terrorists to the world. Indeed, after reports of separatists looting the bodies, a Ukrainian government official warned the relatives of the victims that looters have made off with credit cards, and asked that the relatives of the deceased cancel the credit cards lest they become assets of “terrorists.” Personally, my initial reaction to the Ukrainian government’s use of the term “counter-terrorism” to describe military operations against separatists this past spring was a little heavy-handed. I personally believed that the term “counter-terrorism” was deliberately used to get the backing of the West, particularly the US, which has been focusing on counter-terrorism in its own right for over a decade.
 
The consensus seems to be that this was not a deliberate act of terrorism, but rather was a horrible accident, perhaps not dissimilar to the crash in 2010 of a plane in Smolensk, Russia, which was carrying many of Poland’s top brass. It was a messy, highly contentious affair not only because of what happened, but the aftermath of trying to conduct an independent and unbiased investigation. One thing that distinguishes the shooting-down of the Malaysia Airlines flight, however, is that now the pro-Russian rebels have possibly not only lost any support they may have had from analysts and the public at large, they may also end up losing some of their support from Russia, as well.
 
Anna Dyner of the Polish Institute of International Affairs asserts that the attack on the airliner does not seem to be deliberate, but that Russia is nevertheless at least partially to blame for the incident. Even if the attack on the civilian airliner was not deliberate, a position which British Prime Minister David Cameron seems to be taking, the armed groups in Ukraine’s east have sent a very clear message: we are not without the capabilities to do major destruction to innocent civilian targets. Whoever was operating the launch system was trained in how to use it, even though, as US Intelligence officials have announced, the people operating it were nevertheless poorly trained.
 
Some figures, such as The Nation’s Bob Dreyfus, places blame for the tragedy squarely on the shoulders of Vladimir Putin. Russian papers and media outlets, of course, are painting a much different version of the events. Indeed, many in the area of the crash are supporting the version of events coming from Moscow. Unfortunately, no incident like this will be devoid of opportunism, propaganda and a chance for the conflicting sides to undermine each other.
 
One thing that is certain is that the tragedy involving Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 indicates how incidents which occur in seeming distant corners of the globe have not only broad international implications (that, frankly, has never been anything new) but that they now entail a broad scope of international involvement. Earlier this year, when over 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped by the insurgent group Boko Haram in Nigeria, a host of countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, sent military and intelligence officials to help relocate the victims of Boko Haram’s kidnapping. Now we are seeing, once again, the involvement of investigators from several other countries in this current incident. To be sure, there were Americans, Britons and Canadians on board, too, but it almost now goes without saying that most of the victims abroad MH 17 were Dutch nationals.
 
The involvement of so many in the ensuing investigation of the crash, I believe, demonstrates an underlying tension which characterizes international relations in general. As I have pointed out in previous blog posts, there are two main schools of thought in this field: liberalism (the idea that countries can cooperate) and realism (the notion that all countries only seek their own interests). What seems to be occurring is that, while there is definitely a lot of genuine goodwill and benevolence on the part of those participating in the investigation, this incident unfortunately also provides both sides of the conflict and their major backers with a chance to engage in a propagandistic battle of wills. All the while, it is the families and friends of the victims who, to put it colloquially, get the shaft.
 
There has been no shortage of coverage of the situation in Ukraine since March on a variety of media outlets and in particular social media. So the downing of MH 17 will not necessarily create more attention for Ukraine, as there really has not been a lack thereof. Nor will this likely be the much-touted “game changer” for Russia and the pro-Russian separatists some have speculated on. But what this does mean is that involvement in the Ukraine crisis for countries and groups outside of Eastern Europe will comprise more than just diplomatic action. This incident now has financial and security implications. There is talk of increased sanctions against Russia, not to mention the potential financial blowback against Malaysia Airlines, which has now encountered a second major tragedy this summer alone.
 
Thus, with the downing of MH17, much of the world went from being mere spectators to being more directly involved and affected by the crisis in Ukraine.
 
Our thoughts are with all of those who lost loved ones on July 17 as a result of the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Is Jokowi’s Election a Transformational Moment?


Photo: AP. Taken after Jokowi and his wife Iriana voted on July 9.


Joko Widodo’s election is an important political moment in Indonesia. It ensures Indonesia remains firmly on the democratic path. Certainly, it gives hope to the masses that a changing of the guard will mean a different kind of politics in Indonesia. It reassures jittery investors, who can trust that Indonesia is still open for business. And this, in turn, can allow for Indonesia’s economy to continue to grow and thrive. Jakarta’s friends in Southeast Asia can rest tight that Indonesia will likely continue to support regional stability and cohesion, particularly via ASEAN.

So it’s a seminal event, sure. But transformational? I’m not so sure. Can Jokowi change the system? Can he really clean up corruption? Can he transform Indonesia’s “national character,” as he has alluded to on the campaign trail?

I think back to Barack Obama’s election in 2008. That was an important moment, to be sure. Many Americans will long remember where they were when Obama surpassed the magic 270 mark in electoral votes. His election—in symbol and fact—said that the U.S. had fully moved beyond its violent and overtly racist past. No, it didn’t mean America had transitioned to a “post-racial” society, but it did say that the U.S. was clearly an increasingly more tolerant and accepting country, that it had come a long, long way since the days of slavery and racial killings and segregation and Jim Crow. And for minorities, particularly African-Americans, as you might expect, the election held special meaning. For them, it was a healing moment.

But once in office, Obama’s presidency has been more ordinary than extraordinary. Part of this is his and his administration’s own doing, of course. Team Obama’s passive and incoherent foreign policy, Obama’s reluctance to take the lead on important issues domestic issues, such as significant economic reform, the NSA scandals, and so on, have created the perception that he’s simply muddling through his time in office.

Yet he’s also had to contend with external forces and events outside of his control. For instance, from the beginning, Obama came into the White House with sky high hopes and great expectations, particularly from the political left. His background, age, energy and soaring oratory skills inspired millions to believe that a new day in American politics had arrived. But by this point, the American lefties and independents are disappointed and apathetic, which means Obama can’t rely on his base to provide the heavy lifting of providing momentum and grassroots support for policy and political change.

Additionally, Obama has faced an intransigent Republican Party and powerful interest groups, both of which have been ready and capable to resist his policy proposals. The political and economic remnants of dual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the 2008 financial calamity, combined, have placed constraints on American policy priorities and where and how it exercises its power.

All together, these factors have served as obstacles to Obama changing Washington significantly. As a result, he’s had to conserve his political capital to fight the fights he most prefers, like health care, and constantly operate in campaign mode, making public appearances to drum up enthusiasm and support for his programs. Overall, Washington hasn’t changed. The system is still highly leveraged by money, polarized and dreadfully slow to make policy.

This discussion isn’t so much about Obama as it is to highlight that widespread and deep political change is awfully difficult, no matter how good the intentions of a particular leader. Let’s turn back to Jokowi.

As a relatively young political outsider with a reputation for getting things done and “clean” politics, Jokowi has generated considerable expectations. The expectation is that he will apply the model of politics and policymaking that seemed to work so well in his prior positions in Solo and Jakarta to a national scale. Much, much easier said than done.

Here’s one example. One of Jokowi’s strengths has been his willingness to pay visits to all sorts of local government offices and businesses, so as to keep them in line and also provide a morale boost. It’s good politics, yes, but also a way to boost the production and development of localities. But as president, he simply doesn’t have the time to do this. He will have to alter his hands-on, personality-driven approach to governing. Will this limit his effectiveness in office? Will this disappoint his supporters and backers? If so, will they abandon the PDI-P and Jokowi in future elections?

But that’s not all. Jokowi will have to make deals to put together a political coalition capable of governing. Such deals raise the possibility that Jokowi’s policy preferences, including his wishes for a “cleaner” Indonesia, won’t necessarily be reflected in the ideas and proposals he puts forward. But even if they are, there’s another obstacle. Jokowi will face a strong opposition led by a formidable leader, Prabowo Subianto, assuming he wants that mantle. This opposition will likely try to undermine his legitimacy, which is already happening (!), and sink his policies. And plus, there are questions as to how Prabowo will handle losing the election. He could recede into the night once the election results are certified. But as a very connected guy with dubious motives, it’s also possible he could try to create instability and chaos, making life very difficult for Jokowi. Conceivably, Jokowi could spend the bulk of his time as president putting out brush fires caused by the opposition, and Prabowo in particular, rather than on the goals and objectives he wants to see accomplished.

Lastly, keep in mind that if Jokowi is serious about reform, he will eventually butt heads with vested interests that benefit from the status quo and resist change. This is especially the case with respect to corruption, which is endemic in Indonesia, from the top down to the bottom rungs on the political system. For years and years, political and economic actors, among many others, have been skimming off the top of a host of deals and agreements and transactions. This is how they have acquired and maintained their lot in life, something they want to preserve. Does Jokowi have the balance of power, so to speak, on his side to take on these vested interests? Or will he be outnumbered? If he is, his pledge to crack down on graft and corruption won’t be any more effective than SBY’s.

In sum, this post isn’t to downplay Jokowi’s election or to suggest that Jokowi can’t be a good president. He can. But we do need to be realistic about his chances to be a transformational figure in Indonesian politics. Just because he’s president doesn’t mean he has a clear ride to democratically impose his vision on the country.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

What's At Stake for Prabowo


First, let's be clear about one thing: Prabowo Subianto is not stupid. He is a very smart guy with a firm understanding on how politics work. And he created and ran a strong campaign team that nearly won him the presidency.

Therefore, it is very doubtful that Prabowo truly trusts the four survey groups, LSN, IRC, Puskaptis, and JSI, which are currently under fire for publishing questionable results, that have him in the lead. After all, had he trusted those outfits, there's no way in hell he would have been able to close the 30% gap in popularity between him and Jokowi, because these survey groups had been constantly publishing numbers favorable to Prabowo by healthy margin in the past couple of months.

But here's the big question: why has Prabowo decided to fight on rather than concede defeat?

Edward Aspinall and Marcus Mietzner have penned a very interesting analysis that everyone should read at New Mandala. I agree that one of main goals of Prabowo right now is to muddy the statistical waters, making the legitimacy of Jokowi's victory seem questionable. Still, I don't buy the argument that Prabowo is going to steal the result. He must know that virtually everyone is watching the Elections Commission very closely, including the anti-Corruption Commission. The analogy is this: would you steal money from a bank that you know was watched by the entire town?

Instead, he will move through the Constitutional Court. Instead of challenging the count, however, Prabowo could choose to challenge the legitimacy of the entire election. As the Constitutional Court decided earlier:
The court also ruled that the current election mechanism contradicted the Constitution, which considers the legislature and the executive equal in power. “The checks-and-balances mechanism between the House of Representatives and the presidency doesn’t work well.”
Because short-term coalitions form soon after the legislative election for the sole purpose of nominating a presidential candidate, the winner in the presidential election has to include members of those parties in his or her Cabinet, thus reducing the effectiveness of House oversight over the executive, it said.
...
In its Thursday verdict, the court turned down a request that the 2014 elections be held at the same time. The court said that a simultaneous election in 2014, would create “chaos and legal uncertainty”.
[We] suspended the implementation of the ruling until after the 2014 elections. In the future, [the mechanism] should follow the ruling and separate elections are no longer possible,” Justice Fadlil said.
Keep in mind that the court had decided on a judicial review from Effendi Gozali but has not yet answered Yusril Ihza Mahendra's challenge that only a political party or coalition of political parties that won 25% of national legislative votes could nominate a presidential candidate. So there is a chance of actually having judges in the Constitutional Court declare that both the election process and the next government is illegitimate.

Granted, this is a scorched-earth attempt that might alienate many voters -- including his own voters, but that's the main reason Prabowo's team has been accusing Jokowi of attempting to steal the election via public opinion polling firms: to shore up his base so they would be willing to accept this kind of tactics.

At the same time, it is also doubtful whether the PDI-P itself is willing to be dragged into a long, and very expensive legal fight, with the risk of redoing a very expensive election. It is more likely that the PDI-P will be willing to strike a deal, giving a couple of ministries to Prabowo and ending up with stronger position in the parliament.

That, I think, is the main objective of Prabowo's challenge, to squeeze some lemonade from the lemons that the election gave him.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Ten Things That We Learned From Indonesian Presidential Election 2014 (So Far!)

1. Indonesian democracy is doing better than expected (so far)


Even though the result from the Indonesian Presidential Election is currently in dispute, the silver lining is that so far both sides remain calm, haven't resorted to force, and more importantly, are willing to wait until the Election Commission announces the official result on July 22. The fact that both sides remain peaceful mean that both candidates agree that the electoral process and its institutions are legitimate. For all of this, we should give the credit to...


2. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is doing a good job so far


Whether you think President Yudhoyono is a good president or not, it cannot be denied that he managed to maintain order during the entire electoral process. Even though many criticized his last-minute throw of support to Prabowo Subianto, he has so far managed to keep the institutions of the presidency, military, and police force neutral, preventing the situation from spiraling out of control.

Of course the question is what will happen after the Election Commission releases its official result on July 22. The losers will cry foul and the President, considered by many as wishy-washy, might have to act decisively -- because that will have major impacts on his legacy and reputation.


3. People don't trust the General Elections Commission (KPU)


Which may sound contradictory considering that above I mentioned that all sides regard the electoral institution as legitimate. That, however, does not mean that the people trust the commission. Citizens were warned to check their ballot before voting in case of irregularities. There were accusations of ballot stuffing and other shenanigans going on, such as people receiving ballots with only one candidate, a hoax that was believed by many [link in Indonesian]. More importantly, the disputed incident in Hong Kong, gave the impression to Jokowi's voters that the Commission was slanted in favor of Prabowo. 

And keep in mind even the institutions doing the quick count declared that the commission could be at fault should the commission in the end declare Prabowo the winner [link in Indonesian]. And the KPK sternly warned the commission and its counterpart, Elections Monitoring Body (Banwaslu) against vote rigging.  

This was the main reason why Megawati Sukarnoputri jumped the gun, declaring victory even before the results were in during the election day, which in turn angered Prabowo, who believed that Megawati was going to steal the election, because....


4. Many do not understand a "quick count" and how statistics (or math) works

Math is hard!

Done right, a quick count is a great asset for democracy, as it provides control against governments, or anyone else, attempting to steal an election. Done wrong, it creates uncertainties and lack of trust even in legitimate survey institutions. This is what happens in Indonesia, where there are terrible survey institutions masquerading as legitimate outfits, which causes confusion, especially among people lacking knowledge in how statistics works -- and these outfits are paid handsomely for this.

Such chaos would not have happened had anyone or any body, including the Elections Commission, already threw the book at them: these outfits had a track record of manipulating the results of surveys (not to mention giving wildly off-the mark results). But in Indonesia, people generally never try to rock the boat, until... well... shit hits the fan.


5. Horse-trading remains a popular sport


Already, Golkar, a member in Prabowo's coalition, signaled its willingness to switch sides and join Jokowi's administration, should Jokowi finally prevail. Of course, nobody raises an eyebrow, because, well, this is Indonesia.

Expect more horse-trading later, especially as both Jokowi and Prabowo pursue their options.


6. Yes, money matters, but....


But it is more important to know how to use money effectively. Nobody could fault Prabowo in this regard. Prabowo managed to make the race so competitive thanks to his ability to spend money wisely: building a strong organization for campaigning and mobilizing voters, and launching attack ads that questioned Jokowi's ability to govern. In essence, Prabowo knows how to run a great campaign and regardless of whether he wins or loses, students of politics should study his campaign as an example of how to run an effective campaign. 


7. Also black campaigns are here to stay, whether you like it or not


Because it works against unprepared, incompetent and disorganized oppositions.  In fact, one of very few reasons Jokowi won was....


8. Spontaneous, highly motivated grass root support matters



Without political idealists--these highly dedicated people volunteering their time and money--it is doubtful hat Jokowi could prevail in such a tight and ugly race. The volunteers essentially did what the PDI-P failed to do: to mobilize voters and counter negative and black campaigns on Jokowi.


9. Presidential debates help


While presidential debates only change the mind of few voters, they do help to galvanize the supporters of the winning side of the debate. The debates also provided opportunities for Jokowi to regain the momentum from Prabowo -- and missed opportunity for Prabowo to prove that Jokowi was simply not a good presidential candidate.


10. And of course, a little bit of luck always helps


Nobody expected the fiasco of the polling in Hong Kong, and what happened there remains in dispute. And yet, the fiasco, it seems, led to quite a turnout from the Jokowi voters.

And we end this list with a song.


No thanks to PDI-P: Jokowi wins despite poor campaign


Joko Widodo’s supporters organised a concert that managed to mobilise youth voters
to support him. 
Hendrik Mintarno/FlickrCC BY-NC-SA
This article is cross-posted at the Conversation.

Despite an ineffectual campaign by Indonesia’s Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), Jakarta governor Joko Widodo won Indonesia’s presidential election, according to quick count results.

Data from reputable survey centres such as SMRC (Saiful Mujani Research & Consulting) showed a 3-5% margin of victory for Jokowi, Widodo’s popular nickname.

This apparently comfortable margin, however, does not reflect how tight the race was. Former military general Prabowo Subianto almost snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in a race that Jokowi was supposed to win easily. Six months ago, surveys showed he had four times more popular support than Prabowo.

With intense campaigning, Prabowo managed to close the gap in opinion polls just before the election. Prabowo still has yet to concede defeat, relying on four (of 11) quick count results that show him leading. The Indonesian Election Commission will announce the result on July 22.


Slow start for Jokowi

Before April’s legislative election, Jokowi had a commanding lead in opinion polls of around 30%. But he started his campaign with a severe disadvantage. The PDI-P selected him as the party’s candidate only very late in the legislative campaign period.

The PDI-P did not prominently promote Jokowi in most of its campaign material. The party’s ads show either chairwoman and former Indonesian president Megawati Sukarnoputri or her daughter Puan Maharani. As a result Jokowi’s impact in the legislative election was minimal.
When votes for the legislative election were finally tallied, PDI-P’s share of votes was far below the high (and often unrealistic) expectations. Many commentators and even people in his own party started to blame Jokowi. They questioned whether the “Jokowi Effect” actually exists.

Further compounding the problems, Jokowi had to wait until he received Megawati’s approval in mid-March before he could become the PDI-P’s presidential candidate. Much to his disadvantage, he could not respond to smear campaigns that began to swirl during the legislative election campaign. Worse, his waiting for Megawati’s approval provided his opponents with ammunition to cast doubt about his ability as a leader.


Prabowo went on the offensive

Prabowo did not have Jokowi’s problem of trying to become the standard-bearer of his party. But he had two main challenges: his poor human rights record and his lag in the polls.

Prabowo had to campaign aggressively. He built a huge coalition of several political parties. He expected the party machinery to turn out votes for him.

Prabowo also counted on his coalition partners to attack Jokowi with a barrage of negative campaigns to create doubt in voters' minds. Backed by media moguls and his billionaire brother, Hashim Dojohadikusumo, Prabowo had an effective campaign team that spread his message all over the place.

The tactics worked, thanks to the ineffectual responses from Jokowi’s team. By the end of June, Prabowo was neck-and-neck with Jokowi in the polls.


Jokowi’s lucky factors

Several factors helped Jokowi salvage his campaign. First, and most importantly, Jokowi managed to attract a number of dedicated volunteers who were willing to spend their own money and work tirelessly to spread his messages to voters.

The effect of those volunteers could hardly be overestimated. They organised a massive pro-Jokowi concert on the weekend before the election. The concert, which was held on the same day as the last presidential debate, managed to mobilise youth voters to support him.

The second factor was the presidential debates. While the debates did little to influence undecided voters, the main purpose of the debate for the campaigns was to mobilise and energise the debate winner’s supporters.

Here, Prabowo failed to use the debates to question Jokowi’s fitness as a leader and undermine the moral of Jokowi’s supporters. Instead, Prabowo appeared unprepared in the first debate. Meanwhile, Jokowi and his running mate, Jusuf Kalla, used the the debates as a showcase of their program and can-do mentality.

Prabowo and his running mate, Hatta Rajasa, performed well in the second and fourth debates. However, Jokowi and Kalla handily won the final debate. That momentum continued to election day.

The third factor, which was beyond anyone’s control, was the fiasco of the polling in Hong Kong. Hundreds of Indonesia’s migrant workers were denied the right to vote after the polling station closed at 5 pm (HKT) on Sunday. The Indonesian Election Commission was accused of purposely preventing Jokowi’s supporters from casting their votes.

While the details are still sketchy and in dispute, this created an impression among Jokowi’s supporters that Prabowo had managed to turn the system and the Election Commission against them. This incident galvanised Jokowi’s supporters and increased their turnout in Wednesday’s election.

These three factors helped propel Jokowi’s recovery. He thus managed to stem his losses and prevail against Prabowo. It was a close call, though, and Jokowi won in spite of his party’s poor performance.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Japan’s Article 9 and the Shifting East Asian Landscape

This year the international community has seen a major shift in Japanese political activity related to the sphere of defense and security. It seems the tide is slowly turning against Japan’s traditional pacifist stance, a position it has held since the end of the Second World War. Japan’s new measures seem to be indicative of a greater assertiveness and desire to be more autonomous in its security affairs. It also may be the beginning of a new challenge to Northeast Asian security.

At the beginning of the month, Japan modified its famous Article 9 of the national constitution. “Article 9” has become a by-word for Japan’s pacifism and de-militarization. This provision has been a source of both pride and consternation for the Japanese: many have taken pride in the country’s non-aggressiveness and its promotion of peace (especially in light of the massive atrocities of the Second World War), while others have seen it as a weakness and sacrifice of sovereignty. The latter viewpoint is held especially by nationalist Japanese.

Article 9 of the Japanese constitution had long been erroneously portrayed as a law which stated that Japan could not have any armed forces, but that the Japanese maintained armed capabilities anyway and that the United States simply turned a blind eye and begrudgingly tolerated this state of affairs. Article 9, however, decreed that Japan would not use aggression to ensure the interests of the state. The armed forces, as it were, constituted a self defense force, essentially an extension of the national police service. Their origin comes from when US troops in Japan were deployed to fight in the Korean War (1950-1953), which left Japan defenseless.

Craig Martin of the Washburn University School of Law asserts that the revision of Article 9 is a violation of Japan’s rule of law. This is because of the course Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took to modify Article 9, without debate in the Japanese Diet (parliament). To be sure, debate has raged among the Japanese public for years over Article 9, and some of Japan’s more hard-core nationalists have even gone as far as to say Japan should acquire nuclear weapons as a matter of pride. Professor Martin himself has advocated for Article 9 revisions as being necessary for the new realities of Japanese and regional security issues.

I personally agree that Japan ought to have the right to modify the legal ramifications of its security, yet cannot help but be apprehensive of the potential consequences. While Japan’s actions run the risk of stoking regional tensions, there are sound reasons why Japan would undertake such actions. My intention here is not to justify recent Japanese actions or to take sides, but rather to explain why Japan has taken such moves.

In Northeast Asia, Japan almost bears the dubious distinction of being “the country everyone loves to hate.” It’s easy to think that this is simply because China, the Koreas and even Russia are still sore over Japanese atrocities and brutal imperial rule that happened up to just over a century ago, during a relatively small window of time. Indeed, historic memory of Japan lingers here a lot more strongly than memories of the Germans in Europe, and many in Asia state that the sight of a Japanese “rising sun” flag (with protruding sun rays) would be the equivalent to seeing a Nazi swastika in modern Europe.

The history of Japanese military activity in the region is a long one. Indeed, Yi Sun Shin, the “[Horatio] Nelson of the East,” defeated an attempted Japanese invasion of Korea way back in the 16th century. Nevertheless, while Japan has instigated security crises in the region over the years, in many ways, today Japan is also a lone wolf in a hostile neighborhood, and that neighborhood includes US allies (such as South Korea) as well as other countries against which Japan could not likely depend on the US for help (namely China and Russia). To this day Japan is locked into territorial disputes with China, Russia and South Korea, mostly over small but resource-rich islands and even rocks and reefs.

Recently, Japan repealed a ban on selling arms to foreign customers. To be sure, there were strong economic considerations behind this, as Japanese officials decided increasing arms sales would help boost economic growth for the country. Arms transfers in Asia in particular have long had geopolitical undertones, as countries have sold weapons to customer countries which have enemies allied with the enemy of the arms-manufacturing country (i.e. as India and Pakistan are enemies, China may sell weapons to Pakistan, and Japan may sell to India). No doubt, this combined with the much more recent revisions of Article 9 will send shockwaves through Asia, and, these decisions taken in Tokyo may stoke the fires of regional tensions to the point that things backfire against Japan.  Japanese officials, however, have seemingly calculated that they will not produce an unfavorable backlash.

Indeed, as historic memory informs regional attitudes toward Japan, lessons from Japan’s own history may be a driving force behind its recent decisions. After US naval commander Commodore Matthew Perry forced Japan to open its doors to trade with the West in the mid-1850’s, Japan, under Emperor Meiji, realized that it had two choices: it could either modernize its military and take a forward-leaning, aggressive posture, or it could suffer the fate of neighboring China and Korea, becoming subject to an imperial carve-up by outside powers. Japan successfully modernized, to the point where it became a major imperial power in its own right, taking land, creating alliances with European powers and even earning the distinction as the first Asian country to defeat a European state in war (at the Battle of Fukushima in 1905, when a Russian fleet was all but destroyed).

To be sure, Japan and South Korea are united in their common alliance with the US (and by a shared mistrust of North Korea) but that is about as far as Japan-South Korea warmth goes, and other than that there is little to no lost love between the two. Many South Koreans feel a certain affinity for China; Korea was a tributary state to China, and China has defended Korea against Japanese aggression in centuries past. No ink need be wasted on North Korea’s visceral detestation of the Japanese (North Korea, in fact, sees Japan and the US as working in collusion to subjugate all of Korea in its imperial designs).

Therefore, as historic tensions and animosities linger and the geopolitical cauldron in East Asia continues to rumble and a slow but rising boil, Japan finds itself proverbially with its back against the sea and no sure-fire allies that are willing to unconditionally defend it. The task at hand for not only Japan, but for all countries and powers in the northern part of the Asia-Pacific to see to it that however far Japan goes in re-arming and re-militarization, this is not the catalyst for a massive interstate Pacific conflict.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Indonesian Presidential Debates and Campaign: an Overview


Having watched the five presidential debates between Prabowo Subianto and Joko Widodo and their political partners, here's a question that everyone should be asking: do these debates matter?

The answer, as usual, is yes and no. No, in that, in general, the debate is like preaching to the choir. Those who already supported Prabowo or Jokowi probably didn't change their mind.

It's far more important to define your opponent, and since the beginning of the race, Prabowo's team had done a great job. Prabowo's camp managed to put doubts in many people as to whether Jokowi is qualified to run the country, stressing the fact that Jokowi, as the governor of Jakarta, had not finished taking care of the problems in Jakarta.

There were also questions as to whether Jokowi was an independent agent or simply another spineless subordinate of Megawati, his party leader; and the latter was given credence in a thoughtless attack that stated Jokowi was only a party official. And not to mention all the black campaigns waged by Prabowo's supporters on Jokowi, such as Jokowi is really of Chinese descent and a Christian believer.

Even though Prabowo himself carried so much baggage, such as all the accusations that he was an abuser of human rights, Jokowi's team, unfortunately, was unable to effectively use the issue: they were incapable of making a strong case to many youths explaining why those events so far away in 1998 still matter today. In fact, most of the counterattacks from Jokowi's camp were carried out by the grass root volunteers, without much assistance from Jokowi's party, the PDI-P.

And this brings me to my initial question, whether the debate matters. Yes, the debates matter, because by winning the debates, Prabowo and Jokowi were able to gain momentum and mobilize their supporters, giving them talking points and galvanizing them. Of course, the undecideds could also be persuaded by strong performance of a candidate in the debate, though I suspect the majority of these people are politically apathetic, didn't care at all about the debates, and the majority of them won't vote. Still, with the election going down the wire, both candidates wanted to attract that sliver of voters, regardless how small the number really is.


The Strategy of Prabowo Subianto-Hatta Rajasa

The main goal of Prabowo Subianto was to present himself as a natural leader to the people, that he understood the big picture of what's wrong with Indonesia, and that he was the right person to fix it. As a result, he tended to focus on macro-level policies.

In addition, he had to dispel the accusation that he had a fiery temper, an anger management problem that made him unfit to become a president. At the same time, he also had to try to attract the undecideds, mostly notably President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono himself, who, despite of experiencing a freefall of his popularity, was still popular enough to help his party garner around 10% of the votes during the legislative election back in April.

Therefore, Prabowo spent the first debate trying to restrain himself while on a couple occasion, gave indirect praise to the Yudhoyono administration. Of course, the fact that his running mate, Hatta Rajasa, was the coordinating minister in Yudhoyono administration made it imperative that he had to defend Yudhoyono's record, lest he was shooting his running mate's foot, and in turn hurting his own performance.


The Strategy of Joko Widodo - Jusuf Kalla

On the other hand, Jokowi's main goal was to stop the bleeding that was caused by incessant attacks from Prabowo's camp regarding his qualifications. As a result, Jokowi tended to focus on micro-level policies, stressing the fact that he was a capable administrator running a can-do government that gets things done.

In addition, understanding the fact that Prabowo got the momentum and that Team Jokowi were slowly bleeding support due to disgruntled supporters, Jokowi decided to be very aggressive in the debates, especially in the first debate, in order to throw some red meat to his supporters. At the same time, though, Jokowi tried not to attack the Yudhoyono administration too directly, lest President Yudhoyono, incensed with the criticism, decided to throw his support to Prabowo.

A couple days before the fifth debate, the president did throw his support to Prabowo, leading to full scale attacks from both Jokowi and Jusuf Kalla on Prabowo and the current administration's policies.

This approach, however, was hampered by a few things. Overall, Jokowi was simply not good in the public debates, and in the fourth debate, Jusuf Kalla was sick, leading to uneven performances. At the same time, Prabowo himself seemed to be overconfident and didn't really take Jokowi seriously; perhaps this is a reason was unable to capitalize on the boost in momentum he had received entering the debates.


Leading to the July 9

Based on the result of the fifth debate, Jokowi retook the momentum, as his performance energized supporters. Yes, there are things outside his control that can help to mobilizing his base, notably the botched election process in Hong Kong, which regardless of whose fault was that, creates the impression that the system, the Election Commission, and even the government were doing their best to sink Jokowi's candidacy. Basically, the conventional wisdom has held that if Jokowi wins, it will be in spite of the poor performance of the PDI-P. But now, it might be driven by the energized and angry pool of grassroots voters.

At the same time, via campaign rallies and speeches and other forms of outreach, Prabowo has been drumming up his political bases. Importantly, at his disposal, Prabowo has had the political machines of various political parties, such as Partai Golkar, Partai Demokrat, Gerindra, PKS, PPP, and PAN, that back his candidacy (and including quite a lot of true believers who believe that Prabowo was unfairly tarred and feathered on the issue of human rights), as well as a huge warchest that he liberally spent for advertising and building up a very strong campaign team. Given these things, along with the polling trends over the last month or so, Prabowo has a shot at presidency.

The election will go down to the wire.