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Sat. December 15, 2018
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Misguided Guidance and Self -Serving Leaders:Evaluating Politics and Leadership in Southeast Asia
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National leaders are the most visible cultural symbols of a country, often wielding direct political power that shapes a nation’s future. While some leaders selflessly deploy strategic policies for the betterment of their constituents, others falter at the responsibility. Indonesia and Philippines provides prime examples of national leader’s detrimental decisions which result in each country’s current turbulent sociopolitical and economic climates. In the subsequent paragraphs, I argue that the imposition of self-serving policies by national politicians in Indonesia led to an overall divisive sociopolitical climate and economic inequality, while the inexperienced politicians susceptible to frequent familial dissonance in the Philippines gridlocked economic development and disincentivized civic engagement. This paper delineates the scope of its inquiry to the political leadership of Sukarno and Suharto for Indonesia and Benigno Aquino III as well as the regional politicians of the Maguindanao region for the Philippines.

The past undercurrent of turbulent independence based on compulsory unification is apparent in Indonesia’s current sociopolitical and economic spheres. Employing a strategy of“Guided Democracy,” the first president of the newly named Indonesia, Sukarno1, deployed strategic tactics of authoritarianism masked with the rhetoric of free choice to ensure control over the nation. Fearing rebellion countering One State of Indonesia, Sukarno cultivated military power to repress the opposing regional forces. However, as the military expanded, Sukarno grew fearful of the military itself and sought to subdue the military faction by courting the Indonesian Communist Party.2 While the rhetoric of competing interest between the political left (Indonesian Communist Party) and the political right (Military) served to place Sukarno in a position of unassailable power, it created a façade of free political choice for the Indonesian population. This imbalance of power and status for both parties led to the controversial GerekanSeptember Tiga Puluh3, where high ranking officers of the military were allegedly kidnapped and murdered. Scapegoating the communist party as perpetrators, the military faction sought to eradicate all remnants of communism from Indonesia, destroying two million Indonesian lives and instilling deep political cleavages in the process.

Replacing Sukarno was Suharto, a military leader turned statesman under the guise of providing security for the nation. Tailoring every facet of society to maintain military order,

Suharto’s reign of the “New Order4” had devastating effects on the sociopolitical and economic sphere. By consolidating competing political parties to promote the governmental party of Golkar,5 Suharto effectively created a staunch legislative body unable to be contested through electoral power. Although Suharto’s regime recognized religious identities of its constituents,

Suharto manipulated the religious followings of Islam to further his own agenda. Through the Majelis Ulama Idonesia (MUI), a national body of Muslim scholars for the 87% Indonesian Muslim population,6 Suharto bureaucratized the role of Islam and depoliticized any Islamic opposition.7 Financed by State during the Suharto era, the fatwas, or Islamic legal opinions,8 granted by the MUI and its regional branches were often disseminated through structural avenues, subduing any form of debate on the merits of the laws themselves.

Lacking avenues for constructive discussion during the Suharto regime, Islamic followers found themselves without a political voice, resulting in extreme actions of divisive violence during contemporary times. After displacement of the Suharto regime, Jemaah Islamiyah (JI),9 a radical Southeast Asian branch of Al-Qaeda, attempted to instill Islamic ideologies previously subdued in the sociopolitical sphere. Through the violent 2005 bombings in Bali,10 the group attempted to divide Indonesia along religious lines by repressing the Hindu population in Bali, effectively undermining the compulsory unification of Indonesia by its previous leaders. 

In addition to a repressive political climate, Suharto’s economic policies enabled him and his cronies to accumulate massive wealth at the expense of economic stability for Indonesia as a whole. He institutionalized corruption through requirements which mandated that his family members serve on the board for every major Indonesian industry, effectively siphoning wealth for his personal means.11 Without a circulation of monetary capital and a lack of true electoral representatives to curtail the corruption, the discrepancy in the socioeconomic status of Indonesians widened. The 1982 song “Indonesia”12 by Rhoma Irma, illustrates the entrenched effects of these policies on the Indonesian population. Singing “The rich become richer, the poor become poorer…Get rid of corruption in in every part of the bureaucracy...” Irma exposes institutionalized corruption within the government as the reason for the discrepancy in wealth among Indonesians. This divide still prevails in contemporary times as demonstrated by the 2002 Rudy Soedjarwo film “Ada Apa Dengan Cinta?”13 The film highlights the story of two students who overcome familial socioeconomic and political differences to unite with each other, symbolizing the hopeful unification of Indonesia beyond class or political lines. However, to truly unify Indonesia, the new president must look beyond superficial policies to bridge the socioeconomic and sociopolitical cleavages institutionalized in every facet of Indonesian society.

Although Filipino leaders employed vastly different leadership strategies than that of Indonesia’s, both countries reveal a similar trend of stagnant economic development and a divisive political climate. The Filipino population often elects personality-based candidates to its presidency, while remaining staunchly in favor of regional representatives from incumbent families. While national nominees appeal to awa (pity) and damay (empathy)14 of the electorate, the regional politicians often utilize familial ties in coordination with forceful coercion.

Presidents such as Begnino “NoyNoy” Aquino III15 appeal to the public based on their familial status as descendent of former martyred figures rather than through their pragmatic policy plans for the progression of the Philippines. Aquino’s reformist appeals to govern the country based on morality and good conscious sway the electorate to vote for him based on their faith on his familial upbringing rather than his concrete experiences.16 Aquino’s lack of political experience was apparent in his mismanagement of Typhoon Yolanda,17 leading to mass casualties that undermined his claims to good governance. When Typhoon Yolanda first hit the small city of Tacloban, the response from the national office was expected to be swift to recover the most amount of the population. However, due to the power struggle between President Aquino and the current Mayor, Alfred Romualdez, a relative of the opposing Marcos family, aid to the Tacloban region was delayed, causing more casualties than predicted. Aquino claimed that this delay was an effect of the lack of proper paperwork from the local government, while Mayor Romualdez questioned the need for such paperwork. Although the Philippines on paper provides one of the best the disaster risk reduction legislations in the world, the lack of infrastructure and finances to implement it negates its efficacy. The entrenched role of familial rivalries in impeding the development of the Philippines is best illustrated by the quote “You have to remember that you are a Romualdez and the President is an Aquino” by the Department of the Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas18. From the President to his cabinet members, the role of familial conflicts on every level of policy making and implementation is undeniable. By basing his decisions on family disputes rather than tactical negotiations, NoyNoy Aquino contributes to the deterioration of Philippine socioeconomic power, disproving his campaign promises of championing the poor Filipino population.

However, beyond crisis situations and top-level policy decisions, familial clashes between the country’s elites also affect the everyday lives of the Filipino people. The 2009 Manguindano massacre,19a brutal public killing of 58 people in the Mangudadatu caravan by the Ampatuan Clan, showcases the violent political force of regional families. The Mangudadatu family and a group of nonpartisan journalists were traveling to file a certificate of candidacy to challenge the incumbent Ampatuan clan for the gubernatorial post when they were suddenly ambushed in broad daylight20. The investigations done on the incident were reported as inconclusive and the criminal justice system claimed to lack the proper evidence to indict anyone for the incident.21 Furthermore, presidential leaders such as NoyNoy claim to be vigilant in finding the perpetrators of incidents such as these but often receive financial support for their national campaigns through regional family politics leading them to favor the regional ties over the ideals of good governance.22 Without the honest support of leaders in executive, judicial or legislative branches, the Filipino people are dubious that any form civic engagement will yield tangible results.

Whether it is a lack of clear guidance in the Philippines or misguided attempts of forced guidance in Indonesia, it is clear that a country’s future depends on past leadership. Oligarchic regional families of the Philippines staunchly rule each region without interference from inept national leaders, leading to diminishing civic engagement and a deteriorating economy. Whereas, the corrupt Indonesian national leader’s self-interested policies lead to large political and economic rifts in Indonesian society.

In both cases, past leaders of both countries not only failed to progress their nations towards a better future but actively hindered its development. To advance the economic and sociopolitical spheres of each country, the new leaders of the Philippines and Indonesia must aggressively address the deep seated institutional inequities ingrained in both spheres by their predecessors.

Juli Adhikari is a junior at the University of California, Berkeley. She intends to graduate with a double major in Political Science and Gender & Women's Studies. She hopes to combine her interest in policy and law to find pragmatic solutions to close social inequities. She currently serves as an appointed commissioner for the Commission on the Status of Women for the City of Berkeley. Her work includes conducting research for a Boalt Law Professor and facilitating civic engagement workshops for the non-profit, IGNITE National. 

 

  1. Darren, Zook. “Guided Democracy.” Lecture at class on Southeast Asian Politics, BerkeleyCA, October 5, 2016.
  2. Zook, Guided Democracy
  3. Darren, Zook. “The Transition from Old to New.” Lecture at class on Southeast Asian Politics,Berkeley CA, October 5, 2016.
  4. Darren, Zook. “The New Order.” Lecture at class on Southeast Asian Politics, Berkeley CA,October 5, 2016.
  5. Zook, New Order
  6. Zook, New Order
  7. Mun’im Sirry “Fatwas and their controversy: The case of the Council of Indonesian Ulama,”Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 44/1, (2013): 100-11.
  8. Sirry, “Fatwas and their controversy: The case of the Council of Indonesian Ulama,” 165
  9. Darren, Zook. “Anxiety and Insecurity in Bali.” Lecture at class on Southeast Asian Politics,Berkeley CA, October 17, 2016.
  10. Zook, Anxiety and Insecurity in Bali
  11. Zook, New Order
  12. Rhoma Irama, “Music as a medium for communication, unity, education, and dakwah,” in Andrew Weintraub (ed.) Islam and Popular Culture in Indonesia and Malaysia (2011): 185-192.
  13. Jujur Prananto and Prima Rusdi. Ada Apa Dengan Cinta? DVD. Directed by Rudy Soedjarwo. Indonesia: Miles, 2002.
  14. Mark R. Thompson, “Populism and the Revival of Reform: Competing Political Narratives in the Philippines,” Contemporary Southeast Asia 32/1 (2010): 1-28.
  15. Darren, Zook. “Benigno NoyNoy Aquino.” Lecture at class on Southeast Asian Politics,Berkeley CA, October 24, 2016.
  16. Thompson, “Populism and the Revival of Reform: Competing Political Narratives in thePhilippines” 25.
  17. Lorraine Carlos Salazar, “Typhoon Yolanda: The Politics of Disaster Response and Management,” Southeast Asian Affairs (2015): 277- 301.
  18. Salazar, “Typhoon Yolanda: The Politics of Disaster Response and Management” 279
  19. Darren, Zook. “Manguindano.” Lecture at class on Southeast Asian Politics, Berkeley CA,October 26, 2016.
  20. Darren, Zook. “The Massacre.” Lecture at class on Southeast Asian Politics, Berkeley CA, October 26, 2016.
  21. Zook, The Massacre
  22. Zook, The Massacre

Bibliography

Thompson, Mark R. “Populism and the Revival of Reform: Competing Political Narratives in the Philippines,” Contemporary Southeast Asia 32/1 (2010): 1-28.

Irama, Rhoma. “Music as a medium for communication, unity, education, and dakwah,” in Andrew Weintraub (ed.) Islam and Popular Culture in Indonesia and Malaysia (2011): 185-192. Prananto, Jujur and Rusdi, Prima. Ada Apa Dengan Cinta? DVD. Directed by Rudy Soedjarwo. Indonesia: Miles, 2002.

Salazar, Lorraine Carlos “Typhoon Yolanda: The Politics of Disaster Response and Management,” Southeast Asian Affairs (2015): 277- 301

Sirry, Mun’im. “Fatwas and their controversy: The case of the Council of Indonesian Ulama,”

Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 44/1, (2013) : 100-11

Zook, Darren. “Guided Democracy.” Lecture at class on Southeast Asian Politics, Berkeley CA, October 5, 2016.

Zook, Darren. “The Transition from Old to New.” Lecture at class on Southeast Asian Politics, Berkeley CA, October 5, 2016.

Zook, Darren. “The New Order.” Lecture at class on Southeast Asian Politics, Berkeley CA, October 5, 2016.

Zook, Darren. “Benigno NoyNoy Aquino.” Lecture at class on Southeast Asian Politics, Berkeley CA, October 24, 2016.

Zook, Darren. “Manguindano.” Lecture at class on Southeast Asian Politics, Berkeley CA, October 26, 2016.

Zook, Darren. “The Massacre.” Lecture at class on Southeast Asian Politics, Berkeley CA,October 26, 2016.

Zook, Darren. “Anxiety and Insecurity in Bali.” Lecture at class on Southeast Asian Politics,Berkeley CA, October 17, 2016.

 

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