02 November 2007

Indonesian Presidents - A Question of Ethnicity - A Storm in a Tea Cup

The Vice-President is in full campaign mode, some might argue he has been since the 2004 election, as he and Golkar make a move on the Presidency. Despite the professions of loyalty and acceptance of the current President, it is clear that Golkar is positioning itself to secure the biggest parliamentary majority and return one of its own to Chair Number 1 in 2009. Will they succeed, well that is another blog entry for another time.

The point of this blog is to give nothing but a superficial analysis of the comments attributed to Jusuf Kalla at a discussion held on 1 November 2007 on the first three years of the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono - Kalla Government. These comments were simple but always prone to stir debate in anyone that has not really been paying attention to constitutional amendments. And Kalla himself was careful to premise his statement on the opinions of people that say the President must be Javanese are being discriminative and not the law - the law says something different to be sure!

Kalla merely said that any prospective president can be of any ethnicity and they just do not always have to be Javanese - true. This would be good for Kalla being from Sulawesi. But when it is all said and done this is just a case of the Vice-President stirring the pot. For what purpose, who knows, only he can answer that! Although in the era of transmigration you could be of Javanese ancestry but have never lived on the island of Java. In this regard you could also be Indonesian of Chinese ancestry and your family might not have lived in China for 5, 6, 7 or more generations. The same goes for Indonesians of Arabic or Indian ancestry who have a long and storied history throughout the archipelago.

The issue revolves around Article 6(1) of the 1945 Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia, which in its simplicity states that the President must be a native Indonesian. In Indonesian, "Presiden ialah orang Indonesia asli". The debate about whether 'asli' means native, original, indigenous, or something else would seem to be all but settled with the third series of constitutional amendments confirmed on 9 November 2001, which amended this very Article.

But exactly what is a native Indonesian. Is this an Indonesian by birth or it this someone who is indigenous to the archipelago that is now Indonesia or is it someone indigenous to the island of Java? Pressing questions indeed as we head into another presidential election or not!

Because if we return to the constitutional amendments, there were four of them (if you are interested, they can be accessed in Indonesian here or a complete unofficial English translation here), the third of these is the most critical to this non-debate. The third amendment defines native Indonesian as any Indonesia citizen who has been a citizen from birth, who has not held any other citizenship of their own free will, has never betrayed their country, and is of sound mind & body in order to perform the duties of President or Vice-President.

Case Closed!

Native Indonesian is clearly anyone born here. So, the debate about whether the President has to be Javanese or not is a non-debate. As are the unnamed personal opinions to which the Vice-President refers. The President can be any Indonesian born in the Republic, and those born outside of it to Indonesian parents, irrespective of whether your family ancestry is Arab, Indian, Chinese, or Australian, or anything else for that matter!

The reality is that the the island of Java supports the largest number of Indonesian citizens and the conspiracy theorists will tell you that when all the Javanese get together and are convinced of their inherent right that the President must be Javanese then it is a foregone conclusion that the President must be Javanese.

I guess if you do not have anything more serious to focus on then a conspiracy theory is always a fun diversion!

It is not one's ethnicity that is important but rather one's ability to 'network' in the lion's den (or perhaps more aptly a traders' market) that is Indonesian politics. The only thing in Kalla's way is his ability to network enough votes and his appeal to the masses. The beauty of direct presidential elections is that if you are teflon-coated and have minor party support there is no reason why you cannot sit in Chair Number 1.

That said, the small parties still understand the reality that they have to court the support of bigger parties and that is why the current President and Vice-President fit this picture.

Viva Democracy!


Anggara said...

just a joke, an Indonesian President should be a moslem (at least in their ID Card) and a javanese.
btw my name is only Anggara sir :D

The Advocate said...

Anggara it is! My apologies and I have already updated the 'things I read' to reflect this...

I wish I had been at the discussion to find out whether he was seriously trying to start debate on this issue or merely stirring the pot?

Oh well! To each their own...

Have a good one (day that is).

Anggara said...

well ethnicity and also religion become most important issue in the electoral campaign for presidency and/or head of the region. even the most important issue being resolved such as interpreting the words "Indonesian origin" but it is hard for most of the people accept the (for example) the chinese and/or a non moeslem become the President of Indonesia.
i think that the vice president try to see the people reaction on the ethnic issues
it's still a long fights

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