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Jokowi, Death Penalty, and the War on Drugs

Jokowi vows to lead the war on drugs (photo credit: MI/Barry Fathahilah)

(photo credit: MI/Barry Fathahilah)

The death penalty once again comes under spotlight in Indonesia, and in the center of it all, is our newly-elected President Joko Widodo (Jokowi).

Having gone through such raucous ordeal to get to where he is now (and taken significant battering to his reputation in the process), the president has clearly attempted to position himself on certain nationalist issues which could set the tone of his presidency within the first few months in office. Unfortunately, he picked a wildly contentious subject of enforcing the death penalty for drug offenders to drive his message home.

The reason? Well, among others, despite the somewhat controversial nature of the decision, is the backing of millions of Indonesians from both sides of the political divide. Polls which show support for the death penalty in Indonesia generally sits at around 75%. This is something of a rarity these days1, and a political capital for the president.

This brings us to last Sunday (18/1). After months of unofficial moratorium on the death penalty (last execution was back in 2013), the president, seemingly keen to show his loyal cohorts and opposing parties alike that he could put his foot down on things that ‘matter’, decided to move forward with the execution of six drug offenders, five of whom were foreigners.

As a result, The Netherlands and Brazil (which have abolished death penalty back home) recalled their ambassadors over the execution of their nationals by the Indonesian firing squad. Australia and dozens of other countries whose citizens are among the 57 foreigners under drug-related death sentence in Indonesia might soon follow suit to reconsider their diplomatic relations with our country should the government decide to continue with their plan.

President Jokowi defended his decision (not to give pardon) by saying that the war against the drug mafia should not be half-hearted measures since drugs ruin lives. As his voter, I still believe in his good-natured spirit. But I am also pretty certain he is just playing politics in this instance. If the president is really committed to eradicate drug-related crimes, he should have started from his own backyard.

Indeed, the government already has plenty on its plate and needs to step up its game by making drug abuse policies more effective, reforming the justice system, ensuring that the law is enforced, cracking down on the drug cartels, improving drug rehabilitation centers, and the list goes on.

However, imposing the death penalty is definitely not one of them.

What deterrence effect?

Proponents of the death penalty always point out that such notorious act is a necessary undertaking as an ultimate punishment to deter drug cartels, middlemen, and abusers from expanding the vicious circle. They maintain that drug traffickers will be less likely to commit their crimes if they know they will face execution.

The thing is, by nature, many drug-related offences are committed unpremeditatedly, in a spur-of-the-moment fashion. While the masterminds of drug-trafficking often hide in plain sight, away from their dirty laundry, those who get caught by authorities are most likely just petty middlemen or drug users who are convinced that they will not be caught and held to account. That they are invincible. They cannot fathom the idea of being arrested, let alone anticipate that one form of punishment is better than the other. That will never happen to them because they are different. They are cautious and well-guarded.

Until they get caught.

War on Drugs

Evidence from around the world has also shown that the death penalty does not have any particular deterrent effect on crime. Retentionists often argue that abolishing death penalty would only lead to higher crime rates, but studies in the USA and Canada, for instance, do not back this up.

According to Amnesty International: “In 2004 in the USA, the average murder rate for states that used the death penalty was 5.71 per 100,000 of the population as against 4.02 per 100,000 in states that did not use it. In 2003 in Canada, 27 years after the country abolished the death penalty the murder rate had fallen by 44% since 1975, when capital punishment was still enforced”.

In fact, as elucidated by an opinion on the ABC, despite having enforced the death penalty to deter drug offenders for decades now, President Jokowi himself acknowledged last December that:

Indonesia is in a state of emergency with regard to drug abuse, the president pointed out, adding that the number of drug users had reached 4.5 million, with 1.2 million of them beyond the point of rehabilitation because of the extreme natures of their cases.

In other words, after all this time, the death penalty is clearly not the solution.

To put things into perspective, the majority of countries in the world which have abolished death penalty are generally better off compared to Indonesia as far as drug offences are concerned. Global trends also point toward a declining rate of executions. So how could we be certain that the death penalty in Indonesia would serve its purpose and prove to be successful?

Well, when we are about to ‘play God’ by taking someone else’s life away, we need to be 100% certain. No excuses.

This is yet another inhuman trait concerning the death penalty.

The human rights debacle

I always thought that the notion ‘killing is wrong’ should be a universally-accepted value. A human being should not have any rights whatsoever to take away other people’s life. Therefore, it is only logical to say that the death penalty is ludicrous and unacceptable since it is basically a premeditated killing of a human being by the state in the name of justice.

The fact that a man-made legal system prone to corruption, inconsistencies, errors, and abuse of power could legally sanction the government to kill an individual is beyond me. It is an ultimate inhuman and degrading punishment; an affront to human rights.

A case in point would be Rani Andriani, the only Indonesian who was executed earlier this month for her role in a drug ring. As widely reported by news outlets, she was merely a courier, while her cousin Ola (who was the brain of the operation) received presidential pardon and got her life spared in 2013. So much for a fair sentence.

As citizens, I also believe that we all share the guilt and disgrace when the government put someone’s life to an end – especially when the person turns out to be innocent, which has happened many times in the past. We cannot just hide comfortably behind the comfort of our closed doors.

Unfortunately, people have different perceptions when it comes to human rights. Even some of the most sensible people I know do not share my view.drugs-terror

One of them rebutted my opposition to the death penalty by claiming that perpetrators of serious crimes which result in the death of other people (drug trafficking among them) have inadvertently been stripped of their right to life.

Personally, I consider this kind of thinking to be dangerous. It is a symptom of a culture of violence and revenge which denies the possibility of rehabilitation and reconciliation. Any system is fallible, and failures of the death penalty cannot be reversed.

The real issues at hand

drugwar-e1356168525393While many regard President Jokowi as being tough and decisive in eradicating drug offences by executing drug traffickers, I sincerely believe that his agreeable intent is misplaced. Indonesia might be facing an ‘emergency’ situation over drug use. If the data from the National Narcotics Agency (BNN) is to be trusted2, around 40 to 50 Indonesians die every day from drugs. That is nearly 15,000 wasted lives annually.

However, relying on the death penalty as a catch-all solution to make the public safer, send a message that the government is being tough on drug abuses, and hope that there will be a deterrent effect after the fact is both inconsiderate and uninspiring. A lazy approach, even.

The causes and solutions to drug abuses in Indonesia are complex. But advocating the use of the death penalty could only provide President Jokowi with the superficial appearance of strong action being taken and the illusion that drug-related offences will be eradicated, while the real problems on the ground remain unscathed.

In other words, the death penalty only promotes simplistic responses to complex drug abuse issues. It also diverts resources and energy that could be better used to actually tackle the main problems surrounding the manufacture, possession, distribution, and sale of drugs.

What the president should focus on instead, is a comprehensive reform and strategic approaches to the drug problem. The government should provide better prevention measures through health and education, wipe out corruption in the narcotics police, reform the justice system, improve rehabilitation centers, and so forth.

That is what I call a real commitment to the drug issue.

1 According to a recent poll, three-quarters of Indonesians are unhappy with the president’s performance so far.

2 The data is based on 2011 data from the University of Indonesia which surveyed hospitals, schools, and rehabilitation centers. In contrast, the UN’s World Drug Report lists only 447 drug-related deaths in Indonesia in its latest report.


Verbatim Transcription: Prabowo Subianto on BBC World News Impact

The following is the transcription that I made on Prabowo’s interview on BBC World News.

You can also watch the video in its entirety here:

—- transcription begins here —-

Babita Sharma (BS): Hello there and welcome back. Political tensions arising in Indonesia after Wednesday’s presidential election ended with both candidates declaring victory. Jakarta’s governor Joko Widodo and his rival ex-general Prabowo Subianto each said they have won, after unofficial early results were released. Well I’m pleased to say we can now cross live to Jakarta and speak to one of those men that is claiming victory in these elections Prabowo Subianto.

Prabowo Subianto welcome to Impact here, on BBC World News.

Prabowo Subianto (PS): Good evening. Thank you for having me.

BS: We’re ten days away from the official results. What do you think that result will be?

PS: Well, all the real count that is coming in shows that I’m leading. So I think I’m very confident that I have gotten the mandate of the Indonesian people.

BS: A lot of the polls that we’ve been looking at, many that are reliable in the past, some representing 2,000 polling stations around the country… I just want to give you an idea of what they have told us. Indonesia think-tank CSIS has Widodo at 52 percent yourself at 48. Kompas.com who I know you know well, the online group, have also got a similar result Widodo at 52, you’re at 48, and Saiful Mujani puts Mr. Widodo at 52.76 percent yourself at 47 percent. A lot of the people that are looking at these polls are saying, you’re out of the race.

PS: No, no, no, no… completely the other way around. Those institutions that you mentioned, they’re all very partisan. They are openly… they have openly supported Joko Widodo for the last, maybe one year, and they’re actually part of the Joko Widodo campaign supporters. So they’re not objective… completely not objective, and I think they’re part of this grand design to manipulate perception. So let us rely on the legal institutions of Indonesia. There is General Election Commission. There is a process of counting… real counting coming in. We have witnesses in every voting station, and we have voting certificates of the witnesses which have all the required signatures. So let us go through the due process of counting verification and let the General Election Commission decide. That’s my position.

BS: Absolutely you are complete…

PS: All these surveys… company… yes…

BS: (At the same time) You’re completely correct to say that we should of course wait till the official results come out in ten days time.

PS: One moment… yes but… excuse me… no, no… excuse me can I finish? All the surveying companies that you mentioned they are commercial companies. I can bring you sixteen survey companies that put me ahead. So I think that’s not really fair to use those three or four companies as reference point.

BS: Let’s talk about your style of politics compared to your rival Joko Widodo who is seen as the man of the people appealing to well-off people in Indonesia who seems to have done particularly well in addressing the voter community that you’ve not been able to approach. Many saying that your politics are traditional and conservative. Too establishment. Do you think that will cost you votes in this election?

PS: No, no, no, no, that’s a perception that the other side has concocted. It’s a complete concoction. I think my rival is a product of PR campaign, completely the other side, he is actually a tool of the oligarchs and I don’t think that’s the correct picture. He’s not a man of the people. He claims to be humble. But that’s just an act. In my opinion that’s just an act.

BS: He does though have a clean reputation and his campaign has not been placed…


BS: …unlike yours by allegations of human rights abuses committed under the Soeharto regime. And if I can just remind of you is the unit that you commanded in 1998 accused of kidnapping, torturing, and killing activists, to protest at the time against Soeharto. How do you think you can now be seen as a reputable, clean politician, who can lead the country, when you think about the results in ten days time?

PS: You know, every time I get a lot of support in the polls, all these accusations, innuendos, defamation of character comes up. This is my third general election. I’m now leading the third largest party of the fourth largest country in the world. Indonesia is the fourth largest country in the world. We are 250 million people. We are the size of Europe. And I’m leading the third largest party, and now I’m leading a coalition which represent nearly two-thirds of Indonesian voters. How do two-thirds of the Indonesian people, how can they be… fool, how can they be so stupid to support someone who is what all my rivals accused me of being? So this is completely defamation of character…

BS: Do you not think though it is about time that you unequivocally address what happened and these allegations directly?

PS: Oh I have. Many, many, many times. On record. On tape. I think anybody, any foreign press who interview me they will always ask me about human rights allegations. You know this is the story for the last sixteen years.

BS: But it keeps coming up, with all due respect, it keeps coming up year after year. How you’re going to be able to put that away from where you stand today?

PS: Well it keeps coming up… by my enemies, by my rivals. It’s part of the game of politics.

BS: Is it not time to put an end to it and actually on to the questions that are being levelled at you about these allegations?

PS: I have answered. Many, many times. On record. On record. I’m a free man. I have never been indicted of anything. This is just a political campaign to destroy me, because they did not like what I stand for. I stand for a clean Indonesia. I stand for justice for my people. I stand for a fair deal for the Indonesian people. They have always been lied to. They have always been considered stupid. Indonesians are considered stupid, lazy people. This is the old-time colonialist perception that they want to paint on the Indonesian people. The oligarchs can take all the money and… I beg your pardon?

BS: Apologies for interrupting. When the results are announced on July 21st and July 22nd, if they show that your rival Joko Widodo has won, will you graciously accept that as the will of the Indonesian people?

PS: That is part of democracy. If he is certified winning fairly, of course I will concede. But, I am very confident all the REAL count coming in shows I’m leading. And, as of yesterday, with 60 percent of the real count coming in, I am leading. So I’m very confident we are the ones who got the mandate.

BS: What will your message be to your supporters because there are growing number of concerns regarding perhaps protest on the street or even violence should the results not go your way, I mean, what is your message to them now?

PS: Do you know that one of the television stations that supported me, two of the stations have been attacked, vandalized? Do you know that one of the polling companies that predicted that I won, they were attacked last night by Molotov bomb? So where does the violence come from? Where does the intimidation come from? I’ve gotten my reports from my supporters that they have been intimidated, that they have been attacked, in many, many parts of Indonesia. So my message is, I have said that on record, you can check, always, always I said, many times, be calm, be cool, our rivals are our brothers, and they’re not enemies. All my speeches. And not one speech from my rival saying the same thing. Not one. I have said that if the election commission certify the real will of the people, I will honor the decision. They have not said that. They have not said one time, during the entire campaign. I think I’ve made ten or fifteen statements on national television, during the presidential debate, in every event hundreds of million people have seen this, and from my rival, not one time a statement that they will honor the decision of the Indonesian people. In fact, what we got is announcement that if Prabowo wins, that is cheating. Even before the real count come in.

BS: I just want to ask you one final question, sir, what will you do if you don’t win?

PS: What? I’m very confident I win. But you know if the Indonesian people do not need me, I’m fine. I’ve a good quality of life. I’d like to go back to my life. In fact it’s a nice… it’s a quiet life out of politics. I’m doing this out of obligation to serve my people.

BS: Prabowo Subianto we are very grateful for your time here on Impact on BBC World News. Thank you very much.

—- end of transcription —-


Indonesia’s Service Culture, Or Lack Thereof

Service (n.) A type of economic activity that is intangible, is not stored and does not result in ownership. A service is consumed at the point of sale.

If there’s anything I’ve noticed from my lifetime as an Indonesian, it’s the fact that we always pride ourselves as being the friendlywarm-hearted nation (“bangsa yang ramah”) from the East. Even our *cough* beloved lame-duck president has jumped on the bandwagon to endorse the idea. But does our purported friendliness really translate into a country with generally excellent service?

I honestly have no idea how did such a claim of amicability originate in the first place, but The Smiling Report 2009 conducted by a couple of obscure Swedish-based agencies had surely played its part in reigniting the myth: we’re literally on top of the world when it comes to “smiling” and “greeting” (I know, right?).

However, with the constant barrage of news about the acts of intolerance and incivility happening across this country on a daily basis, evidence which support the assertion seems like a far cry these days.

Which begs the question with regards to service: are we really such a sincere, friendly nation, willing to serve others (in a professional context, obviously) from the heart, or are we just fooling ourselves into believing we are one?

The very implication, as it turns out, goes far beyond what meets the eye.

But first, let’s move back a bit. As an emerging country with burgeoning consumer market, Indonesia is still very much reliant on our industry, at 46.9% of the GDP, to prop up the economic growth. But as the economy expands, the three-sector hypothesis dictates that we’re going to shift our GDP structure from the current industrial sector (i.e., manufacturing-based economy) to the tertiary sector of the economy, the service-oriented one, just like the case of, well, nearly every advanced economy on the planet.

Service in Indonesia

Now that we’ve established the importance of service industry, how do we fare really?

On one hand, I’m inclined to believe that service has never really been part of our DNA. We may be a nation of farmers, traders, labours, from blue- to white-collar workers, but we’ve never actually embraced service at the core of our culture. If anything, the root of service in Indonesia took place in a king-and-commoner context, between a master and his subordinate. No wonder why a significant number of Indonesians perceived service as a secondary-class line of work.

On the other hand, ironically, developed economies of the world have actually gone beyond the rhetoric and put service at the centre of their working culture. Western bureaucracies were even established with providing service for the people in mind; hence the term public servant (in contrast with the Indonesian equivalent: “pegawai negeri” or “national officials”). In the US alone, for instance, service contributes up to 79% of the workforce, the majority of which are professional categories, from financial services to consulting, telecommunication, education, and yes, government, among others.

Gary Dean in his 2001 report even went a step further by saying:

The Indonesian government official is approached with an attitude of supplication and respect. Services are dispensed almost as if they were favours, being granted or denied at the whim of the official, with very little scope for objection or appeal on the part of the supplicant. The Indonesian bureaucratic attitude is generally one of “What can you do for me?” rather than “What can I do for you?”

No wonder why it’s quite difficult to come across good services here at home. My Marketing lecturer, Hasnul Suhaimi (the CEO of XL Axiata), has an interesting perspective about this phenomenon. He argued that, despite our buddy-buddy nature in everyday life, we almost always fail to extend our helping hands when it comes to professional working environment.

I could only nod in agreement.

I’ve seen way too many instances of poor service in nearly every industry here in Indonesia. Worse still, we’re not only lacking in attitude, but also in terms of skills and know-how of the products we’re delivering to the end-customers. Take for instance the bewildered waitress in a fancy restaurant who always gets our specific orders wrong, or the sales assistance in an electronic store who’s clueless about the very products he/she sells everyday. This also extends to other services as well, from our poor mobile service, inadequate public transport, to the dubious customer service at the other end of the phone. So why is this the case?

I suppose it all comes down to the obvious: our lack of education in general. Priscilla Liu in her impeccably-written Angry Economist blog argued the following:

“Inefficiency and lack of skill are not consequences of indolent attitude, but lack of a better training and education in preparation. Unprolific work culture is the extension of that lack of training as an inept mode of organization is increasingly socialized into our daily existence.”

Indeed, our lousy service culture is not a product of Indonesian’s way of life. We are a nation of fun-loving and respectful people. Rather, it is a logical consequence of our poor, narrow-minded education system that has corrupted the inculpable minds of present-day (and future) workforce. As a nation, we need to instill better understanding about the importance of service as a means to improve the quality of life. In fact, World Bank (2010) has even pointed to the “higher contribution of growth in the services sector to poverty reduction than the contribution of growth in the agriculture or manufacturing sectors”.

Given the various contribution of services to our economy and trade, it is imperative for our government to design and implement a services-oriented education system. It’s time for us to seize the moment and prove to the world that we are as indeed a hospitable nation which puts service at the heart of our way of life, in and outside of the working environment.


Am I Reading Too Much Into Things?

By things, I’m talking about my love life.

And by my love life, I mean the lack of it.

Welcome to my quarter-life crisis.

That, and scores of other discernible pattern of my failures.

You see, more often than not, I feel like the only thing I’m good at is underachieving in life. I couldn’t seem to be able to translate my seemingly huge potentials into something productive. Like finding my significant other and have 13 cute kids.

Am I reading too much into things, or is it a valid concern?


Well, for starters, I’ve got to admit that I’m a tad picky when it comes to my (potential) better-half. And for someone like yours truly, at this point, it definitely seems like a stretch to wish for a goddess of some sort.

The thing is, my love criteria apparently seems like a put-off for some. “It’s too convoluted,” a friend of mine would argue. But seriously. How hard is it really to find a decent girl with good family background, proper education, caring, independent, and positive attitude, unreserved passion in economics and politics (the latter is optional), who scored at least 550 in her TOEFL (I would tolerate 500 if she looks like an angel :p), and actually loves me back?

The brutal truth: extremely hard.

It’s like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. But do I really need to dumb down my criteria just for the sake of finding someone? Anyone?

I’ve had this very question for years now, like a cliffhanger in a romantic movie (only less dramatic). In the end though, as cliché as it might sound, time will tell, and (hopefully) love will find a way somehow.

Perhaps, I’m just reading too much into things.


Much Ado About Nothing

I’ve been pondering about an interesting topic to kickstart this newly created blog of mine for days now.

I came up empty.

Perhaps this is what they call a writer’s (or rather, a blogger’s) block. The cure? Just write whatever comes to mind, I guess.

So here we are.

Truth is though, I’ve got scores of random thoughts racing through my mind right now, but none of them are conclusive enough to form a solid line of thinking.

Or perhaps, I’m reading too much into this, as I always have been.

AH! Speaking of “reading too much”, looks like I’ve just had my mini-EUREKA!! moment just now: I know exactly what to blog, and I’ll start it on the next post.

Apparently, this isn’t much ado about nothing after all. It’s good to prove Shakespeare wrong once in a while.


Here We Go Again

image source: http://kmonadollaraday.wordpress.com/

It’s probably my gazillionth attempt at blogging.

Traces of my online presence can be found here, here, and here, among many others.

Hopefully, this is the last one. 

No promises though.

Nevertheless, I’m quite certain this time around it’s gonna be different.

I’m blogging for a cause now. 

This little blog of mine will be dedicated to express my somewhat busy train of thought. I’ll not only be telling stories about myself (which wouldn’t amuse those who know me, since I’m pretty much an open book), but most importantly, I’ll see to it that my opinionated self will have a room to freely express what I feel and think about my surroundings.

About this strange old world we live in.

So, that’s it I guess. Looking forward to seeing you guys around. Hope you enjoy the ride. Or read. Till then!