Arrow Left Arrow Right Camera icon set icon set Ellipsis icon set Facebook Favorite Globe Hamburger List Mail Map Marker Map Microphone Minus PDF Play Print RSS Search Share Trash Twitter Video Camera Youtube
Briefing 138 / Asia

Indonesia: Defying the State

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono needs to act more firmly against institutions and officials that defy national court rulings or his inaction risks prolonging local conflicts.

I. Overview

Local institutions in Indonesia, empowered by decentralisation, are defying the country’s highest courts with impunity, undermining judicial authority and allowing local conflicts to fester. District councils, mayors and regional election commissions have learned that there is little cost to ignoring court rulings on electoral or religious disputes, pandering instead to local constituencies and pressure groups. Decisive leadership from the president could make a difference; instead, slow and ineffective responses from Jakarta brew more insubordination. If the regions become overconfident in their new powers and the central state continues to respond weakly, this lack of commitment to rule of law could encourage more conflict as the national political temperature rises ahead of the 2014 presidential election.

The problem of local officials defying the courts is a direct result of two steps taken by Indonesia in its post-1998 drive toward democratisation. One was its “big bang” decentralisation in 1999 that devolved political and fiscal power down to sub-provincial units: districts (kabupaten) and cities/municipalities (kota). The second was the introduction in 2005 of direct elections for local executives, including district heads (bupati) and mayors (walikota). Both were essential for the consolidation of Indonesian democracy, but the combination has made for a very powerful stratum of local authorities which feel neither beholden to the central government nor always compelled to comply with rulings from the nation’s top two courts.

The Supreme Court (Mahkamah Agung) is the court of final appeal for most civil and criminal cases; it also hears appeals on cases decided by the state administrative courts (Pengadilan Tata Usaha Negara), which rule on complaints against decisions taken by state officials or institutions. The Constitutional Court (Mahkamah Konstitusi) since 2008 has become the sole arbiter of election results that are disputed at the local level. The Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court are equals; decisions of both are final and binding. But a clear policy is missing on how those rulings should be enforced or an obvious penalty for failing to comply.

Three cases illustrate the point. In West Kotawaringin district, Central Kalimantan province, the Constitutional Court in July 2010 disqualified the winner of the district’s local election on vote-buying allegations and ruled that the defeated incumbent should get a second term. It may have been a questionable decision, but for the sake of reinforcing judicial authority, it should have been enforced. The local district council, however, saw the ruling as an intrusion by Jakarta in a local race and refused to accept it. More than two years later, the bupati who was awarded the victory by the court still cannot govern because of local resistance. In Bogor city and Bekasi district in West Java province, local officials have refused to allow the construction of churches despite court rulings that there were no grounds for sealing off the disputed building sites.

In all three cases, as tensions left unresolved by the rulings threatened to – and occasionally did – erupt into violence, the best the central government could do was to send an official to try and negotiate a compromise between contending parties and even then, Jakarta only reacted when the dispute made national headlines.

But if courts are to have any authority at all, the president, as chief executive, needs to do more than urge compromise. He has other tools at his disposal: issuing presidential decrees; withholding funds from local authorities; direct personal lobbying and making strategic use of the media. Allowing local officials to defy the courts is not just hurting the prospects of local conflict resolution. It sends the message that the power of the majority can take precedence over institutions of justice in a way that emboldens mobs, threatens minorities that feel they cannot depend on the state for protection, and ultimately undermines Indonesia’s democracy.

Jakarta/Brussels, 30 August 2012

Report 228 / Asia

How Indonesian Extremists Regroup

Almost ten years after the 2002 Bali bombing, Indonesian extremists are weak and divided but still finding partners for new operations.

  • Share
  • Save
  • Print
  • Download Full Report

Executive Summary

Almost ten years after the Bali bombing that brought terrorism in Indonesia to international attention, the country’s violent extremists are weak and divided but still active. In the face of strong police pressure, they are finding ways to regroup on the run, in prison and through internet forums, military training camps and arranged marriages. In many cases, the same individuals keep reappearing, using old networks to build new alliances. The fact that they have been singularly inept in their operations in recent years does not mean that the danger of attacks is over. There are signs that at least some are learning lessons from past failures and becoming more sophisticated in recruitment and fundraising. Better understanding of how extremists regroup could lead to more effective counter-radicalisa­tion programs.

The biggest blow to terrorist capacity in recent years was the break-up in early 2010 of a training camp in Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra, where an alliance of almost all major jihadi groups in the country had planned to establish a base. Many senior leaders were captured or killed and a wealth of information discovered that led to the arrest, trial and imprisonment of some 200 individuals. Instead of cowing the jihadis into submission, however, police operations inspired a new wave of activity motivated by the desire for revenge, with new partnerships and training centres established and new plans set in motion. Activity has been particularly noticeable in Medan, North Sumatra; Poso, Central Sulawesi; Solo, Central Java; Bima, West Nusa Tenggara; and parts of East Kalimantan. Underground activity has been directly or indirectly assisted by radical preachers whose meetings provide inspiration and meeting grounds for jihadis and sympathisers. Some pro-Sharia (Islamic law) advocacy groups that do not use violence themselves but whose teachings are in line with jihadi views play a similar role.

Almost all the plots since 2010, and there have been more than a dozen, are connected directly or indirectly to the fugitives from Aceh. The ease with which wanted men can move around, communicate with friends in prison, share information and skills, disseminate ideology, purchase arms, conduct training and recruit new followers shows how much basic preventive work still needs to be done.

Many of the jihadi groups operating today have links to Jamaah Anshorut Tauhid (JAT), a group set up by radical cleric Abu Bakar Ba’asyir in 2008 that has replaced Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) as the country’s largest and most active jihadi organisation. JI, responsible for the 2002 Bali attack, is now the object of scorn from more militant groups, accused of abandoning jihad. It continues to exert an influence through its schools, however, and many disaffected former members remain active through other organisations. Several smaller groups have emerged as well, often composed of inexperienced young amateurs who lack the skills, discipline and strategic vision of the generation that trained on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border between 1985 and 1994 and produced the Bali bombers.

Materials posted on radical websites suggest that the more educated extremists have learned important lessons from the Aceh experience, especially in terms of awareness of the extent to which their ranks have been infiltrated by the “enemy” – the Indonesian state. They conclude that they must be much more careful about vetting members, protecting communications and guarding secrets. If jihadis were to heed these lessons, the task of the police could become much harder.

There has been less introspection within the government about why recruitment continues to take place or why there are so many more terrorist plots – even if most have been poorly conceived. Indonesia’s counter-terrorism successes have all been due to good law enforcement. The police have become skilled at identifying and arresting those responsible for violent crimes and interdicting plots as long as there is evidence, such as illegal possession of guns or explosives, on which to act. But virtually no effective programs are in place to address the environment in which jihadi ideology continues to flourish.

Jakarta/Brussels, 16 July 2012