The Deeper Stake

by Juan L. Mercado

Many of us are fixated by the “wheelchair syndrome” that causes those involved in the Priority Development Assistance Fund to seek hospital refuge. But Filipinos have a deeper stake in the election count unreeling in Indonesia.

Jakarta Gov. Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is on track to become Indonesia’s seventh president. Exit polls, by eight reputable companies, show the same trend: Widodo got 52 percent of the vote, challenger ex-general Prabowo Subianto, 48 percent. Tarred by human rights violations, Subianto refuses to concede.

Quick counts, since 2009, accurately forecast results of regional and national elections, Associated Press reports. This election, 12 organizations did quick counts; eight, with established track records, report Widodo’s lead at 4-5 percent. The other four have it for Subianto. “Two of those projecting a Subianto win were… TV stations openly supporting his bid.” Tension is rising, the New York Times reports.

An estimated 187 million Indonesians voted in 17,000 islands across three time zones Wednesday. It’s the first election to see power transferred from one directly elected leader to another in what was once a dictatorship.

The Elections Commission will release the final tally on July 22. The outcome will define the thrust and direction, over the next generation, for a 250 million-strong country. Half the population is under 29 years of age.

Why should that matter to Filipinos?

There are 9,844 Filipinos in Indonesia, government headcounts say. That doesn’t tally the “illegals”—who shove the figure to 15,000. In contrast, one out of five overseas Filipino workers are in Saudi Arabia. Other destinations are United Arab Emirates, Singapore and Qatar. Laborers and unskilled workers comprise the largest group at 31 percent.

Filipinos in Indonesia are mostly professionals and cluster in finance, banking and education. They see themselves as “architects of business,” Rappler’s Ayee Macaraig writes. “They’re a key part of the success story of the world’s fourth most populous country.”

Former SGV accountant Rodolfo Balmater heads his own Jakarta-based business consulting company. Accountant-turned-investment officer Thelma Victorio has been in Jakarta for 26 years. Tita Thiel “helped in Jakarta’s pioneering broadcasting industry.”

In Indonesia’s shoe industry, most executives are graduates of Rubber World Philippines. They design the shoes: New Balance, Nike, Adidas, Reebok, etc. If you see an ordinary English-speaking Indonesian kid in the mall, chances are, his teacher is Filipino.

As founding members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Indonesia and the Philippines work closely together. The most contentious have been issues like advocating for a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea. The two countries’ recent boundary treaty is hailed as a “model for maritime dispute resolution.”

Subianto could contest an adverse vote report in the constitutional court. If heard, the decision must be issued before Aug. 24.

Business, military and political elite invested millions to back Subianto. They’re digging in their heels against concession on the basis of quick counts in a setting where many state institutions are still hobbled by corruption.

“There are five reasons why Indonesia’s presidential election matters,” Kate Lamb wrote in the UK Guardian.

First: Indonesia is a megademocracy. This is the first time power will be handed from one directly elected president to another.

Second: Indonesia is Southeast Asia’s largest economy. By 2030, it will have 90 million more consumers. Only China and India outstrip that.

However, 32 million Indonesians still live below the poverty line. Corruption and infrastructure bottlenecks cripple economic potential. Former president Suharto is believed to have “diverted” $35 billion—triple what the Marcoses ripped off here.

The country’s anti-corruption body, the Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi, has made gains. It shoved Akil Mochtar, the former head of the constitutional court, behind bars for life for pocketing bribes. (Didn’t Filipinos do that to a chief justice too?)

Third: It is a dynamic democratic society. Its transition contrasts with coup-marred Thailand now confronted by a once-towering king, now gravely ill. A quasi one party rule in Malaysia still festers.

Fourth: Indonesia has a “moderate Islam.” There are around 216 million Muslims in Indonesia, more than in the whole of the Arab world. Indonesia is often compared to Turkey as an example of the compatibility of democracy and Islam.

In recent years, Jakarta has worked hard to cripple extremist groups, such as those behind the 2002 Bali bombings. Indonesia’s constitution protects religious freedom. But under Yudhoyono—whose coalition includes Islamic-based parties—religious intolerance against Christians, Shia Muslims and Ahmadis has been on the rise.

Fifth: If Jokowi clears the legal spanners, his greatest challenge will be to forge national unity, to enable the country to discharge fully its role on the global stage. Indonesia needs a leader who can unify one of the world’s most diverse nations. Indonesia has held together since its foundation in 1945. In a globalized world beset by schisms and breakups, Indonesia could leave behind a bitter campaign where leading candidates wove a nationalist thread to their rhetoric.

The world will face a more assertive, determined Indonesia after the elections of July 9. And the Philippines and the region will be better off for that.


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