Could Joko Widodo form workable coalition? India’s election. CIA director visits Ukraine. US to carve better TPP deal. By Hamish McDonald.

Jokowi favourite in Indonesia but can he do it alone?

Joko Widodo, of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, might have to find a running partner.
Joko Widodo, of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, might have to find a running partner.

Jokowi, or Joko Widodo as he’s more formally known, is still odds-on to be the next Indonesian president when the presidential election is held in July (assuming a runoff is not required in September). But the results of the lower house elections held on April 9 for the People’s Representative Council (DPR) show a greatly fractured polity continues.

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle or PDI-P, which Jokowi nominally leads, managed to get just under 20 per cent of the vote, and may need a coalition partner to nominate him for the presidency (20 per cent of the DPR’s seats or 25 per cent of the popular vote being a requirement).

The party is now bargaining with smaller groups including the late president Abdurrahman Wahid’s National Awakening Party (PKB). The task is not just winning the presidency from rival coalitions centred around Golkar’s Aburizal Bakrie and Gerindra’s Prabowo Subianto. That may be the easy part, given Jokowi’s personal popularity. The hard part will be forming a strong enough coalition in the DPR to get difficult legislation passed. Under the changed political system since the fall of Suharto in 1998, the DPR has emerged as one of the strongest legislative branches anywhere in the world, with its enactments not subject to presidential veto.

Perhaps Jokowi’s best shot would be to recruit Jusuf Kalla as his running mate. As vice-president in current president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s first term, this businessman-turned-politico from South Sulawesi grasped the nettle of difficult issues from the diffident SBY, who was confirmed as a do-nothing leader when Kalla was replaced in the second term. Kalla could no doubt bring the money-oriented Golkar and its 15 per cent of the DPR into the fold, helping to form a fairly strong parliamentary base.

1 . À la Modi

Meanwhile, India’s election rolls on, as officials and security forces rotate around the 815 million voters, and will draw to a conclusion in late May.

Narendra Modi, the controversial chief minister of Gujarat state, looks the favourite. When I met him in Ahmedabad a couple of years ago, he was keen to stress that the anti-Muslim pogrom that swept Gujarat in 2002 happened soon after he was parachuted into his position from his Bharatiya Janata Party’s machine with no previous ministerial experience, and that since this unfortunate event, Muslims had been safe throughout the state.

It would help if he showed a bit more sympathy for the victims, though, and included a Muslim cap among the funny turbans he’s worn during the campaigning. His party’s platform is mostly sensible, about tightening public finances, boosting education, etc, but it’s worrying that elderly Hindu nationalist loonies such as BJP president Murli Manohar Joshi drew it up. As education minister in a previous BJP government, Joshi introduced astrology as a degree subject.

In foreign policy, Modi talks of a tougher stance towards neighbouring China. But an intriguing back-theme to the election has been leaked publication of a long-suppressed report into India’s debacle in the 1962 border war with China. Only two copies of the Henderson Brooks report, named after the British general who was a co-author, are supposed to exist, one in the Defence Ministry and one in the defence minister’s safe.

In recent weeks, veteran writers Neville Maxwell and Claude Arpi have published it, and the Indian press have reluctantly followed up (after many newspapers swallowed the establishment line that it was bad for national morale and could still damage national security). It shows that Jawaharlal Nehru’s government and the Indian Army insouciantly adopted a confrontational “forward policy” in areas contested by China, and were insufficiently backed up when Mao Zedong’s People’s Liberation Army responded with disproportionate force. But recent visitors to India’s front lines facing China say Indian defence chiefs have got a point about this 50-year-old report still having value.

India’s border forces are still at the end of ludicrously inadequate supply lines built by the Border Roads Organisation with picks and shovels. The 60,000 troops defending the Tawang sector in Arunachal Pradesh, eyed by Beijing as “South Tibet”, are at the end of a road that winds through some 1000 kilometres to cover the 120 kilometres direct distance from supply bases.

PLA forces across the “line of actual control” are backed by excellent roads. In a stoush, the Indian troops would quickly run short of ammo. Washington experts note that the PLA’s mainstream army element sees friction with India as an excellent way to limit funding to PLA navy, air and missile arms. Modi should watch out.

2 . Visit not so secret to ‘real enemy’

The CIA was embarrassed when a secret trip by its director, John Brennan, to Ukraine last weekend ended up being announced on Russian TV within hours, thanks no doubt to moles of the Russian secret service, the FSB, in Kiev.

With another creeping invasion of Ukraine’s eastern regions under way, Washington’s policy circles are wringing their hands. But emotions are mixed. On one hand, as Matthew Rojansky at the Woodrow Wilson Centre’s Kennan Institute notes: “It’s being met from the United States side by an almost surreal relief on the part of some old cold warriors that the real enemy is back.”

However, Rojansky sees a missed opportunity. Once Vladimir Putin had started to make headway against the poverty, crime and corruption that followed the Soviet system collapse, he began proposing a new security order in Europe in which a recovered Russia would have a respected voice. This was “rejected out of hand” by the West, which was busy tearing up the international rules to carry out regime change.

The “unipolar moment” was used and abused by the US, Rojansky says. From insisting that all interventions needed United Nations sanction a few years ago, Putin has now decided rules don’t matter. “We missed opportunities to engage the Russians in ways that would have brought them closer into the liberal international consensus,” Rojansky says.

3 . US looking to carve out a better deal for the TPP

The highlight of Tony Abbott’s tour of north-east Asia was undoubtedly the free trade agreement he pulled off with Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe.

It’s got big raspberries in the US over the very slow and partial access Abbott achieved to Japan’s farm sectors, notably beef, where high tariffs will be almost halved over 18 years. “Clearly we are looking for a level of ambition in TPP that is significantly higher than that,” says US Trade Representative Michael Froman, referring to the Trans-Pacific Partnership proposal that includes the US, Japan and Australia among its current 12 negotiating partners.

Froman’s office was talking frantically last week with the Japanese to see if a better deal can be put into the TPP before President Barack Obama’s talks with Abe in Tokyo on Thursday. Abe’s minister for economic reforms, Akira Amari, was also expected to dash to Washington beforehand. Some US congressmen are helping by suggesting the liquefied natural gas supplies sought by Japan are part of the bargain.

Happily for Abbott (and the rest of Australia), if Froman does succeed in getting a better deal from the Japanese, Australia’s market access will automatically upgrade to the same level, because Australia and Japan have conferred “most favoured nation” status on each other.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on April 19, 2014 as "Jokowi favourite but can he do it alone?".

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Hamish McDonald is a Walkley Award-winning foreign correspondent.

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