Jokowi’s rise and Indonesia’s second democratic transition

indonesia etcThis year, three of the world’s largest democracies are holding national elections — vast polls spread over several days and thousands of miles of territory, involving more than a billion voters, notes Council on Foreign Relations analyst Joshua Kurlantzick.

“The third election, Indonesia’s presidential vote on July 9, has been mostly ignored by the international media, even though Indonesia, with a population of about 250 million, ranks as the fourth-­largest country in the world, as well as the biggest economy in Southeast Asia,” he writes for the New York Times.

“It is simply impossible to understand the staggering changes Indonesia has undergone since the end of the 1990s, including decentralization, a rapid transition to democracy and growing relationships with both China and the United States, without truly considering how decisions are made in Jakarta and other major urban centers,” he argues in a review of Elizabeth Pisani’s Indonesia, etc., Exploring the Improbable Nation:  

Instead, Pisani falls back on easy clichés about Jakarta, reform and the population itself. She deplores the rapid change and construction in the seemingly soulless capital, without seriously examining the positive aspects of all this growth, a strange omission for a public health specialist. She disdains the pork-barrel politics that come with greater direct democracy, as politicians jostle to deliver projects to their districts and sometimes skim a percentage for themselves. But this kind of patronage is necessarily curtailed by the transparency of democracy, and in the long run far healthier than the opaque and unreconstructed Suharto period. (Pisani herself acknowledges that in the latter part of Suharto’s time, “all the growth” went “into a handful of pockets,” though she still paints a fairly rosy picture of the Suharto era.) She too often portrays Indonesians as accepting their fate in life, a fatalism not apparent in this spring’s parliamentary elections, when Indonesian voters tossed out about half the incumbents. RTWT

Jokowi’s rise marks the beginning of Indonesia’s second democratic transition, says a key expert.

“A new political voting class in Indonesia is now beginning to emerge that is keen to play a role in the country’s democratic politics, is well-informed of issues and interests, and expects a government that is accountable,” according to Vibhanshu Shekhar, Scholar-in-Residence at the ASEAN Studies Center, American University.

A new political voting class in Indonesia is now beginning to emerge that is keen to play a role in the country’s democratic politics, is well-informed of issues and interests, and expects a government that is accountable,” he writes for the East-West Center’s Asia Pacific Bulletin:

They are assertively pushing forward an agenda of good governance and transparent leadership that is reform-oriented and free of corruption. They treat democracy as intrinsically ingrained in their identity and place a premium on transparency and accountability. As their expectations are going up, this new-emerging techno-savvy voter bloc is demanding effective responses from the political elite over various issues, such as countering corruption, addressing current economic challenges, and a more responsive government. Their continuing frustration with political parties is evident from the fact that no single party received more than 20 percent of votes in the April general elections. On the other hand, Jokowi’s lackluster and commoner’s image attracted their attention, and their vote. 

“Rules of the game in Indonesian politics have become more democratic with political parties, institutions and citizens adhering to democratic norms,” he notes.

Nevertheless, a “rough road lies ahead for the Jokowi presidency, particularly in the legislative body that will offer strong resistance from the conservative elite to any effort to introduce more democratic change and politico-economic reforms. Now that voters have had their say, the difficult act of balancing various political forces and factions will require deft diplomacy.” RTWT

Anti-graft crackdown reduces allure of China’s Communist party


The number of people joining the Chinese Communist party has fallen for the first time in a decade as President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign reduces the allure of working for the authoritarian state, the FT’s Jamil Anderlini reports from Beijing:

Last year, just 2.4m people joined the world’s biggest political party – a quarter fewer than in 2012 – marking the smallest number of new members since 2003 and bringing total membership to 86.7m by the end of 2013. The number of people registered to sit civil service exams has also dropped sharply, with state media blaming anti-corruption and government austerity campaigns for the fall in interest.

“The declines definitely have something to do with the anti-corruption campaign,” said Zhang Ming, a professor at the politics department of Renmin University in Beijing. “Let’s be frank, many young people want to do these [government] jobs because it will give them an opportunity to take bribes.”

A steady drumbeat of arrests and investigations into officials at all levels of the party reached a peak this week when a formal probe was launched into Zhou Yongkang, the most senior cadre to face corruption charges in the history of the People’s Republic.

Even for senior party members, official salaries are a pittance, while many of them have the power to approve or block deals and investments worth millions or billions of dollars.

“Low to mid-level officials are having a very tough time and there is a mood of discontent among them,” said Guo Weiqing, a professor at Sun Yat-sen University’s school of government. “From their public image to their welfare to their daily existence they have also lost a lot of perks and it is very easy for them to violate one rule or another and be accused of corruption.”


Authoritarians shaping post-Ukraine world order – Ignatieff

authoritarians xi-jinping-vladimir-putinRussia’s annexation of Crimea has shaken our assumptions about the global order that took shape after 1989, says a leading authority. The re-ordering underway is truly global, writes Harvard UniversityProfessor Michael Ignatieff:

In the East Asia, rival naval fleets are circling each other, Chinese oil platforms are drilling in disputed waters and belligerent accusations fly between Asian capitals. China no longer speaks the language of ‘quiet rise’. Ji Xinping’s muscular foreign policy is alarming Vietnam, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and the United States. 

We sense that these changes – in Europe, the Middle East and East Asia – are connected to each other. We sense that the tectonic plates are shifting. We question whether anyone in Washington, London, Moscow or Beijing truly grasps what is going on. So this is a good moment to consider what narratives are available to us to make sense of what is happening.

Francis Fukuyama was right to tell us that the history-defining contest between capitalism and communism was over in 1989, Ignatieff said, delivering this summer’s Ditchley Foundation annual lecture:

wenty five years on, however, from the Polish border to the Pacific, from the Arctic Circle to the Afghan border, a new political competitor to liberal democracy has taken shape that Fukuyama did not anticipate: authoritarian in political form, capitalist in economics and nationalist in ideology.

Lawrence Summers has called this new form ‘mercantilist authoritarianism’ which certainly captures the central role that the state and state enterprises play in the Russian and Chinese economies. [1] Mercantilism, however, misses the crude element of cronyism that is central to Putin’s economic model and to the Communist Party of China as well. 

There are of course significant differences between the Chinese and Russian variants of authoritarian capitalism. In the Chinese model, the party retains its monopoly role, and while there are managed elections at the village level, no pretense is offered that the system is democratic. Russia pretends to be democratic: there are formal constitutional guarantees and elections, but no one doubts that ultimate control rests with the Soviet nomenklatura and the secret police.

In the medium term, what unites them, of course, is a shared hostility to what John Ikenberry has called ‘the liberal leviathan’, the United States and its global web of encircling alliances. So far, the two authoritarians have few friends, but their model is attractive. For corrupt elites in Africa and Latin America, China and Russia offer a model that allows them to continue extractive development.

Unique combination

“This unique combination of private liberty and public despotism separates the new authoritarianism from its Soviet and Maoist past and probably guarantees the long-term stability of both regimes,” Ignatieff contends:

To be sure, this new form of rule has little outward ideological appeal. Europe and the United States continue to attract immigrants from all corners of the globe, drawn by a freedom that is both private and public. No one is migrating to Russia – or China for that matter. They are out-migration countries. But the fact that their authoritarian capitalism does not appeal to outsiders does not mean it lacks internal legitimacy or support.….

The authoritarian apologetics of both Russia and China may not be appealing, but they are not ideologically aggressive. They make a national claim to legitimacy, not a universal one. Chinese rulers may believe in China’s civilizational superiority, but they have not embarked upon a civilizing mission for the whole world. Mao may have encouraged Maoists from Peru to Paris, but the current regime has no such ambitions. It may want global power but it does not seek global hegemony. The same is true of Russia. Unlike Stalin, Putin will never claim that his country is the universal home of all those seeking emancipation from the capitalist yoke.

“In the absence of a universalizing ideology, therefore, the new authoritarian states may be aggressive and nationalist in rhetoric, but they are unlikely to be expansionist,” he suggests.

Two over-riding questions

There are two over-riding questions that arise with the emergence of authoritarian capitalism as the chief strategic and ideological competitor to liberal democracy. The first is: are they stable? The second is: are they aggressive? Igantieff adds:

Authoritarian societies have powerful advantages over democratic ones. They can make decisions more rapidly, marshal resources of labor and capital by executive decision while democratic societies must first overcome the veto points in their own systems. Since authoritarian societies suppress dissent and plural opinion, they can also channel nationalist emotions into powerful justification for overseas adventurism, especially intervening to protect co-nationals in neighboring countries. China’s Asian neighbors must be wondering when the regime starts using ‘the protection’ of the Chinese as a justification for meddling in their internal affairs.

Authoritarian oligarchies, however, are also brittle. Their rulers believe they must control everything or soon they will control nothing.  Their chief dilemma is how to manage the political aspirations unleashed by their own rapid growth. Under Stalin and Mao, rising aspirations for voice could be crushed by force. Under the new authoritarianism, some private freedom has to be allowed since it is the condition of capitalist progress itself.

“China’s new assertiveness in Asia is driven by many factors – including the need to find energy supplies in the seas off its shores – but also by a desire to rally its rising middle classes around an assertive vision of what Xi Jinping calls the ‘China Dream”, in which China becomes a global power, not just a regional hegemon,” Ignatieff argues:

In the Russian case, the strategic dilemmas are similar: legitimizing extractive rule to a brittle and discontented middle class at home while meeting the challenge of American alliance encirclement on its frontiers. Putin’s response to these challenges has been similar to China’s but has to take into account a weaker economic position.

We should, however, beware of exaggerating these weaknesses. The conventional view about Putin’s regime is that he is perched atop a society in demographic and economic decline, with decaying infrastructure and weak health care and social protection. This is wishful thinking, a false narrative that continues, in essence, the Cold War view that the Soviet Union was “Upper Volta with rockets.”  On the contrary, Russia’s natural resource wealth gives it a certain source of state revenue throughout the 21st century, while its limited regime of private freedom creates a safety valve that allows the regime to contain democratic discontent. For millions of Russians, the freedom to travel, to emigrate, to save and invest more than compensate for the occasional brutality the regime displays towards the brave minority who continue to demand an end to authoritarian rule.  


Michael Ignatieff is a Canadian writer, teacher and former politician. He holds a doctorate in history from Harvard University and has held academic posts at King’s College, Cambridge and at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.  He served in the Parliament of Canada and was Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. His books include The Needs of Strangers (1984), Scar Tissue (1992), Blood and Belonging (1993), The Warrior’s Honour (1997) Isaiah Berlin (1998), The Rights Revolution (2000), Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry (2001), The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror (2004) and Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics (2013). 

He is the Centennial Chair at the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs in New York and the Edward R. Murrow Professor of the Practice of Politics and the Press at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.


[1] Lawrence Summers   Financial Times, July 8, 2014

Crime without punishment: Putin isn’t panicking


Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely to be unfazed by international outrage over the downing of Malaysian Airlines MH17, by Western sanctions or by diplomatic pressure, analysts suggest.

After all, “Putin answers to virtually no one,” a TIME magazine analysis suggests:

His command of the Russian airwaves will help him manage any blowback at home, spinning even the most damning evidence as part of an ancient American conspiracy. The more the world picks on him and Russia, the more it feeds a Russian will to push back, out of a sense of pride and victimhood. Isolation will still be the West’s only means of attack, and if Europe has lacked the will to impose it after Syria, after Crimea and even amid the global outrage over MH 17, it is unlikely to take action once the shock of the crash subsides. Putin has played this game before. He need only bide his time for the West’s own inaction to clear him.

russiaputinterror“The Europeans are in a panic over the U.S. line on sanctions,” says Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected consultant who traveled to Europe in mid-July to rally support among pundits and politicians there. “As soon as the E.U. gets the slightest chance to turn away from Washington on the issue of Ukraine, they will take it.”

Putin has broken all the rules of international diplomacy, according to Nicholas Burns, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government (above).

It’s not Ukraine that Putin has been waging war against: It’s the West, says analyst Masha Gessen.

“Over the course of two and a half years, since starting his third term as Russian president against the backdrop of mass protests, Putin has come to both embody and rely on a new, aggressively anti-Western ideology,” she writes for

The enemy against which the country has united is the West and its contemporary values, which are seen as threatening Russia and its traditional values. It is a war of civilizations, in which Ukraine simply happened to be the site of the first all-out battle. In this picture, Russia is fighting Western expansionism in Ukraine, protecting not just itself and local Russian speakers but the world from the spread of what they call “homosfascism,” by which they mean an insistence on the universality of human rights.

Putin’s officials have threatened to retaliate against Western economic sanctions, but  “the problem with this is that it would require a sharp re-direction of Russian economic strategy,” according to David Clark, the founder and editor of Shifting Grounds, who served as special adviser at the British Foreign Office from 1997 to 2001.

“Despite the rhetoric of ‘sovereign democracy’ – an ideology based on the rejection of foreign influence – Russia is deeply embedded in the global economy,he writes for the New Statesman:

It needs not only access to foreign trade, but also inflows of foreign capital and technology to modernize and thrive. The investment requirement for its dilapidated energy sector alone stands at $2.7 trillion over the next twenty years. Without this Russia faces the threat of a return to the kind of long-term stagnation that brought an end to the Soviet era.

A strategy based on economic autarky and a closed ‘Russian world’ isn’t really viable. Russia doesn’t have either the capital or the technology needed to build new infrastructure and open new energy production in the Arctic North.

The key to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is found in the divergent mythologies of the two peoples, reflected in Putin rehabilitation of illiberal ideology against the West’s critical philosophy of information (see his recent discourse to the rabbis at the Kremlin), argues Antoine Arjakovsky, former director of the French Institute of Ukraine at Kiev, and the author of Russie – Ukraine. De la guerre a la paix?

Putin is not invading Ukraine for geostrategic reasons, but for ideological reasons, he contends:

His actions are explained only by reasons stemming from mythology. Because contemporary political science disdains myth too readily, considering it irrational, it is becoming less and less capable of understanding the world. That is like trying to negotiate an iceberg considering by only its visible part. For Putin, it is about restoring pride to the Russians by giving them an identity found, he believes, in the famous ideology of Tsar Nicholas I: “Orthodoxy, autocracy, the people.”

The sad thing is that Putin is a poor historian. He does not know that the only way for a people to recover its dignity and international recognition is to ask pardon for its crimes, to work tirelessly to eliminate every resurgence of ideology (such as the National Communism dear to Stalin) and to cease instrumental sing spiritual powers (such as the Russian Orthodox Church) in the name of power politics.

“The international community that still believes in the role of virtue and law has an essential role to play,” Arjakovsky notes. “But, as the philosopher Chantel Delsol has written, the international community should also return to the question of the spiritual foundations of democracy and international law.”

What various observers have perceived as a moment of truth that changes the mathematics of the Ukrainian crisis is, from Putin’s point of view, a misstep in a conflict with the West that he will be engaged in for years—until he leaves office, which he plans to do feet-first many years from now, notes Gessen:

To buy time, Putin issued a middle-of-the-night video address from his residence outside of Moscow [and held] an emergency meeting of the Russian security council on Tuesday. … As far as foreign observers could tell, Putin said nothing of consequence. But here is what he said at the start of his talk: “Obviously, there is no direct threat facing our country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity today, of course. This is guaranteed primarily by the strategic power balance in the world.” Translated, this means, I gathered you here today to remind the world that Russia is a nuclear power. And here is what he said as he was wrapping up: “We will respond in an appropriate and commensurate manner if NATO’s military infrastructure gets any closer to our border, and we will not close our eyes to the development of global anti-missile defense and the growth of supplies of strategic high-precision weapons, both nuclear and non-nuclear.” Translated, this means, Know how I reminded you five minutes ago that Russia is a nuclear power? Now I’ve told you we are prepared to use our nuclear capability if you try to pull one over on us. (He went on to say that missile defense systems were actually offensive weapons.) And by the way, if you every thought we’d stop at something, you probably don’t anymore.

The following day, European countries deferred a possible decision on tougher anti-Russian sanctions. The United States released information saying there was nothing linking the Kremlin directly to the downing of the plane. The U.S. media continued to call the disaster a “plane crash.” The acute phase of the aftermath of Flight 17 appeared to be ending. Was all of this because Putin was good at scaring the West or at obfuscating? Whatever it was, his tactics had worked beautifully.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, when he was not busy threatening the West with nukes, Putin signed several new laws. One bans advertising on paid-cable and satellite channels, effectively banning any independent television channel now or in the future from making money. (All broadcast channels are controlled by the state.) Another gives the government the tools to shut off Russians’ access to Western social networks such as Facebook or Twitter and services such as Gmail or Skype. A third provides for a jail sentence of up to four years for denying that Crimea is a part of Russia. On the same day, courts in Moscow and St. Petersburg ruled a half-dozen human rights organizations were “foreign agents,” effectively ending their activities.

“Putin’s war against the West and its perceived agents in Russia, in other words, continued unabated,” Gessen contends. “As he sees it, the unfortunate screw-up with the plane will be forgotten soon enough. He may or may not have to cede a little on Ukraine, but that’s all right: It’s just one battle in the giant war against the West he has already unleashed.”


Putin ‘cornered’: Ukraine woes compounded by $1.3 bn Yukos claim

russia-putin rosneft-Russia will discover next week how much it may be asked to pay for the confiscation a decade ago of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Yukos Oil Co., then the country’s biggest oil producer, Bloomberg reports:

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague will rule on July 28 on a $103 billion damages claim the company’s former owners filed against Russia in 2007, Tim Osborne, head of GML Ltd., former holding company of Yukos, said by e-mail. Court official Willemijn van Banning said by phone she couldn’t comment on the date for the ruling. The potential multibillion-dollar punitive award comes as Russian President Vladimir Putinrisks further U.S. and European sanctions after the downing of a Malaysian passenger jet in eastern Ukraine that killed 298 passengers and crew.

A substantial award of damages “would add to Putin’s sense of being backed into a corner and that the West is out to get Russia,” said Masha Lipman, an independent political analyst based in Moscow. “Whether a coincidence or not, it will be seen as more than a coincidence.”  

“Things have changed in that Putin’s in real trouble,” said Mitchell Orenstein, an associate at Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies. “But his approach hasn’t changed at all.”

 “His preliminary plan to destabilize the whole southeast of Ukraine has failed,” said Wojciech Kononczuk, a Ukraine expert with the Center for Eastern Studies in Warsaw, Poland. “Instead, Ukrainian society is growing anti-Russian in a clear signal that the Kremlin just doesn’t understand Ukrainian moods,” he told Al-Jazeera.

Perhaps most worryingly, if Putin let the rebellion fall by the wayside he could face an influx into Russia of disgruntled separatists, who could accuse Moscow of abandoning them and want to stir trouble.

“Putin is cornered,” said Joerg Forbrig, an Eastern Europe expert with the German-Marshall Fund. “He’s created a dynamic that forces him to push forward in Ukraine. Now, he can’t let go.”