INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS by Patrick J. ByrneNews Weekly
Advancing Indonesia should abolish death penalty
, May 9, 2015
This has been an appropriate time for Australia to lobby and pressure the Indonesian Government to abolish the death penalty.
The campaign in Australia to stop the execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran was supported by a parallel campaign by some in Indonesia. They pointed out that while the Australians were facing execution for drug smuggling, their Government was lobbying other countries on behalf of Indonesian citizens facing the same fate for the same crime of drug smuggling in other parts of the world.
Australia has had a long, close and robust relationship with Indonesia. The countries were allies during the Cold War, when the Soviet Union and communist China attempted to undermine countries across the region in order to create communist states that would then control the Straits of Malacca (between Singapore and Indonesia), the busiest trade route in the world.
Relations cooled with the exit of Indonesia from East Timor, but warmed considerably after the Bali terrorist bombing in 2004, when Australia provided technical assistance to help track down the terrorist network responsible for the attack.
Since the peaceful replacement of the Suharto regime in 1998, Indonesia has become a fledgling democracy with a rapidly growing economy. Its constitution guarantees freedom of religion and recognises six official religions – Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism.
As a statement against religious prejudice, when current President Joko Widodo became mayor of Solo in 2005, his running mate was Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Sumatran-born Christian of Chinese descent.
The military has traditionally played a major role in Indonesian politics, and the country, like many emerging nations, suffers from corruption, serious economic inequalities and there are regions with strong Islamic religious fanaticism.
With a population of 250 million, its future success as a democracy and a thriving economy is important to Australia and the region.
It is regarded as a possible model for other emerging states and for predominantly Muslim countries, some of which are resource rich (particular the oil-exporting states) but lack the political and economic structures to provide jobs to their huge, educated youth populations.
Indonesia will be challenged to find jobs for its young people, with 2.4 million joining the workforce each year.
To illustrate the changes under way, the Indonesian economy is expected to expand by 5.4 per cent annually over the next few years, according to Rajiv Biswas, chief economist at Asia-Pacific IHS Inc.
Its economy is expected to grow from $870 billion today, to $1.17 trillion by 2017, and $2.1 trillion by 2023. At that point, it will be larger than that of Australia, Russia, Spain or the Netherlands.
Biswas says Indonesia’s economy may well give it a far greater voice in international institutions like the G20, the IMF, the World Bank and the United Nations.
According to the Jakarta Post (April 21, 2015), “The number of middle-income and affluent Indonesian households is projected to double from 2012 numbers to reach 140 million over the next decade …
“Indonesia stands out as a country that has done well in converting wealth, as measured in GDP per capita, into ‘wellbeing’ of its citizens, as measured by improvements in areas such as health, education, and income equality …
“Optimism is being buoyed by a new reformist government that vows to boost spending on infrastructure, education, and health and seeks to boost annual economic growth to 7 per cent.”
Indonesia is also the largest economy in one of the world’s most dynamic regions. The combined economy of the 10 members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) more than tripled in size between 2003 and 2013.
This vast market of 600 million people is steadily integrating as the region’s governments push forward to achieve the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) 2015 goals of free flows of goods, capital, and labour, the Jakarta Post said.
The challenge in education will be to lift the proportion of students making it to university (currently just 23 per cent), and to make it more attractive for the 8-10 million university graduates living abroad to bring their skills back home.
The growth and change under way inside Indonesia provides a context to address human rights issues such as the death penalty.
The issue is not restricted to Indonesia. Several states in the U.S. still have the death penalty and together they execute annually more people than Indonesia.
Australia finally stopped capital punishment with the execution of Ronald Ryan in 1967 and the death penalty was abolished in 1985.
The manner in which Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran approached their deaths – repentant, reformed and in prayer – presents by example the reason why the death penalty should be abolished. Perhaps their deaths will not be in vain.
Not only Australia, but many other countries also appealed to Indonesia to spare their lives, building the case for abolition of Indonesia’s death penalty.