The New Un-Normal i

President Joko Widodo (center), accompanied by Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto (second right), Head of BIN Budi Gunawan (right), the Armed Forces Commander Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo (second left) and National Police Chief Gen. Tito Karnavian (left) delivering related response rally November 4 at the Palace Merdeka, Jakarta. Puspa Perwitasari/Antara Photo.

By : rudi_pandjaitan | on 4:03 PM November 30, 2016
Category : Cover Story, GlobeAsia Lists

Across the world, social, political and economic upheaval is undermining established institutions and norms. New power centers are being formed while old ones are disintegrating. Amid this churn, national leaders from all backgrounds have a heavy responsibility to maintain social cohesion. By Shoeb Kagda

It has been a year of the unexpected. From Britain’s decision to withdraw from the European Union to Donald Trump’s victory in the American presidential elections, the world has undergone unprecedented change. Populism is on the rise across the globe as governments struggle to deliver economic progress.

Even as globalization has benefited millions economically and helped reduced poverty, slow and uneven growth in many developed economies is threatening the status quo. Public anger is rising in Europe, the US and across the Middle East.

It would seem that the world is fracturing. According to Ronald F. Inglehart of the University of Michigan and Poppa Norris from the Harvard Kennedy School, there is overwhelming evidence of powerful trends toward greater income and wealth inequality in the West, based on the rise of the knowledge economy, technological automation, the collapse of the manufacturing industry, global flows of labor, goods, people and capital, and neo-liberal austerity policies.

Will this anti-establishment wave also sweep across Asia? Is Indonesia immune from rising extremism?

The good news is that Indonesia’s economy is on a sound footing, unlike many economies in the West. The International Monetary Fund recently announced that the Indonesian economy will remain stable in the medium-term and it expects the county to easily weather growing uncertainties in the global economy. This is largely due to prudent fiscal and monetary policies and an effective reform program.

 

Indonesia is no stranger to violence but recent indications of rising religious intolerance are cause for concern; more so as authorities suspect a hidden agenda behind the protests of bringing down the government.

 

“The Indonesian government has so far managed to maintain strong economic growth, low inflation and a healthy current account deficit,” the Fund said in a statement released on November 24. These macro-economic indicators will serve Indonesia well against risks from policy uncertainties in the US, tight financial conditions globally and slower-than-expected growth in China.

Rising social tensions

Despite the overall positive economic conditions, however, there is rising political tension in the country. Over the past few weeks, radical Muslim groups have been agitating to get the authorities to prosecute incumbent Jakarta governor Basuki ‘Ahok’ Tjahaja Purnama for religious defamation.

Tens of thousands of protestors took to the streets on November 4 calling for Ahok to be arrested and another large protest rally was planned for December 2. With a high risk of the demonstrations turning violent, Jakarta residents have been on edge.

Indonesia is no stranger to violence but recent indications of rising religious intolerance are cause for concern; more so as authorities suspect a hidden agenda behind the protests of bringing down the government.

National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian and military chief Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo told a news conference on November 21 that they had received credible information about the possibility of treason behind the planned December 2 rally. Karnavian went as far as saying the plan would mobilize protestors to occupy the parliament building as a pressure tactic to topple President Joko Widodo’s administration.

Religion mixed with politics is of course not unique to Indonesia. Across the globe, religious fanaticism is on the rise stretching from Myanmar to Pakistan to the Middle East and most recently the United States, where the religious right is now flexing its muscles.

With his victory, Donald Trump has invigorated white nationalism and Christian fundamentalism in the US, indicating that religious fervor is on the rise not just in the Islamic world but also in the West.

With such upheaval across the world, it might be difficult to make sense of just what is going on. At the heart of this so-called new un-normal is a huge power struggle: globalization against nationalism; secularism against religiosity; us against them.

In this new power struggle, leaders have a heavy responsibility to maintain social harmony and ensure economic progress for all. Most importantly, they should be careful not to dismiss real grassroots discontent as the work of marginal groups.

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