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Indonesia shows its ugly side with regressive executions

  • 29 April 2015

I am writing this with a heavy heart. I grieve for Andrew Chan, Myuran Sukumaran and their loved ones, and the others executed by firing squad in Indonesia early this morning.

But they are not the only casualties of this bungled, cold-blooded killing. I am also distressed at the serious damage Indonesia is doing to itself and its international good name and, not least, at the damage President Jokowi is inflicting on himself and what he represents for many Indonesians dreaming of the best for their important country.

Indonesia is a country of great promise with a significant, maybe crucial, contribution to make to our troubled world. As a very large, pluralist, Muslim-majority democracy it offers a template for other societies in transition. President SBY was acutely aware of this opportunity and through his democracy forums and other initiatives did much to re-brand Indonesia in this positive light.

All this good work is being undone by the anal, small-town thinking the executions represent. 

The death penalty issue will hobble Indonesia's foreign policy the way the East Timor issue did during the Soeharto years. Executing the many foreign nationals still on death row in Indonesia over the months to come will bracket Indonesia with the out-dated shrinking minority of countries that continue to execute drug traffickers.

Picking fights with more countries and having to invest resources in continually putting out spot fires rather than showcasing its real strengths is not in Indonesia's or the world's best interests.

There is a better way. A moratorium on the death penalty while Indonesia's constitutional court revisits the issue will allow President Jokowi a way out and an opportunity to go on the front foot. He could, for example, convene a conference of nations with citizens on death row, including Australia, to tackle collectively and to everyone's advantage the scourge of drugs that is every parent's nightmare.

I have proposed such an initiative to Indonesia. I felt, however, like I was putting a message in a bottle into a sea of swirling cross currents.

By making the death penalty a signature policy of his presidency, and presiding over the bureaucratic and PR mess it has become, Jokowi has opened a pandora's box. In addition to alienating world opinion, it has again raised doubts about the credibility and independence of Indonesia's justice system.

It has also called into question Jokowi's competence, political judgement and motives. The death penalty was not a live issue during