Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo or Jokowi is a rising star in the Southeast Asian region. While Burmese President Thein Sein may be grabbing the most headlines of any Southeast Asian leader, Jokowi’s rapid ascent up Indonesia’s political ladder deserves more attention than it is given by the international media.

Who is Jokowi and why is his name being considered in the 2014 presidential race in Indonesia?

Jokowi is a former mayor of the central Javanese city of Solo who became famous because of his outstanding performance as a public servant. As city mayor, he eased business procedures, improved delivery of basic health services, reduced traffic congestion, and improved the living conditions of poor communities. In a country like Indonesia, where many citizens have grown accustomed to officials underperforming, Jokowi’s record of accomplishments is considered remarkable.

Jokowi received the largest number of votes in the first round of Jakarta’s gubernatorial election last July, and went on to defeat the incumbent in the second round of voting the follow September. Jokowi’s victory was particularly impressive in light of the lack of support he received from the major political parties who all invested their resources in his rivals.

Jokowi relied primarily on his credentials as a successful city mayor to win the support of the electorate, presenting himself as an ordinary person with the necessary political will to deliver quick results. Jokowi’s victory thus rested on a platform of hope and change that resonated strongly with the electorate and easily propelled him to victory over the unpopular previous administration.

His decision to partner with Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian and ethnic Chinese, was initially seen as controversial in a country that is predominantly Muslim and Malay. Ultimately his decision proved to be far-sighted, however, as the duo received much of the minority votes.

During his first week as governor, Jokowi made surprise visits to a number of government offices and quickly reprimanded those that were not providing services to citizens. This act earned Jokowi widespread praise from the public although some derided it as a publicity stunt. Still, Jokowi managed to convey the seriousness of his effort to improve residents’ interactions with their government.

Governor Jokowi appears intent on replicating some of the programs that proved to be successful during his tenure as mayor of Solo. For instance, he has started distributing health cards which grant beneficiaries free access to medical care. The government has already allocated Rp 800 billion (U.S. $83 million) for the program for this year alone. By next year Jokowi hopes to have 4.7 million Jakartans enlisted in the program.

Jokowi has also signaled his determination to reduce Jakarta’s notorious traffic congestion by developing a better mass transit system. He has further pledged to refurbish the city’s public vehicles, and plans on building low-costing housing options in commercial areas to reduce commuting distance.

But Solo is different from Jakarta and the latter’s problems are much more complex. To succeed in Jakarta Jokowi must do more than merely import the agenda that suited him so well in Solo.

Still, if he is successful he will continue to win new admirers among the people and media, positioning himself as a serious contender in national elections.

Written for The Diplomat

Cambodia’s “War” On Internet Cafes

Internet cafes are seen as information hubs in most countries, but in Cambodia the government seems terrorized by their presence. Last February, the government mandated internet cafe owners to set up surveillance cameras in their shops and register the names of all customers as a “crime deterrence measure.” Then it issued a new circular last month banning internet cafes within 500 meters of schools or educational buildings. The circular also prohibits internet cafes from extending their services to minors allegedly to protect them from cyberbullies and cybercriminals.

The Ministry of Post and Telecommunications justified the new order by reminding the public, especially parents, that criminals use “telecommunication means to commit offenses such as robbery, murder, extortion, illegal drug trafficking, human trafficking, pornography and other immoral acts, which have affected (Cambodian) tradition and social morality.” It also cited the youth’s rising addiction to several internet-based games.

The ministry warned that internet cafes located in the forbidden zones would be closed and their equipment confiscated. Shop owners would also face arrest and prosecution. The penalty could be higher if a cybercrime was committed in the cafe.

The new circular was immediately condemned as an anti-business measure since its strict implementation would force almost all internet cafes in the center of the capitol city, Phnom Penh, to close. Furthermore, small shop owners are worried about the threat of closure and arrest even if they didn’t directly commit petty cybercrimes in their establishments.

Travel writer Faine Greenwood predicts that the new decree “could easily be used as a rationale for unscrupulous sorts in the government to collect hefty bribes from owners if they want to continue operating.”

For human rights group Licadho, the new regulation is “a transparent attempt [by the government] to block part of the population’s access to independent sources of information through news sites and social media.”

“In a country where traditional media such as TV and radio stations are for the most part in the hands of the ruling party, the ability to access independent and critical voices through the internet is crucial,” it added.

This year’s laws are not the Cambodian government’s first attempts at imposing political-driven web regulations under the guise of protecting public morality. In 2008, it ordered the closure of an artist’s website for depicting bare-breasted Apsara dancers. In 2011, it asked local Internet Service Providers to block several “harmful” opposition websites. Even Blogspot was temporarily banned because it hosted several websites that were critical of the government.

It’s convenient for the government to raise the specter of cybercrimes to justify unreasonable and unnecessary regulations that could seriously harm local businesses and freedom of speech. Indeed, internet gaming addiction is a social problem but the solution is not to stop young people from having access to the internet but to teach them the value of moderation and responsible online behavior. Perhaps the government should focus more on how to improve computer access in rural areas, expand internet penetration, and enhance digital literacy among its citizens instead of outright banning internet cafes which alternately serve as virtual knowledge centers.

Written for The Diplomat

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