Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004

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

Written for The Diplomat

Aside from reaching out to his political opponents, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo spent his first week as Indonesia’s president-elect thanking volunteers and asking netizens to choose the members of his Cabinet.

Jokowi was proclaimed winner on July 22 by the Electoral Commission after he received 71 million votes, or 53 percent of total votes cast in the presidential election. He defeated former general Prabowo Subianto, who got 46.8 percent of the votes.

Jokowi was mayor of the city of Solo before he was elected governor of Jakarta, the country’s capital. As a politician, he became famous for his non-traditional methods of leadership, like making unannounced visits to government offices to check if civil servants were working efficiently.

Jokowi’s victory was instantly hailed as a big boost to Indonesia’s democracy, since it is the first time that the country’s president will have no ties to either the military or Suharto, who ruled as dictator for more than three decades.

The poor easily identified with Jokowi, who was born in a river bank slum. During the campaign, Jokowi often remarked to the delight of the listening crowd that he is just a “simple man who is skinny and who eats sweetened green bean soup and boiled bananas for breakfast.” Many were also inspired by his success as a furniture seller before entering politics. Meanwhile, young people found hope in his agenda of reform.

Jokowi’s victory speech highlighted the renewed volunteerism and optimism among the youth. “This presidential election has sparked new optimism for us, for this nation. Free souls and political responsibilities blossom within the souls of the new generation. The long-lost voluntarism (sic) is now back with a new spirit.”

And to encourage greater citizen participation, Jokowi surprised citizens when he asked Facebook users to vote for the 34 persons who should join his Cabinet. Jokowi’s social media team said this unprecedented and innovative proposal, dubbed the “People’s Choice for an Alternative Cabinet,” aims to encourage volunteers and citizens to continue influencing the political movement started by the president. During the first day of the poll, more than 18,000 online participants visited the website, which caused it to crash.

After his proclamation, Jokowi called for national reconciliation in a bid to persuade Prabowo supporters to recognize his victory. “No more number one or number two. All is one, for Indonesia,” he said. Jokowi has to expand his political base since his party does not control the majority of seats in the parliament.

Another problem for Jokowi is Prabowo’s refusal to concede defeat. In fact, Prabowo’s party has filed an election protest citing massive fraud and voting irregularities that allegedly distorted the results. Prabowo claimed that they have almost one million documents and 52,000 witnesses to prove that about 21 million votes were either lost or counted in favor of Jokowi.

Prabowo’s rejection of Jokowi’s proclamation initially caused the Indonesian stock market to plunge. However, Prabowo instructed his supporters not to provoke violence in challenging the election results. “We will continue our struggle to save the republic of Indonesia. We aim for real democracy, we want justice, and we’re willing to put everything on stake for the sake of justice. Now we continue our struggle through the legal way, the constitutional way.”

Jokowi is expected to survive this legal challenge and his inauguration as president is scheduled for October 22.

Indeed, a new era has begun in Indonesia. Here’s hoping it will continue to strengthen the country’s commitment to democracy.

Vietnamese Activists Get Three Years in Prison for ‘Obstructing Traffic’

Written for The Diplomat

Three Vietnamese activists were found guilty by a local court of “serious obstruction to traffic” when they rode their motorbikes last February from Ho Chi Minh City to Dong Thap province to visit a former political prisoner.

Prominent Vietnamese activist blogger Bui Thi Minh Hang was given a three-year prison sentence while her two other companions, Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh and Nguyen Van Minh, received jail terms of two years and 2.5 years, respectively. The one-day trial was held six months after the three were arrested.

Twenty-one other activists took part in the activity last February but only three were charged for violating Article 245 (causing public disorder).

Bui Thi Minh Hang is a popular anti-China activist who is also a vocal critic of the government’s policies on land, religion and human rights. Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh is a fellow activist-blogger. Nguyen Van Minh is a Hao Hao Buddhist sect follower and an activist for religious freedom. Many believe that Bui Thi Minh Hang was the real target of the police but the two other activists were also arrested to avoid accusations that authorities are unfairly persecuting anti-government activists.

More than one hundred friends, supporters and relatives of the three prisoners went to Dong Thap province to show support during the trial, but the police blocked them from the hearing, making further arrests.

According to Ngoc Nhi Nguyen, almost all of the visitors had been “stopped, harassed, threatened, barricaded, and even beaten up and arrested by the police.” He reported that anyone taking photos near the courthouse had their phones or cameras confiscated. Many were also arrested and herded inside waiting police buses and taken to an unknown location.

“The Vietnamese government is obviously too scared to allow its citizens to even come near the building housing the Court room, let alone allowing them inside to watch the proceed of the supposedly open trial,” he added.

There was also another report that some of the relatives were harassed by police the night before the scheduled hearing.

The unreasonable long prison sentence and the crackdown on the peaceful protest during the trial were quickly condemned by global human rights groups. They pointed out that the Vietnamese government, as a new member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, should be a model in respecting the human rights of its citizens.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, chided Vietnam for using traffic laws to prosecute the pro-democracy activists. “The Vietnamese government is now resorting to bogus traffic offenses to criminally prosecute activists. The authorities should recognize this case is not worth the international ridicule it will cause and drop the charges immediately.”

Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director, called on Vietnam to release without conditions all those who were detained by the police. He described the dispersal as “another attempt to punish peaceful activism in Vietnam.”

Even the U.S. embassy in Vietnam has issued a statement expressing concern over the guilty verdict given to the activist bloggers. “The use of public disorder laws by Vietnamese authorities to imprison government critics for peacefully expressing their political views is alarming.”

Vietnam has been criticized in the past for its severe treatment of dissident bloggers and pro-democracy activists. The recent prosecution involving a prominent activist blogger and an advocate of religious freedom will likely trigger international outrage, especially from those worried about the country’s worsening state of human rights and free speech.

Written for The Diplomat

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