One of the first panels at this year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, Destination Unknown was really a dynamic confluence of three great thinkers intimate with Indonesian affairs, along with a moderator (Janet Steele) truly equal to the task to keeping the conversation with Islamic scholar Azyumardi Azra, writer Elizabeth Pisani, and poet/journalist Goenawan Mohamad rolling along at a brisk pace. A pleasure to listen in on, and an education in Indonesian current affairs to boot.

As most of our readers already know, Indonesia’s recent direct presidential elections were fraught with tension and emotion amongst the various parties, coalition or not. On top of that the dominant coalition in parliament has just rammed through a new bill revoking the right of the people to directly vote for their regional leaders, leaving it  to the regional parliaments to appoint these leaders instead. Though there is hardly room here for a full transcript here are some extracts:



– expressed concerns not only about the recent legislature but also about the Red and White opposition coalition’s plan to scrap the anti graft body KPK.

– However he still feels optimistic: he believes that the mass organizations can also play a balancing role between the various political factions. He also highlighted the extraordinary influence of social media in Indonesian politics as being a balancing factor.

– As to Islam being a factor in politics, he pointed out that since 1999 Islamic parties have fared badly in elections. He pointed out that in Indonesia Islam is not a question of identity politics, like it is for instance in Malaysia.

-There is no real alternative to Pancasila as a state ideology.




– put forth the view that Indonesian politics are extemely dynamic and changeable, with politicians regularly reversing their standpoint.

– While there was no violence to speak of during the presidential elections, what disturbed him most during the campaigns were the smear campaigns that focused so much on ethnicity and religion.

– Regarding the latest parliamentary legislation he said “It is legal but it is not legitimate”.

– As to the role of the military Goenawan felt that the military was not a united political power per se, and in recent years there had been split in political affiliations within the military.

– Pancasila is like a beautiful painting, nice to look at but hard to really understand.



-pointed out that people in remoter, outer islands feel angry that having finally acquired a voice in the running of their regions after all these years of being dictated to by powers that had little understanding of their situation, suddenly these rights were being revoked.

– Jokowi is not a god untouched by politics, he is part of the political game. In order to be effective he will have to get into the political “cattle trading”, and get his hands dirtyin order to get things done.

– The issue for most parties/individuals aren’t really about political beliefs but about “what’s in it for me”.

– For Indonesians graft that is redistributed to one’s faction is acceptable, corruption that is just for one’s personal gain is not.

text and photos ©Rio Helmi