Sinister thoughts in a traffic jam

bali9_smh.jpg

Something light to start off with. I woke up this morning to the clock radio’s bad news about the Bali Nine and sitting in a traffic jam on the Easter freeway I wondered about what was really going on and reminded myself that 2+2 usually eqauls 4. Listening to RN in my office, it turns out John Faine had similar dark thoughts so at least two great minds think alike.

Let’s leave aside the sheer cruelty of appealing sentences upwards and the oxymoronic idea that Indonesia should kill young Australians for the crime of trying to smuggle heroin into Australia which might have”¦.killed young Australians.

Having presently six Aussies facing the firing squad strikes me as a powerful position for Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who alone will have the power to commute these sentences by granting a presidential pardon. Sounds like the sort of leverage that might be useful in behind the scenes negotiations about, say, asylum seeker laws and West Papua.

The West Papuans arrived in Australia on January 17, about a month before the original verdicts on the Bali Nine, which most people considered lenient when compared to Shappelle Corby’s 20 years for a large bag of wacky-tobacky. Pundits were expecting most of them to get the maximum penalty. I know that I was. Such a decision would have been extremely popular in Indonesia as well. I wondered at the time whether the power brokers might have been organising some quid-pro-quo on the refugee issue. They feel strongly about territorial integrity, while we feel strongly about the death penalty. Fair trade.

But on March 23, forty two of the forty three were granted a visa, followed immediately by protests from the Embassy. By mid-April Howard was foreshadowing his ban-the-boatpeople bill which got knocked down in an unexpected display of parliamentary conscience on August 14. All bad news for the Indonesians who perhaps have now reverted to the kind of penalties that might have been imposed in the first place if other strategic considerations had not been in the mix.

Of course, all this supposes that the Indonesian justice system is in the pocket of the government. The world’s (second! – thanx JC) largest democracy wouldn’t be like that would it? It’s worth noting though that the prosecution did not even ask for the death penalty. I guess I am an incurable conspiracy theorist. When I finally breathe my last, I look forward to finding out who shot JFK. It’s been driving me nuts.

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Jacques Chester
Jacques Chester
15 years ago

Nitpick: the world’s largest democracy is India.

whyisitso
whyisitso
15 years ago

The legal ability of the higher courts in Indonesia to sentence indepenently of pleas from the prosecution or the defence has been well known and publicised in the Australian media for some time. The accused were obviously very badly advised in appealing at all, knowing these rules.

I am in two minds about Indonesia. In my emotions, I reckon they’re uncivilised savages, and I certainly would never go there willingly for any reason.

But they do have a codified legal system which does appear to be observed fairly objectively compared with earlier times (even up to fairly recent years), although with incompetent and corrupt elements not yet eliminated. Their worst feature is their inability to discipline the military, which is apparently still politically impossible. Their citizens vote in elections but the country cannot be considered a democracy by a long shot.

Our government will go through the motions of putting pressure on them to commute the death penalty, but will be completly unsuccessful, something Howard and Downer know already. Our opposition parties will posture endlessly as they always do, again to zero effect.

We are the lucky country in so many respects, but have the rotten luck to have Indonesia as a near neighbour. We’re just going to have to live with this, and get on with them as best we can. It is realpolitik, although the usual idiots will keep screaming appeasement.

Andrew Reynolds
15 years ago

whyisitso,
Calling the Indonesian people “uncivilised savages” is to completely misunderstand them. I was partly brought up in Jakarta, and go back on occasion, so perhaps I am biased by the memory of a very civilised people who have been capable of building complex cities, trading networks and buildings since at least the 700s – witness Prambanan and Borobudur, not to mention the Hindu civilisation of Bali itself.
The Indonesian justice system, though, was thoroughly corrupted (if it was ever impartial) during the Suharto era, when heavy penalties under political mandate substituted for any real effectiveness. Indonesian judges are not of the sort of quality we would normally expect and are not used to an adversarial legal system, where some defendants actually plead not guilty.
The last election was the best in democratic terms ever in the country and there can be little doubt that SBY is the popularly elected president.
The best the nine can hope for now is probably Presidential clemency, but, considering that there have been many Indonesians executed for less in drug running terms over the last decade, it would prove unpopular. In this sense, the newly democratic nature of Indonesia may actually hurt their case to live.
I oppose the death penalty and have for a very long time, but they were stupid to collect the drugs and stupid to appeal against the sentences they got – given the political situation. It will now take a considerable amount of pressure to save them.
Given John Howard’s equivocation on the death penalty for the Bali bombers, though, it will be a difficult fight with lots of quid pro quo needed from the Australian government. It is a pity that this is a battle we had to fight, but it is one that we must do.

whyisitso
whyisitso
15 years ago

Andrew I did qualify my “uncivilised savages” remark to the effect that it was an emotional reaction. I’m certainly not alone in this country with that gut reaction. But cool heads must prevail in an international relationship. As in business, you don’t have to actually like those with whom you do business, but you must interact with them for mutual benefits. As with foreign policy.

SJ
SJ
15 years ago

“Such a decision would have been extremely popular in Indonesia as well.”

What on earth makes you think that this is true?

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
15 years ago

SJ

I am obviously guessing about the reaction of the Indonesian man in the street to a death sentence again Aussie drug runners, But Andrew Reynolds obviously agrees with me. My admittedly feeble reason for this judgement are: (1) The anti-western and anti-Australian commentary in major newspapers and by government representatives whenever they need an easy positive reaction from the electorate. (2) The anti-australian demonstrations after the ADF moved into East Timor and the lack of demonstrations in the preceding month when the IDF were slaughtering all and sundry. (3) A commentator on RN yesterday who described the strengthening resolve in Indonesia against drug running and the perception that Singapore’s example is one that they should follow.

Simply put, there would be the same kind of positive reaction that one would expect in Australia from say Indonesian people smugglers or fish poachers being put in the clink.

Whyisitso:

“The legal ability of the higher courts in Indonesia to sentence independently of pleas from the prosecution or the defence has been well known.”

Andrew Reynolds
15 years ago

Chris,
Perhaps the sentences handed out to the (more recent) Bali bombers who helped to kill 43 people, when compared to those caught smuggling drugs should be regarded as illustrative of the priorities of the Indonesian justice system and its government.

MrLefty
15 years ago

Of course, if we were serious about opposing the death penalty it would be different. And surely there are other things we can diplomatically offer Indonesia other than repugnantly abandoning the West Papuans to oppression? I’m sure there’s some aid they wouldn’t mind receiving, and we could keep our consciences clear.

Doing something right in order to secure another thing which is right! Now that’s what diplomacy is supposed to be about.