E10: One-On-One With Deputy House Speaker Fadli Zon

I sat down with Deputy Speaker of the House and Senior Gerindra Party member, Mr. Fadli Zon, to discuss the controversial Anti-Terrorism Bill and the Criminal Code Bill as well as the dire Rohingya situation in Myanmar and of course Prabowo Subianto’s run for the 2019 presidency. 

In addition to being the most outspoken member of the government opposition, the Deputy Speaker oversees key commissions of parliament including: foreign affairs, security, law and home affairs.

The Indonesia In-depth podcast is available for free on iTunes, Google Play and Sound Cloud. All links are below. Here are the interview takeaways:

Prabowo Subianto’s Run for Presidency 

  • Fadli Zon stated that the Gerindra Party has already declared Prabowo as its presidential candidate in 2019 despite the fact that Prabowo’s comments at the 11 April Gerindra National Coordination Meeting (Rakornas) fell short of an official declaration of his candidacy. “The 11 April meeting was upgraded to a National Leadership Meeting and all the provincial leaders have agreed to support Prabowo as the candidate in 2019 and he has already accepted this.” However it’s important to point out that senior Gerindra members continue to negotiate with other political parties such as PAN, Democrats and PKS with attempts of building a coalition and communication channels between Widodo loyalists and Prabowo remain open and all options are still on the table.

  • Fadli stated that Widodo’s offer to have Prabowo as his VP is “an honor” however Gerindra wants Prabowo to be president not vice president. He followed up by stating that he believes that the economy is stagnant and basic commodity prices are on the rise and that the Indonesian people view this administration as incapable of fixing it.

  • He believes that Gerindra can not only move up from the third largest party to surpass Golkar in second place, but can beat PDIP in 2019. Many analyst currently believe that Gerindra and Golkar will battle for second place in the general election next year.

Anti-Terrorism Bill

  • The Anti-Terrorism Bill has been stuck in the House for several years now but Mr. Fadli says he expects that it can be passed this year. 

  • Key issues that have slowed the bill’s progress: a. the definition of the word “terrorism”. b. how long suspects can be detained by police without legal representation and a court order. c. revoking Indonesian passports to Indonesia’s that become involved in terrorist activities abroad.

  • Deputy Speaker state that both the House and government have considered input from civil society groups regarding the duration of how long suspects can be detained. However, recent terror attacks will likely put more pressure on this and police have again asked for more powers. “We have to be careful with this bill as there are many sensitive issues unloved such as the separation of the police and military role. We don’t want do go back to the past where the police were part of the military.”

  • Parliament members say that divisions within Government institutions have caused delays.

  • Update to this episode- since the terrorist prison riot in Jakarta and terror attacks in Surabaya and Riau. Both the government and the House have said they will expedite deliberations on the anti-terrorism bill to provide law enforcement and the military new powers to fight terrorism. The president however has said that the parliament needs to move quickly and pass the bill and has threatened to issue a presidential decree on anti-terrorism if the bill is not passed by this June 2018. Deputy speaker Fadli Zon has responded by stating that it was in fact the government itself that has delayed the bill’s progress, not the House. He also said that a decree is only necessary under an emergency situation with a legal vacuum, however this is not the case as the current 2003 Law on Criminal Acts of Terrorism still exists. Deliberations are ongoing since the House returned from recess on May 17, 2018.

New Controversial Criminal Code

  • Criminal Code bill being deliberated has captured the attention of both domestic and international audiences. The law dates back to the Dutch Colonial era, in 1918 and is indeed outdated.

  • Several human rights organizations have condemned some of the proposed articles calling them “discriminatory”. Key articles in the bill would criminalize homosexuality, extramarital sex, criticism of the president, restrict freedom of the press and be a setback for democracy in Indonesia. 5 years in jail for sex outside of marriage, for example.

  • Fadli said, “ These are all sensitive issues for a country like Indonesia that has very rich traditions and religious values, not just values from Islam but for all religious practiced here. We have received input on the bill and we acknowledge  that the LGBT community is there and this is a fact. We have to be careful if we put things in the Criminal Code and we can’t criminalize it. We have to see things case by case. We are still discussing the bill.”

  • On the deformation and blasphemy articles, Fadli stated that Indonesia has been practicing democracy for 20 years and freedom of expression is important and that the constitution acknowledges the right for the people to express their views and as a result cannot be criminalized. He questioned the Widodo administration’s recent push to prevent people from wearing t-shirts with political hash tags at public gatherings. 

  • Some sources in the government suggested that they might allow for local governments to create laws on blasphemy, deformation and morality. Fadli stated that the local government should not be given the responsibility to implement their own laws for these issues as this would create further problems.

  • The current bill would put strict limits on the promotion and destruction of contraceptives which some experts say would lead to increased problems however, the deputy speaker believes that restrictions on contraceptives should not be included in the law and that these are technical issues and should reviewed at the ministerial level such as with the health ministry. 

  • Some legal experts say the country is already heading in the direction of over criminalization and that the current draft will make matters worse. The deputy speaker said,” I agree that this to some extent. Over criminalization is a problem and people getting in trouble for Tweeting because of the Law on Electronic Transmission…..We should not criminalize people for expression or for their way of life and religious freedom if it is still in the corridor of the values of society and to measure that we need to get input from many people and discuss openly.”

  • He stated that he believes the new Criminal Code Bill could be passed by the House by the end of 2018.

Indonesia’s Role in Resolving the Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar

  • Fadli met with the former UN Chief Kofi Annan in March 2018 in Bangladesh and discussed the situation in Myanmar’s Northern Rakhine State and also the dire situation in the refugee camps there. Mr. Annan said he hoped that Indonesia could share its experience and lessons learned with its transition to a democracy with the Myanmar military.

  • The deputy speaker said that, as the founder of ASEAN and the largest country in terms of population in the association, Indonesia should be playing a much bigger role in the Rohingya crisis.

  • "We don’t want Myanmar to use ASEAN as a safe house to avoid the international community when it comes to the crimes committed against the Rohingyas,” he said. He added that it will be difficult to solve the issue without the involvement of ASEAN and that the “non-interference” stance in ASEAN charter has become a stumbling block.

  • Indonesian government is using minimum diplomacy right now and instead we should be pushing the Myanmar government to obey international community and to repatriate the refugees and protect them, “ he said. 

  • Fadli said that during the 2017 ASEAN parliament meeting the Rohingya issue couldn’t even be raised and that Indonesia protested this.