Friday, September 4, 2009

A Tale of Three Countries

Taken from the original source: Karim Raslan: A Chance for Indonesia to Boom (Jakarta Globe)

August appears to be the preferred month for Asean national days, with Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia celebrating their “birthdays” on the 9th, 17th and 31st respectively.

Over the past 10 years — since the annus horribilis of 1998 — Indonesia has literally been to hell and back. It’s been fashionable in Malaysia and Singapore to say “Well, at least we’re ahead of the Indonesians!”

This time around the situation has been reversed. The mood in both Singapore and Malaysia has been sombre and gloomy, while spirits in Indonesia have been surprisingly buoyant. Are we witnessing a major geopolitical change, in which the republic finally emerges on the global stage? Or is this merely a flash in the pan?

Both Singapore and Malaysia have been wracked by a combination of economic woes, racial and religious tensions and political uncertainty.

Singapore has plunged into recession as growth in the first two quarters of 2009 dropped to minus 6.5 percent. Unemployment has risen to 4.5 percent. While this might seem relatively minor it’s important to remember that Singaporeans — unlike Indonesians — are used to continuous growth and prosperity.

Malaysia’s position is little better. Still, it’s fair to say that Prime Minister Najib Razak has done a good job managing the impact of the global financial crisis.

But sadly, Najib, the son of a former premier, has fumbled on issues of civil liberties and race relations — ever Malaysia’s Achilles heel.

Amid the political squabbling in Kuala Lumpur and the economic gloom in Singapore, Jakarta stands out.

First, the economy is growing at over 4 percent and second, a successful set of legislative and presidential polls have led to the election of a strong administration under Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

After decades of trailing behind Malaysia and Singapore, Indonesia, with its intimate links to Obama’s administration, its vast array of natural resources and a seat on the G20 is set to boom as global attention focuses on Jakarta.

Furthermore, the country’s resolutely democratic character reinforces the republic’s potential — especially when compared to both Malaysia and Singapore with their more restrictive laws.

Still, it’s worth asking whether the inexorable logic of geography and demography will lead to a long-term shift in Indonesia’s standing. Is there the capacity to take Indonesia firmly into the ranks of the BRIC nations, or will this opportunity be squandered?