Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Exclusive Interview: Robin Bush, Part Two

Yesterday we kicked off our exclusive chat with Robin Bush, the Asia Foundation's country representative for Indonesia. Today we continue with her thoughts on Aceh reconstruction, the upcoming 2009 elections, and what everyone needs to know about Indonesia.

EI: What's your take on the status of development in Aceh province, post-tsunami, and what still needs to be done?

RB: The relief and reconstruction effort in Aceh has resulted in dramatic levels of development. The peace accord to date still holds, and Aceh has the potential of being able to return to being a somewhat normal place. That said, donor assistance is, as it should be, on the downswing and most donors if not already withdrawing, are in exit strategy mode. As the financial resources dwindle, and with an election coming up, it will be important to monitor the situation closely to ensure that local conflicts don’t re-emerge around contestation of shrinking resources.

EI: What are shaping up to be the biggest issues in the upcoming '09 elections?

RB: The economy, unemployment and poverty are the largest set of issues. President Yudhoyono has been strategic and astute in his management of the financial crisis so far – but it has not yet hit the real economy, and in coming months when unemployment becomes more widespread, he will be in a very vulnerable position. That said, other issues like anti-corruption and security are also key issues, and on those fronts Yudhoyono is seen to have been an effective leader.

EI: As someone who's lived in Indonesia for a long time, what are a few things Americans should know about the country, that they don't?

RB: They should know that Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world, is the fourth largest democracy in the world, and the largest Muslim democracy in the world. They should know that most Indonesians actually really like America – they like the culture, the people, they like to go to school there, they like to take holidays there. They should also know that Indonesia is a country of contrasts – of women in headscarves and tight jeans; where 12 Lamborghinis can be pre-purchased before the show room in Jakarta even opens yet where 100 million people live on less than $2/day and children die of malnutrition; where it is not unusual for Muslim villagers to help their Christian neighbors build their church …yet where 100s of ‘thugs’ can be mobilized to burn it down. They should know that Indonesia’s story of reform and democratization is one of the great untold success stories – to transform within 10 years from an authoritarian dictatorship to a vibrant, growing, stable democracy is an incredible feat, and one which Indonesia gets much less credit than it deserves.

Many thanks to Robin Bush for her insights, and best wishes for her ongoing work for a better Indonesia!

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