OPINION: Indonesian Executions Harm Jokowi, Country

If the world thought Indonesia was getting a warm, fuzzy and forward-thinking leader when it elected Joko Wido president last year, the pending second round of executions of several foreigners on drug charges should finally put an end to that.

President Joko does not have to push these state-sanctioned killings ahead. He could stop them, show clemency, call for a moratorium on executions to study the issue. Instead, he has relied on questionable assertions about a drug emergency in the country and the unquestioned popularity of the death penalty domestically to move the killings forward.

Australia and other countries that have appealed for mercy for convicts who have been sitting on death row for a decade or more have almost no hope of seeing Indonesia respond favorably to their appeals. It does not matter that Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, the two condemned Australians from the so-called Bali Nine, have become examples of rehabilitation and redemption during their ten years in prison. Indeed by pressing its supposed concerns forcefully in the media, Australia has only raised the hackles of Indonesians. There seems to be no way out.

Indonesia has chosen to treat the pending executions like a media spectacle, escorting the two Australians to the site of the executions on a prison island with jet fighter fly-overs, masked commandos and armored vehicles. One wonders if the police were expecting Australian assault teams to attempt a prison break.

While no firm date has been set for the executions, the government has said it will be soon, perhaps even this weekend. Families of the condemned have been left in the dark while prison authorities have issued detailed explanations of the procedures to be followed in strapping the victims down and shooting them.

The more foreign countries, human rights groups and others appeal against the killings, the more determined Indonesia’s resolve seems to be. International pressure has been met by “disquieting nationalistic sentiment devoid of compassion and, even more importantly, based more on gut feeling than rational considerations,” wrote the Jakarta Globe in an editorial appealing for the government to stop the executions.

In insisting the executions must be carried out, Joko has said it is a matter of respecting Indonesian law. That assertion comes at the same time the National Police have been publicly manipulating the legal system to undermine the respected Corruption Eradication Commission after it dared to name a powerful police general a corruption suspect.

The fact is the rule of law is consistently undermined by powerful forces in Indonesia. It is an open secret that nightclubs where recreational drugs freely circulate in Jakarta and elsewhere are protected and even owned by police officers. To allow the country’s dangerously flawed courts to condemn anyone to death is chilling.

To admit the full dimensions of Indonesia’s crisis – not in illegal drugs but in law enforcement itself – will require a lot more than killing a few drug mules. Unfortunately, Indonesia is no better at facing up to its own problems than many other countries. The United States itself still clings to the death penalty at a time when most modern democracies have moved away from it. Indeed, it is not unusual for state officials in places like Texas to bask in the glow of an execution as a way to curry favor with public opinion.

It would seem that these pending killings of citizens from France, Brazil, the Philippines, Ghana, Nigeria, Indonesia and Australia are a way for the new president to deflect attention away from numerous domestic political problems while appearing resolute for the cameras. Joko has a revolt inside his own political party, little control over the police and an administration just over 100 days old that consists of a few good officials and numerous good ideas but that needs time to form itself into a consistent government. But looking tough by marshaling the firing squad will make for good headlines.

This would be a time when a visionary leader might stop these killings simply because it would be the right thing to do. There is no compelling reason to sully the country’s image and provoke diplomatic outrage for the sake of what amounts to government revenge at crimes committed many years ago.

Joko Widodo, however, is not a visionary. That will be one harsh lesson the world will take away from these executions.