Why is ASEAN being Ignored in Indonesian Presidential Elections?

Indonesians have much to gain from Asean integration and presidential candidates should take up the issue

Ali Abdillah
The ASEAN Countries leaders at 32nd ASEAN Summit – google.com

The eyes of other Asean member states will be increasingly focused on Indonesia’s presidential election and its results, given Indonesia’s important role in the region.

As one of the biggest democratic countries and one of the initiators of Asean, Indonesia indeed has a significant role, especially in the progress of Asean integration.

However, the candidates – Joko “Jokowi” Widodo-Ma’ruf Amin and Prabowo Subianto-Sandiaga Uno – have not mentioned Asean, let alone included Asean integration in their vision and mission statements.

Sooner or later, Asean integration could be the next “storm” of globalisation for Indonesian citizens if the government is not well-prepared for the free mobility of professionals of other member states, to say nothing of its citizens.

Furthermore, Indonesia would just be a market for the other Asean member states and Indonesians would be mere consumers of products of neighbouring countries, instead of penetrating their products to Asean markets. Therefore, it is vital that the candidates of the presidential election show more concern on this issue.

The main reason for Asean establishment in 1967 was to speed up economic growth and promote regional peace and stability. In addition, Asean member states agreed in 2007 to ratify the Asean Charter as a fundamental legal document of its integration.

The Asean Charter is a crucial milestone for Asean to evolve from a politically based organisation to a rule-based intergovernmental organisation. One of the main consequences of this integration is economic integration.

Member states agreed that all goods, services, investment, capital and skilled workers within member states should be free (or at least given access) to move among the states. This trans-border issue could be a time bomb for Indonesia if preparations are lacking, as many have noted.

Therefore, the presidential candidates should pay much more attention to the issue as this integration policy will affect us sooner or later.

Although the incumbent Jokowi has more opportunities to contribute to Asean’s integration, unfortunately this issue does not seem to be among his foreign policy priorities.

Indeed, early in his term, one of his then-advisers for foreign policy, Rizal Sukma, told a public forum in Washington, DC, that the Jokowi administration would focus more on domestic and bilateral issues.

If all Asean member states had a similar perspective, Asean integration will just be a pipe dream, and Asean would remain a political organisation for the elite of its member states, not for the people.

This contradicts the vision of Asean in 2020 to be more bonded together in a community of caring societies. The preamble of the Asean Charter itself states that member states agree to intensify community-building through enhanced regional cooperation and integration.

Ahead of the fourth of five presidential debates, which will focus on foreign policy in late March, it is the right time to reflect back on the commitment of Asean Integration – which has thus far been ignored in the presidential debates held by the General Elections Commission (KPU).

Asean integration is not merely about international relations.

It covers a vast range of issues such as society, culture, security, law enforcement and economics.

The candidates should have a progressive point of view about Asean and evaluate the concept of Asean integration.

This would give Indonesia an excellent opportunity to play a leading role in achieving prosperity for Indonesians and their neighbours.

Furthermore, the presidential candidates should also include Indonesia’s contributions to Asean integration as part of their programmes.

Although this issue may not be a populist one in the presidential race, the consequences would affect all our citizens.

With the spotlight on them, the presidential candidates are now well placed to help all Indonesian citizens to understand more about Asean integration and how we should be better prepared for it.

Ali Abdillah, S.H., LL.M.

Constitutional Law Researcher and Lecturer at Law Faculty of Universitas Indonesia

Published at straitstimes.com and The Jakarta Post

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