This is a guest post from Alexander R Arifianto (Twitter: @DrAlexArifianto), a Research Fellow with S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. His research focuses on contemporary domestic politics and political Islam in Indonesia.
Nearly six months after the first case of coronavirus was first diagnosed in Indonesia, the country is in the midst of its largest public health crisis in history. As of August 3rd, about 113,000 Indonesians are confirmed to be infected and 5,300 have died from the illness. Indonesia is currently ranked the 23rd country with the most COVID-19 cases worldwide. A model developed by Sulfikar Amir, a sociologist based at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, predicts COVID-19 cases in Indonesia will reach 200,000 cases over the next two months.
Indonesia’s 270 million population marks it as is the fourth largest country in the world measured by population size. It is also the largest Muslim-majority country and the world’s third largest democracy. Lastly, it is the largest economy in Southeast Asia and is widely considered as a rising middle power in Asia. In a region where most countries have managed to mitigate the pandemic – with varying success rates – Indonesia’s failure to effectively contain the virus is puzzling to international observers.
In this post, I argue that Indonesia’s lackadaisical and half-hearted pandemic response has its roots in its pre-existing historical legacy that affects how Indonesian policymakers formulate their COVID-19 mitigation policy. These include an incompetent yet insulated bureaucracy that does not value policy advice from external experts and a power-sharing arrangement among members of its political elite that emphasizes short-term political calculations over taking coherent, coordinated, and decisive actions.Continue reading