Security Council seat getting hot for Yudhoyono
Jakarta's support in UN for sanctions against Iran sets off outcry at home
JAKARTA - PRESIDENT Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's government has discovered that securing a seat on the United Nations Security Council - and raising the international profile of the world's most populous Muslim country - carries with it a larger baggage train of consequences than perhaps it imagined.
Arm-twisting from the United States and other lesser powers was to be expected. But not the domestic outcry from opportunistic politicians and a broad cross-section of Muslim leaders over Indonesia's support for UN Resolution 1747, which imposed new sanctions on nuclear-ambitious Iran.
The fallout from that is still being felt, with Dr Yudhoyono meeting parliamentary leaders this week to try and head off a concerted effort to get him to explain his decision in person to a full plenary session of the 550-seat House of Representatives.
Clearly, the executive branch does not have to clear all its actions with Parliament. It would not be right and, besides, nothing would get done. But on issues that are likely to arouse domestic controversy, legislators feel it would be prudent if the government consulted with Parliament beforehand.
Golkar party veteran Theo Sambuaga, chairman of House Commission 1 on foreign and defence affairs, said: 'We are not asking the government to seek our approval, but just to explain what it is going to do. The Iran issue is emotional, not rational, and that is why it has been politicised.'
It is a lesson the administration has already taken on board. Indonesia was the only country to vote against a subsequent June 8 Security Council resolution condemning firebrand Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for making statements about the destruction of Israel.
More significantly perhaps, Foreign Ministry officials have also been consulting commission members over an upcoming US-backed resolution calling for the independence of the Muslim-dominated Serbian province of Kosovo.
American pressure is one of the main reasons for the outcry over the Iran vote. But the Kosovo case is a lot more complex. Indonesia must balance the welfare of fellow Muslims against concerns over what an affirmative vote might mean for its sovereignty over Aceh and Papua.
Mr Sambuaga indicates his commission supports independence for Kosovo, but only if it is achieved through a peaceful process in which both Serbia and Kosovo are brought under the umbrella of the European Union. But the Indonesians are firm that Serbia must give its consent.
Foreign Ministry officials are worried that recognition by Indonesia of an independent Kosovo - as proposed by UN mediator Martti Ahtissari - would give substance to the premise that independence is the best solution for any ethnic conflict.
That, in turn, could harm Indonesia's interests, given the fact that the former Finnish president was also the leading architect of the 2005 Aceh peace agreement in which the issue of independence was pushed aside, but not necessarily out of view.
Whatever transpires, Mr Sambuaga is adamant Indonesian foreign policy should not be simply based on the concept of Muslim brotherhood, and said the government was correct in focusing on nuclear non-proliferation as the reason for joining the vote to punish Iran.
While the North Sulawesi- born Christian acknowledged that he and other legislators who take that view may be in the minority, 'what we are trying to do is look at the problem in a proportional way. We are only asking Iran to be more transparent'.
As it was, efforts by Muslim groups to politicise the Iran issue opened the door for the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) and other parties to initiate a resolution requesting that Dr Yudhoyono appear before a full session of Parliament.
It is not clear why the President is so averse to the idea, but the palace game plan now is to use the consultation meeting with the House leadership, relevant commission chairmen and parliamentary party heads as a way of relieving the pressure.
Unlike plenary interpellations, 'home and away' consultations are prescribed in House rules and have already been used by the President and the House to discuss the tsunami and the peace process in Aceh, the education budget and whether to send peacekeeping troops to Lebanon.
Dr Yudhoyono is within his rights, of course, to nominate well-regarded Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda to represent him at a plenary session, but lawmakers complain that the minister has demonstrated in the past he does not fully appreciate the fact that he is talking to politicians.
'Hassan's long explanations are so technical and dry that they do not bring out the politics involved,' complained commission member Marzuki Darusman. 'We need the big picture and how Indonesia is supposed to relate to the US and the EU. If the President does not explain himself, then things will slide further.'
Mr Sambuaga said he supported Indonesia's more adventurous foreign policy, particularly the way it has become involved in the Middle East. But as the Iran vote has shown, being a giant Muslim country - with all the expectations that brings - makes it no easy task.
Neither does the fact that Indonesia lacks the skilled diplomats and other human resources to make a genuine difference in issues that have defied a solution for decades.
Differences of opinion between the administration and Parliament are not just confined to the Middle East.
Mr Sambuaga said lawmakers want Jakarta to be a lot more assertive in pushing Myanmar's military junta to free democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and return the country to civilian rule.
In its first vote on the UN Security Council last January, Indonesia abstained over a resolution condemning Myanmar for its persecution of minority and opposition groups, saying its uniformed rulers did not represent a threat to international peace. China and Russia blocked the US-sponsored measure in the first double veto in 20 years.
Mr Wirayuda said at the time that the case would be more appropriately brought to the attention of the UN Human Rights Council, a view he claimed was shared by other members of Asean, which was then holding its summit in Cebu, the Philippines.
But Mr Sambuaga and Mr Darusman both complained that Jakarta had made no effort to pursue that option, something senior US diplomats had noted as well.
As with Iran and Kosovo, it has served as yet another reminder that consistency in foreign policy-making is never easy - and a seat on the UN Security Council only magnifies the difficulties.
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