Articles by Elizabeth Pisani

Should Jakarta voters trust a cleric who takes money from Playboy?

On Wednesday, we saw once again that Indonesian voters are more grown up than the people they are voting for. Though the Jakarta elections were repeatedly presented as a test of strength of political Islam, I’ve always thought the white-robed mobs were more a throw-back to the everyday tactics of the Old Guard, as I argue in this commentary in Nikkei Asian Review. But as the capital faces a second round of voting, we can certainly expect the FPI to…


A TED talk about forgetting 1965, just when we need to remember it

Two years ago, I gave this short TED Talk about imaginary husbands, telling lies, and the mass killings that slashed across Indonesia in 1965. I know many people will hate it, and will disagree most violently when I say that the long silence that followed the killings was probably a good thing. But we mustn’t forget for ever. I post the unedited version of the 5 minute talk now, to remind us all what can happen in Indonesia (what HAS…



Apparently, 42% of young Indonesians are good for nothing

It’s PISA time again, when the competence of Indonesian 15 year-olds in science, maths and reading is compared with that of kids in other countries. They continue to under-perform quite shockingly — over four in ten are functionally incompetent in all three areas. Other ASEAN neighbours, who can soon vie for jobs in the ASEAN Economic Community, are much better equipped.


Ignoring Indonesia: What you can’t say in The Guardian (Updated)

Earlier this month, tens of thousands of white-robed protesters stomped through the streets of Jakarta, baying for the blood of Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, aka Ahok. To simplify a complex story, Ahok stood accused of the sin of quoting the Quran while being Christian. In the best Indonesian tradition of rent-a-crowd politics, many of the “protesters” were there for the promise of money and a packed lunch; one told TV reporters that, though he came for the cash, he…


Health insurance Etc.: Indonesia’s improbable success

Since its very inception, Indonesia has been given to committing itself to unlikely projects with virtually no preparation. Nationhood, for example (1945). Rice self-sufficiency (1970). Dramatic decentralisation (1999). Most recently, in 2014, universal health coverage. By 2019, it was summarily declared, all Indonesians would be included in a single national health insurance scheme. All of these grandiose declarations were greeted with howls of scepticism from colonisers or so-called development partners; there was a great deal of “they’ll-never-do-it-without-us” thigh-slapping/hand-wringing. Each spectacularly…



Ageing Indonesia: wiser or just grumpier?

Indonesia turns 71 today. Like many septuagenarians, the country appears to be growing more grumpy and intolerant as it ages. This week, the Economist picks up on an apparently rising tide of homophobia in Indonesia. Importantly, the paper also picked up on the fact that the grumpiness is partly motivated by politics: “Politics, as much as religious conviction, plays its part,” The Economist reports. “Many politicians sense they may win more votes by presenting themselves as pious Muslims than by…


Castration: another knee-jerk ‘solution’ from Jokowi

Indonesia’s president had rushed out a knee-jerk response to the gang rape of a 14 year-old girl: chemical castration and even death for perpetrators. But what’s needed is more thoughtful structural reforms that might reduce violence while protecting and helping victims.