Articles by Elizabeth Pisani

Indonesia is 70: Many happy Etc.s

Seventy years ago today, Sukarno and Mohmmad Hatta were frog-marched to a radio station by students hungry for independence. There, they declared the formation of the republic of Indonesia. Both the text and its original presentation in Sukarno’s handwriting (pictured above, rescued from the waste-paper basket) tell us much about the country.


My dynasty’s bigger than your dynasty: Indonesia beats the US at patronage politics

Earlier this year, Indonesia’s national parliament passed a law that tried to curb dynastic succession in politics. This was frankly a little surprising. The chairwoman of the largest party in parliament, Megawati Sukarnoputri, is the daughter of Indonesia’s first president. Though she never did manage to get elected herself, Megawati did spend some time in the top job after her boss President ‘Gus Dur’ was impeached. After a bit of political arm-twisting, her own daughter now sits in the cabinet….


Too much testosterone: can women save Indonesia?

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has appointed an all-female panel to select the next anti-corruption commissioners. While some think this is a sign that women are gaining political power in Indonesia. I argue that the panel will probably do a good job precisely because women are generally marginalised, and therefore less likely to be woven into networks of patronage and corruption.


Indonesia gets noticed (not in a good way)

Several times over the last months, I’ve been asked to comment on the impending execution of convicted drug dealers. I’ve always refused, largely because I thought I’d just be fuelling hysteria about something that wasn’t actually going to happen. Then, just a few minutes before I was about to speak on a panel called “Death Sentences” at the University of California Irvine, I heard that Indonesian police had indeed pulled the trigger on eight people, one of them mentally ill….


Whose word counts? A hierarchy of Indonesian justice

In colonial times, there were different laws for different people in Indonesia. Seventy years after independence, it looks as if that’s still the case. In the last week, a woman has been jailed because in a private Facebook chat she told a friend that her husband was abusing her. Her husband, snooping around in her private correspondence (itself a pretty good indicator of abuse) found the comments and reported his wife to the police. Then two teachers, one a foreigner, were jailed for 10 years on the evidence of a six year-old who accused them of using a magic stone conjured from thin air to lessen the pain of sexual abuse.


The truth about Indonesia? See for yourself: Free multimedia eBook taster

There’s nothing Indonesians love better than a success story involving their compatriots. When Indonesian schoolkids scraped the bottom of the international league tables in maths and science, many were quick to point out that this sample of several thousand could not be representative, because, well, look, we did well in the Wizards at Mathematics International Competition in Lucknow. So the national media was all a-flutter recently to learn that an Indonesian kid was captain of Real Madrid’s under 15 team. Despite their wild enthusiasm for football, Indonesians don’t exactly excel in international competition in the sport, so the news was doubly welcome. Too good to be true, almost….


Bad language is bad for Indonesian business

Indonesian bureaucrats are making it harder for Indonesians to learn good English. This handicaps Indonesian firms, as well as making them look foolish in international markets.



From Indonesia’s Department of You Couldn’t Make It Up

The department of You Couldn’t Make It Up has been working overtime in Indonesia lately. Parliament has just confirmed a notorious corruption suspect to head the police, and the President thinks he can make fishermen richer by sinking ships.


Indonesian art lives, though not in overseas museums

Unless they are credited to someone else, most of the images in these blog posts are photos I took myself and let’s face it, they don’t really do justice to the visual glories of Indonesia’s many cultures. So I was delighted to learn that the Asian branch of the Smithsonian museum, the Freer/Sackler galleries, have made images of the objects in their collection available for non-commercial use….