Reflection: Ahok’s loss is not a defeat for Indonesia’s democracy

Although I am not from Jakarta, I was personally disappointed – but not too surprised – at the outcome of the second-round gubernatorial election in the capital of Indonesia, which was held this Wednesday, on April 19.

For a backgrounder, let me explain briefly about the electoral race.

On one side, there is the incumbent governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the city’s first ethnic Chinese – and second Christian – leader. Known by his Chinese nickname “Ahok” (as it is Hakka pronunciation for the last character of his Chinese name, 锺万学), he has taken over the position as the governor of this city of 10 million since November 2014 after his predecessor, Joko Widodo, also known as his political ally, undertook the position as the 7th President of Indonesia. On the other hand, there is his rival, Anies Baswedan, a Yemeni-descended US-educated technocrat and former Minister of Education who has been – very recently – pandering to the more hard-line Muslim organizations, all under full support by opposition parties led by the former 2014 presidential candidate, retired general Prabowo Subianto, who was also Widodo’s rival. Pairing with Baswedan is Sandiaga Uno, a US-educated businessman and billionaire investor, who has gained notoriety after his name was included in Panama Paper leaks. Pairing with Ahok, meanwhile, is Djarot Saiful Hidayat, the current deputy governor.

What made the 2017 gubernatorial election so unusual compared to other local elections in Indonesia was the massive scope – and also considerable controversy and polarization – related to the two candidates. The hype started in the aftermath of Ahok’s alleged blasphemy against Islam in June 2016, when he encouraged people of Jakarta not to be easily deceived by certain political forces using Verse 51 of Chapter 5 of the Quran (known as Surat Al-Maidah) to block him, the content by which contains restriction for Muslims to vote for non-Muslim leaders in Muslim countries. Somebody in YouTube intentionally revised his speech, subsequently editing it into “encouraging people not to be easily deceived by Verse 51 of Chapter 5 of the Quran”. Although the editor had been arrested himself and Ahok had repeatedly clarified his statement – and even issued multiple apologies, the snowball was just becoming too big to handle. It culminated in mass protests in November and December 2016 – many of which were led and supported by hard-line Muslim organizations, demanding Ahok’s dismissal as governor, his imprisonment, or even openly calling out to “kill Chinese”, referring to his ethnic Chinese origin. Simultaneously, he was immediately named a blasphemy suspect, and has since been attending weekly trials in one of Jakarta’s district courts. All this was happening at the same time he was running for gubernatorial race.

The controversy further took place when Baswedan – long known as a moderate-leaning Muslim, and even nominated by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the world’s most influential intellectuals back in 2008 – met several times with the same hard-line Muslim leaders who had been leading mass protests against Ahok, oftentimes even showing open support for their action. He was subsequently supported by a coalition of parties led by Prabowo Subianto – a former general and presidential candidate in 2014 also associated with his own controversies, allegedly human rights abuses in the Suharto era. In the second round of the election, Baswedan – whose only governmental experience was being Minister of Education under Widodo administration – won decisively against Ahok; based on the ongoing tallies by the election commission, 57% of eligible votes went to Baswedan – as opposed to 43% to Ahok.

And all this was happening when Ahok’s approval rating as the governor was over 68%. That means although some people openly approved of Ahok’s achievements throughout his tenure, a considerable percentage of them actually decided – ironically – to vote him out of office.

Briefly speaking, his achievements – first as deputy governor (2012-2014) and later as governor (from 2014 onward) – had been his efforts at budget reforms (computerizing the budgeting system under joint supervision with Indonesia’s anti-corruption agency), infrastructure construction, bureaucracy reforms, public housing for the low-income and poor, public transportation, flood-control measures (due to Jakarta’s recurrent flood seasons), as well as social welfare, particularly in education and healthcare. What was significant, in particular, was his flood-control measures, which involved cleaning up rivers, and most controversially, evicting a large number of riverside communities to pave way for canal normalization, the alternative by which was their relocation to government-built apartments. This, actually, became a source of consternation and alienation for some of the affected people, many of whom had previously shown support for both Widodo and Ahok in the preceding 2012 gubernatorial election.

Despite his achievements, he had been barely short of controversies – even before the alleged blasphemy. He was known for his “Sumatran” talking style (a stereotypical way to describe outspoken, loud-talking, and perceivedly-rude people, but I’m from Sumatra too), and not infrequently his past statements had offended a significant number of individuals – mostly politicians and bureaucrats whom he accused of “manipulating taxpayers’ money”.  His shortcoming, in this regard, was his ill-temper. His controversies notwithstanding, he has remained largely popular among a substantial percentage of people in the city, given his informal and direct way of communication. He has several hotline numbers so that people can directly report to him for problems within the city, and has even personally attended wedding events of ordinary Jakarta people – as long as they extended invitation to the governor.

It is inevitable that the blasphemy charges against Ahok had cost him a considerable amount of political support. Indeed, the gubernatorial election has been extensively covered in international media, most of which has the theme of “an ethnic Chinese Christian governor pitted against an ethnic Arab Muslim candidate supported by hard-liners”. The New York Times called it “a referendum on pluralism versus Islamism”. Some observers even considered Anies’ electoral victory as “an omen to Indonesian democracy and respect for diversity”. And personally speaking, I was disappointed. But there are way more complicating explanations behind his victory. For some perspectives, I would rather use a half-glass-full than half-glass-empty approach.

First, to have secured over 43% of voters’ support despite the ongoing blasphemy trials has itself been a progress for Ahok. I admit that ethnic, racial, and religious overtones among supporters of both candidates had been particularly heated – and even at times nasty – especially when you look at social media posts (should you understand Indonesian), but we need to look at a bigger picture here: over 85% out of 10 million people living in Jakarta are Muslims. In this regard, over 1.5 million people in Jakarta are non-Muslims. As there are more than 7 million eligible voters in the city, if we referred to the 77% voter turnout in the first round of the election (close to 5.4 million people who went out and voted) – and if this turnout was sustained in the second round – that meant more than 2.3 million people actually voted for Ahok, a figure close to 2.36 million who voted for him in the first round. Obviously, a large proportion of his supporters are Muslims themselves, and not all non-Muslims necessarily showed their support to the incumbent. Therefore, this argument should defeat the overwhelming theme among international news stories as already mentioned in the prior paragraph. Also, many among Anies-Sandi supporters are non-Muslims, particularly ethnic Chinese local business elites who would opt for “business climate stability”. One of the pair’s most ardent supporters is Hary Tanoesoedibjo, an ethnic Chinese tycoon who controls 4 out of 10 national TV stations, and oftentimes described as “Donald Trump of Indonesia” (because his most influential idol is Trump, and his presidential aspiration himself).

Second, to have an ethnic Chinese governor running Indonesia’s capital and most populous city less than two decades after deadly anti-Chinese riots is also another breakthrough. During the May 1998 riots that led to the ouster of Suharto’s 32-year authoritarian regime, most of the victims were middle- and lower-income ethnic Chinese whose shops and houses had been looted and burned, or who were themselves killed and brutally tortured. By November 2014, upon Widodo’s inauguration as President, Ahok – then his deputy – succeeded him. His appointment had been greeted by protests among hard-line organizations, but with his approval rating (by the end of 2016) remaining at 68% and with his governorship fairly smooth and stable (despite blasphemy charges), this has been itself a major achievement. All this happened within less than two decades, and to have this attained with minimum hurdles has never been an easy task.

Third, democracy in Indonesia is just barely as perfect as democracy in other countries. Sometimes, democracy is about choosing “a wolf in a sheep’s clothing”, with us oftentimes behaving ignorantly on who the heck that sheep is. And we have seen some of the worst examples of it: slightly above 50% of British voters opted for Brexit (only to search in Google on what on earth European Union is), many American voters went for Donald Trump despite having a relatively high (56%) approval rating of President Barack Obama (although Hillary Clinton secured nearly 3 million more votes than Trump, but thanks to electoral college). With the presidential election taking place in France as of the day I am writing this post, I would be very curious to see whether the far-right Le Pen, inexperienced-but-last-hope Macron, no-job-but-highly-paid Republican Fillon, or the communist, hologram-loving Melenchon would advance to the second round. Democracy, dangerously, can become a tool to elect somebody who may opt to end democracy once and for all. This is the age of political bubble and extreme polarization that we will continue to live in for the remainder of this century, as economic inequality, social media, and technological disruption continue to reshape our lives and how we view and manifest the world in ourselves.

Fourth, ethnic, racial, and religious sentiment is hardly new for this country. Democracy is only less than 20 years old in Indonesia, and like a typical teenager, it is not yet close to mature and emotionally volatile. Candidates in local elections have often touted their religious credentials – or proudly espoused their ethnic identities – as their “major recipe” to get elected to public offices, and not infrequently, this has been used as a tool to weaponize their rivals. People don’t get to change their mindset in a short term; depending on a country’s level of development, the change may either happen, or things will stay flat. This nation still has a long road to go to learn from its past mistakes.

Fifth, and lastly, Ahok still has the remaining 6 months as the governor, before his tenure is over on October this year. I am confident he is able to make achievements within this time period. For any successor – Baswedan notwithstanding – to dismantle his legacies will not be as easy as flipping over a paper.

These are the reasons why I refuse to believe that Ahok’s loss is a defeat for Indonesian democracy. Ironically, it is a dynamic principle of democracy itself: either you gain confidence among voters and they will vote for you, or that you do something wrong and they will vote you out. The irony is that frequent leadership turnovers hardly sustains long-term policy-making, but for better or worse, we are now living in an age of popular vote. Look at elsewhere across the world, and the distress is also there: many people are becoming disillusioned with democracy, political establishment, and all this stuff. Life, after all, has to go on. Moreover, most leaders – in the end – will no longer talk and act like they were as candidates; they would – adhering to the “median-voter theorem” – be hard-pressed to end up in the “center”. They would be pressed to accommodate the interests of all people, even the interests of constituents who had sided with their electoral rivals. The question is whether Anies and Sandi would be able to accommodate the interests of all people in the capital city.

Ashraf Ghani’s struggle

ashraf ghani president

 

He’s widely known as one of Afghanistan’s most intellectual public figures, thanks to his past expertise in assisting the country’s development after decades of exasperating civil wars. The country still looks imperfect, for many security reasons, but at the very least, economy is now very thriving across the region.

Ashraf Ghani once competed for the country’s first presidential election in 2009, but he secured only less than 3% of the total votes. This time, however, he struck back with brutally high outcomes: the 2014 election, which saw him compete one-on-one, intensely, with Abdullah Abdullah, a former Taliban commander, resulted in a months-long political deadlock in one of the world’s poorest countries. Numerous international observers had to be called in to pacify the rivalry among them to avoid any potential conflicts which can hamper this already fragile nation.

And, at last, he’s now officially the new President of Afghanistan. Already inheriting numerous problems from his Western-hostile predecessor, Hamid Karzai, Ghani may have to solve many of them within his tenure, and that won’t be easy.

Let’s just expect he can bring the expertise from his prior experiences in numerous governmental positions to the higher level for the progress of this country.

Read the full article in Foreign Policy.

 

Excerpt:

 

Making Afghanistan self-sufficient is at the top of Ghani’s agenda. “We want to generate one of the biggest construction industries in the region,” he said. “We have enough marble to last the region for 100 years, but we are importing marble from neighboring countries.”

Many of Afghanistan’s problems come down to poor infrastructure. “Urban and rural Afghanistan are totally disconnected. Go to the market. 70 percent of the food is foreign imported, while 40-60 percent of our food rots between the field and the market because we don’t have the system,” Ghani noted. 

Having spent more than a decade as an adviser to the World Bank, Ghani speaks the language of technocrats. (“Transformation and Continuity” sounds more like a working paper than a campaign slogan, for example.) He rolls out his plans meticulously, up to eight bullet points at a time, as if lifting them directly from the 309-page election manifesto.

And he looks to history to find suitable analogies for what he plans to do in Afghanistan. By asserting state control over the economy, he says, Afghanistan can grow like South Korea did in the 1970s and 1980s. To fight extremism, Afghanistan needs closer cooperation with Pakistan, molded on the European Coal and Steel Community, the post-World War II precursor to the European Union. 

Guest Post: In retrospect – Yudhoyono and Indonesia’s scrapped democracy

indonesian democracy

One of the many Twitter pictures trending in Indonesia’s media (Source: http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=901880)

 

By Edward Tanoto

This article is solely of the author’s opinion.

 

It was an intense hour for Indonesia. The bill proposed for regional government election was deliberated by the House of Representatives for approval. At first, it seemed to pose no significant worries for the Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle. They have won the presidential race and the public seems to be ready to hear the good answer on better freedom in electing their local leaders. It was assumed to be a sure drift toward victory, until the Democratic Party decided to announce their 10 requirements of the reformed election system. But when their appeal was not taken seriously by the pro-direct election parliament members, they chose to walk out during the plenary session, sealing the fate. Losing the largest number of voices in the plenary session, the vote had a dramatic overkill of 226 to 135, the larger of which went to the decision to scrap regional leaders’ direct election. It signals a dark hour for democracy in Indonesia.

Immediately in its aftermath, many were quick to criticize the result. An overnight Twitter tag #ShameOnYouSBY gave the president, now in his final year, the global spotlight. 10,000 followers overnight came up to condemn the decision of the legislative. It portrays the Democratic Party as the bad guy and blame its leader, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, for the fiasco. But, is this necessarily fair?

To shed some light, the 10 requirements postulated by the Democratic Party members are:

  1. The running regional candidates must be publicly tested for their integrity and capability
  2. Compulsory assessment on the cost efficiency of a regional election must be adhered to
  3. There must be control and limit of funds expended for the candidate’s campaign
  4. Accountability in the usage of campaign funds is required for each candidate
  5. Campaigning by money and vehicle propaganda is prohibited at all time
  6. Insulting and black propaganda is strictly prohibited
  7. There must be no involvement of the bureaucratic members
  8. No bureaucratic members can be displaced in the event of post-election
  9. Any post-election disputes must be settled
  10. Candidates must avoid violence instigated by their supporting parties’ decisions

(Source – in Bahasa Indonesia: http://news.detik.com/read/2014/09/25/231641/2701657/10/paripurna-kembali-dimulai-f-pd-ngotot-10-syarat-pilkada-langsung-masuk-opsi)

 

gerindra

Edhy Prabowo, a Gerindra member gesturing during the vote on the bill in the House of Representatives. PHOTO: AFP

 

The ignorance of the other parties toward its proposal further infuriated the Democratic Party members so much that they chose to walk out of the plenary session and abstain from voting. However, looking at the points in the proposal, one cannot help but wonder what reason these parties had for ignoring such important points. A new bill requires clear and just rules before being implemented. This is especially so in a young democratic nation like Indonesia, where loopholes in the legislation are readily misused. They need well defined laws and assessments to ensure the bill’s effectiveness. The failure to realize this reflects just how little the parties have learnt from past mistakes.

The oblivion exercised by the other parties may have infuriated the Democratic Party, that in the spur of the moment, they may have decided to walk out of the plenary session. But, this also means giving the sure win to the opponents as the Democratic Party members currently make up the largest share in national parliamentary seats. With a such dramatic loss of supportive voices, it is almost unsurprising for the vote to go in the opposition’s favor. Then, looking at it, the Democratic Party may not be the only one to blame. Other parties should have given more weight to what it is postulating before dismissing it. However, the impulsive decision of the Democratic Party also reflects possible underlying query – does it even wish for the bill to be accepted in the first place? If it truly did, it should have known better than to abstain from the vote. Another possible speculation is that it may be a personal vendetta toward Indonesia Democratic Party – Struggle after years of political rivalries between the two. Should this have clouded their judgment, a more pressing issue will thus be to consolidate relationships between parties. They should endeavor toward healthy competition and not let their past disputes impact their judgment.

However, the lasting impact that this will leave means a major setback to Indonesia’s democracy. The passage of this bill means the same political leaders – remnants from the past authoritarian Suharto’s regime – will still remain political elites rather than the people. It will shift the power back to the higher-ups as people become discouraged from making their opinions heard. It will reopen the trauma of being gripped by powerful conglomerates, and worse, amplify the possibility of political dynasties on a regional level, further dismissing the 16 years’ worth of democratic reforms since 1998. Is this what President Yudhoyono want to leave his office with? If not, then Indonesia will have a long way to go.

All said and done, the final decision will be drafted by the Constitutional Court. Toward that day, Indonesians and pro-democracy leaders must make up their mind on what they truly want out of their country – and how they will achieve it.

 

Edward Tanoto is an Indonesian student currently in his final year at St. Andrew’s Junior College, Singapore.

“Yang Ketu7uh” / “The Seventh One”

 

For those who are still curious about how Indonesia’s 2014 presidential election became a very closely-fought one with one of the world’s highest participation rates (over 75%), you can watch the documentary’s trailer on the video above. As 17 journalists collaborated across the country to record the days leading up to the election, and the result announcement amid tensions and potential for political deadlocks, they recorded the emotions, the responses, and how ordinary people got themselves, directly and indirectly, entangled with democracy. And you can see a huge collective power running the atmosphere.

Infographic: Indonesia’s presidential election

indonesia election

 

Unlike past presidential elections, this time appears very intense, and highly politically active. With only two candidates facing off each other, and with percentage differences now at a low margin, this proves a new test for the country’s maturing, yet still highly vulnerable, hard-won democracy. Many negative issues resurface throughout public discussion, in particular any potential disruption to national stability as the country’s electoral commission will announce its results within two weeks.

Nonetheless, let’s keep praying for a safe and conducive Indonesia to thrive in the next five years, and in the long future to come.

 

Source: Al Jazeera

What failed Mitt Romney?

mitt romney

 

 

The story of how the presidential candidate, despite his decades-old expertise in business consulting and economic analysis, failed the election of 2012 against Barack Obama.

Hint: looking back at your past success was not always a guarantee you could win support among your voters.

Read the full article on Bloomberg Businessweek, originally published in November 2012.

 

Excerpt:

 

By the time Romney left Harvard in 1975, a wave of entrepreneurialism was changing how businesses were run. Large but poorly performing companies, undervalued by a nervous market, saddled with expansive bureaucracies and expensive labor issues, struggled to compete, and became easy targets for mergers and consolidations. Panicked executives turned to firms like BCG for answers, and Wall Street opened up to new kinds of people.

“It was a time of great foment and thinking about strategy,” says William Sahlman, a classmate of Romney’s and now a Harvard Business School professor. “American business hadn’t really had to compete for a long period of time. That whole period was the origin of the shift in the economy toward knowledge workers and gave rise to a meritocracy where anybody who was really smart could get a job and do well.”

Romney had plenty of connections to the old pedigreed world. But his acumen, more than anything else, brought him success in the new one. Working with CEOs, strategic consultants guided businesses through corporate successions and transitions, focusing them on doing a few core things well. If a company was underperforming, a good consultant could figure out why and advise on which divisions to shed. If a new product was under consideration, he—and it was then almost entirely men—could study the market and the competition to determine how, when, and where to launch it.

To an almost unimaginable degree, given their age and experience, consultants still in their twenties and thirties reset the course of major American businesses (including Chrysler), helping many CEOs twice their age survive by forcing them to confront the realities of a new marketplace. A colleague of Romney’s from this period, seeking to convey the challenge consultants faced, says that Chrysler executives firmly believed people would continue to buy Chryslers because they had always bought Chryslers. Consultants found that this was a common tendency among executives: the belief that past success was a strategy for the future. Romney shone as someone possessed of both the analytical ability to find the right answer and a presence that inspired trust in more experienced executives.

Analyzing Gita Wirjawan

Gita Wirjawan - World Economic Forum on East Asia 2010

 

 

Gita Irawan Wirjawan, as his full name sounds, has nearly everything you may deem damn perfect: educated in Harvard, well-experienced in international banking giants (JP Morgan Indonesia and Goldman Sachs being his notable ones), speaks greatly, and fluently, native English (he claims his TOEFL paper-based test scores were 650), becomes a highly successful entrepreneur who predicted the 2008 financial crisis (he established Ancora Group as an anticipation to the recession by buying out shares in companies he believes will be impacted by the crisis), and contributes significantly to the massive increase of foreign direct investment in Indonesia. And, well, he’s also immensely talented in badminton and music, and develops huge connections worldwide, which easily enable him to lobby world leaders to advance Indonesia’s economic agenda on a global scale.

C’est parfait, n’est pas?

Well, I guess we have to balance the pros and cons of everybody. Not that he’s a God-like prowess, though.

We have to acknowledge that without him, Indonesia’s investment climate would have never been this bustling, despite all the commotion and rambunctiousness taking place around our country. Nevertheless, just as everybody does, he also has his Achilles’ heel: he’s no good in handling kitchen stuff.

Serving as Minister of Trade, he has – several other ministers are also actually to blame – indirectly contributed to the massive increase of garlic prices, and of other commodities altogether, that millions of people must tighten up their expenditure, at great pains, to afford the amenities. Should we deny the facts? Nationwide, television news reports – despite their oftentimes politically distorted views – displayed to us, with all the double-digit, and to a lesser extent, triple-digit, increase in percentage of the prices of commodities, only to be solved, in short term, by allowing unlimited imports from neighboring countries like India.

This scenario takes place in a totally tropical country where garlic should have grown damn easy.

Okay, forgive his mistake, though: he owns numerous philanthropic foundations, all of which aggregated under Ancora Foundation, which award scholarship for visionary, like-minded, and ambitious graduate students to world-class universities like Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, Sciences Po, Stanford, or Singapore’s beloved NTU. Now taking lead, also, as president of Indonesia’s badminton association, he has groomed many successful players, and he’s now ready to prepare locally-trained world-class golfers, using his personal wealth. Must be a good brief entertainment at times where commodity prices run high, eh?

And now he’s a presidential nominee for upcoming election in 2014. His vision: a technocrat-driven government. This is one I particularly very endorse. About our current leader? Without mentioning his name (you know what I mean), he’s been too much consensus-driven. Other political parties are claiming a bigger stake in governance, for the parties’ own sake. Were he elected, could he endorse technocrats to take seats in the state apparatus? This country, now with all its golden opportunities, should have been led by a government based on meritocracy, not one solely dependent on uneasy coalition.

Okay, let’s forgive our current president for the mistakes he made regarding the cabinet structure, which derives mainly from proportion of political parties included in his coalition; maybe this was his Hobson’s choice, given the relatively fragile political situation at that time. Now, with GDP surpassing 1 trillion US$, with more than 100 million people now entering middle-class status, Indonesia should have been ready to embrace for a merit-based regime. Where a ministerial seat should have been occupied by one really well-experienced in that field, not a leader of a certain political party showing superficial loyalty to the president.

Gita Wirjawan has a bonus for that. He only lacks another finesse, though: most of those who have heard his name are solely based on major cities. And those living on countryside? I doubt if many of them are well acquainted with him.

Will you support him on upcoming election? You decide.

 

Read his profile in Wikipedia.

Listen to his interview on Wharton School of University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), back in 2010, when he was serving Head of Indonesia’s Investment Coordinating Board, the one tasked with persuading foreign businesses to invest in the country.

And this is his main vision as a presidential hopeful. Read it at The Jakarta Globe.

Indonesia’s petite dynasties

political-map-of-Indonesia

 

With the subsequent arrest of Banten’s long-ruling and ill-conceived governor, Ratu Atut Chosiyah, the democracy in Indonesia is brought to another spotlight: it has, under the pretext of seeding ‘majority-elected’ leaders, also indirectly spurred a new, massive growth in political dynasties, owning potentate-like power either in first-level administrative divisions (provinces, or as in Indonesian, provinsi), or the second-level counterparts (regencies, or as in Indonesian, kabupaten), or even municipalities (politically termed as kotamadya). To make things more complicating, it has now fueled a new string of addle-pated problems the central government finds it increasingly hard to solve, given the massive connection they obtain within political parties, mostly in coalition with current regime, that they have strongly built from grassroots to national levels.

Tempo and The Jakarta Post report the latest situation.

And here are some of the websites, as found on Google, which provide some of the lists (only in Bahasa Indonesia):

Indonesian Company News

Harian Merdeka

Harian Merdeka (2)

Academia.edu (for English-language articles)

 

Empire of the sinking sun

abe

Japan was what once made the whole world awe-struck at its success: in no more than five decades after the devastating aftermath the entire nation had to endure following the Second World War (excluding the two atomic bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the amplifying by-products), the country again made its own conquest on a global scope, this time from its economic clouts. It became the world’s leading steel producer by the end of 1960s, dominated the planet’s automobile industry in 1970s, made bulk of the world’s children and teenagers addicted to its electronic products and game consoles in 1980s, and pioneered high-tech industries in 1990s. United States was once even apprehensive of its overwhelming influence – Japan had the world’s second largest GDP by the end of 1980s – that it repeatedly attempted to halt its growth through various trade barriers it is now applying to today’s potential superpower, China.

But that used to be a pastime story.

Entering the 21st century, Japan gradually lost its vigor it used to aggressively nurture. One-fourth of its 130-million population is already aged up to 60. Birth rates stagnate, while death rates increase. Social security funds ended up protuberant, and tax revenues congealed, as its working-age population steadily dropped. The country is further exacerbated by its debt-to-GDP ratio, one of the world’s highest in terms of percentage. As of 2013, the percentage has dramatically increased to nearly 230%, equivalent to nearly 10 trillion US$. Most of the debts are, in fact, not foreign-based; they are debts owed to the country’s major corporations in overlapping patterns. Deflation, on the other hand, has notoriously pushed down overall prices in Japan for nearly 2 decades. Experts have even warned that unless aggressive steps are taken, Japan’s debt percentage may, in the worst-case scenario, soar beyond 300%, forcing the country, once proud of its impressive economic feats and near-total efficiency, to declare ‘default’.

Out of the blue, in December 2012, the country once again gained its rare momentum when Shinzo Abe was sworn in as Prime Minister for the second time (firstly in 2006, but resigned immediately in 2007 after political scandals engulfed some of his ministers). Abe, known for his aggressive nationalist stance, boldly launched his own economic experiment now known as ‘Abenomics’: a string of economic policies which pushes the government to jack up public spending on ‘unlimited’ level to push out inflation, mainly through infrastructure projects either inside or outside Japan. He even took it to a further level after the appointment of Haruhiko Kuroda, ex-president of Asian Development Bank (ADB), as governor of the country’s central bank. In no more than two days, Kuroda took a courageous, yet perilous, step: he allowed unlimited quantitative easing in order to achieve 2% inflation. Momentarily, Abenomics resulted in great success: the country scored a 4% economic growth and steadily increasing industrial output last quarter, the first time ever achieved in the last 20 years or so.

Nevertheless, the experiment carries its own double-edged sword: in case it fails to achieve economic growth, the country’s already deteriorating debt ratio may spiral out of control, and worse, it may be forced to declare bankruptcy, and in the worst case, the whole world’s economy may be severely affected by possible depressions that follow after.

That is not the only problem Abe now faces.

His political idealism, reminiscent of pre-World War II ultra-nationalist sentiment, has greatly angered its Asian neighbors, notably China and South Korea, and even United States. Ever since his appointment, one of Abe’s utmost priorities was to possibly revise its 1947 constitution, a dangerous blow to the already deteriorating relationship between Japan and its neighbors. Abe, meanwhile, also stresses out the urgency of strengthening the country’s already stagnating armaments (after the Second World War, Japan does not have any army; indeed, as an alternative, they form their own ‘Self-Defense Forces’), and possibly, to again take hold of its right to ‘declare war’.

For this moment, Abe may now enjoy the overwhelming support he garners from the majority of the nation for his populism, but in the future, everything is getting up more uncertain. While Japanese companies do not expect that his ideology may severely devastate the country’s festering relations with its Asian neighbors, his nationalist sentiment may instead trigger a larger sense among the country’s youth, most of whom have never been told about the truth regarding what the regime had ever conducted throughout the past war.

And this is a difficult choice.

Foreign Policy has a series of articles, from as early as December 2012, specially reporting about Japan in the time of Shinzo Abe’s leadership.

1. Japan’s Own Worst Enemy? – this article questions Abe’s right-wing politics and its implication to the entire nation.

2. The Wild Card – Abe’s ambitious, and also highly risky, attempt to revise the constitution and possibly replace it with a more radical version.

3. The Land of the Sinking Sun – the uneasy towing in Japan’s military, and its implication to both Asia and United States.

4. Saying UnSorry – Abe’s reluctance in apologizing for the country’s military crimes throughout Second World War.

5. Tokyo Hawks – this article was published shortly before Abe won the parliamentary election.