While Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull seem to have developed a very good working relationship (some have called it a “batik bromance”) relations between the people of the two neighboring countries remain… complicated. Indonesians generally have very positive perceptions of Australia, many Australians’ experience with Indonesia begin and end with the ‘holiday island’ of Bali (and media coverage about what happens to Australians in Bali), which may be why many Aussies have negative perceptions about the archipelago.
The recently released results of The Lowy Institute Poll 2018, produced by the esteemed Sydney-based international policy think tank, seem to show that Australians’ perceptions of Indonesia as a democratic country continue to decline, while their concerns about Indonesia as a source of terrorism are significant.
When asked about the statement, “Indonesia is a democracy,” only 24% of respondents agreed, while 50% disagreed and 26% were unsure or did not answer.
The percentage of those who agreed dropped from 27% in last year’s poll and is a full 10% below the 2015 poll result, which was held one year after the 2014 election of President Jokowi.
For last year’s poll, some analysts pointed to the 2017 Jakarta governor’s race and the Islamist-led protest movement against former governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama as causing the precipitous drop in democratic perceptions about Indonesia. The outcry over the 2015 execution of two Australians on drug smuggling charges in Indonesia also likely remains a source of negative perceptions.
This year’s poll also suggests that many Australians still perceive Indonesia as a dangerous country in terms of terrorism. About the statement, “Indonesia is a dangerous source of Islamic Terrorism”, 44% of respondents agreed and 44% disagree. On the statement, “The Indonesian government has worked hard to fight terrorism,” 32% agreed and 41% disagreed.
It should be noted that the survey was conducted in March of this year, well before the deadly terrorist attacks that took place in Surabaya and Riau this May, which would likely have a seriously negative impact on those numbers (as well as on the number of Australian tourists choosing to holiday in Indonesia).
The only relatively bright spot among the survey results is that a majority of Australians still seem to think of Indonesia as an important economy to Australia, with 58% agreeing with that statement (although that number is also down from 65% in 2013).
The Lowy Institute Poll also tracks Australian perceptions about other countries throughout the world and while the “Down Under” view of Indonesia may be eroding, it’s nothing compared to the precipitous drop in perceptions about the USA under President Donald Trump. You can see the full results of the survey and their methodology here.