OPINION: An open letter to Uncle Obama

Guest Commentary


Dear Mr. President:

As your nephew, I know we share a common belief and commitment to advancing the cause of freedom, economic prosperity, human dignity and democracy around the world. I write this open letter to urge you to remain steadfast in that commitment and support the upcoming elections in Indonesia. 

The 2014 legislative and presidential elections will be the most important in our country’s history. We must ensure they are free, fair, credible and peaceful to consolidate the democratic gains we have made since our transition to representative government just over 15 years ago. To do so, we need the help of U.S. and international monitors to ensure a fair and equal vote for all. 


On behalf of all Indonesians, I urge you, your administration and the U.S. Congress to support our electoral process by sending organizations such as the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the International Foundation for Electoral Systems and the Carter Center to observe and monitor these critical elections. 

In 2004, Indonesia held its first direct presidential elections and they were widely viewed as free and fair by international observers. However, in 2009 the presidential vote was plagued by incorrect voter registration information, lack of polling staff training, last-minute abandonment of the automated counting system over concerns of corruption, and various pockets of violence and intimidation. We cannot afford the same problems in the 2014 cycle.  

Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world and a promising beacon of democracy. We have approximately 180 million registered voters, 12 national parties and more than 500,000 polling stations across 17,000 islands that make up the Indonesia archipelago. This represents a tremendous logistical challenge for any country — and most certainly for a nation only conducting its fourth national elections since its 1998 transition to democracy. Additionally, these elections will be the most highly contested in our history, with several competitive presidential candidates now entering the race. The logistical challenges along with the highly competitive atmosphere create an environment ripe for manipulation and fraud. Unfortunately, corruption remains rampant in our government institutions, which also lack the resources and training to conduct or adequately monitor polling operations around the country. 

Indonesia needs international attention and support to guarantee free and fair elections. American and international nongovernmental organizations have vast experience providing training, technical support and expertise in elections all over the world. This support is crucial to ensuring a fair vote in Indonesia. However, the current government is placing extraordinary restrictions on these international institutions, making it virtually impossible for them to officially support, monitor or observe the upcoming polls. Without an invitation, or at least permission, from the Indonesian government, the international organizations will be barred from Indonesia.

Indonesia and the United States share many of the same values and principles, as I am sure you are well aware given the time you spent here in Jakarta during your childhood. We are a proud multi-ethnic, multi-faith society committed to freedom and opportunity for all. As a nation, we have all followed with great pride your rise from modest beginnings all the way to the White House. If fact, you inspired me to run for a seat in Indonesia’s parliament. 

Mr. President, free and fair elections are in the best interest of the United States and are crucial for the future of democracy. Indonesia is the most populous Muslim-majority nation in the world. Despite our deep belief in ethnic and religious acceptance, increasing religious intolerance and violence proves Islamic extremism is on the rise throughout the country. International terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda, as well as domestic fundamentalist groups, have in recent years been increasingly engaged in political activism. They use hate, violence and intolerance to intimidate voters at all levels of the electoral process, which threatens our most fundamental values and principles. Free and fair elections represent our best defense against this cancerous ideology and will ensure government legitimacy in the eyes of the people. Legitimacy of leadership born out of successful elections will prevent any civil unrest and allow for political and economic cooperation with our neighbors and the broader international community.   

Economically, Indonesia has performed well since transitioning to a representative form of government. Our economy is projected to rise from the 16th largest in the world to the 7th by 2030. Indonesians want to embrace the international economic system and be a productive economic leader in Southeast Asia and beyond. Indonesians also want to play a constructive role and be a political and economic partner to the U.S. as you continue to implement your policy “pivot” to the Asia region. However, income inequality, poor healthcare, and even widespread hunger and malnutrition remain enormous challenges to our society. Only the broad-based economic opportunity provided by legitimate leadership committed and accountable to upholding human dignity, justice as well as democratic and free market principles will enable upward mobility and opportunity for all Indonesians. Without free and fair elections and a legitimate government, Indonesia’s economic viability will be in jeopardy and many believe we could fall into “failed state” status. 

The stakes for free, fair, credible and peaceful elections in Indonesia could not be higher. The environment for manipulation and fraud is ripe. We need the support of international election monitors but the current Indonesian government is standing in the way. 

Mr. President, I urge you to stand with us in Indonesia. Call on the Indonesian government to allow international elections support and monitoring missions. Send American democracy organizations to help us conduct these elections. Together we can advance the cause of freedom and democracy in Indonesia and beyond. 


Raditya Putra Pratama is a candidate for parliament in the Bogor district of Indonesia. He is running as a member of the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), led by Prabowo Subianto Djojohadikusumo, and is a relative of President Obama.

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