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The election capital of the world

By Julie Bishop - posted Thursday, 10 May 2012


One of the most important tasks for an Australian government is to build and maintain a strong relationship with the government of Indonesia.

It is a responsibility that transcends the domestic politics of both nations and is based on many years of hard work by politicians and officials from across the political spectrum in Australia and in Indonesia.

The relationship at the official level has depth and breadth.

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However, the relationship appears nowhere near as close across the broader populations, with President Yudhoyono recently lamenting the relatively low level of knowledge of Australia among most Indonesians and vice versa.

During my recent visit to Indonesia among the many topics for discussion were ideas for building greater understanding between the two nations.

I held a number of very constructive meetings with a range of officials including Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa and former Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda.

It was agreed that one of the best ways to build understanding is to promote student exchange, and while significant numbers of young Indonesians have spent time studying in Australia there is a need to encourage more Australians to study at Indonesian universities and other educational institutions.

One of the great changes within Indonesia in recent years that may not be appreciated by many Australians is the enthusiastic embrace of democracy that has occurred since the resignation of former military ruler President Suharto in 1998.

Over the past decade or more the frequency of elections in Indonesia has increased to the point where Indonesians have voted in literally hundreds of elections at the national, provincial and local level in recent years.

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The World Bank recently dubbed Indonesia the "election capital of the world".

Presidential elections are among the biggest single-day events in the world with tens of thousands of polling booths and over 120 million people casting a vote.

Australians should appreciate the emergence of a strong, democratic and outward-looking Indonesia.

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About the Author

Julie Bishop is the Federal Member for Curtin, Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs.

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