Wednesday, May 21, 2008
  Ten years of democratisation?

With the fall of Sukarno, Indonesia has won a second chance. Not all countries get that opportunity. Now the challenge for both Indonesians and their friends is to see that it is not squandered like the first.
- John Hughes. The End of Sukarno. pub Archipelago Press. 1967/2002

Forty years later, the same could be said for the end of Suharto, which happened ten years ago today, except it is now time to ask whether the third chance is being squandered.

My instant reaction is, yes, it is. The seeming lack of development of the infrastructure and/or deterioration is the most obvious sign, with nigh on 50% of the population lacking electricity, 40% reputedly living below the poverty line, school buildings collapsing within sight of multi-storey shopping malls, and evidence of widespread corruption among legislators and bureaucrats of all levels.

A trawl through the Jakartass archives may suggest that it is a litany of complaints, but that is because I'm still, after more than 20 years, trying to make sense of it all. Besides, if everything were hunky-dory, then who would want to read about sugar-coated cuteness and celebrities?


The cult of selebritis, whilst not being unique to Indonesia, is a cover-up for the vacuum that exists in many people's lives. Struggling for survival does not allow much time for individual initiative and self-esteem, so gazing at the navels of dangdut stars is a simple pleasure for many of the masses.

In most parts of Indonesia, you can see umpteen folk seemingly 'hanging out'. As documented by Bambang Aroengbinang, there are some 40 million living on less than $2 a day, yet most are somehow scratching a living. They may be peddling peanuts to motorists stuck in the traffic jams on the toll roads, busking on the buses, scavenging for scraps, but they outnumber the beggars.

My heading is taken from a special edition of Inside Indonesia, an online magazine well worth subscribing to, if only because although its articles are easily digested, they are written by academics and researchers with a broader bandwidth and greater networking power than me.

All the articles point to the emergence of political parties, direct elections and the notion that since reformasi in 1998 people have power.

Indo Demo

How much power is debatable given that there are very few political parties which do not have ties to the old Suhartoist New Order, including the military - (scroll through the comments for 'Sarwo Edhie').

Yet, as we 'celebrate' 10 years of someone, anyone, other than Suharto at the helm, we are witnessing the emergence of an Islamic-based party, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) which is finally challenging the hierarchical hegemony of the still-entrenched forces of before, having won the gubernatorial elections in West Java and North Sumatra, admittedly on a low turnout of electors. Their candidates were not immediately associated with the past and were successful because they developed their grassroots appeal, much of it through community networks based on local mosques.

For a secular westerner, such as myself, it is worrying to see parties base their political and social platforms on a particular interpretation of their religion. Some ruling parties, in such places as Tangerang, west of Jakarta, and Padang in West Sumatra have imposed rules on non-adherents. These are generally discriminatory against women, and the electoral victors are generally in favour of polygamy. Tangerang, for example, has a curfew - for women only, and West Sumatra has an imposed Islamic dress code. In the latter case, this is particularly perverse as Padang is the provincial capital of the Minang culture, a matrilineal society.

God, or rather the differing interpretations of Her powers, has led to flurries of communal strife: in Maluku, Central Sulawesi and here in Jakarta, it has been ostensibly between Muslims and Christians. Elsewhere Muslims have battled Muslims and some have randomly targetted anyone within range of their explosives.

It is going to take a generation for a people's democracy to become healthily rooted. What we are witnessing now is largely camouflage, a curtain-raiser.

As Vedi R. Hadiz suggested in her article What you see is what you get, the types of social interests that have come to preside over Indonesia’s democratic institutions remain largely those that were nurtured during the New Order. These social interests have now reorganised and reinvented themselves as ‘democrats’.

Predominant in virtually all the institutions of governance today, many former New Order officials and hangers-on found that authoritarianism was no longer required for that purpose. This was possible because of the absence of coherent, genuinely reformist social coalitions that could take advantage of the state of flux that existed immediately after Suharto’s resignation in May 1998.

Of course, this partly accounts for the continued and more widely-spread bad habits of corruption, collusion and nepotism which are regularly reported in the press, and therein perhaps lies the country's salvation. Apart from some high profile legislators being caught, hands outstretched, with 'prominent' businessfolk, we are also now witnessing police, prosecutors and bureaucrats being questioned as either witnesses or official suspects by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).

The recent detention of the Bank Indonesia Governor, Burhanuddin Abdullah, in connection with the misappropriation of $11 million from the bank has got many parliamentarians worried as they were the reputed recipients of the funds.

Cleaning up the institutions of state management - the tax, immigration, police, judiciary, local government etc. - and making bureaucratic procedures open and transparent is the key to reformasi. Once those who have been acting with an arrogant sense of impunity start losing their immunity from prosecution, then society can strengthen communal ties.

It has taken a rock group, Slank, Indonesia's most popular band, to further crack the edifice when they recently played their latest release, Street Gossip, outside the offices of KPK found new fans.

"Want to know the mafia in Senayan/Who draw up laws, draft bills for bucks?"

Certain parliamentarians, based in Senayan, threatened to sue the group for defamation, a notion hastily rejected when one of their number was caught red-handed in a Jakarta hotel accepting a bribe. Other MPs, including some from the prominent anti-graft party, PKS, recent winners of gubernatorial elections, have handed back $A120,000, hopefully recognising the shame and embarrassment they have caused, both to themselves and to the society they purportedly represent.

This week Indonesia celebrates its past, almost as if there were no tomorrow.

Well, there won't be unless Indonesians, and foreign investors, recognise that Indonesia's natural resources cannot be selfishly exploited any more. They are a finite repository of all that their Gods have created. Indonesia belongs to a much wider world.

It is the failure to recognise this that is my main concern, and it is this that is the main impediment to the growth of a flourishing democracy, one that recognises that our differences are the key to unity.

Although it was the Memorandum of Understanding signed on 15th August 2005 between the Government of Indonesia (GoI) and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) which paved the way for direct elections and a guaranteed degree of autonomy, that finally ended 30 years of guerrilla warfare, it was the 2004 tsunami which was immediately responsible for the cessation of hostilities.

It may, therefore, take another catastrophe for Indonesia, a tectonic shift maybe, to undergo the necessary major societal surgery which will ensure its survival as a unified country recognised as a mature member of the world's community.


5:30 am
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