Indonesia’s transition from authoritarianism has been described as democracy’s greatest gain since 1989 and the country has emerged as a key actor in promoting good governance and human rights in Asia. But is democracy regressing in the world’s most important, least known country?
Nearly 14 years after abandoning its authoritarian government, Indonesia may claim to have a functioning democracy; Endy Bayuni writes. But there are also grounds for arguing that Indonesia is now veering towards a dysfunctional democracy, one where populism and the rule of the majority have increasingly overpowered rational and moral arguments for more responsible government.
The government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono suffered a heavy political defeat this month when its plan to raise fuel prices was rejected, not only by a vote in the House of Representatives, but also under pressure from massive street protests. ….This defeat could effectively turn Yudhoyono — who is half-way through his second and constitutionally last term – into a lame duck president for the next two years.
Reports of corruption within Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party, and his failure to fire those involved, have some people wondering whether the president — the man who won the 2004 and 2009 elections on anti-corruption platforms — still has the moral authority to lead.
More troubling for Indonesia’s nascent democracy is the message sent with this government defeat: If you can’t win your case through a civil debate in the House, mobilize the people in the streets to wage your fight for you. And don’t forget to make ample use of the catchphrase “on behalf of the people.” What we saw in the streets just now was not so much “people power” as it was “mob power.” Indonesians will have to brace themselves for an even noisier democracy in the coming years.