Friday, May 15, 2009

The Surge of Indonesia's Democracy

photo by Danu Primanto

A vast number of criticisms deluge this year's election, many of which are pointed especially to the dissapointing general election commission (KPU), the antagonist in the show that is thought to be responsible of all of these legislative election's clutters.

But there are always two sides of the same coin: apart from all of the negatives, many citizens in other side of the world praise Indonesia for its democracy and capability to arrange a peaceful direct election which becomes a role model for their countries.

The truth is; people who deem the election as a massive failure merely see one side of the coin, since the full-throttle democracy that has been established from Indonesia’s election is definitely something to be commended and recognized.

As we have successfully held our first direct parliamentary election and prepare for our second direct presidential election, it is so appealing to see how the dev elopment of our country has turned out to be. Indonesia was beaten hard by financial crisis in 1998 that toppled Soeharto from his 32-year reign, and it has been dealing with tough times since.

The transition of power did run smoothly, but Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, Indonesia’s president who presided over back then, bumped into massive quandaries –especially from the economy, which was particularly shown by yearly inflation that rose more than 100% and the tenfold depreciation of Rupiah to the level of Rp. 18,000 per US$ at that time.

A huge burden in economy is not the only thing we inherit from Soeharto’s reign. Besides, Indonesians came into a legacy of an oppressive government, a not-so-democratic culture stemmed from his hobby of repressing every political opposition which he considered as threat to his power.

Yes, perhaps many remember Indonesia because of the incredible transition of its economy; from a battered nation whose economy was mired in a prolonged suffering because of the 1998 financial crisis, to one of Asia’s booming economies that recorded 5.5% yearly economic growth over the past five years.

But the real success story of this country is more about how it impressively paved its own way towards a fully democratic nation and held an election that became a role model for every country in the world.

Indonesia’s democracy is a remarkable success story since it happens in a country whose voices have been confined for 32 years and a place where democracy was long overdue. In the past, Indonesians were not able to decide their own fate and political dissent was considered impossible, simply impracticable.

Participation in politics was very limited back in Soeharto’s dictatorship reign, and people were left with no options but supporting Soeharto and Golkar, a party that backed his power.

General election was considered a courtesy –and when it was eventually held, the outcome could be predicted even before the count had started as Soeharto and Golkar would surely come out victorious in the end of the election.

However, those days have long gone and now other countries can only envy us as the flourished democracy marks a success portrayal of Indonesia’s system reformation.

In fact, democracy is just a reverie for Burma citizens who have been suffering in prolonged tyrannical tribulations, people in Thailand are still daunted by the transition of power’s upheaval, and Malaysia politics is caught up in a racial separation –while its neighbors are still strained with such problems, Indonesia strides forward as the world’s example of democracy by arranging a peaceful election that involves more than 30 parties and 100 million people.

In a life of a still adolescent country like Indonesia, successfully carrying out democracy should be deemed as accomplishment instead of letdown. Yet despite all the flaws in our recent election, Indonesia has learned to put democracy into practice, and that’s an achievement we should be proud of for a nation that spends only 11 years since its regime reformation.

While most of our people denounce the previous legislative election’s imperfections, people in Burma and North Korea look us with jealous eyes, “Choosing representatives in government and a president directly? Be grateful Indonesians, we are not lucky enough to possess such rights.”

When you were young you did make mistakes, yet people would consider it as normal since it was a course of your development. Our election may have several imperfections, but as this young nation matures in the future and we look back in our past, we will learn that a success story can not be reached without failings beforehand.

For Indonesia, a nation-in-transition which is still seeking for ways toward a prosperous future, learning to practice democracy is a good start –and successfully arranging a peaceful and fully democratic election should be a keystone for better future to come.

In his book, US veep Joe Biden wrote; it required a lot less energy, intelligence, and competence to run against government than to try to make government work. He was not mistaken; here we have 38 parties and 100 million voters, and for KPU and the government, putting democracy into practice and making our general election system really works are hard tasks indeed. Therefore, it is easier to simply criticize it and unveil its flaws, right?

This article was published in The Jakarta Post on Thursday, May 14 2009 and Malaysia Today (outsourced from TJP) on Friday, May 15 2009

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