If you asked this question “Is Indonesia a democracy?” to Indonesians, chances are you would get mixed responses. People’s responses would likely depend on ‘when’ you asked the question. The beginning of president Yodhoyono’s second term might be one of the periods when Indonesians were pretty much confident that they were in the right direction towards becoming a democratic country. SBY won the 2009 election by over 60% of the vote. It was a clear victory. The term ‘lanjutkan!’ or ‘continue!’ was very popular highlighting Indonesians’ great hopes to ensure that the progress that SBY had achieved in the first term of his presidency to be continued and that democracy in Indonesia continued to mature. Famously quoted by media, Hillary Clinton during her 2009 visit to Indonesia said “If you want to know if Islam, democracy, modernity and women’s rights can coexist, go to Indonesia.” Indonesia has gained more popularity becoming a model of democracy and an Islamic modern society.
How about now?
In 2010, James Haire, a professor with Charles Sturt University of Australia, said Indonesia has made significant progress in democracy in such a short time, but warned that that violence against religious minorities in recent years had tainted the country’s democratic image (The Jakarta Post 19/08/2010). Whilst at that time, violence against minorities has already become an issue, many view that the Indonesian government has not done sufficient preventive measures to stop the violence from happening again.
On the other hand, as suggested by Professor Tim Lindsey of University of Melbourne (Sydney Morning Herald, 6/9/2011):
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono agrees, eager to sell Indonesia’s ”democratic Islam” brand as the United States looks for regional counterbalances to China. Indonesia’s success in breaking Jemaah Islamiah with the open trials of hundreds of terrorists makes it all the more attractive to the West.
This move might be rational in terms of gaining support from the international forum. After the 9/11 tragedy and the issuance of former president Bush’s strong statement “You’re either with us or against us”, most countries including Indonesia have been involved and more or less become the US’ allies in the war of terrorism.
However, with recent polls highlighting SBY’s decreasing popularity, the direction of democracy does not seem to be led by the president himself anymore.
Prof Lindsey in his opinion piece marked a recent visit by former finance minister and now the World Bank’s Managing Director Sri Mulyani as a reminder that Indonesia’s remarkable democratic transition after the fall of Soeharto is showing signs of wear and tear. He highlighted three aspects in which Indonesia are still struggling with: anti-corruption efforts, religious freedom and human rights.
Indonesia is going to run the next election in 2014. Only one thing we can be (almost 100%) sure is that SBY will not be the next president (unless the House suddenly ‘change’ their mind and revise the two terms limit of presidency). It is fair to say that whilst maintaining positive economic growth and poverty and income inequality reduction are still some of the Indonesian government’s biggest challenges, those three aspects mentioned by Prof Lindsey deserve more attention from whoever will run for presidential candidature.
In this process, media and young people as well as academia, researchers, business communities have equal responsibilities to ensure the election not only the presidential one but also at the local level transparent and democratic.
What is worrying though is the popularity of ‘the incumbent’s wife’ at the grassroot levels of becoming the next leader. It has been proved to be a succesful strategy in many elections of the district heads across Indonesia. Only time can tell whether such a strategy will work at the presidential election. In that case, there will be a battle between Ibu Ani versus Sri MulyAni.