''Indonesia's Democracy Is In Peril. But Few Are Watching''

Jokowi,RizalRamli

Tokoh nasional Rizal Ramli

       

By: Dr. Rizal Ramli 
 
Joko Widodo, a former mayor of the Javanese city of Solo and governor of Jakarta who started out in his professional life as a successful entrepreneur in the furniture business, was barely known to Indonesians when he qualified to run in the 2014 presidential election.  Yet voters quickly took a liking to him: his down-to earth personality, reserved demeanor and reputation as a clean politician were qualities that made him the winning candidate. 
 
Six years later and one year into his second and final five-year term in office, Indonesians are still enamored with their president and he continues to rank high in popularity polls. 
 
Yet there is another story behind the Jokowi presidency, one that most outsiders have failed to notice and entails a considerable downside to his stewardship.  
 
On the negative side of Jokowi's stay in office is that in spite of the president's best intentions, Indonesia's democracy has been severely undermined.  Corruption has spiraled out of control.  In the midst of the pandemic, Indonesians have become increasingly desperate as the money promised them under a social assistance program has, for many, failed to arrive.  Most Indonesians, although they sing the praises of Jokowi, are becoming increasingly critical of his administration.  
 
As a former minister in Jokowi's cabinet, I had a first hand glimpse of his presidency, its strengths and its shortcomings.  Yes, the president is a good man.  For all the time I worked closely with Jokowi, I neither saw him nor heard any palace rumors that he was acting in bad faith.  
 
Yet a president's stay in office is not and should not be judged by his character alone.  It must also be judged by his capacity for leadership and the people who work for him.  On this score, it must be understood there are men and women within the president's inner circle who do not have the national interest in mind.  Many of these people are corrupt on such a scale that one is reminded of the pervasive corruption that defined the Soeharto era. And these same people, who have no respect for democracy, are also the main actors and the ones responsible for our country's democratic backsliding. 
 
When thinking about the state of Indonesia's democracy, one should refer to The Economist's annual Democracy Index.  In 2017 alone, Indonesia recorded the largest decline in its ranking out of all the countries surveyed, dropping twenty places.  In fact, Indonesia's democracy has been in decline since 2015, which is when Jokowi first took power. 
 
The latest index, published last year, puts Indonesia in 64th place out of the 167 countries surveyed.  For a democracy that was once the darling of Asia and praised as a success story, it is sobering to realize that Indonesia today is considered a flawed democracy and languishes far below its peers such as Malaysia, which ranks 43rd in the world. 
 
Anybody who watches Indonesia closely should understand the constant undermining of Indonesia's democracy that has been happening under Jokowi's watch:  civil liberties have been severely curtailed through laws that make it easy for the government to detain and imprison its critics; the local press has become less of a voice of independent and critical reporting than a mouthpiece for the government; and the judiciary has become increasingly less independent and more of a tool of the elite establishment. 
 

       

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