It's Not Enough for Democracy to Succeed

Elections will be coming to Indonesia in a few weeks, greeted with anxiety by some and as a part of a necessary transition by others. A longtime scholar on Indonesia, APARC's %people1% recently shared his views in an interview about the country's struggle toward reform.

Question: Politicians, experts and the public differ on how they view Indonesia's achievements in the reform process. Your comment? Answer: Most prominent have been the political reforms: Four constitutional amendments, decentralization, laws on elections, and so on. But how will these work out in practice? That is still unclear. Economic reforms, by comparison, have lagged. And what about corruption? Perhaps the least progress has been made on that front. What are key areas that governments after Soeharto have yet to deal with in the transition process? One could make a list. But another response would be to note the gap between the laws already on the books and their implementation. It will not be easy. But doing so will be crucial for success in the transition process. How would the results of next year's elections affect the process of reform? Optimistically, one can picture a healthy concentration of legitimacy at the top of the system, enabling decisive remedial policies. Pessimistically, one can picture a struggle between a popularly mandated presidency and a popularly mandated legislature to the detriment of effective policies. I slant toward optimism. I doubt that the next president and the next DPR (legislature) will be eager to repeat the circumstances in which president Abdurrahman Wahid was removed from office. Whatever happens, 2004 will be a "Year of Voting Frequently" -- at least two elections (April, July) and possibly three (if a second-round presidential vote in September becomes necessary). Let's hope for the best. What are the basic conditions for Indonesia to succeed with reform and to bring the country of 220 million people out of the current crises? When I was in Jakarta in August, the answer I heard most often from Indonesians was: Leadership. Could there be a whiff of nostalgia for Soeharto's leadership in that response? Among the multiple conditions for success in overcoming the current difficulties, one of the most important will be the actual performance of democratically chosen governments, including the one scheduled to emerge from next year's elections. It is, unfortunately, possible that democracy as a method can succeed but wind up discredited by the failure of resulting governments to provide security, ensure justice, reduce poverty, and so on. And there is a sense in which the competitive electoral process itself tends to raise public expectations as to what can and should be done by government. But I am hopeful. Experience of governmental transition often suggests two options, either success and an emergence of democracy, or failure and a return to a militaristic regime. How do you see this? There are not "always two options" in such transitions. Within the category "democracy" alone there are many types and gradations. As for militarism, it is striking how much the image and therefore potential leverage of the military has changed from the immediate post-Soeharto period. Could it be that by not intervening blatantly, army leaders have built up enough credit to allow for subtler forms of influence? Not to mention the more security-conscious atmosphere since Sept. 11, 2001 and Oct. 12, 2002 (terrorist attacks in the U.S. and in Bali respectively). Interesting, too, is the increasing mention of men with army backgrounds as possible presidential candidates next year. But just as democracy is internally diverse, so should we avoid putting everyone who has had an army career in a single box labeled "militarist." I live in California. The voters of my state just fired one governor and hired another. I may be naive, but I hope that as governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger will not treat complex and intractable socioeconomic problems in the same way that the Terminator treated enemy robots! In any case, it is far too early to predict the outcome of any of next year's national elections in either Indonesia or the U.S. Whatever the result, let's hope it's for the better in both countries.