Activists urge government not to cripple democracy

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Ceremony celebrating the 20th year of InDEMO and commemorating 46 years since the January 15, 1974 Malari incident, in an event held at the PPHUI Building, South Jakarta, Wednesday (15/01/2020). (Photo: IO/Rayi Gigih)

IO, Jakarta – Commenting on the current political situation in Indonesia, senior activist Hariman Siregar stated that the outlook for democracy had shifted, at least when compared to previous eras. “Now is the era of Fintech (financial technology), people view democracy differently. That is why I have laid out Millennial thoughts in ‘Mendengar Suara Rakyat (Listening to the People’s Voice)’ on this year’s birthday,” he said in a ceremony celebrating the 20th year of InDEMO and commemorating 46 years since the January 15, 1974 Malari incident, in an event held at the PPHUI Building, South Jakarta, Wednesday (15/01/2020). Hariman stated that Indonesia’s democracy needed a strong leader if it wanted to realize its dream of becoming the strongest nation in Asia. To ensure this, activists must have a fighting spirit. “If necessary, a fiery spirit in our stomachs,” he stated in front of hundreds of activists.

On the same topic, Universitas Padjajaran Faculty of Law lecturer Bilal Dewansyah stated that in a democratic country, the government must protect the civil and political rights and freedom of expression of its people. “However, I see there are aspects of the rule of law in Indonesia that are at risk of being weakened, and this will weaken democracy. Do not let Indonesian democracy be subverted by substantive authoritarianism,” he explained.

According to Bilal, the restricting of democracy could already be increasingly felt on campus, with many democratic activities being curbed. “In my opinion, rules should not be used as a tool to weaken democracy. Give freedom for democracy on campus. I am worried that if restrictions were to happen it would hinder the freedom of speech of democratic activities. In my opinion, democracy is anti-violence. But with the presence of a number of restrictions, students become afraid to demonstrate. Do not let this restriction become a violation of freedom of speech,” he stressed.

In tune with Bilal, Center for Media and Democracy LP3ES Director Wijayanto also felt democracy in Indonesia was experiencing a certain regression and heading towards authoritarianism. If the trend were to continue, In the end, the victims would be the Indonesian people themselves. “What we are worried about is that Indonesia’s democracy is being hijacked by oligarchs,” he said.

According to Wijayanto, the regression in Indonesia’s democracy was very obvious during the 2019 Presidential Elections where bribery was uncovered by the media in various places which translated into various presidential instructions to fight hoaxes concerning the incumbents and the commanding of the Indonesian Armed Forced (TNI) to spread awareness on the progress made by the government during the 2014-2019 period.   

Wijayanto continued, stating that the weakening of Indonesia’s democracy also took place when the incumbent’s side weakened the opposition causing many in the opposition to join the current government. “The weakening of democracy also happens when a country tolerates the use of violence. For instance, during the demonstrations concerning the weakening of the KPK (Corruption Eradiation Commission) not so long ago,” he said.

According to Wijayanto, the weakening of democracy also happened to civilians and the media. This was conspired by a circle of rectors who stated that their universities would not support the students involved in the demonstrations some time ago. “In the end, the worst victim is our political imagination. This is despite the fact that this nation exists because of political imagination. Thousands of years ago, if we had had no political imagination, there would never have been an Indonesian nation as there is now, because before, Indonesia consisted of small kingdoms spread across various regions. Lastly, I hope the intellectual circles close to power do not lose their rationality and become a stamp for power,” said the writer of the book “Menyelamatkan Demokrasi di Indonesia (Saving Democracy in Indonesia)”.

Continuing Wijayanto’s thoughts, INDEF researcher Bhima Yudishtira stated that the current 2019 generation of university students were fighting former 1998 activists, many of whom now held positions of power. He added that it was as if there was a lost generation between the ‘70s, ’98 and now. “I am worried Indonesia is dominated by oligarchs with all their various economic power,” he asserted.

Bhima also believed that if Indonesia were to have its democracy weakened, the nation would easily be broken up and infiltrated by other countries. “Currently, the government is proud of the five unicorns that are said to be owned by Indonesians even though many businesspeople are lacking attention. Where is democracy for the little people? Also, how can Indonesia’s poor become like Nadiem Makarim, the owner of an online motorcycle taxi service, or Achmad Zaki, the owner of Bukalapak, if one out of three Indonesians experience stunting. It remains the same that in the future the generation that will control Indonesia will be the children of oligarchs (businesspeople) who have given their children enough nutrition since they were in the womb,” he concluded. (Dan)