Avoiding the descent of Indonesia into a “collapsed state”

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Desmon J. Mahesa

IO – In a viral and largely-misinterpreted speech, Prabowo Subianto, General Chairman of Gerindra Party, was not fear-mongering when he stated that Indonesia has the potential of disintegrating by 2030. He was actually sharing “food for thought” for experts, concerning the many challenges facing Indonesia.

In a September 2017 speech at the University of Indonesia, Prabowo referred to a novel titled Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War, by P. W. Singer and August Cole, both of whom have a solid academic background. Despite purportedly being a “science-fiction” novel, many international observers have championed the message of the book. This is what Prabowo is trying to do: he aspires to see the novel’s ideas discussed in scientific debates, both on campuses and in the meeting chambers of Indonesia’s decision-makers.

The situation imagined by Singer and Cole in their fictional depiction of the “former nation of Indonesia” may be highly improbable but is not impossible. Therefore, Prabowo urges all to consider the need to establish “backup systems” in anticipation of a “worst-case scenario”. One worst-case scenario is the threat of Indonesia turning into a failed state, which is just one step away from becoming a collapsed state.

In theory there are four categories of nations: a “strong state”, a “weak state”, a “failed state” and a “collapsed state”. The results of a study carried out by The Fund for Peace, a non-profit foundation, on a 2012 index of failed countries places Indonesia in 63rd place 177 countries, with a total strength index of 80.6. Even though it is not categorized as a “failed state”, Indonesia is nevertheless seen as a “weak state, defined as a country with sharp differences in ethnicity, religion, and language, ones that impedes their becoming stronger. In weak countries, conflicts are brazenly carried out in the open, corruption is endemic, the rule of law is not enforced, and functioning health and educational institutions are largely privatized.

Noam Chomsky (2006:1-2) delineates three characteristics of a failed state: (1) the state is unable to protect its citizens from violent attack; (2) there is a tendency to ignore legal reach or jurisdiction, whether referring to domestic or international law; (3) the country suffers major democratic deficits.

Within the past few years, Indonesia’s Democratic Index has declined, starting to show a tendency towards a deficit. The Global Democratic Index released by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in 2010 placed Indonesia in 60th place out of the 167 countries surveyed, with a total score of only 6.53 on a 0-10 scale, losing out to Thailand (57) and Papua New Guinea (59) – even much lower ranking than Timor Leste (42).

According to data from Statistics Indonesia (Badan Pusat Statistik – “BPS”), the nation’s Democratic Index has tended to noticeably decline over the past 3 years: in 2015, it marked 73.04%, declining in 2016 to 72.82%, and falling in 2017 to 70.09%.

The decline of the Democratic Index and the threat of spiraling downward into a failed state is a direct consequence of the lack of transformative, firm, and inspiring national leadership. Current leaders tend to be more preoccupied with their own image-engineering, based on market dynamics. They seem to prefer the adoration of constituents instead of demonstrating that they firmly support the Constitution. They tend to lack the courage to take bold constitutional steps, because they are nervous about losing popularity or damaging their image. If such behavior persists, Indonesia could well fall into the ravine of a failed state, which would then channel it to becoming a collapsed state.

Recently, the symptoms of state failure frequently come to haunt Indonesia. We feel that our social order and daily security is currently endangered; horizontal conflicts among ethnicities, religious adherents, and social groups have become more common. Street crime has risen to an alarming level: the public has resorted to vigilantism, because they feel that they can no longer trust peacekeeping authorities. The level of vigilantism has reach such extreme levels that a criminal seized by the masses is not turned over to the police; he may be beaten up badly, frequently to death, and there are even reports of petty criminals being burned alive by mobs.

When we look at our national economy, we witness the awesome climb of debt, higher and higher, currently reaching nearly Rp 4,000 trillion and moving upward (mostly to foreign investors, and often dangerously in foreign currency). Labor is being liberalized for the convenience of foreign workers, with loss of support for small businesses and a weak economy, papered over by “Potemkin Village” reports of progress and growth, in obedient media. Imports frequently become a pragmatic choice taken to resolve issues. Even though now Indonesia cannot yet be called a “failed state”, if these urgent issues are not addressed, and allowed to endure for the next 5-10 years, it is not impossible that Indonesia will decay further, a failed state gradually turning into a collapsed state.

The recent speech of Prabowo was in fact an effort to galvanize all elements of the nation, awakening them to the necessity of installing “backup systems” in order to forestall Indonesia from becoming a collapsed state. In the context of the exhortation to establish these backup systems, I think that it is high time that all political elites to try to put all their differences aside, pull together sincerely in the same direction to prevent Indonesia from turning into the horror envisioned by Singer and Cole in their novel: a collapsed state.