Indonesia’s democracy and the role of the Military in politics

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(photo: IO/Dani)

IO, Jakarta – The Economic and Social Research, Education, and Information Agency (Lembaga Penelitian, Pendidikan, dan Penerangan Ekonomi dan Sosial – “LP3ES”) held a public discussion related to the death of Egypt’s former president, Muhammad Morsi, who had legally come to office through an election. LP3ES’ discussion, themed “Democracy and the Role of the Military in Politics”, presented Dr. Muhammad Najib, LP3ES Associate Researcher, and Fajar Nursahid, LP3ES Director, as well as Doctorate Candidate in Politics in the University of Indonesia. The discussion held at ITS Tower, Pasar Minggu, South Jakarta, was focused on Egypt’s democratic failure, as it might hold lessons for democracy in Indonesia.

As it is widely known, Morsi is a prominent figure from Ikhwanul Muslimin (IM) (the “Muslim Brotherhood”) who was elected President at the start of the Arab Spring in 2011. He brought down Husni Mubarak’s authoritarian regime that had held power for decades. According to a theoretical reference, Egypt democratized itself to follow in Tunisia’s footsteps: a democratic transition was succeeded by the 2012 Elections, held honestly and fairly.

“IM had never held power before. When they unexpectedly won the election, they felt that they had been mandated and legitimized by democracy to do whatever they like. This triggered a wrong start for IM: they Islamized political institutions and policies in order to monopolize power,” Najib said.

IM’s monopoly of power caused the Salafis’ An Nur Party, a group that formerly supported Morsi, to abandon him, along with the Al Azhar academic group. “IM was considered to have intervened too deeply into Al Azhar’s internal affairs, i.e. by appointing one of its cadres as an Al Azhar Rector, by order of the President. Al Azhar became upset, An Nur as well, especially since they had been on the losing side. They then cooperated with the military to determine IM had become a common enemy of Egypt,” Najib said. “In the end, Egypt went back to authoritarian military rule. This is an example of a ‘frozen transition’, wherein a democratic transition turned stagnant or even reverted to authoritarianism.”

Najib further accused Egypt of being a case of a failed democratic transition. Its case serves as a warning to Indonesia, i.e. not to repeat the failure of Egypt under Morsi’s rule in Indonesia. However, Najib also notes that Indonesia’s democracy is different from Egypt’s, even though Indonesia and Egypt are both democratic countries with a majority of Muslim citizens, most of whom are Sunni adherents. The difference is that when IM as a party won the elections, it forcibly returned the soldiers to their barracks and set up civilian rule without making the necessary transitions for the military. They banned old parties from entering elections and put guilty figures on trial in a court of law, without making any thorough place for the military in the Government.

“On the other hand, Indonesia is an example of a successful democracy. Our success is such that many researchers study democracy in Indonesia to discover the secret,” Najib said. However, there is one criticism that we must address behind the success of Indonesia’s democracy: “The success of Indonesia’s democratic transition is the result of the great compromise made by both reform democrats and the old regime. The military agreed to let our country become a democracy without any hindrance, as long as they still have power over territorial command. This is a great risk, because if worse comes to worst, the army would have the power to take over,” he said.

Meanwhile, Fajar stated that there was no such tolerance when IM won the elections. They used their power arbitrarily, and Morsi failed to concede anything to his political opponents. IM, running ahead by itself, dominated the scene in such a way that they failed to encourage any reconciliation. This aroused the many parties who had been shut out of power to become vindictive and patiently bide their time until they could finally end Morsi’s power. “Everybody waited eagerly until Morsi was finally finished. IM’s power in Egypt ended and it went back to becoming an underground organization. Wherever you might go in this world, when democracy fails to reach consensus and reconciliation, the military will have a motive and opportunity to assert itself and take power once again,” Fajar warned. (Dan)