Indonesia’s democracy in regression

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Azyumardi Azra, a professor of the Syarif Hidayatullah National Islamic University (Universitas Islam Negeri – “UIN”). (Photo: DOC. SUBARKAH/TIRTO.ID)

IO – Syarif Hidayatulah National Islamic University (Universitas Islam Negeri – “UIN”) Professor Azyumardi Azra claims that democracy in Indonesia has in fact degenerated. This is an issue that requires serious attention from all parts of the citizenry. He reports that studies from eminent agencies and media, such as the Freedom House and The Economist, as well as Indonesia’s own Democratic Index created by Statistics Indonesia (Badan Pusat Statistik – “BPS”) clearly show that our freedom to express our aspirations has become more and more restricted. “People get reported to the police so easily, based on loophole regulations. The police are also quite trigger-happy when they smell something that might bother the current regime. We are definitely showing symptoms of turning into a police state,” he declared in a seminar titled “Democracy, Development, and the People’s Welfare” held jointly with the closing ceremony of LP3ES Generation II School of Democracy, on Saturday (29/08/2020). 

After having observed the various aspects of society and political dynamics in the final years of the President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono Government, followed by that of President Joko Widodo era, he came to the conclusion that Indonesia is no longer a full democracy, as practiced within these two eras. On the contrary, our Government has devolved into an illiberal democracy, or even a flawed one. 

“Within this context, Indonesia still satisfies the requirements to be called an ‘electoral democracy’. However, other indicators of full democracy continue to degrade. For example, our freedom to express our opinion and freedom to associate. Furthermore, respect and protection of minority groups have waned. On this basis, politics experts and democracy analysts from both Indonesia and abroad conclude that democracy in Indonesia is regressing. In fact, some even think that we have reached the lowest point within the past 20 years,” he said. “Another indication of regression is the fierce attack of buzzers and influencers who direct negative opinions towards anyone who criticizes Government policies. Part of these attacks is the hacking of mass media webpages and of social media accounts of academicians who criticize the recent ‘discovery’ of COVID-19 vaccines.” 

Azra further stated that the Government continues to marginalize citizens in necessary legislative processes. For example, the revision of the Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi – “KPK”) Law, or the creation of other Laws, do not include any involvement or input from the public. The Government even ignores the many voices expressing rejection of a current law being created jointly with the House of Representatives (DPR). 

“We are at our lowest point yet since 1999. True, we have smooth elections. But that’s just part of democracy. Other aspects include the freedom to express our aspirations, the involvement of the civil community in law creation, and serving as the opposition, a balance on political power. There is no balancing force nowadays. This is a serious issue: if we don’t handle it now, we will deteriorate even further,” he said. “Therefore, Indonesia must constantly reform its economy, social, and educational conditions. We don’t want our country to turn into a faux democracy with one dominant party like in China and Singapore, where they do not have any opposing power that can balance and control their ruling regimes.” 

Regional Democracy 

Meanwhile, Institution for Economics and Social Research, Education, and Information (Lembaga Penelitian, Pendidikan, dan Penerangan Ekonomi dan Social – “LP3ES”) founder Emil Salim states that the progress of human development in a region is strongly related to the progress of democracy there. Consequently, human resource development is also a concern of the Government. Quoting BPS data, Emil states that DKI Jakarta has the top spot in Indonesia’s 2019 Democracy Index, with a score of 88.29, a GDP of 2,599.17, and a Social Development Index of 80.47. “It’s true that the direction of our development depends on Regional Governments. However, this data, which is what we should base our statements on, shows that good democracy is supported by good human development, and will support high GDP rate in turn,” he said. 

Therefore, development should not be centered simply on physical development, on procuring goods and services only. On the contrary, it must be balanced by human resource development. We need to pay attention to the quality of human development in Indonesia, as we are being left behind in mastery of critical educational subjects such as science, mathematics, and reading. “Therefore, political parties must not evade their responsibilities. Any Party that wins the elections in a region must work hardest to ensure that human resource development in their region is being dealt with in the DPR and Government through their representatives there. Be active at all times, not just during elections,” he said. (Dan)