Listen to voice of the people: Democracy study advice for 2021

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(Photo: Rayi Gigih)

IO – As 2021 kicks in, the Institute of Research, Education and Information of Social and Economic Affairs (LP3ES) releases its Outlook for Democracy 2021. In the study, Chairman of LP3ES management board Didik J Rachbini noted that there has been a degradation of democracy, an unexpected development in which the government, state apparatuses, and the president increasingly tend to abuse their constitutional power, exerting control of the situation in an authoritarian manner. “From the democracy and human rights seminars held by LP3ES, the situation, according to Jimly Ashsiddiqie, is heading toward constitutional dictatorship,” he explained during the “2020 Reflections & 2021 Outlook” event in Jakarta, Monday, January 11, 2021.

Furthermore, Didik said that the voice of civil society in democracy currently appears to be very weak and relying on parliament for its role in maintaining checks and balances; this is almost impossible. As a result, democracy in Indonesia has become flawed for lack of checks and balances. From a legal standpoint, corruption eradication has also weakened when the KPK [Corruption Eradication Commission] is crippled through amendments on KPK Law, which placed it directly under the President. Even though there were many student demonstrations across Indonesia and many high-profile figures came to the palace asking the President to cancel the Law amendment through Perppu [Regulation in Lieu of Law]. “I’m sure the President will not issue a Perppu. Why? Because the President himself is in control of the amendment. Without the President’s approval, the amendment will not be passed,” he explained.

Wijayanto, LP3ES director for media and democracy pointed out that there are four indicators of democracy declining from past and present authoritarian actions in Indonesia. First, rejection or lack of commitment toward democratic rules of the game. Second, the consolidation of the oligarchy and the weakening of the opposition. Third, tolerance toward or incitement to violence. Fourth, willingness to restrict opponents’ civil liberties, including the media.

According to him, the factors that caused the decline are structural, institutional and cultural by nature. Structurally, it can be seen from the phenomenon of the oligarchy consolidation that has permeated various layers of state institutions. Institutionally, we can see democratically-elected leaders turning their back on democracy. And culturally, the public still supports democracy half-heartedly compounded by the weakening of civil society. “These three aspects are the root cause of public policy blunders during the pandemic, which only cater to the interests of a handful of elites and do not prioritise the lives and safety of citizens,” he explained.

However, while dark clouds gathered over Indonesia’s democracy during 2020, there is still a glimmer of hope going forward in 2021, namely the opposition from civil society toward a controversial policy that has created some kind of resistance against democratic regression. “To this end, it is necessary to strengthen and expand resistance as well as building synergy and fostering collaboration, so that civil society can become a formidable force capable of countering the power of the oligarchy,” he concluded.

Meanwhile, LP3ES associate researcher and UPN Veteran Jakarta lecturer Fachru Nofrian said these authoritarian tendencies will impact public welfare. Thus, it is important that civil society not only speak out but must also take action on the decline of democracy, which is idealized as the means to achieve the grand mission of the state, namely, to provide welfare for all. This is a reflection of the political dynamics in 2020. But beyond this, it can also serve as a prediction of what will happen in 2021.

Amid an increasingly alarming trend of declining democracy, synergy between civil society groups is a worthy goal. Listening to the people’s voice must be a spirit going forward in order to stop an anti-democratic slide in Indonesia and prevent it from falling further into the abyss of authoritarianism.