Regression of Indonesian Democracy?

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Director of the Center of Statecraft and Citizenship Studies, Airlangga Pribadi. (Photo: Prive. Doc)

IO – The Institution for Economics and Social Research, Education, and Information (Lembaga Penelitian, Pendidikan, and Penerangan Ekonomi and Sosial – “LP3ES”)’ Director for Media and Democracy Wijayanto has declared that democracy in Indonesia is going through a serious regression. LP3ES notes several factors that have given rise to this regression, including a structural factor of much stronger consolidation of oligarchy in our nation. “Consolidated oligarchy these days has even hijacked our policies during the pandemic. We have such a bad communication crisis. At the early stages of the Corona, our Government seemed neglectful of the fact. So much so that even a high-level official stated that Indonesia is impenetrable by the Corona virus because of the prayers of our religious scholars. Even worse, when the virus was finally acknowledged, we actually made moves to intensify our tourism industry,” he said as he opened a discussion on “New Despotism and Democratic Regression” held on Monday (10/01/21). 

Wijayanto went on to say that the “new normal” policy was instituted merely for the economy’s sake, even though the COVID-19 positive infection curve was still high. “Right after that, the Government instituted the Job Creation Omnibus Law, and held Direct Regional Elections, even in the midst of a pandemic. These policies are still pursued, despite strong criticism from the public,” he said. “Democracy regresses when the opinions and aspirations of Indonesian citizens are no longer heard, and bad policies appear. The “democratic” (electoral) Government system may have not changed, but it is stained by authoritarian practices. I repeat, this is a sign of serious democratic regression.” 

Director of the Center of Statecraft and Citizenship Studies Airlangga Pribadi Kusman agreed that democracy in Indonesia has weakened. He stated that the Government respects civil liberties less and tends to intervene more in citizens’ private lives. “Furthermore, public institutions are weakened, with blatant abandonment of public transparency and participation. There are at least three indicators that democracy in Indonesia has weakened: First, coercive measures proliferate. Second, the State ironically uses the power of law to weaken the supremacy of law. Third, the State mobilizes online media, especially social media, to force- fully push its opinions and policies onto the public,” he said. 

Airlangga declared that this mobilization of the new digital media is meant to direct and form a “social” concept for the actions of the State. “In order to better understand and to enrich our understanding on how to analyze Indonesia’s issues, we borrowed a new model of foreign analysis, a “new despotism”,” he said. “A New Despotism regime knows very well what efforts to make to strengthen their legal authority within a democratic political system. They know how to create bad framing for critics of the Government in such a way that these critics end up being perceived as ‘enemies of the nation’. This is where the difference lies.” 

Airlangga went on to say that nowadays there are efforts to build up populist narratives by emphasizing to the public that national issues can be resolved by strengthening Government institutions. “These populist narratives are articulated with a technocratic dimension as reflected in the Nawacita (“Nine Aspirations”) scheme. In fact, the populist narrative has shifted in Jokowi’s second term into a new despotism,” he said. Meanwhile, Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (Yayasan Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Indonesia – “YLBHI”) Chairwoman Asfinawati stated that Presidential Regulation Number 7 of 2021, one which Jokowi declared, has the potential to stimulate dangers among our citizens, especially in terms of involving them to report anyone that they suspect of “extremism” to the Police. “This has an extensive implication, as there are no limits and criteria that can clearly define what constitutes ‘extremism’, unlike the case of terrorism,” she said. 

Asfinawati further highlights the irony that the law stipulates that NGOs cannot act like law enforcement, but also requests the people to participate in law enforcement by informing the Police. “The people will act according to whatever definition they have in their respective minds. Even with clear definitions in place they interpret differently, that’s why this is prohibited by the NGO Law – let alone when there’s no definition of the term, such as in the Presidential Regulation,” she said. (dan)