Guest Speaker: Third phase
of democracy ‘critical’

Since the fall of Soeharto’s regime in 1998, Indonesia has embarked on a path toward democracy.

The country has altered its system of governance through decentralization and implemented direct and regional elections.

However, these changes have not always been smooth. This year, the government is planning to hold direct regional elections despite the possible chaos stemming from a lack of preparation from agencies at the central and regional level. Anies Baswedan, the rector of Paramadina University, once served as a national advisor on decentralization and regional autonomy in Kemitraan (Partnership for Governance Reform), shared his thoughts on the current development of democracy and decentralization during a seminar on governance recently. Here are the excerpts of his lecture:

Question: How is Indonesia performing in terms of democracy and are Indonesians be satisfied by the level of democracy achieved?

Answer: We are entering the third era of transition into democracy, with the first era beginning in 1998. The third phase is very critical for the continuity of democracy or a return to a pre-democratic

The public has tolerance. There is a presumption that Indonesians are irrational. Surveys actually show that Indonesians might be individually irrational, but collectively they are actually very rational.

Indonesians understand that democracy is a political process, but there is also a time limit for learning.

There are measurements to help strengthen democracy. If not broken down properly, democracy could fail and fall into the category of words that frighten people, such as “federation”, or “liberal”.

So how can we keep the wheels of democracy turning?

The key to keeping democracy moving is people’s participation, with the crucial role of social capital.

We can measure this by the number of existing mass organizations and associations.

Decentralization has been another big issue over the last decade. How far do you think the country has progressed in that field?  

I think Indonesia is currently the only country that is working towards democratization and decentralization simultaneously. It is not an easy task.

The next step in this process is reaching provincial independence, with the provinces well equipped with strong welfare and education sectors, among others.

Currently, the administration is already decentralized, but the economy is still very centralized toward Java.

What do you think of the idea of running regional elections simultaneously?  

There is a danger of local issues being drowned by national issues. For instance, the election held in Banten will certainly differ from that held in Jayapura (Papua).

If the elections are held simultaneously, the political parties will choose the cheapest campaign method — through television — which means that they will advocate national issues, which may drown out local issues.

It would be better if the elections were held at separate times. For instance, 30 percent of the regions this year, another 30 percent next year, and 40 percent the year after.  

Some of the members of the regional government, such as governors, deputies and members of the regional legislative council, are seen to be corrupt. What’s your comment on this?

Theoretically speaking, corruption in regions should be easier to monitor, but who will do that
job? Now we have governors and deputies waiting in line for corruption trials.

That is not good.

It’s a universal thing. Power tends to corrupt, and we have to fight that. (dis)

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