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Jakarta Post

Democracy in progress

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, January 15, 2020   /   09:32 am
Democracy in progress Making the right choice: A man cycles past a board listing Malang Council candidates in front of the election commission’s offices in Malang, East Java, in this file photo from 2019. (JP/Aman Rochman)

An agreement reached between the government and the House of Representatives to produce omnibus laws that will serve as umbrella legislation for laws and regulations concerning politics and elections should be a step in the right direction toward democracy consolidation.

Over the last few years, voters went to the polls at least once a year to elect mayors or regents, governors, members of regional and national legislatures and president and vice president. Despite the use of sectarian fervors to reap votes, in general, the elections ran peacefully. In most cases, reconciliation between contenders marked a happy end to political rivalry, if not adversary. But there is always a gap between the elections and their results. An election as a democratic mechanism to choose a leader, for example, does not necessarily generate a government that tries its best to realize prosperity for all. For the umpteenth time, we have seen elected leaders brought to justice for corruption — a gross violation of their oath of office and voters’ trust.

Indeed, corruption remains one of the most serious challenges for democracy in the country. Not only can corruption undermine democracy as in the case of transactional politics but failure to eradicate it will also erode people’s faith in democracy.

Notwithstanding, the consistent improvement in the democracy index as Statistics Indonesia (BPS) has found in its annual surveys, Indonesian democracy has continued to come under attack, ironically by those who were elected democratically. A number of laws put freedom of expression at risk and more restrictions are on the horizon through the amendment of the Criminal Code.

Expectations are high that omnibus laws on politics and elections, or an amalgamation of the two, offer a breakthrough to accelerate consolidation of democracy. This nation can claim it champions democracy when everybody can freely beg to differ without fearing bullying, intimidation and being discriminated against.

Political parties play a key role in promoting and instilling the values of democracy. But they cannot fulfill the responsibilities without practicing democracy themselves. The fact that most Indonesian political parties rely much on figures, rather than a system, indicates democracy as a norm has not found a strong foothold.

Democracy has apparently been reduced to a procedure or tool to seize power in a legitimate way. Just as the drafting of the much-awaited omnibus laws is under way, the politicians, if not political parties, have already sought every path to cling to power.

They, for example, want to reinstate the old practice in which voters choose political parties, instead of candidates. In the past, the mechanism ensured that only loyalists of party leaders would be seated in the House or regional legislative councils. Reinstatement of the old mechanism will mark a setback given that the goal of elections is to select representatives of the people, not the parties.

Omnibus laws will avoid the ritual of amending election laws every five years. While the plan aims to support democracy as a work in progress, we have to keep in mind that the devil is in the detail.