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Jakarta Post

It's the economy, stupid

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sat, July 25, 2020   /   08:10 am
It's the economy, stupid Cutting the tape: A One-Stop Integrated Service employee (right) shows a document to the owner of a small business in Tanah Tinggi, Central Jakarta, on Thursday. The city has relaxed the requirements for obtaining small business permits to help previously unlisted businesses obtain state COVID-19 aid. (JP/Seto Wardhana)

For the educated middle class, more often than not democracy means freedom of speech and freedom from government oppression. After all, it was members of this middle class who were responsible for kick-starting a democratic transition.

But for the majority of people, democracy is but a means to achieve a greater purpose, with economic prosperity being one of the primary objectives. For the majority of the working class, the basic question is whether or not a deliberative mode of governance can create more equitable wealth for a greater number of people.

Even in places where democracy has long matured and essentially become “the only game” in town, a decline in economic growth, which in the long run could adversely impact standards of living, has now led to the working class electing populist leaders – politicians who they think have a quick fix to their economic woes.

In places where democratic traditions have deep roots, some of these populist leaders are beginning to take measures akin to those preferred by dictators and their banana republics.

For young democracies like Indonesia, the loss of faith in democracy could bring disastrous consequences.

There are just too many people here who don’t think democracy is a good idea, although people from outside deem democracy is needed and can work in this plural nation.

Even when the economy is relatively stable and steady economic growth brings jobs and improves the quality of lives for millions – as seen in the past 20 years in Indonesia under democratic governance – many have continued to long for the stability and prosperity of Soeharto's 32-year-long New Order regime.

Look carefully and one can find graffiti or posters with the stenciled face of a smiling general Soeharto, next to the question: Enak jamanku tho? (It was better during my time, right?).

These people, who are pining for the good old days, are certainly disappointed that now a multiparty democratic system has worked against their interests. There are now too many centers of power and the presence of too many holders of veto power has made it difficult for the crafting of quick and effective policies that could solve bread-and-butter problems for the majority of people.

The fragmented nature of Indonesia’s political party system has also compromised the government's ability to make decisions during emergency situations like the COVID-19 pandemic. Fearing a political backlash from the House of Representatives, which is controlled by too many political factions, many key decision makers in the government are reluctant to make decisions over the disbursement of COVID-19 funds.

It is no wonder then that in May this year, at the height of the pandemic, only 49.5 percent of those surveyed by Indikator Politik Indonesia said they were satisfied with how democracy works in this country.

The question now is whether we, the people, and politicians still have the conviction to carry on with this democratic experiment. We should not take no for an answer.