The Jakarta Post
Eleven of 14 civil society groups invited to join the Bali Civil Society Forum (BCSF), a side event at the annual intergovernmental Bali Democracy Forum (BDF), have rejected the invites and criticized President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as being unqualified to host the event.
Yudhoyono has come under pressure for allowing the passage of the Regional Elections (Pilkada) Law, which abolished direct local elections, although he later issued a government regulation in lieu of law (Perppu) to reinstate direct local elections in response to a nationwide outcry.
It is the first time the BDF, which was initiated by Yudhoyono in 2008, has invited civil society organizations (CSOs) to join the event through the BCSF, scheduled to run from Tuesday to Thursday.
This year's BDF will be the last for Yudhoyono, who is expected to leave office on Oct. 20.
Delegations from 81 countries, including six ministers, six deputy ministers, 61 officials and four international organizations, are expected to attend the forum on Friday.
The 11 CSOs include several democracy and policy advocacy groups, as well as the Civil Society Alliance for Democracy (Yappika), the Center of Indonesian Legal and Policies Studies (PSHKI), the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) and corruption watchdog Transparency International Indonesia (TII).
The PSHKI's Bivitri Susanti said she suspected Yudhoyono had an ulterior motive for inviting the groups, adding that the event was aimed at being the President's last hurrah.
She also questioned Yudhoyono's decision to only invite the groups this year, despite the fact that some of them had expressed a desire to be involved at earlier editions of the forum.
'He has opened a Pandora's box on democracy [...] This is not the right moment to celebrate democracy, especially when he wants us to participate in the forum,' Bivitri told a press conference on Tuesday.
Members from some of the other groups said another reason for their no-show at the BDF was that democracy's development under Yudhoyono had stagnated.
Yappika director Fransisca Fitri cited findings from an Indonesian Democracy Index (IDI) survey, conducted by the Central Statistics Agency (BPS), to back her claim that democracy had stalled under Yudhoyono.
The 2013 index, which measures civil liberties, democratic institutions and political rights, showed that Indonesia's democracy was in a state of transition, scoring 63.68 points on a 0-100 scale, a 1.05-point improvement from 62.63 in 2012.
However, since the index was first released in 2009, Indonesia's democratic performance as a whole has shown a pattern of decline. In 2013, the country scored 3.62 points less than 2009's IDI of 67.3 points.
Dadang Trisasongko, secretary-general of the TII, said he did not want to be part of a celebration by a government that was not serious about tackling political corruption. 'Massive political corruption will eventually erode Indonesia's democracy if the government does not take the problem seriously.'
Dadang cited Transparency International's 2013 Global Corruption Barometer (GCB), which named the police, the House of Representatives and the judiciary as the three most corrupt state institutions in the country.
The survey also found 65 percent of the 1,000 respondents were of the opinion that efforts to eradicate corruption were ineffective.
Noted Muslim scholar Azyumardi Azra, one of the advisors to the BDF's implementing agency, the Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD), has also decided not to attend the BDF.
'I see too many contradictions in our democracy, which Indonesia wants to showcase to the international community. How can the President talk about democracy when in reality, it's nothing more than a gimmick? We saw this in the back-and-forth over the Pilkada Law,' he said.
Presidential spokesman Julian Aldrin Pasha responded to the boycott by saying that the civil society groups had made outlandish claims.
He said Indonesia had proved to be one of the most democratic countries in the world.
The BDF will be cochaired by Yudhoyono and Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, while Timor Leste Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao and the Sultan of Brunei Darussalam Hassanal Bolkiah will also join the leaders' session.
The police recently announced that they would not tolerate demonstrations of any kind during the forum, and have banned protesters from staging rallies in Nusa Dua ' where the BDF will be held ' and Ngurah Rai International Airport, where the delegations are expected to arrive.
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