Dictatorship to democracy: 17 lessons from Indonesia


Credit: Council on Foreign Relations

Credit: Council on Foreign Relations

As Joko Widodo is elected President of Indonesia, a Guardian panel discusses how far the young democracy has come in 16 years.

Nyla Grace Prietro, programme officer, International Idea, Canberra, Australia:

Democracy is up to the people: A successful democracy does not rely on a single personality or an elected leader. All people need to partake in political processes. Spaces for citizen participation and the emergence of a civil society have helped ease Indonesia’s transition from dictatorship to democracy.

High participation equals healthy democracy: The turnout to June’s elections are a really good sign as it reflects that these people want to take a more active role in the country’s democracy, suggesting democracy here has longevity.

Melany Tedja, environmental finance consultant, a political observer and activist, Jakarta, Indonesia: @meltedja

Use new tools to demand transparency: Most of the tools to create a more democratic system are recent tools developed by people through crowdsourcing – not yet part of an established system run by the government. They still run their meetings closed and they have no obligation to publish a copy of new laws passed within a certain timeline to the public.

Reach beyond the digital divide: Not enough has been done in Indonesia to create activist leaders beyond the middle class. Impactful activism has been restricted to those mainly with computer and internet access – that’s only 10% of the population.


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Iran’s Nuclear Chess: a nation or a cause? Change regime or behavior?

Iran’s dilemma is whether the political costs of an agreement—alienating hardline interest groups, especially the Revolutionary Guard, upon which the regime’s survival depends—outweigh its economic benefits, according to a senior analyst.

In Iran, the nuclear issue is a surrogate for the more fundamental debate over the country’s future relationship with the outside world—whether, in former President Hashemi Rafsanjani’s words, the Islamic Republic is a “revolutionary state” or an “ordinary country,” writes Robert Litwak, vice president for scholars and director of international security studies at the Wilson Center. The embedded, proxy status of the nuclear question within this broader political context is a key determinant of whether nuclear diplomacy can prove successful, he writes in an important new report.

Regime change or behavior change

In America, Iran’s nuclear challenge—concern that a weapons program is masquerading as a civilian program—has also been a proxy for a more fundamental debate about the threat posed by “rogue states” in the post-9/11 era. The Obama administration dropped the Bush-era “rogue” moniker in favor of “outlier.” This shift reframed the Iranian nuclear issue—from a unilateral, American political concept, in which threat is linked to the character of “rogue” regimes, to a focus on Iranian behavior that contravenes international norms. Yet the tension between the competing objectives of regime change and behavior change continues to roil the U.S. policy debate.

President Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatic centrist, campaigned on a platform of resolving the nuclear issue to end the country’s isolation and the punishing international sanctions that have weakened the economy. While acquiescing to Rouhani’s revitalized nuclear diplomacy in the wake of his June 2013 electoral mandate, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, remains the final arbiter of any prospective agreement. His decision, based on a strategic calculus that has regime stability as its paramount objective, will hinge on how he manages the unresolved tension in Iran’s competing identities—revolutionary state/ordinary country.

Quasi-democratic character

An important feature distinguishing Iran from other countries of proliferation concern—North Korea under the Kim family regime or Iraq under the former Saddam Hussein regime—is its quasi-democratic character. Iran has an engaged and somewhat cynical public, which has an uneasy relationship with a regime whose political legitimacy was damaged by its brutal crackdown on the Green Movement in 2009. Rouhani’s election, a reflection of that disaffection, produced a rare consensus across Iran’s political elite for revitalized nuclear diplomacy. But old divisions persist, even if tamped down by the Supreme Leader during the ongoing P5+1 negotiations.

In Henry Kissinger’s apt formulation, “Iran has to make a decision whether it wants to be a nation or a cause.”2 Yet, since the 1979 Revolution that swept the Shah of Iran from power and led to the creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the country’s ruling regime refuses to make that choice. On the nuclear issue and on other issues affecting Iran’s national interests, Tehran fastidiously asserts its rights as a “republic” in an international order of sovereign states. At the same time, the theocratic regime pursues an ideologically driven foreign policy (such as its support of Hezbollah) to maintain revolutionary elan at home. Tehran’s rejection of what it views as a U.S.-dominated international order is at the heart of the Islamic Republic’s identity and worldview. Without these “revolutionary thoughts,” as then President Hashemi Rafsanjani once candidly acknowledged, Iran would become an “ordinary country.”3

Iran’s competing dual identities—revolutionary state/ordinary country—continually roil the country’s politics, including the domestic debate over the nuclear program. This political schism underlies the violent clash between the country’s hardline theocratic regime and the reformist Green Movement in the aftermath of the 2009 presidential elections.

While calling for democratic governance within Iran, the Green Movement leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, also called for an end to foreign policy “adventurism,” which, among other negative consequences, had led to Iran’s international isolation and the imposition of UN sanctions over the regime’s intransigent stand on the nuclear question.


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Putin is ‘at war with Ukraine’, Russia ‘pouring gasoline on fire’ by arming rebels

russiaputinterrorThe Kremlin is “pouring gasoline on the fire” of the Ukraine crisis with a military build-up in the east of the country, the American ambassador to Kiev has warned:

Rather than using the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 as a chance to take stock in the four month long conflict, Russia was instead continuing the escalate the conflict.

Geoffrey Pyatt, US ambassador to Ukraine, said tanks and heavy rocket launchers had crossed the border from Russia even as international crash investigators have called for a truce to recover the victims and wreckage. …Vladimir Putin could stop the build-up “with one phone call”, he said.

“Putin is at war with Ukraine,” said Strobe Talbott, a former US deputy secretary of state. “The ruse of it being a civil war has evaporated.”

As Michael Weiss notes for Foreign Policy.com:

Michael McFaul, who was until recently the U.S. ambassador to Russia, tweeted two very noteworthy observations. The first was this: “If Putin can arm rebels, why can’t we arm Ukraine?” The second was this: “West has to stop trying to change Putin’s mind, and focus more on helping Ukraine succeed, including on the battlefield.” Before assuming the ambassadorship, McFaul was a member of Obama’s National Security Council (NSC) and also the architect of the so-called U.S.-Russian “reset” in bilateral relations, a major premise of which had been trying to change Putin’s mind about many things. McFaul’s volte-face in particular should be registered with Obama’s remaining NSC members. 

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Europe needs Cold War lesson in deterrence? More Russians face EU sanctions

Credit: FT

Credit: FT

The EU has added 15 individuals and 18 entities to its sanctions list targeting Russians linked to the separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine, the BBC reports:

The names are expected to be announced shortly in the EU Official Journal. The number of Russians subject to EU asset freezes and travel bans now totals 87. Two energy firms in Crimea were already on the list, but 18 other entities have now been added….

The EU says it is targeting those who “actively support or are benefiting from Russian decision makers responsible for the annexation of Crimea or the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine”. The EU is also considering a range of technologies that could be restricted, in further measures against Russia.

Today’s preliminary decision against Russia focuses on “targeting its access to European capital markets and trade in the defense sector, dual-use goods and sensitive technologies,” the Associated Press reports. The sanctions could end up hitting Russian banks hard if the EU closes capital markets to them.

One senior official involved in Friday’s discussion said while there no sense of drawing back from adopting sector-wide sanctions next week, there was much work ahead to agree on the exact nature of the sanctions moves, the Wall Street Journal reports.

“We are still on track but discussions could become more tricky when we discuss the legislative text,” the person said.

“Sanctions will be costly to Russia; there is no disputing that . . . But if the motivation is defence of vital national interests and survival, Russia – like any state – will resort to import substitution and even more radical sorts of interventions to defend itself, no matter what the cost,” Clifford Gaddy and Barry Ickes wrote in a paper for the Brookings Institution. “History tells us that Russians can endure enormous hardship. Coping and survival are part of Russian history and the Russian national identity.”

From new liberal order to systemic disorder

“Nearly 25 years have passed since US President George HW Bush saw an opportunity for a new, liberal international order. The EU hoped the landscape would be remade in its postmodern image. The dream has been lost to systemic disorder,” notes FT analyst Philip Stephens:

Capitalism reigns supreme, but rising states such as China and declining ones such as Russia have found a new political model. Authoritarian capitalism, as the Harvard scholar Michael Ignatieff called it in this summer’s Ditchley Foundation annual lecture, presents them with an alternative to liberal democracy. As for a rules-based global system, these states prefer to dine à la carte. They take what they like and reject what is inconvenient.

Can the 28-member bloc reconcile competing national interests, directly confront a conflict on its own borders and prove that it has a meaningful and united role to play in foreign policy? the New York Times asks.

“The great difficulty for the E.U. acting collectively against Russia is a triple lockout,” Mujtaba Rahman, the director for Europe of the Eurasia Group, a political risk consulting firm, said in a telephone interview. “The Germans don’t want to jeopardize their energy interests, the French don’t want to risk their military sales, and the British don’t want to go too hard on Russian financial interests.”

“You need to keep the big three on board,” said Mr. Rahman, referring to the preponderant influence of Britain, France and Germany.

“The way you get around their triple lockout is by restricting European business with a number of companies in the energy, defense and financial sectors,” he said. “This more robust approach may get translated into concrete action by August depending on what happens at the crash site and whether cross-border arms deliveries taper off,” Mr. Rahman said. “But you will almost certainly never get full sanctions on an entire sector of the Russian economy from the Europeans.”

Russian stocks gained for a third day in New York trading as the EU’s proposed sanctions were seen as more mild than expected, Bloomberg reports. 

The EU’s account of the meeting refers, comically, to an ‘exchange of views’ on the ‘preparatory work’ on tier three sanctions, according to one account:

There was some agreement on the extended list of ‘Putin cronies’. Zero Hedge has a summary of the discussion, drawn from a variety of sources. The headlines are that the number of listed ‘cronies’ is expected to be increased to 87, including several ‘entities’ that operate in Crimea or eastern Ukraine. There are, however, no Russian companies on the list.

Europeans have been slow to recognise the world as it is rather than as they imagined, Stephens notes:

European hesitation has ceded to the Kremlin control of the public debate. The annexation of Crimea overturned the cardinal pillar of European security since 1945: states cannot extend their territory by force of arms. As such, Russia’s action represents a profound threat to the security of the continent. Yet to listen to the discussion in some European capitals is to wonder if Mr Putin is not among the victims.

“Europeans cannot forever be reluctant partners in their own defence. The way to avoid war is to deter aggressors,” he insists.

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Egypt leaves democracy advocate in legal limbo

egypt ngo trial fhIn Egypt last month, three journalists were found guilty of doing their jobs and given seven- and 10-year jail terms. Apparently, little has changed, notes a prominent democracy assistance official.

A little more than a year earlier, I and 42 other employees of international human rights groups were similarly convicted at a Cairo trial that the U.S. and European governments have condemned as politically motivated,” says Sam LaHood, the director for the International Republican Institute in Egypt from 2010 to 2012 and currently a program officer with the organization.

“I was sentenced to five years in prison with hard labor after being found guilty in absentia of a trumped-up felony,” he writes for the Washington Post:  

In my case, appointees held over from the regime of Hosni Mubarak used repressive laws to target our groups for providing democracy assistance, manipulating the bureaucratic machinery for their own ends. Many more of these officials, who constitute Egypt’s entrenched security apparatus and bureaucracy, or “deep state,” have since returned to power after being out in the cold during the truncated presidential term of Mohamed Morsi. This deep state, led by individuals at the Ministry of Interior, state security and other large bureaucratic entities, is intent on exerting control over civil society, politics and the media through intimidation and repression.


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