This year, three of the world’s largest democracies are holding national elections — vast polls spread over several days and thousands of miles of territory, involving more than a billion voters, notes Council on Foreign Relations analyst Joshua Kurlantzick.
“The third election, Indonesia’s presidential vote on July 9, has been mostly ignored by the international media, even though Indonesia, with a population of about 250 million, ranks as the fourth-largest country in the world, as well as the biggest economy in Southeast Asia,” he writes for the New York Times.
“It is simply impossible to understand the staggering changes Indonesia has undergone since the end of the 1990s, including decentralization, a rapid transition to democracy and growing relationships with both China and the United States, without truly considering how decisions are made in Jakarta and other major urban centers,” he argues in a review of Elizabeth Pisani’s Indonesia, etc., Exploring the Improbable Nation:
Instead, Pisani falls back on easy clichés about Jakarta, reform and the population itself. She deplores the rapid change and construction in the seemingly soulless capital, without seriously examining the positive aspects of all this growth, a strange omission for a public health specialist. She disdains the pork-barrel politics that come with greater direct democracy, as politicians jostle to deliver projects to their districts and sometimes skim a percentage for themselves. But this kind of patronage is necessarily curtailed by the transparency of democracy, and in the long run far healthier than the opaque and unreconstructed Suharto period. (Pisani herself acknowledges that in the latter part of Suharto’s time, “all the growth” went “into a handful of pockets,” though she still paints a fairly rosy picture of the Suharto era.) She too often portrays Indonesians as accepting their fate in life, a fatalism not apparent in this spring’s parliamentary elections, when Indonesian voters tossed out about half the incumbents. RTWT
Jokowi’s rise marks the beginning of Indonesia’s second democratic transition, says a key expert.
“A new political voting class in Indonesia is now beginning to emerge that is keen to play a role in the country’s democratic politics, is well-informed of issues and interests, and expects a government that is accountable,” according to Vibhanshu Shekhar, Scholar-in-Residence at the ASEAN Studies Center, American University.
“A new political voting class in Indonesia is now beginning to emerge that is keen to play a role in the country’s democratic politics, is well-informed of issues and interests, and expects a government that is accountable,” he writes for the East-West Center’s Asia Pacific Bulletin:
They are assertively pushing forward an agenda of good governance and transparent leadership that is reform-oriented and free of corruption. They treat democracy as intrinsically ingrained in their identity and place a premium on transparency and accountability. As their expectations are going up, this new-emerging techno-savvy voter bloc is demanding effective responses from the political elite over various issues, such as countering corruption, addressing current economic challenges, and a more responsive government. Their continuing frustration with political parties is evident from the fact that no single party received more than 20 percent of votes in the April general elections. On the other hand, Jokowi’s lackluster and commoner’s image attracted their attention, and their vote.
“Rules of the game in Indonesian politics have become more democratic with political parties, institutions and citizens adhering to democratic norms,” he notes.
Nevertheless, a “rough road lies ahead for the Jokowi presidency, particularly in the legislative body that will offer strong resistance from the conservative elite to any effort to introduce more democratic change and politico-economic reforms. Now that voters have had their say, the difficult act of balancing various political forces and factions will require deft diplomacy.” RTWT