By Putera Satria Sambijantoro, The Jakarta Post
Many Indonesians agree that the April 9 legislative election was very chaotic and that the party most responsible is the General Elections Commission (KPU). There are growing negative views about our nation’s choice to adopt democracy.
But there are always two sides of the same coin: apart from all of the negatives, many citizens on the other side of the world praise Indonesia for its democracy and capability to arrange peaceful direct elections. We serve as a role model for other countries.
As we have successfully held our direct parliamentary election and prepare for our second direct presidential election, it is so appealing to see how our country has progressed. Indonesia was beaten hard by the 1998 financial crisis, which toppled Soeharto from his 32-year reign. We’ve dealt with many tough times since.
A huge burden on the economy was not the only thing we inherited from Soeharto’s reign; we have had to deal with huge consequences of his iron fisted government.
Many may forget the severe economic collapse during the 1997-1998 financial crisis, as we are now one of Asia’s booming economies and have enjoyed 5.5 percent yearly economic growth over the past five years.
But the real success story of this country is more about how it impressively paved its own way towards a fully democratic nation and held an election that became a role model for every country in the world.
Indonesia’s democracy is a remarkable success story, as it happened in a country where the voice of the people was muffled for 32 years; democracy was long overdue. In the past, Indonesians were not able to decide their own fate and political dissent was considered impossible.
Participation in politics was very limited during Soeharto’s dictatorial reign and people were left with no option but to support him and his Golkar party.
General elections were considered a courtesy – and when they were eventually held, the outcome could be predicted even before the count had started; Soeharto and Golkar were always sure to emerge victorious at the end of the election.
However, those days have long gone and now other countries can only envy us as democracy has flourished and marks the success of Indonesia’s systemic reformation.
The same can not be said for other nations. Democracy is just a reverie for citizens of Burma, who have been suffering prolonged tyrannical tribulations.
People in Thailand are still daunted by the transition of power, and Malaysia is caught up in a racial separation. While its neighbors are still strained with such problems, Indonesia strides forward as a world-class example of democracy; more than 30 parties and 230 million people came together for our peaceful elections.
Despite all the flaws in our recent election, Indonesia has learned to practice democracy. For a nation that has had just 11 years since regime reformation that’s an achievement we should be proud of.
While most of our people denounce the previous legislative election’s imperfections, people in Myanmar and North Korea look us with jealous eyes, “Choosing representatives in government and a president directly?” they say. “Be grateful Indonesians, we are not lucky enough to possess such rights.”
When you were young you made mistakes, yet people knew it was a normal part of your development. Our election may have had its imperfections, but as this young nation matures and we look back on our past, we will learn that a success story can not be told without stumbling first.
For Indonesia, a nation-in-transition that is still seeking ways toward a prosperous future, learning to practice democracy is a good start – successfully arranging a peaceful and fully democratic election is a keystone for better future to come.
You can feel the pride oozing out from this op-ed. And justifiably so too. After the rocky first years, Indonedia is maturing as a young democracy, enjoying economic growth, allowing more diversity, reconciling its people, opening up more freedom of speech, etc. Investors are loving it, and money is pouring into the country.
Contrast with Malaysia, one of the oldest democracies in Asia, we see the devolving of our democratic institution, where the ruling junta is agitating for more absolute control, the economy is stagnant, Ketuanan Melayu is the rallying cry, dissent is systemically stifled, etc.
The irony is that the Ketuanan Melayu types are pointing to Indonesia as a shining example of the success of their cause!