ASIA/INDONESIA - Steps and risks in Indonesia's fragile democracy, as the nation approaches the polls

Tuesday, 12 December 2023 democracy   politics  

Jakarta (Agenzia Fides) - For the fifth time since the end of Mohammad Suharto's authoritarian regime, which collapsed in 1998, Indonesia's young democracy is preparing for presidential elections scheduled for February 2024. This regime was characterized by the persecution of political opponents and the systematic use of the army to maintain control over regions of the country where anti-regime movements developed. As the election campaign begins, observers are expressing concern about the quality of political life and the rise of "dynasties" that are weighing down the trajectory and development of Indonesia's democratic system, weakening its institutions of control and genuine social justice. Among the issues being discussed in the public debate is the fact that the most credible presidential candidate, Prabowo Subianto, is running alongside Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the mayor of Surakarta and eldest son of current Indonesian President Joko Widodo.
This became official after the Indonesian Constitutional Court granted 36-year-old Gibran Rakabuming Raka the opportunity to run for vice president, in a decision that many described as "political favoritism": namely, there was a minimum age limit of 40 years for candidates, a clause that was circumvented with an "ad hoc" measure that provides an exception for mayors and provincial leaders (like Gibran). Another important question raised by observers concerns the control institutions such as the Anti-Corruption Agency (KPK), once a beacon of independence from the executive, which in the Widodo government has instead become a tool for consolidating the presidential coalition. Even the chairman of the KPK, Firli Bahuri, is accused of accepting bribes from a minister against whom the KPK itself is investigating. Widodo's second term in office was characterized by the use of coercion against government opponents, on the one hand Islamic parties and on the other hand liberal groups, and the reactivation of the army's role in various areas of civilian life, such as military officers at village and district levels. Meanwhile, there are complaints about actions by security officials in various regions aimed at obstructing opponents of presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto. Current President Widodo remains extremely popular (his public approval rating is around 75% of the population), and it appears that his influence could be crucial in handing Prabowo Subianto, a man with a deeply authoritarian political past, the presidency acquired. During the Suharto regime, Prabowo was the leader of a hardline military faction, but during his tenure as defense minister under Widodo's government, the former general abandoned his populist tones and softened his authoritarian aspirations. Against this background, representatives of eight religious communities united in the "Peaceful Indonesian Care Forum" signed and released a call to maintain national unity and ensure peaceful and transparent elections. Religious leaders representing Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Catholicism, Confucianism, Protestantism and the Spiritual Archipelago group signed and distributed an "Appeal for a Peaceful Indonesia", expressing their "deep concern about the conditions of national life" and the future of Indonesian democracy. The text calls on politicians and citizens to "give priority to national interests over personal, group and party interests" and asks all groups participating in electoral campaigns to base their loyalty and consensus on the basis of the "Pancasila" - the "Law of Five Principles underlying the State - and the 1945 Constitution. The religious leaders call on the institutions to ensure a "safe, peaceful, honest, fair, free and transparent" election and call on the organizers and election officials of the state apparatus to adhere to the criterion of neutrality when implementing the provisions of the existing electoral law act. The greatest good that needs to be protected is "maintaining and achieving national stability, avoiding mutual fighting, rejecting the spread of fake news and preventing social and political conflict scenarios that could lead to destructive and chaotic situations". Only by being aware of the various possible political turbulences, challenges and unrest that harm national interests, the appeal says, "one can take action in a timely manner for justice, the rule of law, transparency of institutions and against all forms of corruption, collusion and nepotism". The leaders of the religious communities encourage a path of "national reconciliation" and hope for a rapprochement between the representatives of the different political and religious groups "to save the life of the nation and ethical democracy and to pursue social justice for the entire Indonesian people ". In addition to the ethical obligation, the text calls on all Indonesian citizens of all religious traditions to "raise prayers and mobilize spiritual strength for the security of the nation and the state" and always advocate for a peaceful Indonesia. This approach, according to the representatives of the various religions, does not only concern "the moment of choice" but goes beyond it and affects the ethical and democratic life of the nation. Cardinal Suharyo, who hosted the meeting at the Pastoral Center of the Archdiocese of Jakarta, emphasized that "the three pillars of public civilization, i.e. the state, the market and the citizens, must fulfill different functions, all of which, however, follow the basic principles of morality. Without morality the country disintegrates". One of the greatest evils that needs to be combated is corruption in democratic state institutions, but also in the world of business and business and in local communities. "Mutual trust based on morals and ethics is what makes society harmonious and fraternal," he said. The religious leaders hoped that the call for a peaceful Indonesia "will be truly heard by all parties, especially the state administration" so that "a substantial democracy, not just a procedural democracy, will continue to be reflected in which justice for all continues to be reflected, honesty, openness, equality", within the framework of the core value of "Unity in Diversity", the motto of the Indonesian nation. As part of the presidential election campaign, the candidates have started their nationwide election tour, which will take them across the archipelago to convince the 204 million eligible voters for the presidential, parliamentary and regional elections of their programs. Around 106 million of the 204 million eligible voters, or around 52%, are under 40 years old. Almost a quarter belong to Generation Z, which was born from the late 1990s onwards. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 12/12/2023)