Indonesia's Democracy Takes One Step Forward, One Back, Survey Finds

A policemen posing as a civilian attempts to kick police barricades during a security simulation in front of the office of the General Election Commission in Kendari, Southeast Sulawesi, in October. (Antara Photo/Jojon)

By : Devina Halim | on 1:48 PM November 04, 2016
Category : News, Politics, Corruption, Human Rights

Jakarta. Indonesia's democracy rating has dropped slightly on the back of increasing discrimination and alleged corrupt practices among lawmakers and political parties, a leading researcher has said.

A Central Statistics Agency (BPS) study released in August found Indonesia's Democratic Index reached 72.82 points, a 0.22 point drop on the last report. The number reflects the fluctuation in democratic processes across the country, but is still firmly in the "safe" category and remains stable.

BPS uses local newspaper reporting, local and gubernatorial regulations, discussions with focus groups and in-depth interviews to determine the index.

In a commentary article to Jakarta Globe, political analyst Pitan Daslani said that the practice of democracy in Indonesia is moving backwards. The former journalist pointed to discriminatory ethnic and religious sentiment within the political sphere ahead of next year's regional elections.

Political Rights

This year's survey resulted in the highest ranking for political engagement — such as the right to vote or hold office — since the study first began in 2009.

The ranking has shot up 63.72 in 2014, after a dismal 46.25 in 2013, climbing a further 6.91 points in 2015 to reach 70.63.

Syamsuddin Haris, a political researcher from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), said the increase is due to the expansion of freedoms under the current government.

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, who made international headlines after winning the presidency for his humble background outside of political dynasties, faced tough anti-democratic campaigning in 2014 with results disputed by his establishment opponent.

February's regional elections, particularly the gubernatorial race in Jakarta, is widely expected to be the next test in Indonesia's democracy after incumbent Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama became embroiled in a blasphemy case at the beginning of the campaign period.

Civil freedoms

While engagement improved, civil freedoms and executive, legislative and judiciary institutions decline.

Straddling the "good" and "safe" categories, civil freedoms dropped from 82.62 to 80.30 following investigation into movement, speech, religious freedoms and discrimination.

The report cited events such as the August police blockade on a Yogyakarta university dormitory, ostensibly to trap up to 70 Papuan students who had demonstrated in support of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP).

Indonesia maintains pluralism and harmony through the founding Pancasila ideology and the Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity) motto, but Syamsuddin says the government, including the Jokowi administration, fails to protect all citizens.

“[Some] legislators manipulate religious issues for their political needs, so they could still get elected in the next period,” Syamsuddin said.

He emphasized government policies, which play an important role in ending discrimination and upholding constitutional rights of all Indonesians, despite race, ethnicity, religion and inter-group dynamics.

“If discrimination remains high, our democracy would likely be low,” Syamsuddin said in Jakarta last week.

Declining institutions

Functioning of democratic institutions has declined the furthest, dropping from 75.81 in 2014 to 66.87 points. Political parties, legislative assemblies and the House of Representatives are all taken into account when assessing the index.

“Our representatives, in both the House and Regional House, haven’t made any improvements in quality,” Syamsuddin said.

Representatives have dragged the country's democracy index after a string of high-profile graft cases involving lawmakers across the country.

Despite the Saber Pungli task force, launched by Jokowi a year ago, sniffing out extortion and graft in the institutions, Syamsuddin said the process is still on-going and will take a long time.

Syamsuddin added that Indonesia's politics remains transactional among the established parties, of which the country has dozens vying for power.

The current system, in which citizens elect their local representatives in the House via elections, is prone to money politics.

“If there are 10 house political parties means 10 different thoughts on one subject. During the process of negotiating, they sell their political rights in exchange of money,” Syamsuddin told the Jakarta Globe.

“The public positions that were contested by members of political parties is being manipulated and used as an ATM to fund their party."

Currently, 19 governors, 10 former ministers, officials of the Constitutional Court and Judicial Commission and hundreds of mayors, district heads and ad hoc government officials have been arrested in graft cases.

Transparency International's annual Corruption Perception Index last year saw Indonesia move up the ranking slightly to 56 of 178 countries on 47 points, just behind Malaysia ranked 55.

Syamsuddin said the government must intervene and create a subsidy for political parties, as is the case in other countries, in an effort to battle money politics. The parties themselves, meanwhile, must improve the quality of human resources.

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