The Economist Intelligence Unit says the plan to abolish direct elections in Indonesia is a major threat to the country's democracy. (Antara Photo/Maulana Surya)

Indonesia's Flawed Democracy Improves as Civil Liberty, Political Culture Stagnate


JANUARY 22, 2020

Jakarta. Indonesia's flawed democracy improved for the first time in four years, bucking a global trend that saw the rise of strongmen and oligarchs, gripping government surveillance and violent protests against authorities.     

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) published its latest annual Democracy Index on Wednesday. The 2019 edition provided an alarming portrait of a deteriorating state of democracy around the world with the world's average measure of democracy falling to its lowest since the index was first published in 2006.


Indonesia is now in 64th place out of 167 countries the thinktank evaluated last year, one up from 2018. Its score on the index rose from 6.39 to 6.48 on a scale of 0 to 10 with the latter being a score for a perfect democracy.

This is the first time Indonesia's democracy progressed in four years after being on a downward trajectory since 2015 when it scored its highest index ever of 7.03. 

The EIU noted a successful election last April – which saw the return of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo to power – bolstered a continuing democratic electoral process in the country. 

"However, in a disturbing development, some senior politicians have advocated the abolition of direct elections," the institution wrote in its report, titled "Democracy Index 2019:
A Year of Democratic Setbacks and Popular Protest."

"This would see Indonesia reverting to the pre-2004 system, under which the president was selected by the national parliament. Such a regressive step would weaken the country's electoral system, replacing the current competitive, high-turnout elections with an opaque procedure," the EIU wrote. 

Jokowi has opposed the move, and the government has so far refrained from proposing the plan to the House of Representatives.

"But as [Jokowi's] influence wanes in the future, others may push it to the fore," the EIU said. 

Meanwhile, Indonesia's political culture and civil liberty have not improved since 2018, the report noted. 

Indonesia's mixed fortune came at a time when some of its neighbors have improved their democracy. Malaysia moved up nine places to 43rd following the country's move to scrap its fake news law in 2018 and give more room for political oppositions to rally their campaign. 

Thailand made a leap of 38 places in the index, the biggest mover of any country last year, to become a "flawed democracy" – the same category as Indonesia – rather than a "hybrid regime." 

The report classified countries into four categories: full democracy, flawed democracy, hybrid regime and authoritarian regime. It evaluated the states based on a range of indicators that reflect the electoral process and pluralism, the functioning of government, political participation, political culture and civil liberties. 

Globally, the average democracy index fell from 5.48 in 2018 to 5.44 in 2019. The EIU said the score was the lowest since the institution first introduced the index in 2006, driven by "a sharp regression in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa." 

The two largest democracies in the world, the United States and India suffered. The former saw a decline in public trust toward the government, while the latter saw civil liberty reduced.  

Around half (48 percent) of the world population now live in some type of democracy, although only 5.7 percent reside in a "full democracy," like one practiced in the top three countries in the index, Norway, Iceland and Sweden. 

The US was demoted to a "flawed democracy" following the result of its divisive election in 2016.

"More than one-third of the world's population live under authoritarian rule, with a large share being in China," the EIU said.