INDONESIA IN 2010: Moving on from the Democratic Honeymoon

Article excerpt

Until a few years ago, appraisals of Indonesia as Southeast Asia's foremost democratic success story were common place. There has been broad consensus that Indonesia is a model of procedural democracy, most of all manifest in three successfully held consecutive national elections. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been described as a reliable partner to Western nations, a Muslim moderate, and a pohtical stabilizer. Owing to his credentials as a reformer, he has also been termed a "political game-changer".1 Indeed, Yudhoyono's administration received deserved praise for its resolution of communal conflicts and for its reformist economic pohcies. Under the rigorous leadership of Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, state finances and tax structures were improved, corrupt officials in the customs and tax services replaced, and fuel subsidies reduced.2 The President made it a priority to end three decades of futile military oppression of the province of Aceh; he also spearheaded a successful campaign against Islamic terrorism. In Papua, the role of the army and police has been less restrained than elsewhere and human rights abuses still occur frequently, but special autonomy has delivered substantial local civilian rule.

During 2010 many observers, however, began to question how successful Indonesia's democratic consolidation had been. Over the last two to three years they have gradually been replaced by a more balanced and more sober perspective on the country's state of affairs. It has gradually become clear that Indonesia's swift transition to democratic rule and its proud standing as the world's largest Mu slim- majority democracy has clouded over underlying and deeply rooted deficiencies in the country's political culture.3

The year 2010 reinforced the view that improving the quality and efficiency of Indonesia's public institutions and the extension of internal reforms in a poorly performing bureaucracy and police force remain among the biggest challenges for Yudhoyono's government. Several high-profile corruption cases revealed the country's legal system to be graft ridden. Despite the creation of independent bodies such as the Judicial Commission, the successes of procedural democracy have done little to strengthen the rule of law. These deficiencies render Yudhoyono's second term in office somewhat of a second transitional period in post-New Order Indonesia, as much defined by irresolution as by growing awareness of persistent shortcomings. In his state of the nation address on 16 October 2010 the President thus announced "a second wave of reform". This second wave, he said, was "not about changing but accentuating the objectives (of the first wave) ... and to increase the pace of change".4

A Bad Start to a Shaky Coalition

The year 2010 had a decidedly adversarial start, one that would leave its mark on much of the remainder of the year and severely disrupt the government's work. It dawned with the breaking of a major political scandal and the early rumblings of an interrelated and, as it turned out, even more momentous affair. Several other messy and lengthy corruption and tax evasion cases were to follow. Underlining the longevity of these and other sticking points, Edward Aspinall predicted in 2009 's review of Indonesia in this publication that various shortcomings "pointed toward future dangers" and that they exposed "underlying systemic problems in Indonesian democracy".5

The two most serious political scandals of 2010 were carried over from 2009: In late 2009, two members of Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK, Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi) - Chandra Hamzah and Bibit Samad Rianto - were accused of graft.6 The eventual evidence, presented in late 2010, pointed to a complex plot involving the office of (former) Attorney General Hendarman Supandji, members of the National Police, and a shady businessman by the name of Anggodo Widjojo, to bring down the KPK. …