Editorial Notes

Indonesian democracy in retreat: The Jakarta Post

In its editorial, the paper says that democracy in Indonesia is weakening, given all that has happened in 2017.

Supporters of former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama gather at city hall a day after after a court sentenced him to two years in jail following blasphemy charges, in Jakarta, on May 10, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS/ANTARA FOTO

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Democracy moves in a mysterious way.

As a form of government it is always in flux, with some countries making a transition from dictatorship in one moment, while others jettisoning the system in another.

There's no assurance that once a country achieves democracy, it will stay in the game for eternity.

Political scientist Adam Przeworksi has attempted to find links between democracy and economic development and came up with a tentative conclusion that the expected life of democracy in countries with per capita income between US$3,001 and US$6,005 (S$3,950 to S$7,900) is approximately 60 years.

Democracy is never a foregone conclusion and in recent years, it feels more and more like a tentative conclusion.

In its latest report, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) found the global trend of what it calls "a democratic recession" has persisted and that democracy continues to experience setbacks in places where it has long been considered safe.

In the so-called democracy index, comprising 60 indicators across five broad categories - electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, democratic political culture and civil liberties - the survey concluded that less than 5 per cent of the world's population currently lives in a "full democracy."

The bad news is that even in places like the United States, democracy shows a visible decline in quality with the rise of Donald Trump.

The survey relegated the US to 21st place, on par with Italy, while France, already a "flawed democracy," fell further in 2017.

This leads many to ponder the question of whether democracy has stalled in the West.

But even with that low standard, Indonesia has the worst record in the year of Trump.

With a score of 6.39, Indonesia fell 20 places in the index from 48th to 68th, making it the worst performer among the 165 independent countries and two territories surveyed in 2017, sliding from "flawed democracy" toward the "authoritarian" end of the scale.

The EIU only quantifies what happened in 2017, with the prosecution of former Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama being the chief example of how the quality of our democracy deteriorated.

The irony of it all is that post-New Order political liberalisation, which allowed street protests and regular elections to take place, has been hijacked by the majority to violate the rights of minority groups.

Also, political parties in the House of Representatives, which owes its existence to today's open political system, have no qualms about curbing political liberty by joining forces with the administration of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo to pass the mass organisations law, which takes away much of the freedom of assembly from civil society groups without a proper judicial process.

Now, work is under way to increase the severity of punishments in the Criminal Code.

People in government, including directly-elected president, do not appear to believe in democracy, with many expressing grievances that democracy has "gone too far."

With all these assaults, our democracy does not stand a chance.

The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media.

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