Democracy In Indonesia Essay Research Paper It

Democracy In Indonesia Essay, Research Paper It seems to me that, if it is admitted that some day we may be forced to have some form of democracy in Siam, we must prepare ourselves gradually. We must learn and educate ourselves. We must learn and experiment so as to have a better idea of how a parliamentary government would work in Siam.

Democracy In Indonesia Essay, Research Paper

It seems to me that, if it is admitted that some day we may be forced to have some form of democracy in Siam, we must prepare ourselves gradually. We must learn and educate ourselves. We must learn and experiment so as to have a better idea of how a parliamentary government would work in Siam. We must try to educate people to be politically conscious, to realize their interests so they will not be misled by agitators of mere dreamers of Utopia. If we have a parliament, we must teach the people how to vote and elect representatives who will really have their interests at heart.

King Prachatipok of Siam, 1927

When the Berlin Wall fell the world thought with the assistance of a superpower that democratization could happen overnight. This has not proven true. On the contrary, what is usually prevailed is a false sense of democracy, an illiberal democracy. The road to democracy is slow and arduous. During the Dutch rule over what was later Indonesia and 22 years before its independence, King Prachatipok understood what was needed to democratize. Even so, since World War II Indonesia has not evolved into a liberal democracy and may be one of the countries furthest from democracy in of all Southeast Asia. What must happen? What has happened? Why has this happened? And what can the United States do to promote democracy and protect human rights in Indonesia?

Economic growth, which is necessary for the creation of a middle class, is the crucial first step toward democratization. For a democracy to be successful a country must have a certain economic and social structures. The consensus remains that there is no viable alternative to the market economy and that capitalist development is associated with the ascent of democracy (Dahl, p. 181). This ascent leads to two structural effects: strengthening the working class and subordinate classes and weakening landowners (Rueschemeyer, p.48). The stability of democracy depends on the loss of this disparity between classes (Singer, p. 53). Some of these structures were in place between 1974-1990 when the number of new democracies increased suddenly. However, since the early 1990s the increase has slowed considerably.

Fourteen centuries ago Aristotle in The Politics asked, “What is the best constitution and what is the best life for the majority of states and majority of men?” (Aristotle, p.265) Aristotle believed that there wasinsecurity at the extremes and that the “middle citizens in a state are the most secure…” (Aristotle, p.267) Hence a state which operates through the middle people has the best chance of having a well-run constitution. (Aristotle, p.267) The middle class (hoi mesoi translates, “those in the middle of moderate wealth”) are most likely to have a free government. (Mulgan, p.108). The middle class are unlikely to have another class opposed to them as the rich and the poor are to each other, and most importantly the middle class is more likely to achieve stability. They act as a buffer between the rich and poor, and provide the only hope for government consented by all citizens, rich middle class, and poor alike (Mulgan, p.110). The mediator is the one in the middle, hence the most likely to be trusted (Aristotle, p.274).

Aristotle realized the role of political and economic divisions in political conflict and the need to reduce and blur these divisions in order to achieve political harmony and stability. Democratization almost always requires a strong and vibrant middle class. In a divided society with a limited middle class, the rich want a monarchy or oligarchy to protect their interests and the poor do not have the education, time, money, or political savvy to create a viable and long-lasting democracy (Mulgan, p.110). Therefore, political reform often must take place through the middle class– a middle class that is nurtured by the authoritarian rule that predominates throughout Asia.

South Korean president Kim Dae Jung blames the Asian crisis squarely on the lack of democracy and predominance of authoritarian rule that exists throughout Asia. “In every country in Asia, including Korea,” he has said, “the major reason for [economic] failure was the lack of democracy.” (Emmerson, p.4) But democracy cannot enter through the back door. Studies of successful democracies show a need for neutral armed forces, symbolic continuity (flag, national anthem), and a party system, whether a presidential democracy or parliamentary democracy. (Diamond, p. 57)

The Dutch did little to set up a middle class for Indonesia. When the Dutch pulled out they left little of the social, political, and economic framework needed to function as a post-World War II democracy.(Vasil,p.1) In 1939 (see Appendix 1) the majority of Indonesians were poor with nearly two-thirds of them earning less than 200 guilders per annum. Nearly all of the industry that they promoted was either agricultural or mineral. The economy of the post-war era was not in a position to encourage political rule for the masses who were preoccupied with social and economic change. Today after the fall of Suharto the concern of the common people of Indonesia is food rather than any reform movement. Suharto’s Indonesia with its economic growth helped create the beginning of a vibrant middle class. Today, though, with political upheaval and an economic downturn, democracy is no longer on the minds of the people. Furthermore, Aristotle continues in The Politics that there will be no stability in democratic constitutions unless the element of society that wants it is stronger than that which does not. Democracy takes a back-seat to bread on the table. (Aristotle, p.268)

After independence in 1949 Indonesia had a short-lived liberal democracy which was soon replaced with Sukarno’s Guided Democracy. He opposed Western parliamentary procedure and majority decisions, “50 percent plus one are always right.” (Borthwick, p. 339) True democracy for this old-school leader was the form of consensus practiced in the villages– consensus guided by the trusted leader. In the country’s case it would be Sakarno. The Guided Democracy failed because large social groups, such as the poor, were left out. (Borthwick, p. 340) Suharto replaced Sukarno and lived under the same principles that Sukarno set in 1945—monotheism, humanitarianism, unity, democracy, and justice. To solidify his democracy, Suharto reduced the number of parties to three: his own and two opposition parties. With this realignment he always during his 32-year rule controlled over 500 of the 1000 seats of the Collective Assembly. (CQ Researcher, p.637)

Democracy did not flourish under the repressive regimes of Sukarno and Suharto, but their regimes did promote economic growth. The prime beneficiaries were the leaders’ wallets and those of their children and close associates. However, Indonesia as a whole became richer and these riches brought education, access to communication and media, and the prospect of an improved economic lifestyle for all people.

Indonesia is the most corrupt of Asian countries and has the greatest potential for social unrest of the Asian countries surveyed (see appendix 2). Why is Indonesian democracy illiberal and why is there the slim chance for democratization in the near future? The unique democratic institutions their proponents have claimed is not equal or superior to the Western liberal system. (Hood, p.1)

Can Americans condemn Suharto for lining the pockets of his children to the tune of billions? Yes, because part of the use of social capital, the networking and learning to work together, is based on trust. How can citizens trust the crooks of crony capitalism? Why did Indonesians let the cronies rule for so long? It has to do with social differences in Indonesia—differences that are noticed between it and one of its closest Asian neighbor, the Philippines. These social differencesces can be part of the of success or failure for a stable, pluralistic democracy. (Pye, p. 767) In Indonesia crony capitalism is more justified than in other Asian countries.

In Indonesia one’s patron, a bapik, is like a close family member, since once someone has declared he owes a debt, the patron can no more ignore the debt than a father ignore a son. (Pye, p.769) In the West patrons reign and clients are exploited, whereas in Indonesia the patron assumes the risk. This is analogous to the infantry taking the risk as the officers are in safe locales. In America the client wants and seeks out the patron, and the client will take risks, giving all he can for the influence of the patron’s help. The Indonesian patron-system is similar to an air force, in which officers risk death by flying in combat, while enlisted men remain home at base. The enlisted men further pack the officers’ parachutes, hence the officers are well-advised to stay on friendly terms with the enlisted. (Pye, p.770)

These unbreakable Indonesian bonds form can be initiated easily, and those in favored positions are in constant siege from the people anxious to declare loyaty to them. The Chinese in Indonesia are thought to have an unfair advantage over Indonesians because they only have to look after blood relatives, while the good Indonesian finds it impossible to say “no” to any unfortunate person. (Geetz, p.142)

These types of relationships are thought of as a way of life in Indonesia. The people live in a culture that makes no distinction between the political and economic realm. Hence what Westerners would consider blatant corruption or crony capitalism, the Indonesians, whether they like it or not, know it is a deeply-rooted part of their culture. Indonesian cronyism stems from the bapak system (father/ patron) and his anak buah (children/ clients) This relationship is family-like since one has declared incalculable debt to the client who cannot dismiss his clientele. A rising star in Indonesia may have a number of lifelong clients who cannot be denied. (Pye, p. 772)

In contrast to the rigid rules of Indonesia, Filipino bapakism ties are looser and less durable. To be a batak or patron in the Philippines is a less onerous position. In Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines, which is a Malay language, like that of Indonesia, the word batak means “to pull.” Binatak na ako means “he pulled me” or “influenced me.” The words anak buah in Tagalog translates as “demented child” and bapak is translated in the Spanish as patrino or just Godfather. The former translation is meaningless to batakism; the latter has a contrasting meaning to the Indonesian. A Godfather has status and can influence but he expects more form the client in return.

In the Philippines, unlike Indonesia, a child may have several families of aunts, uncles or godparents. In Indonesia power is status. In the Philippines, power, or lakas, means strength or power, and power means privilege not obligation, free from regulation and almost above the law. These relationships in the Philippines are fluid and freewheeling and the networks that assume are stable in Indonesia, can form and disband in the Philippines as people move to new patrons. (Pye, p.773)

When I lived in the Philippines as a Peace Corps teacher trainer people wanting favors would latch onto me because I might have power to get them what they wanted, not because I had much status. But if I was unable to help them find a Western husband for their daughter or unable to garner them American visas they would leave me in a heartbeat to seek out a patron who might be better able to help. I did not rely on them nor they on me.

In Indonesia, President Suharto must serve as a patron to his children and others who have been able to grab hold of his coattails. His children would, as the president’s child, have to act as patrons to their clients. It is like a reverse pyramid scheme, each having to be corrupt to satiate the client-patron need. In contrast, corruption in the Philippines still exists but the patron does not have to go out of his way to make sure the clients receives their wants.

The bapakism of Indonesia helped sustain the political stability of Suharto’s 32-year reign, but at the same time it stagnated the growth of any needed democratic institutions, except economic growth which can help bring about democracy. In contrast, in the Philippines the looser ties are akin to democracy, but the struggle for power undermines effective governance.

The prospects for democracy are greater in the Philippines, where social capital seems to be strengthening the growth of civil society. But not all Asian countries have these pronounced norms of civility and respectable levels of social capital. Instead, they have weak civil societies which contribute to a unsuccessful history of democracy. Some may find this odd, since Confucianism is so associated with social capital such as etiquette, work ethic, and the value of education.

In pre-independent Indonesia, groups struggled and challenged colonial rule. When the colonists left these groups became the new government. After a quick transition from opponent of the state to part of the state, these nationalist leaders made sure that no new groups could challenge their authority. (Pye, p.776) In Indonesia, unlike the Philippines, these groups made Sukarno and subsequently, Sukarno made Suharto. Suharto made it difficult for the other political parties and the generations of bapakism lead to the exaggerated case of cronyism, making it difficult for Indonesia to develop a liberal democracy.

The United States can take credit for helping foster democracy in Asia. Early in the 20th century the U.S. put the Philippines on a path to self-government. In Japan General MacArthur and his Occupation forces introduced a democratic constitution which left the emperor a mere figurehead. After WWII the US pressured European powers to give up their colonies; consequently, the Dutch gave up Indonesia.

What has the US done lately, and has the Clinton administration been successful in promoting democracy in Indonesia? After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the quick disintegration of the Soviet Union there was a thought that democratic change could be quick and it just needed a superpower to assist. The wisdom of the Siamese king, who knew that democratization is a long, arduous process, had been forgotten.

The US can help with economic and social issues, but implementing political reform and reviving the economy in twenty-first century Indonesia is proving to be a great struggle. Indonesia democrats fear economic problems may temper popular support for reform. “Common people tend to think more about food than about the reform movement now.” (Jost, p. 637) The United States can do little to mitigate the socially ingrained corruption, but it has achieved some success in another area, human rights. The US has been able to pressure Asian governments to promote human rights, including Indonesia. On the other hand, Japan, Asia’s leader, has an opposite view on human rights throughout Asia that often hinders America’s humanitarian concerns.

Surprisingly, the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s gave more of an opportunity to facilitate democratization than did the economic success of the earlier four decades. This is ironic because economic growth is often viewed as the main ingredient for democratization. Along with steps toward democratization, the Asian financial crisis offered the US and Japan a “unique opportunity to affect political and human rights in Indonesia.” (Lutterback, p. 20) The US has been more than willing to take this opportunity but has little influence. Japan, on the other hand, has the influence, but does not desire to do so. The Asian crisis showed the West “the weakness in Asian values and vindicated the virtues of human rights and democracy.” (Ming, p. 142).

The US views Indonesian as a human rights issue and a place where we hope democracy will spread. Japan prizes Indonesia for its economic importance. Japan, with few natural resources (except water), does not want to damage its Indonesian relationship due to its trade and investment there, the country’s oil supply, and the strategic shipping routes. Furthermore, Japan has been Indonesia’s largest ODA investor. Japan will go out of its way to criticize social issues in Myanmar, a country not economically strategic for Japan, but it will not openly criticize human rights in Indonesia.

Japan has a checkered past of its own in Asia, a past that it has not come to terms with. Critics of Japan often refer to WWII incidents, such as the Nanking Massacre in China, the use of Korean comfort women on the front lines, or the needless destruction of Manila late in the war. Japanese high school history texts gloss over the war, emphasizing its victim role as the recipient of two atomic bombs. As a teacher of English in a public Japanese high school for two years, I knew of no students who knew the history of WWII better than the history of some ancient Japanese era. Non-Japanese Asians two generations separated from 1945 still wait for an apology. Until Japan comes to terms with their own history, it will be nothing more than an economic leader.

Even if Japan did take a hard line on human rights, its concerns would not be appreciated by other Asian countries. Also, the Japanese often hinder the efforts of the United States. For example, Japan differed from US on the Tiananmen Incident, and this reaction led Indonesia and other Asian countries to react in a much more modest way than the West wanted. (Cronin, p. 65-66)

In addition, the Japanese treat these countries with contempt. The Japanese are famous for everything, including countries. Asian countries like Singapore and Hong Kong rank high in Japanese rankings. China, too, ranks high, because of its past cultural influence on Japan. However, countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, and Indonesia rank low. The Japanese do not care about the trials and tribulations of these last, especially their lack of concern for human rights. The Japanese public is not involved in the issues, and its government “adopts a pro-business policy with little internal opposition.” (Arase, p. 96-7)

The demise of Suharto has created opportunity and peril for Indonesia. Opportunity because an old, non-democratic regime is history and a new history and a new democratic process exists. Perils because the country could split without a strong center or another non-democrat could take power. Democracy is best fostered by and coexistent with economic growth, a market economy, and the rule of law. Indonesia since World War II has made one failed step towards democracy shortly after the war and is again trying after the 1998 fall of Suharto. Compared to the past regimes, the current regime is more hospitable to the conditions needed for democracy. The United States remains a leader in action and as a model. Asian nations like India, Taiwan, and the Philippines continue to take steps down the democratic road. Japan, too often unsupportive, no longer carries the weight it did. In the last 15 years, with fits and starts, democracy has visited and even stayed in places it seemingly had little chance in. Indonesia’s turn may not be next, but the view here is that it is in line, and its chance to finally take its turn are, in the words of Devi Fortuna Anwar, a former advisor to former President Habibie, “Better than even.”




Below 200 guilders 1,000 1,434,077 29,700

200-900 guiders 10,375 562,155 161,691

900-2500 25,701 28,932 34,761

2500-5000 24,643 5,940 9,491

5000-10000 17,226 1,034 2,842

10000-20000 4,622 189 724

20000-40000 831 17 185

over 40000 224 4 53

Source: George Kahin, National and Revolution in Indonesia,

Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca, NY, 1952, p.36



Indonesia 9.91 9.64

Japan 4.25 0.88

Malaysia 7.50 4.88

Philippines 6.71 4.43

Singapore 1.55 1.18

Thailand 7.57 3.86

Vietnam 8.50 5.00

Source by 600 regional businessmen where 0=best

and 10=worst. Source: Political & Economic Risk

Consultancy, Singapore, 1999

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