Foldvary: Democracy in Indonesia and Iraq
|September 20, 2004||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Democracy in Indonesia and Iraq
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
Those who say democracy cannot be established in areas where it has not long been part of the culture need to explain Indonesia.
Indonesia is a mostly Muslim country that had been ruled by a dictator. It was a colony of the Netherlands for centuries. Its history since independence has been one of internal wars and conflict. Yet Indonesia is now progressing as a democracy. Why?
The governing spirit of our era is representative democracy. Earlier, the spirit of government was monarchy. The transition occurred between the World Wars of the 20th century. Great Britain obtained new colonies in the Middle East and, following the old spirit, set up kings to rule them. But at the same time, defeated Germany and Austria embraced the new spirit and threw off their emperors. The British attempt to have compliant kings in Egypt and Iraq failed.
Dictatorships are freaks of history. A dictator is a king substitute, but he has no historic or moral justification. The governing spirit of our times opposes dictatorships. They have to hold fake elections or justify their rule by propaganda. Often they have been propped up by foreign powers such as the U.S., which supported the Indonesian dictator Suharto.
A front-page article in the Wall Street Journal, Sept. 17, 2004, describes how democracy is flourishing in Indonesia. The country is not just holding elections. Democracy is thriving in local communities. Thousands of citizens groups have arisen to promote causes such as human rights, real democracy, and environmental protection. The local media practice free expression. Indonesia has in the six years since the fall of the dictatorship become one of the most democratic countries in Asia.
There are still some severe problems plaguing the new democracy. Some power was shifted to the local governments in 1999. Unfortunately, corruption followed that shift. Unless a democracy is grounded in small local councils who then delegate power upwards, shifting power just shifts the problems.
Fortunately, however, Indonesians are in tune with the governing spirit of our times. People can protest. Newspapers can expose corruption. The courts are not puppets of the regime. In May, a court convicted representatives of the provincial legislature for misusing government funds, after a campaign led by Professor Saldi Isra, who teaches constitutional law.
In April, some 155 million voters chose representatives to local, regional, and the national parliament. Voter participation was over 80 percent. It was the largest one-day election in world history, yet it was little noted. The first round of the presidential election was held in July, the runoff election being on September 20. Democracy is progressing in Indonesia despite terrorist attacks and separatist conflicts.
The U.S. government claims to be promoting democracy in Iraq, but in reality, the U.S. occupation stifled self-governance. The U.S. administrator rejected elections for local government. The top chiefs of the U.S. government failed or refused to nourish democracy in Iraq at the local government level. This refusal led Iraqis to see the U.S. and its coalition as occupiers, and many Muslims see their religious duty being to oppose infidel rule of Muslim land. The deterioration in Iraq is due to the refusal by the U.S. to bring true democracy to Iraq.
Now they want to hold elections in January 2005, but the model is mass democracy rather than bottom-up voting. Mass democracy in Iraq will fail, because the candidates will be seen as collaborators and be prime targets for assassination. The spirit of the times is alive in Iraq just as it is in Indonesia, but Iraqis want democracy in substance and not a sham election. How will the candidates be selected? Without a democractic foundation at the local level, many will feel left out, and will question the whole process.
Indonesia shows that democracy is not some Western institution alien to other lands. Democracy is a natural expression of self-governance. Indonesia provides hope to the pro-democracy advocates especially in Muslim countries. But unfortunately, the U.S. stifled whatever democratic spirit would have arisen in Iraq.
Copyright 2004 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
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