Egypt and the ongoing journey of Indonesia in democracy

Last night Mubarak defied all expectations when he said that he would not step down from his office. Of all the similarities that have been made between Egypt’11 and Indonesia’98, certainly Mubarak does not share Soeharto’s sense of shame; that his time is up and he needs to go now. Of course, the protesters will return in larger numbers as they will not be content before Mubarak resigns from his presidency. This revolution is not over yet.

Indonesia, on the other hand, has had four different presidents since then. The current ruling president, SBY, is serving his second term in the office. Well, SBY is actually the first president in post-Soeharto era who lasts more than three years in the office. We have gone through our own tumultuous times in the late nineties and early noughties, indeed. The government is relatively more stable now. We have put our system in place. SBY won’t be elected again, for better or for worse, in 2014. We, perhaps, have been destined to live happily ever after.

What happens in Egypt, though, has some repercussions in other parts of the world. Indeed, revolution in Egypt itself is a result of a similar revolution in Tunisia. Thus, some have suggested that we should do the same thing in Indonesia, especially with the ever-decreasing popularity of SBY in his second term. The trend seems to gain its momentum after outrageous religious incidents in Cikeusik and Temanggung, but I guess all fainted hopes of revolution have been squashed after the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) threatened to topple SBY down. FPI thought SBY was referring to them when he said that anarchic organizations could be disbanded. However, many Indonesians hates FPI and it immediately tilts the momentum back to the president. Those who are suggesting revolution certainly do not want to be associated with FPI now.

Yet, the lesson remains. After Soeharto’s downfall, Indonesia is experiencing tremendous freedom. Indeed, one must conclude that the pendulum shifts too abrupt such that the response is excessive and immature at times. The existence of FPI in itself is not a possibility in Soeharto era. The regime knows how to suppress and control its own people. Now, they can shout and do whatever they like as if there is no authority above them. Not to mention the problems that we find in the media (amateur, provocative, and unashamedly biased journalism), in the local governments (mixed results of decentralization, from the really good ones to the really bad ones) and in public life (rampant and naked corruption). Indonesia seems to be not ready with the freedom that they have now. And the problem is exacerbated with the loose stance of the central government. Well, I guess the intention is sincere. The government wants to let Indonesians grow and decide for themselves what kind of democracy they would like to have. That’s why the government seems to be weak. A bit naïve, indeed, and I think it is safe to conclude from the empirical data that this kind of approach does not work. At least, for now. The government needs to be more assertive in guiding where this country wants to go. Assertiveness, of course, is not the same with dictatorship. Certainly, on the other hand, we don’t want to go back to Soeharto-like regime (some will disagree on this). Surely after thirteen years of experimenting in democracy, we should have realized that we need not an immediate but a gradual transfer of power from the government to the people. Say and moan whatever you like to say about the government, but let us admit that the people sucks as well.

Indonesia’s experience illustrates the difficulty of negotiating a life in post-revolution era. In the case of Egypt, Mubarak will definitely try as hard as he can to retain his old system, even after he resigns. The protesters will not be content with a mere change of personnel in charge, as they demand a systemic change. And that’s where the tricky part will come later. Democracy, as the story of Indonesia has shown, can be a very messy thing. Well, I guess each day has enough trouble of its own, for tomorrow will worry about itself. For now, Mubarak and his relentless defiance rightly remains the main focus. Here’s praying that the situation will not become nasty in Egypt.

(That’s why, in some sense, we should be glad that the last vice president of Soeharto is Habibie, a technocrat, as he didn’t give a damn about re-establishing the good ol’ New Order.)


2 thoughts on “Egypt and the ongoing journey of Indonesia in democracy

    1. septian Post author

      Mubarak steps down!

      Disneyland Sidoarjo?

      By the way, I still LOL’d when I saw Habibie’s face in the image above: “Damn I didn’t sign for this thing when I came.”


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