Friday, October 16, 2009

The end of Indonesia’s democracy or a rebirth of pluralism?

Many observers feared the possible coalition between Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party and Megawati Soekarnoputri’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and Golkar would kill the country’s young democracy.

The appointment of Megawati’s husband Taufik Kiemas as the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) chairman, which was supported by the Democratic Party (PD), displayed signs of such political cooperation. Similarly, the newly elected Golkar chairman Aburizal Bakrie did not refuse to collaborate with the President’s party.

The cooperation of the three largest parties is largely believed to diminish the checks and balances of the government - a fundamental aspect of democracy - due to the absence of an opposition party that was earlier played by the PDI-P, although many legislators have individually been more outspoken than their parties.

The cooperation of the three nationalist-secular parties, however, will raise hope for another important aspect of democracy: a respect for pluralism and the protection of minorities that some believe were disregarded during the President’s first term.

A substantive democracy needs to respect civil liberties, which among others includes the freedom of religion.

The endorsement of the anti-pornography law and sharia-inspired bylaws in regions, including the recent stoning bylaw for adulterers in Aceh, highlighted the government’s failure to maintain pluralism.

The burning and closing down of churches and mosques belonging to the Ahmadiyah Islamic sect are evidence of the failure of the state to protect its minorities.
Syaiful Mujani and Ihsan Ali Fauzi in the recent book Gerakan Kebebasan Sipil (Civil Liberty Movement), published a survey on how several regencies and municipalities, such as Padang in West Sumatra, Pandeglang in Banten and Bulukumba in South Sulawesi, tried to control the moral and fashion choices of their residents through such bylaws.

Many of the regulations targeted women, including banning them from going out at midnight and obliging them to wear a jilbab, or veil, on certain days.
The regulations are problematic because they do not just discriminate against non-Muslims, but also against other Muslims that disagree with such interpretations of Islam. In a democracy, a regulation should be applicable to all, not just certain religious groups.

In a soccer game, all players wear shorts – of course the colors are diverse, which demonstrates the plurality of the teams. The laws of the game are applicable to all teams and players.

A referee issues yellow or red cards based on the grade of violations committed by the players regardless of their backgrounds.

Using the analogy of a soccer game, certain Muslims here want to score as many goals as possible by using laws that favor them and discriminate against others.
The referee (or the state in a democracy) who should remain neutral, has also taken sides with certain groups that claim to represent the majority of players (or citizens).

We all know that sharia-inspired laws were suggested mostly by lawmakers from Golkar, not the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) – except for the current controversial ban on karaoke in Depok.

The lawmakers did this in return for securing votes from the Muslim community in this year’s elections.

In fact, Golkar’s vote decreased from being the largest party in the 2004 legislative elections to third in the recent elections.

The election of Aburizal, including the inclusion of the young intellectual Rizal Mallarangeng on the board of Golkar, will bring energy back to Indonesian pluralism as stated in his acceptance speech at the end of the party congress in Pekanbaru earlier this week.

Apart from Golkar, we need a strong pluralist commitment from the PDI-P lawmakers, not just their intellectual ability, to maintain the country’s safety for everyone.
We want the country to mature into a modern country along with “the rise of the rest” countries described by Fareed Zakaria in The Post American World. We don’t want Indonesia to be continuously categorized as a messy country that could turn into a failed state.

The cooperation of the three nationalist parties will ease tension among religious followers. The opposition role can be filled by individual politicians, as seen previously, along with civil society organizations and the media. Ahmad Junaidi , Jakarta Post

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