Saturday, May 22, 2010
Thailand’s Crisis and Indonesia's Shortcomings
In the eyes of most Western leaders, Indonesia and Thailand represent the validity of Francis Fukuyama’s thesis that a combination of democracy and market economy constitutes the end of history. They believe that politically the two nations have found their ideological destiny.
But as we observe how chaotic the political situation in Thailand has been over the last few weeks and how vulnerable the law-enforcement system is in Indonesia, we have good reason to worry about the democratic movement in both countries.
As far as Thailand is concerned, it is quite evident that simple democracy cannot provide a satisfactory resolution to the tug-of-war between its royal tradition and political modernization. Despite the fact that most Thai people love and respect King Bhumibol Adulyadej, there is also growing awareness that the monarchy itself has turned out to be a stumbling block for social and political reform.
The indispensability of the monarchy has apparently been utilized by some prominent military leaders to counterbalance the emergence of popular civilian leaders, including deposed former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thus, the current political conflict in Thailand goes deeper than just the confrontation between Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the Red-Shirt protesters. It is also a battle between military and civilian leaders who are anticipating the decline of the monarchy’s power.
There is an assumption that free and fair elections are going to be an effective mechanism to rescue Thailand from becoming a failed state. However, as long as the fundamental problems are not properly addressed, a struggle for power among the elite will continue to take place, with all its social and economic implications. If only the charismatic king was healthy enough to come forward to reconcile the conflicting parties, then things could be much more easily managed.
The problem is that it is unlikely that the next king will be charismatic enough to command the loyalty of the Thai people. In the past, it was always the military leaders who, with the tacit support of the king, took over the political system and restored public order in times of chaos. The current situation has been made more complicated not only because of the apparent decline of the king’s political influence, but also due to the brutality of the security forces in dealing with the Red-Shirt protesters.
Those who believe that liberal democracy is suitable for developing countries tend to take for granted that in the long run bad politicians will be moved out and meritocracy will have its way. However, in the nature of things, fundamental change in political behavior is never determined by outside factors. Genuine change can only come from within the person. This is the reason why many people get frustrated with the political inefficiency of new democracies. Politicians are at best smart pretenders and only care about their own interests. Instead of making themselves subject to the rules of the game they continue to engage in an endless game of rules.
Although the political situation in Indonesia is not as bad as in Thailand, to some extent we have wasted our time and energy by focusing on certain corruption issues and personalities without a clear vision of where we are going with all these political quarrels. Because all political parties want to take advantage of these issues, the people get confused by conflicting statements and inconsistent behavior. We pay so much attention to the particulars that we miss the bigger context of the problem. For instance, all the debates in the media have focused so much on the public conflict between former National Police chief detective Comr. Gen. Susno Duadji and National Police Chief Gen. Bambang Hendarso Danuri, that we forget to deal with the imperative to totally reform the police institution.
In addition, often the electronic media do not really function in a way that is consistent with their mission. Almost every day there is a debate in the broadcast media about the political issues of the day. The negative effect of this culture of debate is that we talk too much and work too little. The major problems of this nation like poverty, malnutrition, poor education and environmental degradation can only be solved through hard work. Let us not romanticize our democracy while neglecting the tough social and economic problems that make our people suffer.
Both Thailand and Indonesia should rethink the current state of affairs in their democracies. It is quite evident that the two countries need to go beyond just the tenets of liberal democracy. There seems to be a negative correlation between political democracy and social discipline. Unfortunately, most of the time political leaders themselves are lacking in discipline. As a result corruption is rampant and becomes increasingly difficult to eradicate. Fundamental change in the behavior of political leaders is a precondition for a larger transformation in society.
In the final analysis, the personal integrity of its leaders is what will sustain a political system by attracting popular support and strengthening moral legitimacy.
By Aleksius Jemadu acting dean of the School of Social and Political Sciences at Pelita Harapan University.
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