Indonesia Ushering in the dawn of ochlocracy (the rule of government by mob)
The Greek philosopher, Polybius theorized about the circle of government, where government would rotate among three main forms: monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy.
According to Polybius, society is in anarchy at the beginning but subdued by the strongest figure that becomes the monarch. The monarch gradually loses his virtue and becomes a tyrant. It will bring resistance, which brings up the aristocracy. But, this too shall pass as the aristocracy loses its way to become an oligarchy. These oligarchs stir the anger of the people and democracy will rise from its ashes. But, democracy too will soon become corrupt and degenerate into mob rule, ushering the era of ochlocracy. So, the cycle rotates endlessly.
Using Polybius’s theory, it seems that we are facing the end of democracy and looking at the dawn of ochlocracy. Endless corrupt practices, dysfunctional government and social order, blatant mismanagement in the private sector, all the signs are there. People have begun to distrust their government and law enforcers. Transparency just becomes new jargon to mark doubt towards law enforcement while the law enforcers are intimidated by vigilante groups. This is the very beginning of government authority and a nation dismantling.
In addition, these groups of vigilantes with either a religious basis or an ethnicity basis are emerging in every city and province in Indonesia and take the role as the moral guard. Alas, the state seems to be idle. And as one vigilante leads to another vigilante, those organizations gain supremacy. And the one thing that all of these organizations have in common is their rejection of a pluralistic Indonesia. Somehow, what we face today seems to be ushering a new era and marks the end of democracy.
We were fortunate enough when President Joko Widodo began his administration with the Nawacita as his vision. One point that he promised was to reaffirm pluralism (kebhinekaan) and strengthen social harmony. However, when it comes to action, this commitment seems to have faded away.
Though it seems to be a hasty conclusion, the fact that suppression by mobs and thugs is still happening in Indonesia makes it hard for us to believe that the President has not forgotten his promise. Meanwhile, what all the other politicians only seem to be doing is talk without taking any concrete action. While the government stays silent, the mob grows bigger where silence is a kind of affirmation.
I imagine myself somewhat 30 or 40 years later, as a pensioner with my little daughter, perhaps, having followed my path as a lawyer. She may ask one or two things about how to have her career as a lawyer. Perhaps, I will give her some advice not only on how to be a good lawyer, but also on how to win cases.
I will tell her that first, to find bandits and thugs to affiliate herself with, and try to dress them all in white to give the impression as if those bandits and thugs are the good guys. Second, bring all of them to the street to demand a favorable ruling for her case. Third, find a bogus expert to strengthen her case, just to give the impression of scientific basis to her arguments. And, voilà, she will get what she wants. That is how the law works here in Indonesia and whoever follows this advice shall win.
Of course, it is just an imaginary conversation. Justice seems to be a scarce commodity to find among the abundance of laws, regulations, and protocols to follow. To stop democracy from deteriorating, the key is the preservation of law and justice. This republic has to return to the right track. Let the law enforcers be themselves and the politicians do their task and not mix-up everything. The law enforcers must not think about politics or whether their decision may be disliked by people. The law enforcers must weigh only on whether the law is violated or not.
As long as our problem is the idleness of government, the silence of the state, and the institution that has to uphold justice is not thinking about justice, but rather how to save themselves from havoc. We will not survive for long if this continues. A strong democracy is only as strong as its rule of law.
Urging the law to be used as a personal privilege is not democracy. If people can be arrested just because of the voice of a mob, then in other cases people can be freed just because of the will of the people. What is the use of the constitution? If we use the law based on what is liked or disliked, what is the use of the law?
So, I think we must seize the moment to keep our democracy intact and shut the door for ochlocracy. I don’t want to live in the generation that ushers in ochlocracy. And I hope this regime shares the same aspiration.
The writer Michael Herdi Hadylaya is a lawyer at Frans Winarta & Partners and lecturer at Sekolah Tinggi Ilmu Hukum Litigasi, Jakarta
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