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Election could be bad for Australia JAKARTA - Churchill caught the complexity of democracy in his famous line about it being the worst way to choose a government, except for all the other ways. Indonesia will be demonstrating both sides of this aphorism over the next few months. The good news is that Indonesia is about to choose its next government through peaceful elections. The bad news is that the outcome is unlikely to be good, and could be quite bad - for Indonesia and for ourselves. Australia's security depends on an Indonesia that is stable, prosperous, cohesive and democratic. It seems our chances of getting all four are slim.
Next Monday, 147 million Indonesians go to the polls to elect Indonesia's Parliament. It is the first step in a months-long process that will lead to the elections for the president later in the year. So far the campaign has been peaceful. The fact that this is all happening at all is a kind of miracle. Indonesia's experiment with democracy is about to pass a critical milestone. It has survived a full five-year electoral cycle since the first truly democratic election in 1999. The five years since then have been mixed for Indonesia. The economy has staged at least a temporary recovery, and the constitution has survived the removal of the former president, Abdurrahman Wahid ("Gus Dur"), and his replacement by his deputy, Megawati Soekarnoputri.
The military has stayed on the sidelines, and important constitutional reforms were made to provide for the direct election of the president. But at the same time, deeper reforms to Indonesia's institutions needed to foster long-term economic development have been shelved. Apathy and cynicism about the value of democracy has grown, and with it a certain nostalgia for the authoritarian but effective ways of president Soeharto. The open market in political ideas provided by democracy has not thrown up any new or compelling ideas for Indonesia's future direction.
So on Monday, Indonesia's voters will face a familiar line-up. The two big parties between them are expected to win more than half the vote. Last time Megawati's party, PDI-P, won 34 per cent and Golkar, which was Soeharto's political machine, won 22 per cent. This time the pundits expect their positions to be reversed, as Megawati suffers the political consequences of an ineffectual and disappointing incumbency.
Perhaps most striking, Indonesia's smaller Islamic-based parties seem to have made little progress over the past five years. Islam appeared to have been making bigger inroads into Indonesia's political life during the 1990s and many had expected that the polarisation between Islam and the West since September 11 would have amplified that trend, pushing a more stridently Islamic strain politics to the fore. Instead, the polling suggests the Islamic vote will stagnate - which, if true, will reinforce the result of Malaysia's recent elections in which the strongly Islamist party PAS was mauled.
The parliamentary election on Monday is mainly important as the curtain-raiser for the presidential election in July. If PDI-P does better than expected, Megawati will be in good shape to retain the presidency, and may even attract a leading Golkar figure as vice-presidential running mate. Five more years of Megawati's curiously inactive style of government would then follow - with the risk that as Indonesia's deeper problems go unsolved, the electorate's commitment to democracy might wane.
If Golkar proves the pollsters right and does substantially better than PDI-P, a much more complex future emerges. There will be a serious tussle for the Golkar nomination for the presidential election. Two candidates stand out. One is Akbar Tanjung, an old Golkar party machine man from the Soeharto era. He is a very experienced politician, but an unlikely agent of radical reform. And he carries the lingering taint of a recent conviction for corruption, overturned last month by Indonesia's Supreme Court on appeal.
The other is General Wiranto. He was Indonesia's military chief during 1999, and is suspected of tacitly or explicitly sanctioning violence by the military-backed militia in East Timor in that year. A UN special tribunal has initiated proceedings to bring him to trial on these allegations, and the US has placed him on a watch list of war crimes suspects. None of this detracts much from his appeal to Indonesian voters. His campaign emphasises Indonesia's need for strong leadership, and exploits that growing nostalgia among Indonesian voters for the firm rule and abundant achievements of the Soeharto era.
Wiranto was a close military aide to Soeharto for many years. But it is not clear whether much of the old man's capacity for leadership rubbed off on his protege. So Wiranto may offer more of the form of strong rule than the substance. Wiranto could turn out to offer the worst of both worlds - more authoritarian rule without the countervailing benefits of firm government. A president Wiranto in Jakarta's Istana Merdeka would be a major problem for Indonesia's relationship with the US. Washington can hardly afford to alienate the leader of the world's largest Muslim nation, but it would come under domestic pressure to keep Wiranto at arms length because of his alleged human rights violations.
For Australia the consequences could be even worse. Sensitivities about East Timor and the events of 1999 persist both in Australia and in Indonesia. So Canberra has understandably taken a slow, patient approach to rebuilding closer links with Jakarta. A Wiranto presidency would make that process much harder, and might well throw it into reverse.



Posted in Elections @ 01 April 2004 00:02 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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