Thursday, June 26, 2014

Raising the Pillars of Democracy

Off the Wall 4 June, 2014

During my recent visit to Indonesia, I had the opportunity to meet and hear from Dr. Nur Hassan Wirajuda, former foreign minister of Indonesia from 2001 to 2009. In 1989–1993, Dr. Wirajuda initiated the establishment of the Indonesian Commission of Human Rights. Currently he is member of the Council of Presidential Advisors of the Republic of Indonesia and the editor-in chief of Strategic Review. The Indonesian Journal of Leadership, Policy and World Affairs.  He is also patron to the Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD)–the implementing agency of the Bali Democracy Forum, and member of the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security chaired by Kofi Annan.

Reflecting on the “Reformasi”or political reformation that has been taking place in Indonesia since 1999, Dr. Wirajuda pointed out that one of the key differences between a reformation and a revolution was that a reformation was the correction of past mistakes by making use of what worked in the past, while including what was neglected, such as human rights and democracy.

While the transition towards full democracy is a long, difficult and complicated road for Indonesia, there are positive signposts along the way. According to Dr. Wirajuda, with 545,000 polling stations across Indonesia, there was a voter turnout of 121million or 71% in 2009 and approximately 75% or 165million this year – an increase of 4%. These 165 million voters have a strong say in the country’s leadership, as shown earlier this year when approximately 60% of the incumbent members of parliament were voted out for underperforming for their constituents. In other words, voters watch their MPs and those with proven leadership and good governance remain and move up.

“Democracy needs to be accepted as a national value,” said Dr. Wirajuda, describing “a  balance of the state, a vibrant civil society (CSO and NGO), the business community and free media” as “new pillars” of democracy. Included in the mix was a strong anti-corruption legislation and agency. The government, according to Dr. Wirajuda must release quarterly statistics to inform the public on its activities. “There must be a balance between economic development and democratic development. Development planning and programmes must be balanced with human rights and good governance.” He cited situations in the past where the Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat, (Indonesian parliament) halted government loans as a way of reducing foreign debt.

This process also has a strong emphasis on religious tolerance in a country where there is one predominant religious community. As the country with the largest Islamic population in the world (202.9 million - 88.2% of Indonesia's total population of 237 million), it is interesting to note that Indonesia is neither an Islamic state, nor a fully-secular state, but follows a “middle way”. Although it has an overwhelming Muslim majority, the country is not an Islamic state. Over the past 50 years, many Islamic groups sporadically have sought to establish an Islamic state, but the country's mainstream Muslim community, including influential social organizations such as Muhammadiyah and NU, reject the idea.

The Indonesian Constitution provides "all persons the right to worship according to their own religion or belief" and states that "the nation is based upon belief in one supreme God." The Government generally respects these provisions; however, some restrictions exist on certain types of religious activity and on unrecognized religions. The Ministry of Religious Affairs extends official status to six faiths: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism. Religious organizations other than the six recognized faiths can register with the Government, but only with the Ministry for Culture and Tourism and only as social organizations. This restricts certain religious activities. Unregistered religious groups cannot rent venues to hold services and must find alternative means to practice their faiths.

The autonomous province of Aceh is the only province that has Shari'a courts. Because Muslims make up the overwhelming majority of Aceh's population, the public largely accepted Shari'a, which in most cases merely regularized common social practices. However, some human rights and women's rights activists complained that implementation of Shari'a focused on superficial issues, such as proper Islamic dress, while ignoring deep-seated moral and social problems, such as corruption.

For Dr. Wirajuda, it is the responsibility of both the state and civil society to create structures that a strong in religious tolerance.  “Intolerance comes from ignorance. The state has accepted its responsibility in this area and so religion is a compulsory subject at all levels in school. This is the responsibility of the Ministry of Education.”

The media in Indonesia is free from licensing or official government interference, with only a Press Council to hold media organisations to their code of conduct. “The cost of democracy is a free media which sets the agenda.” Part of that process of dialogue has been to build trust between the military and civilian government and civil society. “This calls for a long education process.”

“For any democracy to develop, it important for truth-telling and deep honesty to exist. This is because democracy is a continuous process of dialogue in which public participation is essential.”


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