Indonesia Too Democratic?

Can a country be too democratic? Vice President of Indonesia, Jusuf Kalla, thinks it can be. The Jakarta Post reports on his visit to China, and it seems like Kalla is quite impressed by what is going on in China. If only Indonesia was a bit less democratic they would be able to make the same progress as China is making.

“China’s strength is that it can plan and implement. Our system, which is too democratic with too much individual freedom that often disregards the rights of others, has made it difficult for us to build infrastructure”

“As long as individual right is above public responsibility, we will not progress… That’s the only problem we have now.”

A strong government role can help economic development, as is shown by Indonesia’s neighbors Singapore and Malaysia. But going the same way as China is simply not an option for Indonesia anymore, after almost 10 years of democracy. And despite all the troubles in its short history of democracy, the country is showing progress. Progress not just in terms of economic development but also in terms of intellectual and artistic freedom. Sure…Indonesians might hit the streets a few times too many, but I guess that’s a healthy sign, even though it might not always correspond with the governments plans.

An interesting example is the TV show Newsdotcom, better known as ‘Republik Mimpi‘ or the Republic of Dreams (below is an item on the show by Australian current affairs programme Dateline). It is a show with a healthy dose of political satire, including impersonations of former presidents Gus Dur and Megawatti, the current president Yudhoyono and even Jusuf Kalla. This definitely wasn’t imaginable in the Soeharto Era and probably would lead to quite some government opposition in other countries in Southeast Asia. Even though Information and Communication Minister Sofyan Djalil planned to file a legal complaint against the producer, the show has been allowed to continue.

Maybe a small sign of hope amidst the many troubling things happening in Indonesia. Nevertheless, I think it is an important one. And in the long run, such minor steps and a little bit ‘too much democracy and individual freedom’ can give Indonesia some major advantages compared to (semi-)authoritarian countries.

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