Building U.S.-Indonesia Mutual Understanding Since 1994

Indonesia Under SBY: Consolidating Democracy

Introduction:  On Tuesday, March 8, 2005 Dr. Douglas E. Ramage, spoke to audience members at a talk sponsored by The Asia Foundation and the US-Indonesia Society. Prior to joining The Asia Foundation in 1996, Dr. Ramage was a Research Fellow in Southeast Asian Politics at the East-West Center and Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Hawaii.  He also served as a Fulbright Scholar with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Jakarta, served as a Research Fellow at the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, and has authored numerous works on Indonesian politics.

Dr. Douglas E. Ramage, Asia Foundation Representative to Indonesia and Malaysia, challenged audience members to update their understanding of Indonesia at a recent program analyzing the efforts of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) at consolidating democracy in Indonesia.

“Indonesia is a nation no longer in crisis,” Ramage said, explaining that we must drop our notion of Indonesia as a country on the cusp of collapsing, and instead view it as a stable nation on the road to democratic consolidation.  Ramage pointed out that in recent history Southeast Asian specialists have viewed Indonesia primarily through a lens of crisis.  In 1997, Indonesia was a nation struggling to survive the financial crisis.  In 1998 and 1999, Indonesia was a nation on the verge of Balkanizing and splitting apart.  Most recently, Indonesia has been labeled a nation in danger of “radicalizing and Talibanizing.”  Ramage argued that none of these fears materialized, and that it is now time to acknowledge SBY and the Indonesian government’s progress in generating positive political and economic reforms throughout the country.

Ramage specifically discussed Indonesia’s progress in the areas of political and electoral reform, judicial reform, police and military reform, and government decentralization.  While acknowledging that there still exists room for improvement, he highlighted recent successes in each sphere.  Ramage cited improvements in Indonesia’s political and electoral system, noting that Indonesia held three free and fair elections in 2004, with voters selecting candidates based on their promises to reduce corruption and promote good governance. This is an important hallmark of democracy, as election specialists feared voters might select candidates based on more divisive or “primordial” issues such as racial, ethnic or religious affiliation.  Furthermore, Ramage said that the nation’s parliamentary system is strengthening, with Parliament passing important laws promoting economic deregulations and amending the constitution in a democratic fashion.  The Parliament’s increasing power signifies that Indonesia is better balancing political power throughout its governmental system.  These changes in Parliament are also being reflected in Indonesia’s judiciary system.  Ramage said that, compared to the Suharto era, Indonesia’s Supreme Court is virtually “free from political interference and is no longer used by the government to force the political will of the regime.”  While he noted that the court’s decision to only lightly sentence terrorist suspect Abu Bakar Bashir for his involvement in the Bali bombings may have been a poor decision, it was also important to note that Indonesia’s courts have convicted over 100 other terrorists.

Indonesia not only has made progress in dispersing power throughout its legislative and judiciary branches, but also has decreased the degree of power the military and police hold over the executive branch.  Ramage said the Indonesian armed forces have voluntarily given up their political power and privileges.  They are no longer represented in Parliament and they are working on improving transparency of the defense budget – a significant move given the military’s history of generating income through off-budget business operations that were previously outside the public’s scrutiny.  Ramage also noted that since the police and military were separated, the police have adopted a series of community-oriented policing programs that have noticeably reduced crime in Jogjakarta and Bali, for

example, and created support and buy-in from local citizens.  Furthermore, he noted that Indonesia’s attempt to disperse central power to local communities through decentralization reforms has reduced corruption and improved accountability in local governments.  He said that this accountability will increase as Indonesia conducts local elections in the next two years.

Ramage suggested the SBY administration has played an important role in furthering these reforms throughout Indonesia.  He said that SBY specifically appointed new commanders of the armed services and police who have track records of facilitating peace processes.  He noted that SBY also supported economic reforms by hosting a large international infrastructure summit during his first 100 days in office to attract investment and strengthen transparency throughout the economy.

Finally, he said that SBY managed the tsunami crisis very professionally in terms of dealing with Aceh and the GAM (Free Aceh Movement or Gerakan Aceh Merdeka) insurgency.  The President appointed a respected military leader and a well-known human rights activist to head negotiations with the GAM.  This team earned the GAM’s respect, as GAM knew that a former human right’s activist could sympathize with their struggle.  Furthermore, a well-respected military leader could control possible conflicts arising in Aceh.  Ramage also applauded SBY for immediately opening Aceh to the press and media, foreign aid workers, and NGO personnel within Indonesia.  He pointed out that while foreign aid workers received a great deal of attention for their work in Aceh, Indonesians have also been very active.  The result is that the Acehnese have realized that the rest of the country truly does care about them, and that they now more closely identify themselves as Indonesians.

Perhaps Ramage’s most convincing argument for Indonesia being a stable nation in the process of consolidating democracy was his point that Indonesian could not have handled the tsunami so well, or have turned such a tragedy into an opportunity for peace, if it were truly a nation still in crisis.

Ramage also field several questions from the audience, including the following:

Q:   How was Indonesia able to conduct its most recent elections with so little violence?  Other nations in the region, such as Cambodia and the Philippines continually struggle with violent elections.

Ramage said that this was an interesting question, as most Indonesians surveyed before the elections claimed violence was one of their top fears.  He suggested there was little violence because most candidates and political parties felt the election process was fair, that no party had a monopoly on money or the media, and that everyone had a legitimate chance at winning.  He noted that even one of Suharto’s daughters formed their own political party and ran for election.  He also noted that civil society was very active in monitoring the election, especially labor unions, Islamic organizations, and women’ groups.  Ramage concluded by saying that Indonesia also does not have a tradition of political violence during elections.  Previously, most deaths during elections resulted from violence at rallies rather than overt killing of candidates and political workers.

Q. While Indonesia is making progress in decreasing corruption at the local level, is it also making progress at the national level?

Ramage discussed several high-profile corruption cases in the top tiers of government, including cases against former President Suharto and his family, recent cases against top military officials for illegal logging practices, and cases against the governors of Bali and Aceh.  He also said that it was easier to prosecute at the lower level right now, and that prosecution at higher levels would take time.

Q.  What do you think will be the outcome of the Aceh peace negotiations?

Ramage said that he felt optimistic about the peace process.  He said that over 400 NGOs are active in Aceh, and that these organizations and the Indonesian government have stressed the importance of partnering with local Acehnese throughout the reconstruction process. That step has empowered many local Acehnese, allowing them to have a larger say in the peace process with the GAM and the Indonesian government. The tsunami and its reconstruction efforts have altered the dynamics of the peace process by empowering new groups of people.

pan>Is? srPl ?Yw good idea?

A:  This “Gumpang Road” already exists in a primitive form. Its completion is a commitment of several successive governments.  The principal objection to it has been its real effects on forest cover through organized illegal logging and encroachment by lowland farmers.  With the loss of two principal exit points for illegal timber at the ports of Meulaboh and Calang, that threat is ameliorated.  Encroachment continues with or without the road.  Personally, I favor completing this road at this time, though I have advised against it in the past.

Q:  How can we resolve the military-GAM conflict to the prewar situation?

A:  First let me say that the TNI has a great opportunity to improve its image.  It’s playing an essential role in human terms through its relief efforts and in cleaning up after the tsunami.  It can also contribute significantly, and visibly, to some rebuilding of basic economic infrastructure.  However, there has to be a limit to this.  Acehnese contractors and Acehnese labor need to be employed to rebuild Aceh.

I have great respect for the senior officer corps and believe they want to see this conflict resolved and the TNI assist Aceh to recover.  But senior leadership have problems enforcing discipline among junior officers, NCOs and troops in the field that make abuses difficult to stop.  Public evidence of disciplinary measures would be a good beginning to controlling abuses in the field and improving TNI’s public image.

This question could also be asked about the police.

This very sad occasion is also a special opportunity to begin “Acehnizing” the local police force.  This could begin in Banda Aceh and Aceh Besar by doubling the capacity of the Police Training Institute in Aceh Besar to train 4000 new Acehnese police in the next 5 years.  This would bring Acehnese representation to about 50 percent of the current police force.

Aceh’s NGO Community

Aceh’s NGO sector is weak and its development-oriented NGOs with any real experience can probably be counted on one hand.  Absorbing all the well-intended aid from foreign NGOs as well as other funding will be a problem.  There are many respected, powerful and even wealthy Acehnese outside Aceh, in Medan and Jakarta for example.  Through their Acehnese community organizations they are already mobilizing assistance.  Is it possible that with their sponsorship, some established Java-based development NGOs might overcome Aceh resistance to outsiders and partner with Aceh’s NGOs to build their capacity and take greater advantage of aid funds.

Q:  You haven’t spoken about problems with accountability for recovery and development funds.

This isn’t a peculiarly Acehnese problem.  Transparency is at the heart of any solution.  I would hope that some of the major donors will consider working with Acehnese civic leaders, especially at its universities, to create development trust funds.  For example, set aside several million dollars each for Syiah Kuala University, Muhammadiyah University, IAIN Ar-Raniry, and Malikussaleh University.  Donors might also consider establishing an Aceh Development Trust to be used for other projects outside the mainstream of government-led redevelopment.

Accountability can be assured in much the same way any trust fund is managed: with an independent institutional trustee (maybe even off-shore in Penang), a set of formal guidelines for use of the funds, independent audits, and a representative board of Acehnese directors to oversee their use.

luti?o<Pl ?Yw w:st=”on”>East Timor. The two had cooperated on terrorism and piracy. Both were opposed to becoming nuclear states and had cooperated on WMD issues. If anything, the Ambassador thought, cooperation would increase in future.

Ambassador Soemadi also discussed the impact of 9/11 on the region; now “Indonesia is a direct victim” of terrorism, he said.  He went on to discuss the various anti-piracy and maritime security proposals, including those of Japan, including the “complication” of the U.S. backed Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) with maritime security proposals.  He observed that Indonesia and Japan agree on strengthening the NPT non-proliferation regime and the “fulfillment” of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).  But he also worried about the consistency of the PSI with the NPT and other international agreements.

Another area in which Japan and Indonesia agree, he continued, is the denuclearization of North Korea.  Indonesia is ready to help advance the Six Party talks and see the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) as a possible supplement to what can be worked out in the Six Party context.  Finally, Ambassador discussed the impact on ASEAN of membership enlargement, raising problems of cohesion and a “developmental gap,” the rise of the ASEAN Plus Three format, and Japan’s limited security role in the region.