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Do better for democracy

Jakarta Post Editorial - December 10, 2022

Jakarta – For several years now, alarm bells have sounded globally on the decline of democracy. But this year has proven to be an exceptionally dark year, with the war in Ukraine, the protests in Iran and the self-preserving tactics of a junta in Myanmar serving as reminders of how our increasingly interconnected world relies on good global governance.

Enter the Bali Democracy Forum (BDF), an annual diplomatic event initiated by Indonesia that offers countries a safe space to discuss and reflect on democratic practice, without the burden of realpolitik or strategic string-pulling.

We must commend the host and all BDF participants for continuing to promote the democratic principles of inclusiveness and dialogue at this time of uncertainty.

Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi, as host of this year's proceedings, has rightly spotlighted the trend of stagnating democracies, citing think tank reports from International IDEA, Freedom House and the V-Democracy Institute.

International IDEA secretary-general Kevin Casas-Zamora proclaimed in the 2022 Global State of Democracy study that "the ability of democracies around the world [...] to close the gap between social expectations and institutional performance is increasingly at risk."

United States-based Freedom House has even charted 16 consecutive years of democratic backsliding, a bitter pill to swallow at the 15th annual iteration of the BDF this year.

However, the Bali forum mostly concerns itself with the question of how countries can preserve democracy to shape global governance – that is, to make international institutions function in the service of the global population.

It does not concern itself as much with the call to renew social contracts within democracies, which is to guarantee citizens' consent to be governed in return for certain core goods provided by those who govern them.

In this context, Indonesia's passing of a new penal code, replete with moral clauses and curbs to freedoms, is a case of the government reneging on its social contract.

The United Nations, the US and Australia have simply taken note of this. It may not be up to the BDF to comment on the matter, but it does have a bearing on Jakarta's authority to wield the sword of democracy internationally.

The government's bunker mentality, built up after years of protest against closed-door lawmaking and the erosion of public institutions like the National Police, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) and the Constitutional Court, only makes matters worse.

To be sure, there have been clear signs that democracy has failed to provide access to public goods at the global level. Retno nearly acknowledged as much, when she echoed UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' points to the BDF that democracy must continuously be earned.

That said, we still believe democracy remains the best option for preserving what is valuable in human life.

But to pose as a defender of democracy at the BDF this year can only risk our words ringing hollow, so long as authorities merely strive to maintain the appearance that they are fulfilling their social contract with the people.

Indonesia, the third-largest democracy in the world, can certainly do better than that.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2022/12/09/do-better-for-democracy.htm