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Keeping faith in democracy

Jakarta Post Editorial - March 19, 2024

Jakarta – Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto raised alarm among the public, in particular civil society, when he described democracy as "very, very" tiring, messy and costly.

This statement is all the more worrisome because it came from the presumptive winner of the Feb. 14 presidential election, who was recently conferred the rank of honorary general from President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo. His links to gross human rights violations during his years in the Indonesian Army, which he denies and were never proven in court, only adds to the concerns.

Essentially, Prabowo's statement has raised the specter of the country's return to authoritarian rule, with full military backing. We could soon be back in the dark ages that marked the dictatorship under Soeharto who, by the way, was once his father-in-law.

Civil society has every reason to be concerned about the future of democracy and freedom in Indonesia, if and when Prabowo takes its helm in October.

We sincerely hope we are misreading Prabowo's intentions in making the remark on March 6 at an investment forum in Jakarta. And we certainly hope that his statement will not lead to policy changes under his presumed presidency that suppress the people's hard-earned freedoms and democracy since they brought an end to Soeharto and his New Order regime in 1998.

To be fair to Prabowo, he did contextualize his statement by referring to his contesting the presidency four times: in 2009 as running mate to Megawati Soekarnoputi and in 2014 and 2019 as a presidential candidate, losing all three times before taking the lead in his fourth attempt this year, according to unofficial tallies.

Prabowo's personal journey to the presidency has indeed been tiring and expensive, and probably messy. His persistence and perseverance in finally getting to where he is today, however, show us that this is a man who believes in the democratic political processes.

Let us hope he will keep his faith in democracy, despite complaining loudly about it.Democracy is never perfect, and as Prabowo stated, "there is a lot of room for improvement". So this should be the way forward: We need to fix what's broken in Indonesia's democracy.

We certainly have our work cut out after this year's general election, and it is extremely likely that we will be relying on Prabowo to lead our efforts.

When it comes to electoral integrity, this year's "festival of democracy" was hands down the worst among all six post-New Order elections, thanks to the blatant intervention of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo in the democratic process. On his watch since 2014, Indonesia's democracy has been sliding back to authoritarianism amid shrinking civic space and narrowing personal freedoms, and now, a poorly run general election.

The General Elections Commission (KPU) and the Constitutional Court have already been faulted for ethical breaches when they bent the rules to allow Jokowi's eldest son Gibran Rakabuming Raka to be nominated, even though he was four years short of meeting the age of candidacy.

As the sitting president, Jokowi was responsible for ensuring electoral integrity, yet he decided to sabotage this for his own political ambitions.

We can't exactly hold this against Prabowo, even though he is a direct beneficiary of Jokowi's maneuvering through his running mate Gibran. But if the KPU formally declares him as president-elect next week and he is inaugurated in October, we can demand that he take the necessary remedial measures to restore our faith in our country's democracy.

For now, though, we should give Prabowo the benefit of the doubt unless proven otherwise.

"Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time," Winston Churchill allegedly wrote.

Prabowo's contribution to political philosophy may be that democracy is so very tiring, messy and expensive. But that is no reason to stop believing in it.

Rather, it is all the more reason for us to work harder to improve and strengthen our democracy.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2024/03/19/keeping-faith-in-democracy.htm