Dion Bisara & Ulma Haryanto – British Prime Minister David Cameron praised Indonesia's political and economic transformation on a visit to Jakarta on Thursday, citing it as a model of democracy that other countries can emulate.
"In just over a decade you have begun a transformation that has taken my country and many others several centuries, forging an inspirational path from dictatorship to democracy," he said in a speech delivered at the Al Azhar University on his third and final day in Jakarta.
"Saya salut dengan Anda [I salute you]," he said. Cameron added that Indonesia has shown that it is possible to develop democracy and a modern economy that neither compromises people's security nor their ability to practice their religion.
"Indeed, far from endangering safety, prosperity and religious identity, it is democracy that ensures them," he said. "And this has huge implications for others seeking the same fundamental freedoms in places like Egypt, Iran and Syria."
Cameron said that "Indonesia mampu memimpin dunia" ("Indonesia can lead the world") on overcoming threats to democracy, including authoritarianism, corrupt elites, extremism and tribalism, and discrimination on the basis of background, race, ethnicity or religion.
"Here in Indonesia too, you have enshrined the rights of all individuals in your Constitution. This reflects the vital importance in standing up against the despicable violence and persecution of minorities – whether Christians, Ahmadis or others," he said on the subject of extremists.
"So we applaud the steps that Indonesia continues to take to guard against ethnic discrimination and conflict, especially in Aceh," he said.
Ismail Hasani of the Setara Institute of Peace and Democracy, a staunch advocate of pluralism and monitor of incidents of intolerance in Indonesia, said he understood where Cameron's speech was coming from.
"Of course it was lip service, they know Indonesia's reputation on human rights. It was just common courtesy for official visits, mentioning Indonesia's progress," he said.
The world is not blind to the repression suffered by religious minorities in Indonesia, he added, referring to the cases of Ahmadiyah, Shiite Muslims in East Java, and the struggles of Christian congregations to build churches.
"But it is true that Indonesia has had relatively more success in democracy compared to Central Asia and Middle East," he added. "In terms of political liberties, we are doing OK, but our civil liberties are going nowhere." Fajar Riza Ul Haq, executive director of the Maarif Institute, says that Indonesia did have something to be proud of: its ability to suppress local extreme groups. "England has its own problem with extremists so maybe they can also learn from Indonesia's experience," Fajar said.