Jakarta – If history does repeat itself, 25 years after the downfall of the New Order we would certainly have a strongman presiding over our political lives and reigning over society under an iron grip.
Twenty-five years after the reform movement, one thing for sure is that we do not live under an authoritarian regime. If anything, we are going to have a presidential election next year, the fifth direct balloting in the past 20 years.
And with 17 political parties hotly contesting the 2024 legislative elections, we can be sure of the prospect that (electoral) democracy is alive and well.
The problem with history is that when it does not repeat itself, it often rhymes.
New Order strongman Soeharto and his political apparatus may have long gone, but these days we can certainly feel that some of his ideas, actions and tools are being recycled, refurbished and repurposed by many in power.
Only last year, the corridors of power were abuzz with the proposal to extend the presidential term of the incumbent, which according to the Constitution are allowed only to serve a full two-terms. The argument for the term extension was that the incumbent government could make up for the lost time incurred from the COVID-19 pandemic.
A strong pushback from civil society and political parties certainly succeeded in forcing the political elite to shelve the proposal, but the outcome of the 2024 presidential election will certainly be affected by compromises made during the presidential term limit debate.
And if the presidential term limit, one of the biggest prizes and direct outcome of the reform movement, is no longer off-limits, other less consequential gains made in the past 25 years were certainly easy to bargain with.
Some major political parties are proposing to ditch the current open-list proportional representation format for legislative elections, which allows voters to have an influence over legislative candidates put forward by political parties.
Big parties like the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) in fact are seeking to restore the method preferred by the New Order regime in legislative election, the closed-list system in which voters cast their ballots solely for parties, which in turn will decide which candidates get seats in the House of Representatives.
A petition to change the open-list system is now being reviewed by the Constitutional Court and with so much political pressure currently being applied to the court, there is no guarantee that it would rule in favor of maintaining the current arrangement.
Another front where malignant forces chip away at gains from the reform movement is in the corruption eradication movement.
The 2019 amendment of Law No. 30/2002, one of the most progressive laws passed during the reform era, has now rendered the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) ineffectual.
Many stipulations in the new KPK Law, from allowing it to stop investigations and drop charges to promoting investigators as civil servants, have turned the agency into a regular law enforcement outfit no different than the National Police or the Attorney General's Office.
In its heyday, the KPK was notorious for its arrests of government ministers and senior politicians. Now people begin speculating that it has an agenda to tip the political balance in the lead up to the 2024 presidential election.
The only way this could get any worse is if there was an initiative to amend the Indonesian Military (TNI) Law, another crown jewel of the reform movement.
But that's exactly what happens now, with the TNI legal department drafting an amendment to the law that would allow for a greater political participation from soldiers in politics.
These setbacks, however severe, should not inspire apathy. In fact, these should serve as a wake-up call to resist any attempts to undo progress from the reform movement.
A better Indonesia is possible.