Backtracking on Reformasi
The Jokowi administration sets back democracy in Indonesia. Civil freedoms and the eradication of corruption are under threat.
INDONESIA’s politics are now in reverse gear. After 23 years, the transition is now moving further away from consolidated democracy. Instead of completing postponed agenda, the administration of President Joko Widodo is eroding away the positive achievements pioneered since the beginning of the reformasi era.
Indonesia began this reform era on May 21, 1998 when President Suharto resigned after failing to overcome the monetary and political crisis. Initially Indonesia’s political transition process was promising. In line with the demands of activists, the transition government under President B.J. Habibie freed the press, released political prisoners and organized a democratic election.
Under President Abdurrahman Wahid, the military lost its dominant political role. Then in the era of Megawati Sukarnoputri, the government and the House of Representatives (DPR) agreed to establish the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). At the same time, a series of amendments to the 1945 Constitution strengthened the mechanism of checks and balances between the legislative, executive and judicial branches. The amended Constitution also reinforced guarantees for citizens’ fundamental rights.
However, the political transformation was generally at the level of procedure, not substance. After a few periods of different presidents, the transition to democracy has stalled. The New Order regime may well have fallen, but the old actors are still ensconced. They have simply changed their party jackets or corporate logos. Meanwhile the sickness of corruption has not been cured. Fortunately, Indonesia has the KPK which—in its golden age—swiftly dealt with corruptors.
Elected in the 2014 elections with the support of civil society, it was initially hoped that Joko Widodo would restart the wheels of democratic consolidation. But these expectations turned out to be far from reality. Coming from outside the old political elite, Jokowi’s presidency has not been a ray of light.
In his second term, Jokowi has set back democracy. The political transition that had been stagnant has gone into reverse. Last year Indonesia’s democracy index was ranked at number 64 in the world. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, Indonesia’s score fell to 6.3, the lowest in the last 14 years. Indonesia even joined the category of flawed democracies, below Malaysia, the Philippines and Timor-Leste.
Civil freedoms in Indonesia are under threat. Different voices and critical activists are stifled or criminalized. The security forces use violence to silence workers, farmers and other citizens who oppose government policies.
Indonesia’s corruption perception index also fell to a ranking of 102 of 180 countries in 2020. This is despite the fact that according to Transparency International, Indonesia was still ranked at 85 in 2019. Freedom House issued a similar warning. Last year the eradication of corruption among officials was rated at 1 on a scale of 4.
The corruption cases involving Social Affairs Minister Juliari P. Batubara and Maritime and Fisheries Minister Edhy Prabowo confirm these ratings. And during Jokowi’s administration the Corruption Eradication Commission also met with tragedy. Together with his accomplices in the DPR, Jokowi revised the KPK Law and paralyzed the anti-graft body.
Away from the eradication of corruption, there are many other indications of reverses that can be detailed. It is not excessive if when marking the 23 years of reformasi, demonstrators shout, “Reforms have been corrupted!”