June 18, 2014


Winding road to Indonesian democracy (Michael Vatikiotis and John McBeth, 6/18/14, Asia Times)

Fifteen years into a democratic transition that began with the fall of president Suharto's military-backed regime in 1998, only now are ordinary Indonesians enthusiastic enough about an individual candidate that they are willing to fork out their own meager funds and volunteer their time. 

Across the nation, ordinary voters have sent in campaign contributions, often as little as the rupiah equivalent of a dollar or two, through local banks. Handoko, a driver and tour guide from Jogyakarta, for example, proudly declared that he contributed 75,000 rupiah - just over US$6 - using a local bank transfer. 

Party sources now say as much as 32 billion rupiah (US$2.7 million) in electoral funds have been raised in this manner. In Lasem, Jasman explained that the contributions collected in cash will be forwarded to Joko's campaign in the presence of local reporters. 

Certain political scientists argue that democracy only really serves the people if the people take an active part in it. Across Southeast Asia, however, democracy has tended to be more about elite power games and vote-buying than participatory governance. 

Ordinary Indonesians traditionally have low expectations about their participation in the political process, expecting that the vote will be sold to the highest bidder. That's still the attitude many have when it comes to electing representatives to the national parliament. 

A group of fishermen drinking morning coffee in the port of Lukung was adamant that they needed to be paid at least 50,000 rupiah on election day to cast their ballots - mainly to compensate them for skipping a day out at sea in their boats. 

The electoral situation started to change when Indonesians got the chance to vote directly for the president. In 2004 and 2009, we found Indonesians taking their vote more seriously and not being swayed by whom they were told or paid to vote. 

The difference this time is that many voters are so excited by one of the candidates that they are actively participating in the campaign and making commitments ahead of election day. If Joko, the man popularly known as Jokowi, manages to win with grass roots financial backing and volunteer support it will be a watershed not just for Indonesia but for the wider region. 

Posted by at June 18, 2014 7:04 PM

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