A recent conversation with a clever young Indonesian was quite thought provoking.
The conversation drifted onto life in other countries (beyond Indonesia), and how fortunate some of the people who live there are not to face the obvious quality of life issues that plague most Indonesians.
The conversation prompted me to reflect on how difficult it is to see your own country objectively, especially if you have never travelled internationally and/or gained comparative experiences. Furthermore we are often focused on daily priorities and fail to see, let alone appreciate, the deeper foundations on which our lives are lived.
Even for Indonesians it is often forgotten that the country’s foundations are quite remarkable. Narrowing them down to a democratic theme, I want to quickly highlight four of them.
Firstly, Indonesian Muslims are fortunate to be both in the national majority and to have a functioning democracy. For Indonesia this means that the majority will is often unambiguous and the country generally aligns politically and thus peacefully with what the majority wants. As a result, a sense of owning your country emerges (for the majority), delivering an increasingly stable political environment. The contrast with Thailand is stark.
Secondly, Indonesia’s functioning, albeit sometimes spluttering, democracy allows a sense of the true Indonesia to emerge. That emergence of the true self rare (with Indonesia so far voting for rather liberalist ideals) is rare in the region, and the consequences of this widespread failure elsewhere can be seen in the internal tensions and political denial plaguing almost all the other regional nation states.
Thirdly, one of the great benefits of a functioning democracy is that losing an election provides a clear exit door for the now unwanted politicians and ideologies. These losers may perhaps return to popular favour, but they must return to power via the front door of electoral preference. Indonesia hasn’t a perfect record on this point (the Megawati/Jokowi links in popular opinion being a good example), but the argument that it does better than most states in the region at shutting out regimes largely unwelcome by the majority is convincing.
Finally, Indonesia’s respect for the constitution means that groups losing an election get another go. Keeping everyone in the game of democracy means the game goes on. Again this is unlike Thailand, where resorting to a coup means it is no longer a game with agreed rules but a base power struggle where monopoly control over the use of lawful force repeatedly delivers a predicable outcome.
Nobody in their right mind would suggest the quality of life in Indonesia is perfect, but not all the quality of life indicators around democratic freedoms are obvious. I’m very happy that this clever young Indonesian and millions of others have been born into an Indonesia where the quality of life benefits afforded by democratic freedoms are simply taken for granted.
Millions look on with jealousy na.