Since the fall of Suharto’s New Order regime in 1998, Indonesia has been undergoing an era known as Reformasi. The world’s third-most populous Muslim nation has evolved from a centralist autocracy into a multiparty democracy with devolved powers and a robust electoral system that includes regional elections.
However, Indonesia remains a work in progress. Democracy in indonesia is a process that requires patience and careful attention to details. As the country’s old guard fades away, democratic institutions need time to evolve and weed out kinks. The challenge for the current government and lawmakers is to avoid taking shortcuts that could undermine the integrity of the democratic system.
The purely utilitarian view of elections that privilege bureaucratic efficiency over citizens’ rights has been a major weakness in Indonesia. While allowing voters to select competent local executives, the current electoral system does not adequately vet and discipline candidates for poor performance. Nor does it provide incentives for parties to build a committed base of supporters. Instead, the majority of Indonesia’s political machines rely on auctioning nominations for regional election of their local executive candidates to raise operational funds and win votes. The result is a proliferation of vote-buying strategies that distort the electoral process and compromise public interests.
Indonesia also struggles with corruption, nepotism and collusion, which are often based on money politics. This distorts the electoral process by influencing voter choice and reducing the effectiveness of elected officials. For example, the poorer segments of society are enticed to vote for a particular candidate on election day by being handed small amounts of cash at the ballot box. This distorts the election outcome and is detrimental to the nation.
Despite these challenges, Indonesia’s electoral system has made significant strides since the transition to democracy began. Indonesia’s popular sovereignty is manifested in parliamentary and presidential elections every five years. International election monitors generally consider the elections to be free and fair.
The country also has a robust and diverse media environment with many private outlets. However, the state has a number of restrictions on freedom of expression and access to information. It also restricts the distribution of information that is deemed to violate moral norms or encourage gambling, blackmail and defamation.
While democracy in indonesia still faces challenges, it is a promising example for other emerging democracies. Moreover, the country’s citizens broadly share a common national identity, which is essential for the success of any democracy. The same cannot be said for many of the country’s neighbors in Southeast Asia, which face similar levels of diversity and inequality but do not have a strong shared sense of identity that supports their democracy. This is an important lesson that should be taken to heart as countries move further down the path towards democracy. Maximalists of the democracy definition argue that free and fair elections alone are not enough to qualify a regime as a democracy. They must also guarantee other social and political rights, such as human rights protections, economic rights, egalitarianism, judicial independence, and more.