Who’s in charge?

An analysis of Indo Barometer’s recent survey on the Indonesian public’s preference for Soeharto over SBY.


An analysis of Indo Barometer’s recent survey on the Indonesian public’s preference for Soeharto over SBY.


Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (Indonesian President's Office: Abror Rizki)

Indo Barometer’s recent survey on the evaluation of 13 years of Reformasi and SBY-Boediono’s government have caused quite a stir. One of the most intriguing findings is how the Indonesian public favors Soeharto’s rule over SBY’s. Consequently, the Presidential Office were quick to comment on the motives behind the release of this survey. Despite Heru Lelono’s infamous track record, his suspicions are valid, as one must question Indo Barometer’s methodology in the survey and examine the results carefully.  However, one result out of this survey is certain: the public is unhappy with SBY’s performance.

In the first part of the report, the survey firstly asked an open question towards the 1200 respondents of Indonesia’s 33 provinces, over what they think Reformasi is. While 24,2% simply states Reformasi as the existence of “change”, actually a majority of 29,6% of the respondents are clueless or did not have an answer on what is the meaning of Reformasi.

The survey continues to ask which condition is better, is it Soeharto’s New Order or the current condition. It is found that 31% agrees that the current condition is better than the New Order, 28,2% believes that it is actually much worse, while 27,2% are indifferent about it.

If you simply add-up the numbers of 28,2% who believes that the current condition is much worse with 27,2% who thinks the old Soeharto days is just as bad (or as good – we don’t know for sure) in comparison with today’s Indonesia, we end up with 55,4%, which can be implied that the majority of Indonesians believe that the changes of Reformasi fell short from what has been promised.

This is related to the next part of the survey, in which I think is the most intriguing of all the findings: in general, 40,9% of Indonesians prefer the conditions under Soeharto’s New Order. An Indonesian layperson feels that the New Order condition is superior in terms of economy and security, while it is only slightly better in terms of politics and social conditions. The only thing that is better in the current condition, albeit a little, is Indonesia’s legal condition.

Public Perception on Which Regime is Better

I have my own arguments on why Indonesia’s legal condition is better now, but one thing that is apparently missing based on the public’s perception, quoting from Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, “It’s the economy, stupid”.

Many economists agree that Indonesia did well on the last 2008 financial crisis. While many countries slumped, Indonesia’s economy was stable and it can be considered as one of the factors why SBY was re-elected in 2009. Little do the public know that Sri Mulyani Indrawati – who was the Finance Minister and one of the backbone to the decision-making on the economy – resigned (or politically ousted by SBY, as some rumors among Indonesians suggested) in May 2010 over the issue of the Century Bank bailout, which has not yet been resolved until now. This is among the early addition to the list of disappointments over SBY.

Corruption is still rampant, taxpayers are wary of Gayuses and don’t know where their money is going, minorities are being physically harassed, illegal logging of forests are still ongoing and infrastructure is problematic. These are just a small part among Indonesia’s long list of issues, but the institutional-building process that is needed in the government is moving very slow.

Without strong institutions and an efficient government, the economy will not grow as fast as it is needed. Even with Indonesia’s current economic growth and its G20 status, the economic pie is not yet distributed equitably because only the few elites can enjoy it.

My fear is that those elites who reminisces the glory days of Soeharto are still in the system and have not yet been swept by the tides of reform. Yet, they establish themselves as Neo-New Orders posing as reformists, but still act on the basis of collusion, corruption and nepotism while the practices of honesty and meritocracy is not yet applied. These, unfortunately, cannot be unveiled by surveys alone.

Indo Barometer’s survey seems to imply that Reformasi and SBY’s regime are of the same creature and the public’s disappointment to SBY is intertwined with the failure of Reformasi. That is why in the survey, Indonesians prefer Soeharto over SBY and why the New Order regime is seen to be better than the current conditions.

I question whether the respondents in the survey know consciously in their mind, or whether they were at least informed by the researchers, that Soeharto’s authoritarian rule span for over 32 years while Indonesia’s transition to democracy after Reformasi had only been for 13 years, under the leadership of four presidents: BJ Habibie, Abdurrahman Wahid, Megawati Soekarnoputri and SBY. The process of “change” is not instant and therefore, one can argue that comparing New Order and “current condition” was never a fair comparison to begin with.

It is unfair to shoulder the failure of Reformasi on SBY’s shoulder alone. However, it should be noted that SBY is the first re-elected President of Indonesia thus he has the opportunity to ensure that Indonesia’s reform made progress and not regress. SBY’s current leadership is more of a shadow of his first presidential term and the public is disappointed due to his lack of firmness in action. He himself has nothing to lose, since legally he can’t run again for presidency in 2014.

President SBY, if the survey tells you anything, is that you have three more years ahead of you and you should focus on your programs and policies – that is if you have any. If your programs and policies are effective, it’s more potent than building your political image and any advice that your PR consultancies have offered to you.

The Indonesian public simply demands your leadership to be in charge of this country.

2 thoughts on “Who’s in charge?”

  1. …and the economic growth (GDP expansion) that the country has experienced has been generally low-quality growth that has barely made any in-roads in poverty and employment.

    Indonesian Democracy at Standstill?
    John McBeth – Straits Times Indonesia | May 10, 2011

    It is hard to argue with Australia-based Marcus Mietzner, one of the most perceptive of scholars, when he contends that democracy in Indonesia has stagnated and that civil society is fighting a rearguard action to fend off attempts by the conservative elite to roll back already implemented reforms.

    Dr Mietzner points to electoral management, the fight against corruption and the lack of protection of minority rights as the three major areas where conservatives have sought to unwind reforms, arguing that a civil society push-back is the only reason there has not been a full-blown reversal.

    Dr Mietzner says anti-reformist elements are present in all political parties, every state institution and even in civil society itself, intent on weakening the ‘excessive empowerment’ of the citizenry and united in their belief that the political system needs re-tooling to prevent an erosion of the state.

    Dr Meitzner says the government’s reluctance to protect religious minorities has encouraged radical Islamists to go after other fringe groups as well, with social vigilantism nurtured by the 2008 Anti-Pornography Act contributing to an overall decline in civil liberties.

    Indonesia may well lay claim to being the most vibrant democracy in South-east Asia. But it is also wise to remember that in a land where self-interest often comes before the national interest it is still a work in progress – and may well be for decades to come.

    Read it all at: http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/opinion/indonesian-democracy-at-standstill/440196

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