This is a continuation on the debate whether a Soeharto-style government is going to be beneficial to Indonesia or not. My fellow blogger Erwin has argued that without that kind of authoritarian government, Indonesia will not move forward. I argue otherwise and below are my explanation.
Soeharto’s Good and Bad
Firstly I would like to acknowledge Soeharto’s role in Indonesia’s nation-building process. Soekarno and Hatta may be our founding fathers, but without Soeharto, the much needed control for unity of the “united colonies of Netherlands Indies” under the new nation “Indonesia” would have not been possible. Many dissent and separatist movements were successfully silenced, leading to Indonesia’s growth, although the means are often violent and the repercussions of those actions are only felt now.
During Soeharto’s authoritarian regime, the legislative assembly was pretty much the president’s rubber stamp and the judiciary is deliberately weakened to serve the president’s interests. All the veto power in policy making went to the president and of course we had a strong presidential government because no system of checks and balances were in place. In addition, cronyism and favoritism is accepted as the norm while corruption and patronage systems are rampant.
[Read more: Judicial Corruption in Indonesia: Authoritarianism & the Weakening of the Judiciary; Much Ado About Emails]
What Soeharto lacked compared to Lee Kuan Yew, both authoritarian in their regime, is the lack of attention that Soeharto gave towards institutional building of Indonesia’s state institutions and the missing values of meritocracy and honesty embedded in our governance system.
Can we correct Indonesia’s democracy?
Here’s another thing that we should learn from Singapore: be pragmatic. We don’t need to achieve western-style democracy, but we need a system that works, where the government is responsive and accountable to its people. Too much attention is going out on the debate of democracy but too little effort is concentrated to make the much needed governance reform in Reformasi.
[Read more: An Enlightened Indonesian on the Singapore Elections]
What I’ve mentioned in my earlier post, is that Neo-New Orders are still in Indonesia, local patronage systems are still rooted in our decentralization process and to top it off, as cliche as it is, there’s no political will to change the status quo!
What we see lacking in SBY – a strong leader with a vision and the will to get things done – we then substitute it with our fond memories of ‘development’ under Soeharto.
[Read more: Who’s in charge?]
So, is going back to the old way of authoritarianism like Soeharto the way to go for Indonesia? No.
Authoritarianism might have worked in the past, but for Indonesia’s current condition, with its diverse 238 million population, putting too much authority in the president will be detrimental to the development of the country. As Lord Acton famously said, “power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
[Update, 26 May 2011]
Here’s data from the World Bank on Indonesia’s GDP Per Capita (current US$). The point of this graph is, if 13 years of democracy is so bad for the economy, why is the data stating otherwise – when our economic growth went up significantly after Soeharto fell down? My comments are below, but since I can’t embed the graph in the comment box, I’m putting it up in the post.