In Democratizing, Can Naypyidaw Follow Jakarta’s Lead?

Can NaypidawJAKARTA—Naypyidaw’s current reform look familiar to the footstep of Jakarta, world third largest democratic nation, when the two countries—once ruled by top-down authoritarian—turn into democratic systems. However, Burma didn’t follow Jakarta’s footstep precisely when addressing principles of democracy in its reform.

Despite the two multiethnic countries have similar background of histories, reformation approaches are different when addressing the value of democracy. While the role of military institution in Indonesia has declined after the collapse of Indonesian dictator Suharto’s top-down authoritarian, Naypyidaw government made it clear that its military couldn’t stay away from politics.

After talking to wide range of people from heads of state, religious leaders, to street vendors in Indonesia, this reporter found out what Burma has learned from Indonesia and what it has ignored from the fellow country.

Significantly, military officials, soldiers and polices in Indonesia are barred from voting—a statement of how the democratic system in Indonesia is far from direct influence of the military. In Burma, the guarantee of 25 per cent of the seats in the parliament for unelected military appointees, clearly state how the military institution in Burma is privileged to influence democratic practices.

Plus, the ruling party Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) that dominated Naypyidaw parliament is ex-military regime-backed party and Burma President Thein Sein is former general who used to chair the party.

In Indonesia, President is directly elected by the public from voting system, not by the members of parliament like Burma in which President is elected by the members of parliament.

There is no state-run media in Indonesia that publish propaganda or doing public relation campaigns for the government like Burma-state run media such as The New Light of Myanmar, The Mirror and state-run television MRTV-4 and other state-run radio broadcasting media. However, there are private media companies owned by businessmen and politicians in Indonesia.

Ministry of Communication and Information in Indonesia don’t have mandate to influence media works while Burma’s Ministry of Information closely monitor media and take action directly or indirectly against those who report sensitive issues such as military affairs which is often labelled as “national secrets.” They also counter media directly or indirectly through social media.

Nay Phone Latt, a Burmese leading blogger blame that there is a group of people with fake Facebook accounts who are trying to counter media and launching pro-government campaigns by using social media.

“We can see some of the Facebook users, most of them are fake accounts, but we can’t say that they are related to the government ministries. But, we can say that there is a big group who intentionally is doing assignments and publishing [pro-government advocacy]. They have big financial supports. When they post something on Facebook, they get so many Likes and Shares within one or two minutes,” said Nay Phone Latt.

Indonesia ended 32 years of authoritarian rule by driving out President Suharto in 1998 following widespread protests and economic paralysis caused by the 1997 Asian financial crisis. The country has undergone meaningful democratic reform but challenges remain such as battling corruption, strengthening bureaucratic institutions, and ensuring judicial independence.

Despite Indonesia has challenges such as widespread corruption, lack of transparency, mismanagement in national budget, there are mechanism and institution that trying to eliminate corruption and they are recognized by the government such as Corruption Eradication Commission locally known as KPK.

Adnan Pandu Praja, vice chairman of the Jakarta-based KPK said, “Forty per cent of national budget are corrupted. Corruption is like part of our culture in the country. It is normal to pay bribe to head of state. 50 per cent of the population say paying bribe to the head is normal,” said Mr. Praja.

KPK is combined with polices, auditors, lawyers, and prosecutors and it has mandate to take action against corrupted persons. They are officially given power by the government to handle corruption cases such as arrest, investigate, and prosecute those who committed corruption or suspicious of corruption.

“We are given power to combat corruption. We can arrest suspects and prosecute them. 396 cases were handled by the KPK since 2003 and we never loose a single case,” said Mr. Praja.

Foreign and Indonesian observers said that not only economic crisis and public protests forced the Suharto’s regime to step down, but also the decline of military supports to the Suharto was a significant factor to collapse the regime.

Sidney Jones, director of Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, a Jakarta-based think tank said that what differences between the Indonesia and Burma is that military occupies major position in Burmese politics while military role is declined in Indonesia politics.

“I’m not sure whether they [Burmese government] copy Indonesia as a role model. But, some say that USDP is basically the idea of Golkar party,” said Jones, referring that Burma’s USDP perhaps is basically like Indonesia’s Golkar also known as Partai Golongan Karya, the party of deposed president Suharto.

She, however, said, “It is clear that military get out of politics in Indonesia. Military want to be loved by people and they were fine to dismiss the power [in 1998].”

The USDP is made up with former generals, government officials from ex-military regime and the party is backed by the regime. It became ruling party after claiming of landslide victory in general election in 2010 in which critics and international communities called it a “bias and sham” election.

Indonesia in its third period of democratically elected government now prepares for a fourth presidential election which will be held in July 2014. Some 186 million eligible voters in Indonesia are excited to elect a new president in July and a hot presidential candidate is Joko Widodoa better known as Jokowi, the government of Jakarta who belong to Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle also known as PDI-P.

Despite earning popular support on the coattails of the Jakarta governor, Jokowi’s PDI-P is not immune to the negative voter sentiment that has affected many of the established political parties in a country where corruption stories are a regular feature of newspapers’ front-pages.Many eligible voters ignored April 9 polls, but said that they would not vote for PDI-P candidate Jokowi in the presidential election to follow on July 9.

Many of them said they will elect a “clean” president in which Jokowi is eyes by majorities of voters as a “new and clean” candidate.Jokowi’s down-to-earth approach has won the hearts of many voters in the Indonesia capital, and far beyond, in this archipelagic nation. His popularity led his party, the PDI-P, to announce in mid-March that he would be its candidate for the presidency.

This reporter met with Jokowi in Jakarta in March, where the governor said he preferred spending his time among constituents, not bound to his desk in the chaotic metropolis of some 10 million people.

“Many people have said that I’m different because the other governors, they like to stay at the office. For me, I stay at the office only a maximum of one hour [per day],” Jokowi said.

“Mostly, I go to see people on the ground, in the markets, and I ask people what they want and what they need. The people, they want to see leaders working.”

That approach has earned Jokowi major support at the grassroots level, from street vendors and buskers to activists and NGO workers. Jokowi has put a focus on health care and education programs for the needy in the 18 months since he assumed the Jakarta governorship.

“I delivered what we call ‘Jakarta health cards’ [granting free medical care to the poor] to them. They can go to public clinics, they can go to the hospitals, totally free of charge. I worked out this program because people asked me for this when I met them.”

Jokowi said his administration has delivered the cards to 3.5 million people in Jakarta so far.

“We also have what we call ‘Jakarta smart cards.’ This is for education. When I would go to see the people and I asked about education, they asked the government to cover the cost of school uniforms, school vans, boots, shoes for the poor,” Jokowi explained.

Arri Palapa, a 37-year-old resident of Jakarta said, “At first, I hesitated over whether to vote or not. But finally, I made up my mind—that I have to exercise my right to vote because it may be a good chance to push for change somehow.”

“Actually, I’m sick of seeing Indonesia moving forward to nowhere. But, I think members of the PDI-P [Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle] have the potential to provide good leaders as role models for a better future for Indonesia. Jokowi is part of the PDI-P. He has been appointed by the PDI-P to be elected as president. So, I believe he can lead the party toward a better leadership,” said Palapa.

Like Indonesia, Burma has turned away from decades of authoritarian rule and embarked upon a bold process of democratic transition, but Myanmar also faces challenges, including: formulating and administering new policies, rebuilding a moribund economy, and consolidating peace in ethnic areas.

While Indonesians prepare to democratically elect a new president in July with high expectation, Naypyidaw, however, doesn’t take all lesson from Jakarta. In Indonesia, president is directly elected by the public. They has rights to exercise their rights to vote for electing a president while Burmese president was elected by members of parliament.

In 2015, Burma will hold another general election in which Tin Aye, a former general and now chairman of Burma’s Union Election Commission, made a clear statement in early April saying that the involvement of the army in Burmese politics is necessary to prevent a military coup.

“The military MPs make up 25 percent of Parliament. To be clear, we have them because we don’t want a coup. The military is in Parliament not because of power, but for negotiation,” said Tin Aye.

He said that the military will leave politics “only when democratic standards are high in the country.”

[The Irrawaddy reporter Saw Yan Naing is a fellow of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), and this article is published under a SEAPA-sponsored program covering the 2014 Indonesian elections. This article originally appeared on The Irrawaddy.]