Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Too much democracy

For those who haven't been here, Indonesia is a strange place. In many ways it is a great place to live, but for those of you who have never been outside of Europe or North America you have never seen pollution, traffic, or blatant corruption until travelling through some of the cities in Asia, Jakarta being no exception.

In recent surveys Indonesia scored as one of the happiest countries on earth, but it is also a place that can quickly flare into full-scale riots, as seen a few weeks ago although not widely reported in western media.

It is the largest democratic Muslim country in the world, and there is a general freedom to express political viewpoints of all kinds. But ask around and what you will often hear from people on the street is that there is too much democracy, and sometimes a longing for the old days under the dictatorship of Suharto.

It is democracy in the extreme here. There is no infrastructure development, because no elected official can look past their short elected terms. There is no progress on reforms, or laws, because every official seeks to maintain the sharp rhetoric that had them voted into off in the first place, and have no incentive to compromise.

And then there is Aceh province. Aceh is a semi-autonomous province that is extremely Muslim. In most places in Indonesia, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian, live side by side in relative accord, but Aceh has democratically voted themselves into a repressive semi-theocracy.

It is there you will find the mullahs patrolling the streets, and a strong and often hostile xenophobia towards other belief systems. Not, however, imposed on them by any religious authority, but chosen through free and open elections.

Indonesians often look to their thriving neighbors in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, and ask themselves if a democratic system is best. In those heavily centrally directed places, things are generally cleaner, more organized, and prosperous. Leading to the conclusion that here you have too much democracy.

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