Democracy in India and Indonesia

The Jakarta Post/ by Erwin Wirawan

India and Indonesia are regarded as the world’s largest and third-largest democracies respectively. India and Indonesia have many similarities. Both declared independence at relatively the same time and each founding father, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sukarno were
co-founders of the non-aligned movement. Both have large populations and social diversity. Both are still developing and still grappling with poverty, red tape and inadequate infrastructure.

The differences are India has embraced democracy since its earliest days, while Indonesia achieved it in 1998 after toppling president Soeharto. In terms of economics, Indonesia under president Soeharto‘s administration was touted as an economic miracle. India’s
economic growth has been anemic for decades. Nehru’s legacy was opting for centralized development planning. Amid the financial crisis in the 1990s, India, led by then prime minister Narasimha Rao and then finance minister, Manmohan Singh, started reforming
the economy and moving to a market economy.

It is worth noting that in India a state is managed by a party and led by a chief minister. Through economic surveys, each state’s performance is publicly announced. Each party boasts about the best performance of states under its rule. So, before elections
Indians have references on a political party’s performance. The party hardly promises anything beyond reality.

In a similar vein, Indonesia has been under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s (SBY) administration for 10 years. The best he gave us was stability in economy and politics. The economy has grown by around 5 percent during his two terms, which brought Indonesia
into the G20 as a country shaping the global economy. And there has been no significant turmoil in politics. However, his administration has been tainted with corruption scandals implicating the top brass of his Democratic Party.

Thanks to democracy Indonesia has also given birth to a new leader. To many people, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was seen as the best choice to replace SBY and bring Indonesians to prosperity. Like India’s Modi, his meteoric rise started from the success in managing
a municipality, Surakarta. He made many breakthroughs in the economy, infrastructure and public services through a hands-on approach.

Later, this achievement brought him to lead Jakarta and ultimately to lead Indonesia. To this point, Indians and Indonesians have got the leaders they wanted. However, India and Indonesia have different political systems. Under the parliamentary system, Indians
know exactly what party to vote for if they want Modi to be prime minister. And in the last general election, the BJP-led coalition swept the parliament.

In contrast, Indonesia subscribes to a presidential system with the result that legislative elections do not necessarily correspond with the presidential election. The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P)-led coalition who managed to secure Jokowi’s
presidency got fewer seats than those of the opposition coalition. The debacle begins.

Even before the new president is sworn in the opposition is trying everything to show their force in controlling legislation and trying to hamper all the executives’ policies. The amendment to the law regarding the House of Representatives leadership is a case
in point.

As an Indonesian, I am very envious of the Indians. In India, the fierce rivalry during the general election has completely stopped as the loser has given way to the winner. And the newly established government has started working with full confidence and support.
In Indonesia, the future looks grim and uncertain. The fallout of the presidential election still exists and, sadly, Jokowi’s administration – instead of working to catch up with the progress of other developing nations – has to start quarrelling with the
House about many issues for the next five years.

(The views expressed above are the personal views of the author)

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Democracy in India and Indonesia

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