Behind Indonesia’s illiberal turn

Behind Indonesia’s illiberal turn by Vedi Hadiz, 20/10/2017, New Mandala

The past year or so has seen conspicuous setbacks to Indonesian democracy’s capacity to protect many social rights, including of some of the more vulnerable members of society—most notably women, religious and sexual minorities, and victims of the 1965–66 mass killings. Ironically, this has occurred under a government whose declared agenda of extending access to social services has been a celebrated and defining characteristic, not to mention the presumption that its establishment had deflected a prior possible reassertion of authoritarian-like politics.

By 2015, a wide-ranging survey had offered the proposition that Indonesia’s hard-won democracy had stagnated. However, many of the more sombre assessments of this condition were to come in the wake of the second round of the Jakarta gubernatorial election in April 2017, and the farcical blasphemy case that saw the defeated Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (“Ahok”) sentenced to jail. The mood of these analyses could not be more different from the upbeat tone that characterised those that immediately followed the victory of Ahok’s close ally Jokowi over Prabowo Subianto in the 2014 election. That result had spared most Australia-based analysts—and many of the people of Indonesia—from the pain of having to contend with what might have been an overwhelmingly clear signal of democratic regression.

But the manner of Ahok’s downfall is merely symptomatic of much deeper problems within Indonesia democracy, which have never been resolved since the fall of Soeharto. These problems are intertwined with continuing oligarchic dominance and the manner in which intra-oligarchic conflict now occurs. The mobilisation of identity politics has become a more salient feature of conflicts over power and resources. In fact, we may be entering a new phase in which conservative takes on Islamic morality, and the hyper-nationalism which is being positioned against them, become the most important cultural resource pools from which the ideational aspects of intra-oligarchic struggles are forged—thus accentuating the illiberalism of Indonesian democracy. Indeed, the relative absence of organised social forces that would drive an agenda of liberal political reform is more palpable than ever before.

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