A QUIET CHANGE: MORE THAN A REVOLUTION

F. R. Chowdhury

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Indonesia was a Dutch colony. During the World War II Holland  itself was occupied by the Germans. At the end of the War, Netherlands never got the opportunity to re-establish their authority over Indonesia as on 17-August-1945 President Soekarno (also written as (Sukarno) read the proclamation of independence. Holland eventually recognized Indonesia as an independent country in 1947. Sukarno was a great freedom fighter who mobilized all freedom loving people of Indonesia for declaring it as an independent country in 1945. He is also credited with the development of new national language of Indonesia. He got all the intellectuals of the country and called up on them to develop a common language for the new born state. The present state language “Bhasa Indonesia” is the outcome of the research initiated by Sukarno.

It has taken Indonesia almost 60 years to establish itself as a truly modern democracy. For long 31 years the country was ruled by Dictator President Suharto. The country suffered from corruption, favouritism, nepotism and total misrule. Suharto was succeeded by Vice President Habibie who was in government for two decades before taking over as President. After Habibie came Mr. Wahid who headed the largest Muslim organization that his grand- father founded. Then came Megawati, the daughter of first president Sukarno. The last was Susilo Bambang who was a legislator as well as a general in Suharto’s army. They all had a common link. They belonged to elite political or the army family. The voters were also to some extent influenced by sympathy, emotion and tradition. They were still not prepared to experiment with new blood. This legacy continued until 2014.

The people of Indonesia finally showed their maturity of democratic process. In 2014 they elected Joko Widodo (known as Jokowi) as their President. He served neither in the armed forces nor the legislature. He was one of the four children born to a timber collector, and he was raised in a shack on a flood-prone river bank. Jokowi graduated from university with a forestry degree, then built up a successful furniture export business before serving first as mayor of Solo, his home town, and then as governor of Jakarta. In office he built a reputation for clean governance with accountability. He improved city’s tax receipts, put public services including his budget, salary and public meetings online and built markets for vendors to stop them blocking traffic.

The young educated people of the society recognised his talents, honesty and sincerity. There was no shortage of volunteers to campaign for him. He was the candidate of the common people and that is how he became the president of the republic. Indeed it is a revolutionary change for Indonesia by which Indonesia can now be rightly called a model of true democracy.

The country already witnessed some changes through his policy, approach and action. He has forbidden unnecessary expenditure of the public money. The ministers and civil servants are not allowed to travel abroad unless it is genuinely essential. They shall now travel only in economy class. The president had to attend the graduation ceremony of his younger son in Singapore. He informed the government of Singapore in advance of his intention for the trip to be considered as his private visit. He purchased economy class ticket for him and his wife and they took seats in the economy class. The message was clear. All those in the government or working for the government understood the message. It has already resulted into some degree of clean-up. More will take place with the passage of time. At the outset of the New Year we wish the President every success in his efforts for democratic reforms and hope the people of Indonesia will enjoy the benefit of his hard work and sincerity.

Many of the developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America are yet to see such changes. Most of the political leaders once voted to power forget their past or even do not want to think about future. They start considering themselves as the only saviours of the country. They become indispensable. They cannot believe that the nation can survive without them nor can think of becoming a common citizen again. Most of them start thinking and planning how to perpetuate their power. In the process they curtail the democratic rights of the people. Many of them appoint their family members as advisers. Once they get a chance, they even change or amend the constitution. They extend their unlawful political influence over judiciary and civil service. Most of them cannot stand criticism. Any criticism of the government or its leaders is termed as anti-state activity. They resort to suppression and oppression. Extra judicial killing in the name of cross-fire becomes a routine. The elite law enforcement units are used for killing political opponents. Some of the opponents are even made to disappear. When they travel abroad they go with a big group of supporters and family members at state expense. Corruption gets so deep rooted that international agencies pull back from development projects. Elections are held without voters in the name of continuity of the constitutional process. Every street, roads, bridges and institutions start bearing their name. Such governments often spend more time, energy and money working to perpetuate power than development work. They think that if they stay in power for a decade then they can even re-write the history.

Readers are aware as to what happens when people cannot exercise their democratic rights. If the doors for democratic change and reform close, it results into violent change. We have seen that. We must not forget that. Let us learn lessons from Indonesia. Leaders should try to serve the people who vote them to power. They should not betray the trust reposed on them. Only their good work can make them genuinely popular and bring them back to power. If power of expression, human rights and independent judiciary are respected then there would be no need for suppression or oppression. Violence will disappear and democracy will find its rightful place.

London, 01-January-2015                                             <fazlu.chowdhury@btinternet.com>

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