Category Archives: Identity

Op-Ed: Polarization and the Threat of Democratic Decline

Polarization and the Threat of Democratic Decline

By Burhanuddin Muhtadi

The world has experienced a democratic decline in recent years. Freedom House (2020) reports^ that 25 out of 41 established democracies have experienced an erosion of democracy over the last 14 years. Experts use a variety of terms to describe this phenomenon. Some use the term democratic regression, some democratic recession, and others democratic deconsolidation.

Irrespective of term used the process refers to the same condition, that is the end of the third wave of world democracy that commenced in 1991 along with the rise in populism and the climate of a lack of freedom that threatens many countries.

Uniquely, the main actors behind the decline of democracy around the world are not traditional non-democratic forces like the military or militia but rather democratic political elites elected through electoral mechanisms, as in the case of Donald Trump in the United States, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, and Viktor Orban in Hungary.

These political leaders were elected through electoral mechanisms. However, they have then used their political mandate to degrade democracy through open attacks on oppositions and the mass media, the excessive use of populism, and identity politics.

What about Indonesia?

Indonesia has not escaped the phenomenon of a regression in democracy described above. In 2014 Freedom House reported that Indonesia’s democracy index category had dropped from free to partly free. The reasons for this downgrading were the threats to civil liberties posed by the civil society law which imposed limits on community organizations, provided for a multiplicity of surveillance of the activities of community organizations, and imposed the obligation to adopt [the state ideology] Pancasila as their founding principle.

Indonesia’s democracy index score has so far not recovered. In the last Freedom House 2020 report, the bad record of our democracy continues to revolve around freedom of assembly, freedom of religion and worship, and intractable corruption.

Another organization that has a democracy index, The Economist Intelligence Unit#, has also recorded similar findings. Our democracy rating has decreased for three consecutive years. In 2016, Indonesia was still ranked 48 out of 167 countries studied. Our democracy ranking has now slipped to number 64 with a score of only 6.39.

Based on the categorization produced by The Economist Intelligence Unit, Indonesia occupies the lowest position in the category of flawed democracies. Indonesia’s report card is red due mainly to issues of civil liberties and a political culture that lacks freedom and features intolerance and identity politics.

The latest study conducted by the Indonesian Political Indicator organization confirms the assessment of these democracy index agencies. Based on a sample of 1,200 respondents in September 2020, Indicator’s national survey found that only 17.7% of respondents rated Indonesia as being more democratic. On the other hand, 36% of respondents considered Indonesia now less democratic, and 37% considered the situation unchanged.

In other words, twice as many people think Indonesia is increasingly undemocratic when compared to those who think that Indonesia is now more democratic.

Based on regression analysis, the perception of democracy in Indonesia is significantly influenced by age. The older the respondents the greater the tendency to think that Indonesia is more democratic. Conversely, the younger the respondents the more negative the perceptions. This is because for older voters the reference point for comparison is democracy under the New Order which is naturally still much worse than today. At the same time, young voters compared current democratic conditions with those of the administration before President Jokowi.

Indicator’s national survey also showed increasing threats to civil liberties. Most of the public tend to agree or strongly agree that at present citizens are increasingly afraid to voice their opinions (79.6%), it is increasingly difficult to demonstrate or protest (73.8%), and the authorities are increasingly arbitrary in arresting people with political views that differ from the views of those in power (57.7%).

However, regression analysis indicates one of the factors that significantly explains the civil liberties index is a combination of three items: fear of voicing an opinion, difficulty in protesting, and that the authorities are increasingly arbitrary and influenced by partisan attitudes.

If the respondent voted for Jokowi-Ma’ruf in the 2019 presidential election, he or she is likely to disagree that civil liberties are becoming worse. On the other hand, Prabowo-Sandi voters tend to agree that civil liberties are decreasing.

Even though Indonesia’s democracy index score has declined over time, we are still better off than other Muslim-majority countries. The results of a study by the American Political Science Association in Democracy and Autocracy (Vol 18 (3) December 2020)* provides this comforting news through the analysis of two dimensions: duration and trajectory.

Duration measures a long or short period of time as a democratic Islamic state, while trajectory indicates the extent to which the general tendency of a country is along a democratic path: whether the trend is improving or worsening.

Indonesia and Senegal, as Muslim-majority countries, have been successful both in terms of their long duration of democracy since separating from authoritarianism, and in terms of democratic trends which are relatively better than other Islamic countries.

Turkey, on the other hand, is an example of a democratic country of long-standing, but the trend of democratization is increasingly less so and more worrying. Malaysia, Mali, Albania, and Tunisia are included among the Islamic countries which possess democratic developments that are very good, but this has not yet been proved because their democracies are not long standing.

So, the decline in Indonesia’s democracy index must be read in the context of the recession of democracy occurring at a global level. Never mind we who have only been a democracy since the fall of the New Order in 1998, many old democratic countries have experienced democratic deconsolidation. Placed in comparison, especially when compared to Islamic countries or countries in the Southeast Asian region, democracy in Indonesia is still better.

Polarization

One of the features of democratic regression that has occurred globally is a world that is increasingly polarized, citizens divided according to their respective partisan attitudes. These partisan attitudes ultimately lead every voter to ignore objective truths and to make emotions and personal beliefs more important than data and facts. This is what populist leaders then exploit to implement illiberal agendas because of the partisan attitudes of their supporters, allowing the agenda of the populist figure to go according to plan.

The drop in Indonesia’s democracy rank has also been contributed to by deep polarization, especially since the last two presidential elections. The polarization between Jokowi and Prabowo voters has made every fanatical supporter tolerate a tough approach to his or her political opponent that is contrary to democracy. The phenomenon of reporting each other to the police has also created a climate of fear so that freedom of speech has declined.

Social media is fueling more polarization, which is followed by the echo-chamber phenomenon when netizens are trapped in an echo chamber. They tend to select friends who are from the same side. In the echo space objectivity is buried in the uniformity of thought caused by the homogeneity of friends in the timeline.

Finally, they tend to be selective in receiving information on social media. If the information that enters the timeline comes from outside the political network, it will be rejected, however accurate. But if the incoming information comes from his or her group, the information will be spread even if it is fake.

The polarization that destroys common sense did not end when the Great Indonesia Movement Party joined the government. The division between the camps of Jokowi’s “tadpoles” and Prabowo’s “bats” will not stop, notwithstanding Prabowo and Sandiaga Uno having now become ministers of President Jokowi.

Put simply, the unhealthy political polarization must be halted immediately so we can put the brakes on the democratic deconsolidation that is taking place. Common sense must be restored in democratic life by making objectivity, data, and facts supreme, not emotions and partisan attitudes.

New Year 2021 should be a valuable moment to enable us to reduce polarization as much as possible. This way we can restore reason to discourse in the public arena, so the waters are not muddied any further or the situation made more toxic. It is within just such an atmosphere of healthy public space that we can acknowledge our democracy is right now fogged in. This is the reason we need a common solution to reverse the current democratic decline.


“Polarization and the Threat of Democratic Decline” (Polarisasi dan Ancaman Resesi Demokrasi) was published in Media Indonesia on 28 Dec 2020. https://mediaindonesia.com/kolom-pakar/372089/polarisasi-dan-ancaman-resesi-demokrasi

Burhanuddin Muhtadi is the Executive Director of Indonesian Political Indicator (indikator.co.id) and Lecturer in the Faculty of Social and Political Science at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, Jakarta

IG:@burhanuddinmuhtadi

^https://freedomhouse.org/

#https://www.eiu.com/n/

*Democracy and Autocracy Newsletter

For more by Burhanuddin Muhtadi click here.

Poem of a Scrap of Paper 1

Poem of a Scrap of Paper 1

By Emha Ainun Nadjib

A novelist, in Europe
paid a political group
in an African country
to stage a coup d’état.
The novelist carefully noted
every aspect of the process of replacing those in power
and wrote about it in a famous novel
which was marketed and produced
more than the cost of the coup.
And you, sipping on your coffee
in some little food stall
after witnessing a fight between
pedicab drivers and minivan drivers
say bluntly:
Ah, why isn’t the novelist interested
in countries in Asia!
Then you laugh to yourself, and grumble
Why have we come to the point
where a nightmare about blood
has become the only dream
that feels beautiful?

Yogya, 13 March 1982


www.caknun.com

A Shred From The Diary of Indonesia

A Shred From The Diary of Indonesia

By Emha Ainun Nadjib

See the performances of plays in my country
called Bloodbath in Jember
Attack the Country of the White Ghost in Solo
Klaten, Semarang, Surabaya and Medan
The Terrorising of the Neighbourhood Security Post in Bandung
Woyla.
Ah, remember in the past
the performance of the folk drama
that was called Jihad Command.
Remember Malari.
Remember the hundreds of plays performed
whose scripts we did not known
and our naked eyes
so easily fooled and hoodwinked.
Ah, complete dramas
not played on a stage
but rather played out over the heads
of the sea of onlookers.
Blood flowing, flowers of death.
The foul stench of the saliva of the cunning directors
who hide in the hearts of the people.
Dramas of a civilisation that plays with lives
toys with humanity
tells dirty jokes to God.
We are very simple people and do not know
our Minds are steered
bit through the nose and doused in perfume
Backsides prodded and we bellow
meaninglessly
We who are too simple and forgiving
chattering amongst ourselves
like small children running around with crackers
then falling sound asleep
after being fed sponge cake and chewing gum.
Ah, who owns this land.
Who owns the forests being cut down.
Tin ore and timber that are officially smuggled
Who owns the mines
decisions about the future
Who owns nature’s wealth
now being wasted completely
Who owns the changes
in the interests of official decisions
We ourselves here
who owns us.
Have we ever owned even a small amount
more than just being owned, and owned.
Have we ever determined even a small amount
more than just being determined, and determined.

Yogya, 13 March 1982


www.caknun.com

A Shred From the Diary of Indonesia: A Collection of Poetry

A Shred From The Diary of Indonesia: A Collection of Poetry

By Emha Ainun Nadjib

Foreword

In the 1970s I learned how to carry a burden. In the 1980s I carried the burden bravely and proudly. In the 1990s I started to be overwhelmed by carrying the burden. In the 2000s I almost gave up because of the burden. By the 2010s I questioned why I should carry the burden, and who the actual official responsible for carrying the burden was.

What you are reading is my expression of and impression about, in, from and towards Indonesia, from the 1980s to the 1990s. Anyone reading it is free to decide what the emphasis is, the poetry, the Indonesia, the me, or the shred.

If the reader focuses their reading on the poems in the book, I am going to be very embarrassed. Because if the book were to be entered into a competition for poetry books, and I was one of the judges, there is no way I would select it as a possible winner.

I really want to write poetry. And in my old age I have been very busy writing poetry. However, there is almost not even one that would I acknowledge as poetry. My work doesn’t get past “intending to write poetry,” “there are elements that are intended to be poetry,” or “officially this is poetry, but whether it deserves the name of and passes as poetry, would require a long discussion and complex considerations.”

Katak

The fact is poetry has come to a halt in the present era. It is no longer a part of the mainstream values that operate in the civilization of contemporary Indonesian people. It is not even remembered by the leaders of the age and the values they espouse. Poetry has been driven into a cave, and those who deal with poetry have become cave-dwelling creatures with shadowy outlines, invisible to the community.

Indonesia, the national ideology Pancasila, the Youth Pledge, the 1945 Constitution, development, progress, government, parliamentarians, government regulations, the president and ministry, all the way down to village regulations, none of them understand poetry. They do not look for poetry. They do not find poetry. They do not remember poetry. There might be a trace of the word “poem” in the far recesses of their brain, but what they understand is not really poetry. Possibly poetry is hidden away somewhere under a pile of garbage, buried under a muddy patch of earth soaked by torrential rain, or hidden in the gloom and weakly crying out the sound of silence in midst of darkness.

Is poetry really this hopeless in the midst of today’s civilization of hyper-materialism? Is it really so pessimistic for poetry in the middle of the stream of robots and  bodies that think of themselves as humans? Has hope completely vanished for poetry in the midst of the life of the human family and the Indonesian nation who desperately pursue the world and material things, but who complain incessantly about the world and material things? In the midst of the arrogance of such breath-taking progress and as they kill themselves to make it into the emergency response unit of the age in pursuit of wealth, position, opportunity, access, assets, and squabble day in and day out about not achieving their worldly desires?

No. Absolutely not. Poetry is not marginal, not marginalized. It is not sidelined or disappeared. Poetry is indeed not food on the plate, a vehicle that is gassed and braked, a house with decor or shopping malls designed by architects to be like paradise. Poetry is not something achieved, but something journeyed towards. Poetry is not something that is held, but a journey to be traveled. Poetry is not something to be grasped or stored in a wallet, but rather something to be cherished and longed for.

Poetry – like the horizon in nature, the sky in the world, justice within sight of the soul, trueness in the recesses of the heart, eternity at the edge of time’s mystery, and God himself who seems to hide behind a secret without ever meeting – is the tenderest point far beyond the spirit, traveled with yearning to return, which encompasses within one speck of the dust of that tenderness the whole of nature and thousands and thousands of universes.

I myself earlier, when that current of energy and magnetism passed right through me whose outpouring is a flow of writings or poems, was captured by the instinct to foster and allow poetry to be a mystery, one which must not lose its essence today. So every day I concentrate on the Indonesia side of it. I am concerned about it, am anxious for it, take care of it. Maybe ever since God inscribed in the Preserved Tablet for me to love, maybe for that reason too I called the book A Shred From the Diary of Indonesia.

Even right up to now, as it is published again, I turn its pages, and my heart and mind is still fixed on Indonesia. But if you go into the “shred” deeply, it feels too broken. Indonesia today is no longer a shred: it’s like an old book lying forgotten in the cupboard, gnawed by rats every night, pages torn to pieces, ripped up, shredded, almost not a single page left intact. It is half-soaked and reeking because it is mixed with the urine of those rats. 

A Shred From The Diary of Indonesia holds out a mirror before my own face. I stare back into my own eyes. I behold growth in decay, a baby in poverty, a young man in old age, a future for all those benighted. The wrinkles of an old face in the mirror, unimaginable weakness and helplessness, but there is a refreshing breeze that springs from the depths of the soul: I will take Indonesia into the future.

If you find any letters and words in the book, flow with them into tomorrow. At the same time, invite the letters and words to flow over you, without any limit in time. One day you will be surprised by death, but that is only a bridge crossing…

Emha Ainun Nadjib
11 November 2016


www.caknun.com