‘What democratic lessons?’ Activists reject Bali Democracy Forum


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‘What democratic lessons?’ Activists reject Bali Democracy Forum


'We don’t need to talk about democracy in ceremonial events, when the people’s right to vote for their leader has been removed'

JAKARTA, Indonesia (UPDATED) – It’s supposed to be his legacy, but President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono chairs his final Bali Democracy Forum this week under a cloud of criticism and with outright rejections from civil society groups.

Yudhoyono – Indonesia’s first democratically elected president – initiated the annual regional forum in 2008 partly to showcase Indonesia’s successful transition to a democracy.

But this year, with the forum set to be held on October 10-11 in Nusa Dua – just 10 days before his decade as leader of the world’s 3rd largest democracy ends – he is besieged as the president who failed to protect the people’s right to directly elect their local leaders.

Civil society rejection

A group of 11 prominent Indonesian non-governmental organizations, including Perludem (Associations for Elections and Democracy), Migrant Care, Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW), Kontras (Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence), and Transparency International Indonesia, said on Tuesday, October 7, they were declining the invitation to attend the forum.

“We don’t need to talk about democracy in ceremonial events, when the people’s right to vote for their leader has been removed,” Perludem explained in a tweet.

Yudhoyono has borne the brunt of the blame for the passage of the Regional Elections Law on September 26 that strips the people of the power to elect district heads, mayors and governors. It returned the power to choose such leaders to local legislative councils – the way it used to be before post-Suharto reforms led to the first direct regional elections in 2005. 

His party, the ruling Democratic Party, was expected to oppose the bill and support maintaining direct local elections. But in a surprise move, they abstained from voting and walked out of the plenary session after their 11th-hour proposal to keep direct elections on 10 conditions, or “improvements”, was rejected by the House speaker.

Yudhoyono immediately announced he was “disappointed” by the passage of the law and ordered an investigation into who orchestrated the walkout. But these did little to appease angry netizens who feverishly tweeted with hashtags such as #ShameOnYouSBY and #ShamedByYou since the bill was passed.

On October 2, he issued a special government regulation in lieu of law – called a Perppu – that cancels the controversial new law. But a Perppu can only be issued in case of a legal vacuum or uncertainty and in urgent situations, and the House of Representatives – which is now controlled by the coalition that passed the law in the first place – can vote to cancel it if it doesn’t agree.

Given this, Perludem said: “Can we still talk about democratic institutions in the context of democratic governance? What kind of lessons do we want to show the world?”

“Democratic institutions or democratic governance are nothing but empty commitment when the state has no intention to preserve it,” the group added.

Ban on protests

Amid the controversy, Bali Police announced they won’t allow any form of demonstrations or protests during the forum.

“To ensure the event runs smoothly, Nusa Dua will be cleared of protesters, as will the airport. All rallies will be banned,” Bali Deputy Police chief Brig. Gen. IGN Raharja Subyakta was quoted as saying. 

Netizens were quick to point out the irony.


About 4,600 military and police personnel, 5 Indonesian warships, 4 F-16 fighter jets and 4 Sukhoi fighter jets will be deployed to safeguard the international event.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, Timor Leste Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, and the Sultan of Brunei Darussalam Hassanal Bolkiah are reportedly confirmed to attend. – Rappler.com

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