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BALI, Indonesia – At the opening of the 7th Bali Democracy Forum on Friday, October 10, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono addressed head on the controversial issue that has raised concerns over the state of democracy in Indonesia.
“I want to make it clear that I reject the law” that removes direct local elections, Yudhoyono told delegates from 85 countries during his opening statement, adding that “once you give direct voting rights, you can’t take it back.”
7th Bali Democracy Forum
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The law controversially passed in the early hours of September 26 removes the right of Indonesians to directly vote for their governors, mayors and district heads. This right was given back to local legislatures, returning to the system in place before post-Suharto reforms were implemented.
Eleven of the 14 civil society organisations invited to the democracy forum, as well as to the 2-day Bali Civil Society Forum that preceded it, declined their invitations in protest over the law.
“We don’t need to talk about democracy in ceremonial events, when the people’s right to vote for their leader has been removed,” the Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem) said in a tweet explaining their rejection of the forum.
The Seoul-based Asian Democracy Network also said the law “affects negatively the Indonesian reputation as a champion of democracy in Asia recent years”.
The outgoing president, who has borne the brunt of the blame for the passage of the law, said he understands and is fully aware that people still want direct elections, citing surveys over the past 3 years that consistently showed this result.
“When the House of Representatives passed the law, I felt and received the anger of the people,” he said in a press statement after the opening ceremony.
“Maybe they were angry at me because I wasn’t able to prevent it,” he said, but added that “they should also be angry at those who want indirect elections.”
He was referring to the Red and White Coalition of parties allied with losing presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, which has control of the majority in the legislature and pushed for the passage of the law.
However, critics point out that it was the walkout on the night of the plenary vote by Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party – the largest faction at the House at the time, with the power to decide how the vote would go – that allowed the law to be passed.
Critics also question why Yudhoyono didn’t order the Ministry of Home Affairs, which submitted the bill in the first place, to withdraw it from House.
Instead, Yudhoyono was seen to have engaged in damage control as angry Indonesians made the Twitter hashtag #ShameOnYouSBY a worldwide trending topic in the hours that followed the passage of the law.
On October 2, Yudhoyono issued a special government regulation in lieu of law – called a Perppu – that cancels the law. But this would still need to go to the Prabowo-controlled House for approval.
Forum for sharing, not lecturing
The Bali Democracy Forum, which Yudhoyono – Indonesia’s first democratically elected president – initiated in 2008, is seen as a platform to showcase the country’s transition to a democracy. But the Indonesian president emphasized it was designed to be a forum for sharing, not lecturing.
“The Bali Democracy Forum always reminds us that there is no one model of democracy, no one-size-fits-all approach that must be adopted. Of course, there are universal values that a democracy must have, regardless of the model,” he said.
There are 3 crucial elements to a democracy, he said: Political development, socio-economic progress, and public participation. “These 3 can’t be separated,” he said.
“Democracy without political development is like walking on a treadmill, you’re getting nowhere,” he said, adding that there will be disatisfaction without socio-economic progress, and “democracy without public participation is hollow”.
The forum is Yudhoyono’s final one before he steps down on October 20 and hands over the reigns to Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who was elected in the country’s most divisive presidential elections ever.
“No one said democracy is easy,” Yudhoyono said, describing the recent election as expensive, exhausting, complicated, and emotional. But he added that Indonesia will still demonstrate a safe and peaceful transfer of power in 10 days. – Rappler.com