The Indonesian enigma: Economic, leadership crises

Posted by Admin on Wednesday, 29 January 2003 | Opini

The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Wed, 01/29/2003 12:00 AM

Sayidiman Suryohadiprojo, Former Governor National Resilience Institute (Lemhanas), Jakarta

Indonesia is again facing a serious crisis of leadership and government in the face of mass demonstrations that have spread beyond Jakarta, involving students and even housewives.

The government decision to increase oil, telephone and electricity prices at the same time, though later modified, was indeed a very brave act. We must assume President Megawati Soekarnoputri, Vice President Hamzah Haz and the other members of the government have the common sense to understand that such a drastic decision would create strong reactions amid already difficult living conditions.

Being politicians they certainly could have guessed that negative reactions would be manipulated by their political opponents. All our politicians are known for their preparations for the coming 2004 elections, including the election of the president and vice president.

That in spite of these consequences the President and her ministers made the radical decision, is an indication that they were really pressed to do so. If the decision was really inevitable why did the government not make the very important psychological preparations to prevent negative reactions?

The President and her assistants made a very serious mistake in this respect, or had entirely misjudged the people’s mind. Is it because most or all of the ministers and the President and Vice President, belonging to the middle class, do not feel and understand the commoner’s difficulties?

One cannot avoid doubting the government’s serious defense of their decision when after facing mass demonstrations, they so easily change the price increases. This retreat is proof, in particular for the students, that the decision was not seriously thought over after all — hence the rallies continued.

However, the initial opposition to price increases only has now become a more serious development — a strong voice urging Megawati and Hamzah to step down.

Those who want this leadership change base their demand on the fact that the national leadership no longer has the support and trust of the majority of the people. Many decisions and judgments are not in accordance with what the people really need.

There are also people who strongly believe that the President is indeed not good enough for her job. From the start of her presidency some questioned Megawati’s intellectual capabilities to make her an effective head of state.

This doubt became stronger when the President kept silent in many instances where her opinion could be important to guide the nation. But her supporters defended her silence by comparing it with the attitude of her predecessor, President Abdurrahman Wahid, whose many statements and expressions were causing more negative than positive reactions. So after balancing the negative and positive factors most of the people agree that it is better that Megawati and her government remain in office until the coming elections in 2004.

But now people again begin to doubt whether it is really better for the nation to keep Megawati until 2004. Many decisions are badly hurting the nation, like the sale of Indosat and other decisions around the privatization of state owned firms, the price increases, and others.

There is an increasing concern that during these two years more government misjudgments will happen. People are now thinking about replacing Megawati by forming a Presidium that will lead the state until the 2004 elections.

However, others feel that such a change will harm our democratization process. Following reformasi, two presidents in a row were forced to step down, namely B.J. Habibie and Abdurrahman Wahid. It would be very bad for democratic developments if the President must again step down without a normal election process.

Moreover, there is no assurance that a Presidium can work effectively to lead the nation with its multidimensional problems. And it is doubtful whether the personalities that form the Presidium are really capable, knowing the prevailing mentality and weaknesses among the political elite.

So to prolong the presidency of Megawati until 2004 may indeed be disastrous for Indonesia. But to replace her now will not bring any improvements, it could even be worse. This is the first dilemma which troubles Indonesia today.

The second dilemma is caused by the leadership problem. The key solution would be a leadership with a much higher quality. First, leadership than can enforce discipline, including to itself.

How can we have legal supremacy without any discipline? And how can we have a sound democratic political system and economic improvement without effective laws? During the Soeharto regime discipline was already weak, but after reformasi discipline deteriorated substantially when freedom and democracy were interpreted as the total liberty to do everything one wanted. This excessive freedom has not been restrained until today with all the negative consequences.

Effective leadership should entail strong physical and moral courage. It should be able to confront the several interests of the culprits of collusion, corruption and nepotism, that would feel threatened by actions to bring them to court. And it should have the moral courage to make unpopular decisions, if they are really needed to better the nation.

To gain public confidence, leadership must demonstrate consistency by its actions, and decisions should not differ from statements. Leaders who tell the people to live austerely, but swim in luxury, would make people cynical. Until today consistency has never been a strong feature of our leaders, dating back to the first president Sukarno up to his daughter, today’s president.

Leadership must consist of achievement-oriented people. Not people who are fond of theorizing only without the ambition to make these theories reality.

People get confused listening to the many debates among so-called political, economic and security observers, who do not have the capability to achieve when they are in an executive position.

We cannot hope to have real positive change unless this leadership requirement is met. The second dilemma is caused by the fact that this kind of leadership cannot develop in the present political system. A political system that is controlled by the political parties, in particular the large one, whose leaders are not interested in a different kind of leadership.

People with good intentions and with promising basic qualities are reluctant to enter political life, realizing they cannot break the prevailing traditions. Some try to form their own parties, but these new parties do not have the capability to be influential. Many of the new parties even enhance the political malaise.

It is therefore far from certain that the 2004 elections will make Indonesia much more capable to bring improvements in solving the multidimensional problems. And Megawati’s challenge to her opponents and competitors might not be too unrealistic. Another term for her is not impossible given the quality and capability of her aspiring opponents. But what would happen to Indonesia if that comes true?

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