The late Soeharto has become something of a poster boy for
leadership as the nation searches for a president who can
effectively deliver the goods.
Photos of the smiling president, who ruled Indonesia between
1966-1998, appear everywhere, with the caption in Javanese piye
kabare, isih penak jamanku, tho? (How are you, better in my era,
wasnt it?) a reminder that, for some, life was so much better then.
The Soeharto posters and memes have been going viral since the 2014
election and are still circulating now.
Soeharto was a dictator, there is no doubt about it, though his
supporters would claim that he was a noble one. But the point of
the poster is that Indonesia had a leader who delivered the goods,
something that no other president since then has been able to
match, so his supporters claim.
Soeharto, who ruled with an iron fist, did deliver justice,
security and welfare, but it is debatable whether his successors
have fared better or worse. Ruling the country for 32 years, he was
bound to have delivered something, while his successors have been
subject to periodic democratic elections and limited to ruling for
no more than two five-year terms.
The bigger question, and this was one of the topics discussed at
the recent Bali Civil Society and Media Forum, is whether
democracy can deliver justice, security and welfare to the people,
all the people.
Indonesia, now a democracy for nearly 20 years, albeit a
struggling one, makes a good case study to answer this question, by
comparing the ability of the two political systems in bringing
greater prosperity to the people.
The track record of Indonesia since 1998 has not been bad,
although perhaps underappreciated.
The economy has improved significantly, in terms of overall GDP
and per-capita-income growth, and the government today provides
many services such as free health care, 12-year compulsory free
education, and cash assistance for the poor. Indonesia today is the
16th-largest economy in the world, and many predict that it will be
in the top 10 by 2025 and top five by 2040.
We have a growing middle class, reflected by the number
cellphones, cars and motorcycles, and a growing appetite for
holidays, both at home and abroad.
And there is freedom, all kinds of freedom, something that
distinguishes todays era from that of Soehartos. Why then do some
people still feel that they miss Soeharto?
Perhaps they dont really miss him, but they miss the certainty,
the swift way decisions were made and the security he provided.
They miss the effectiveness and efficiency that an authoritarian
regime can deliver.
Democracy, unfortunately, is almost anything but.
Decisions are made through an arduous and cumbersome process,
and the government is often mired in stagnation. Every single major
decision has to undergo the democratic processes, meaning noisy
public debates and endless deliberation b...