The basic answer is common to many of Indonesia’s problems: For decades, the country’s leaders have been selfish and corrupt, lacking vision and initiative.
This week, our country has been going through a plethora of bad news. With a flashflood in Wasior two weeks ago and forest fires in Sumatra that had choked Singapore with a thick smog last week just receded from the headlines, the worst Jakarta gridlock ever kicked off the week, followed by a tsunami in Mentawai and volcano eruption in Jogjakarta. Adding fuel to the fire are the Cabinet Minister and House Speaker’s rather insensitive remarks, and the headlines about parliamentary members on field trips to tourist destinations, allegedly to experience firsthand some pedestrian concerns, such as whether the parliament members in Greece are allowed to smoke during sessions. It seems as if the stream of bad news is endless, and indeed plenty of these searing headlines originated from or aggravated by the corruption and complacency of our self serving government.
It’s easy to get cynical about the government and political class when we read the newspapers these days. We are the third biggest democracy in the world, but twelve years of it has made a lot of people so disillusioned that the idea of making our longest serving president a national hero is not considered a political suicide. Plenty are feeling nostalgic over the perceived stability and prosperity during the days of our national hero candidate – and disgusted with the daily bickering, power struggles, and shameless corruption of the politicians. It’s a limbo in which the light of hope flickers timidly amidst a hailstorm.
However, power and politics has never been a game for the idealist – no matter which system that we have to govern. Power tends to corrupt, and especially so in systems which does not have transparency the way a real democracy provides. Yes, decades of corruption have happened in Indonesia, it is so common that it practically is a part of our culture. But the pervasiveness, persistence and its scale was only known through the riotous uncensored media of the democratic era. Our government may be a big problem, but should we fall into indifference and apathy, it would be an even bigger problem.
For all its downsides, democracy enables people to be rightfully aware of the political process that concerns them – from the election of Corruption Eradication Committee to the anti pornography laws. The adage of democracy says no one gets their way, but no one should get home empty handed either – it is about checks and balances, in which no party can act without consequences. Right now, these checks and balances embodied in the government and parliament seems to be not working well – but at least the blanks can be partly covered by shortcutting the feedback mechanism using the media – press and social.
Freedom of information and opinion may still be unfamiliar to a young country like us, and it is something that we should learn to treasure. The press brought us the ills and the daily gripes of a modern country, but it should be something we feel grateful for. It is the first ingredient by which we can change the course of government and the country – this time, to the right direction.