07 April 2010

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Between plurality and rudimentary democracy

Growing intolerance was one of the main concerns that moved actress Sophia Latjuba and her family to Los Angeles in January 2009 (The Jakarta Post Weekender, April 2010). “I refuse to live a restricted life like that,” she said about the somberly developing social atmosphere.
She is very likely not alone among the silent many in Indonesia. The problem of intolerance is but a
by-product joining the totalitarianism that is growing stronger on a daily basis. As indications are abundant, there is no need to go into a litany of laws and regulations promulgated during the reform era to demonstrate such a trend.
The biggest concern should be the slow but sure stream of totalitarian aspirations that are free riding on the popular vehicle named “democracy”. The political mentality appears to be: As long as you are aboard the majority bandwagon, you should win no matter what, even if you win on a peculiar cause.
Nevertheless, it has been to the surprise of many that the free and fair general elections held since the fall of president Soeharto have proved that they not only can be peaceful and civilized, but also entail an indubitable result that only reconfirms the plurality of Indonesian society. So why the enigma?

As more than a decade ago we brought down the authoritarian Soeharto regime, Western countries lauded the Indonesian people for such an achievement, and Indonesians in general were happy to have been so praised. Nonetheless, it is hard to understand the riddle of why the new open and emancipated political setting designed by the people is driving the country toward another cage to trap the plurality of Indonesian society.
Look at the Constitutional Court that turned down a petition to review the pornography law. For sure, sensible citizens are all against pornography. Yet the pornography law went so far with its hair-splitting formulation that even certain sounds and voices could qualify as porn. So if you feel a sudden pain while in a public area, be sure that you have your vocal expression under control, otherwise you may make yourself subject to the draconian consequences of the law.
This law and other like totalitarian-spirited laws will indeed go deep into the personal realm of Indonesian citizens. It is true that Indonesians tend to think more in terms of a collective framework rather than individual perspectives. But, that should not  mean that each of us should behave along collective dictates, save if totalitarian control is indeed on the agenda.
The spat regarding the pornography law is but one of many confirmations of the indication that Indonesians are yet to build a solid but reasonable consensus amid the plurality we all share. It is generally admitted that consensus building is difficult in pluralistic societies.
More unfortunate is that Indonesians used to be blindly proud of being a pluralistic society, without seeming to be capable, or worse not willing, to accept and work out its consequences.
Logically, the more pluralistic a society, the more tolerance is required and the more sophisticated democracy we need to apply.
Far from an obsolete Athens-style democracy that only gives way to a simple vote-winning majority, a modern democracy has more qualifications to comply with in order to adjust to the modern needs of the age.
The most important ones are tolerance for differences and the capability to think beyond primordial perspectives. And yet rather than having understood this, we, and the media in particular, tend to value those who shout loudest.
This is a sad development. Indonesians actually need to consolidate their scattered resources into a bold national will in order to cope with global challenges that are not necessarily to our advantage.
Instead, we are busy riding a rudimentary democracy to split society along its pluralistic fault lines, while others in the world may be watching us closely.
Some have even noticed that we don’t do our homework. When addressing the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce, PRC Ambassador Zhang Qiyue simply used diplomatic finesse by stating that Indonesia “is lagging behind” in terms of responding to contractual regional schemes for ASEAN ties with China (the Post, March 19, 2010). We need to take that statement seriously for our own good.
It is sad to see the missing link in our national logic, which very likely lies in a sort of rudimentary democracy run by a large, mediocre stratum of leadership. It is high time to return to common sense and think about whether we really want to have totalitarianism that intrudes upon personal matters.
Do we really want to have a government that regulates the nitty-gritty of human behavior in a pluralistic setting rather than seeking to educate citizens to become a reasoning public and use their common sense? Do we really want a government and a society that restrict our lives in sort of “you are not us” box while we should be boosting creativity beyond new frontiers to compete with other nations?
Indonesia’s leadership must rethink what it is doing with our newly built institutions. Is it true that we brought down Soeharto only to usher ourselves into the trap of another behemoth by driving our hard-won democracy along the wrong path? Don’t we have a proverb reminding us to be careful when getting rid of trouble: Don’t escape the jaws of a tiger only to be eaten by a crocodile.

Budiono Kusumohadjidjojo, The writer is a professor at the School of Philosophy, Parahyangan Catholic University, Bandung.
Opini The Jakarta Post 08 April 2010