Regressing Democracy

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  • A supporter of People's Justice Party wearing Malaysia's flag mask pose for a picture outside National Palace, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. February 26, 2020. Politicians from 94-year-old Mahathir's previous Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition said they believe they are on track to form a new administration after a plan Mahathir had floated for a unity government was rejected by a rival group. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

    A supporter of People's Justice Party wearing Malaysia's flag mask pose for a picture outside National Palace, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. February 26, 2020. Politicians from 94-year-old Mahathir's previous Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition said they believe they are on track to form a new administration after a plan Mahathir had floated for a unity government was rejected by a rival group. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

    TEMPO.CO, JakartaMalaysia has fallen into a political crisis after Mahathir Mohamad let go the prime ministership. A regression in democracy is occurring all over Southeast Asia, including in Indonesia.

    DEMOCRACY in Southeast Asia is suffering a setback. Malaysia, deemed a nation with a bright political future after the triumph of the opposition coalition party Pakatan Harapan in the 2018 general election, is now buckling under. This occurred after Mahathir Mohamad, the veteran politician supported by the opposition coalition, resigned as prime minister.

    Two years ago, Pakatan Harapan in an unprecedented triumph, beating the Barisan Nasional, the coalition party led by Organisasi Nasional Melayu Bersatu (UMNO – the United Malay National Organization), that had held power since the country gained independence in 1957. This event gave birth to optimism that democracy had finally arrived in that country. The optimism was short-lived, however: Mahathir’s vow to hand over the PM chair to Partai Keadilan’s leader Anwar Ibrahim turned out to be empty words. Instead, eventually Mahathir’s own party, the United Malaysia Native Party, left the Pakatan Harapan coalition and made moves to sidle up to UMNO.

    The Freedom House annual report – the US independent organization which monitors freedom and democracy in the world – notes that democracy has suffered a setback worldwide in the last 13 years. In the 1988-2005 period, the number of countries in the non-free category dropped from 37 to 23 percent, while those in the free category increased (from 36 to 46 percent). Things shifted in the 2005-2018 period: the number of non-free countries increased to 26 percent while the free countries declined to 44 percent.

    Democracy in several Southeast Asian countries has wavered in the past several years. After the military coup in 2014, Thai politics have shown no signs of easing up to this day. In the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte has continued his war against drugs which has killed thousands of civilians, since he became Mayor of Davao in 2013. Things continued when Duterte was elected president in 2016.

    The political climate of Cambodia is glum. Hun Sen, who has been prime minister since 1985, shows reluctance to give up his power to anybody. He has disbanded all the opposition parties, arrested anyone going against him, and has gagged the media.

    The triumph of Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy, in the 2015 Election has not changed Myanmar. Though the military junta eased their pressure towards Suu Kyi, who had been under house arrest since 1989, yet the dream of a burgeoning democracy dissipated when the military attacked Rakhine Province and forced 800,000 Rohingya Muslims to seek refuge in Bangladesh. The United Nations investigation team stated the military action was ethnic cleansing, yet Suu Kyi defended the military deed.

    Democracy has also declined in Indonesia. This is reflected in the score by Freedom House measuring civil liberties and the political rights of the people. In 2016-2017, Indonesia’s freedom score stood at 65 (one being very unfree while 100 being the freest). The score dropped to 64 in 2018 and declined again to 62 in 2019. This fact has placed Indonesia in the category of a partially free nation.

    Democracy in Indonesia declined even further after President Joko Widodo’s government revised the Corruption Eradication Commission Law. Things turned even worse when the government forwarded an Employment Creation bill through an omnibus law. With the aim to facilitate ease for foreign investment, the government has in fact violated many things, including environmental conservation and the legal hierarchy. Elected democratically in two general elections, Jokowi has in fact betrayed the trust of the general public. As did the leaders of our neighboring countries in Southeast Asia, Jokowi has left a black mark on democracy in Indonesia.

    Read the Complete Story in this Week's Edition of Tempo English Magazine