Reflections on 20 years of reform: human rights lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis

Photo by Indonesia at Melbourne.

 

Where were you and can you describe how you felt when you first heard Soeharto had resigned?
I was in Jakarta. I knew it was only a matter of time before Soeharto stepped down, so I was not surprised. I was deputy chair of the Democracy Forum (Fordem), which was led by future President Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur), and I had been attending daily meetings with other board members discussing the fall of Soeharto. We were thinking: what next? What preparations did we need to make to guarantee that the transfer of power would occur smoothly and peacefully?

 

What has been the most significant reform of the post-Soeharto era?
There have been two milestones, two major reforms: political reform and legal reform. Political reform ushered in democracy, presidential term limits, regional autonomy, freedom of the press and freedom of association. The military was sent back to barracks, losing its political role and increased prominence was given to civil and political rights. In the field of legal reform, we established the Constitutional Court, the Judicial Commission and the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). The independence of the judiciary was guaranteed. Other auxiliary state agencies were established to strengthen the system of checks and balances.

 

What has been the biggest disappointment of the post-Soeharto era?
For me, the biggest disappointment has been the fact that the old guard remain in power. Soeharto’s loyal followers stayed on the scene, and returned to power in reformasi clothing. The government, national and local, remained in the hands of the old guard, and that halted reformasi. Another disappointment has been the failure to dissolve Soeharto’s Golkar Party. I believe Golkar should have been disbanded because of the abuses of power it committed over the 32 years of Soeharto’s rule.

 

Do you think that the reform process has ended? If so, when?
No, the reform process continues but it has slowed to a crawl. We could have done better but the old guard sabotaged the reform process. Efforts to refine and consolidate our democracy were set aside, and the old forces re-emerged. Indonesia has now been captured and is controlled by oligarchs. Political parties and the national legislature do not function as democratic institutions. Their role has been weakened and in many respects they function simply as vehicles for corruption and money politics. It is not wrong to argue that our democracy is just a procedural democracy, not a substantial democracy.

 

What do you think Indonesia still needs to do to further consolidate democracy?
There are number of prerequisites. First, reform political parties to get rid of the influence of oligarchs. Second, eradicate corruption and get rid of money politics and political corruption. Third, strengthen freedom of the press. Fourth, empower civil society and labour unions – but they too must be cleaned of corruption. Finally, fight sectarianism, radicalism and fundamentalism. Indonesia must not become an Islamic state.

 

Is Indonesia a more attractive place for foreign investment than it was under Soeharto?
In the early part of Soeharto’s time in power, foreign investment received special treatment and incentives. Strong government provided security for investors, despite the fact that there was no real legal security. But in the last 10-15 years of Soeharto’s reign, the extent of corruption and cronyism ended up discouraging investment. There were opportunities for investors to gain huge profits but these were not sustainable investments. In the post-Soeharto era, foreign investment has been struggling to overcome the over-bureaucratisation of licencing and approval processes, rampant and widespread corruption and relatively unchecked regional autonomy that led to additional burdens and costs. Over recent years, however, the government has made various improvements and according to the World Bank, Indonesia has greatly improved its ease of doing business. Additionally, agencies like Standard and Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch have granted Indonesia “investment grade” credit ratings. They recognise that, in the long run, Indonesia is a good place to invest. The size of the market is large, the country has abundant resources, and political stability is assured.

 

There is emerging concern about democratic regression in Indonesia. Do you believe there is a risk of Indonesia returning to a more authoritarian style of rule?
Democratic consolidation is a process. There are always problems but I don’t think the people would ever want to return to the old system. There is universal acceptance of civilian control of the military – including by the military. However, there are former generals, and senior military figures, who dream of a return to a more authoritarian regime. I am not worried, because I still have trust in the public that they do not want to return to an authoritarian state. I am, however, worried about the growing influence of Islamic fundamentalism. The government has been firm in combatting radicalism and fundamentalism, and I hope it will continue to be able to do so, while also engaging in deradicalisation efforts.

 

Do you think there is a chance that the military will ever come out of the barracks again?
The military is not as strong and united as it was in the past. It has lost the support of the people and the elite. The political consensus on civilian supremacy over the military will remain a consensus. If the military insists on coming out of the barracks again it will divide the nation. I am not worried that the military would take this risk.

 

Does rising Islamic conservatism pose a threat to Indonesian democracy?
Frankly, I am concerned about rising Islamic conservatism, and the influence of radical and fundamentalist groups. Globalisation and growing connectivity have aided linkages between terrorist groups and individuals across the world and Indonesia is not immune to this problem. The increase in bombings over the past few years is evidence of the growing threat posed by these people. The government should do whatever it can to stop radicalisation.

 

How has Indonesia’s place in the world changed since 1998?
The fact that Indonesia is now a member of the G20 proves that the country plays an increasingly important role in the global arena. Further, Indonesia is seen as a respected leader and mediator in the Muslim world, helping to resolve conflicts and disputes among Muslim countries. Indonesia also continues to play an important leadership role within ASEAN – without Indonesia there would be no ASEAN. Finally, our status as the third largest democracy means that many are hoping that as our democracy matures, Indonesia will play a more prominent role in international forums.