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Indonesia goes to the polls

Scott Wickstein gives us some analysis on what is happening in the world’s most populous Muslim nation

Indonesia is not a nation that bestrides the global stage, so the fact that it goes to the polls this year has not attracted much international attention. The elections, though, matter a lot to Indonesia, and they will be interesting to outside observers as well.

Indonesia is new at this sort of thing. Since independence, democracy was ditched in favour of rule by Presidents Sukarno and Suharto, and this year’s poll will only be the second that could really be called democratic.

Like America and India, Indonesia is fond of political dynasties, and the incumbent, Megawati Sukarnoputri, is the daughter of President Sukarno. It is not a happy family though. In this election, Megawati faces challenges from both her sisters. They are not serious challenges however. That will come from Golkar, which was the party that former President Suharto used as his political tool in his one party state. So in many respects, the election is about the political inheritance of the two long serving Presidents.

Whoever wins the elections faces two long standing challenges. Indonesia has problems with separatists both in Irian Jaya, at the eastern end of the archipelago, and Ambon, at the western end. Ambon is currently the more serious. And the other problem is the economy, which has varied between the anaemic and the sluggish since the financial crisis of 1997.

One of the main reasons the economy in Indonesia is so sluggish is that corruption in Indonesia is endemic, and it has been basically since independence. And one of the reasons that it is so hard to fight is that it seems that everyone is implicated.

Another of the reasons Indonesia got into such a mess is that everything in Indonesia is so regulated. Even today, doing business in Indonesia means wading through a swamp of red tape. It is understandable that people use bribery to take shortcuts through that swamp. Indeed it could be argued that corruption is the free market’s revenge on regulation.

So it can be seen that one of the ways to tackle corruption in Indonesia is to cut back on regulation. I am not sure that either main party in Indonesia appreciates this, however.

Scott Wickstein

2 comments to Indonesia goes to the polls

  • Dale Amon

    I got to know a good bit about Indonesia from working with a Jakarta native who got his Phd at CMU. He and I and a Bombay native (one Romesh Wahdwani whom I understand has at this point made it to billionaire status or thereabouts) were the founders of a company callled Compuguard in Pittsburgh… or rather they were the founders and I was the jack of all trades and first employee. But I digress. Hadi, the Indonesian, got us a data study contract on education in Indonesia on which I did a lot of the data analysis… I got to see the amounts of money poured into the top… and the subsistance level or less that dribbled out the bottom to the teachers. Crooked? Indonesia beats Dublin hands down! Or Hands Out as the case may be.

  • Wild Pegasus

    There is also another solution, or at least a mitigating factor, to corruption: heavy devolution of powers or outright independence for any island/party that wants it. This introduces competition among the various islands for business investment and the best and brightest Indonesians. Corrupt, badly-run islands witness an exodus; less corrupt, less badly-run islands witness an influx.

    In some sense, this has been happening in the US for quite some time now, as people are leaving the heavily regulated, badly run northern and eastern Midwest (Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin) and east coast (Massachusetts, New Jersey) for the deep south and southwest (Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado).

    To your independence, West Papua! To peace and independence, Ambon!

    - Josh