Given President Yudhoyono’s resounding electoral victory last week, the future looked bright for a democractic Indonesia and its Muslim-majority population. But, every silver lining has a cloud as they say: in this instance, the ‘cloud’ came in the form of two separate but coordinated, virtually simultaneous bombings of the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton Hotels in Jakarta, at around 7:48 am local time. Nine fatalities, including four foreigners have been reported, with more than fifty others injured in the blasts.
If reports prove to be correct, this will be the second time that the Marriott has been attacked by a suicide bomber. Several analysts have speculated that this was indeed the work of Jemaah Islamiyah, a South East Asian militant Islamic organisation dedicated to the establishment of a Islamic State.
But does this terrorist attack, coming so soon after the free and fair elections suggest that Indonesia is not a ‘model’ Muslim democracy? Paul Wolfowitz, writing in today’s Wall Street Journal, outlines some of the elements that make Indonesia such a success story:
Per capita incomes are more than double what they were when I arrived there as U.S. ambassador 25 years ago. Since 2000, Indonesia’s economy has grown at an average of more than 4% a year. Last year the rate was 6%.
Stable geopolitical situation
The country has made strides in other areas as well. The war in Aceh has ended. Secessionist sentiment elsewhere in the country has largely disappeared, thanks in part to a transition to democracy. And the Indonesian police have recorded substantial successes against terrorism.
Evidence of a maturing electorate
Above all, Indonesia’s political process has displayed a remarkable degree of maturity. Three consecutive free and fair presidential elections is one mark of that. Voters have also shown an impressive degree of common sense. For example, when President Yudhoyono was criticized because his wife often appears in public without a head covering, or jilbab, voters shrugged off the criticism.
Mr. Yudhoyono’s leadership deserves a great deal of credit, as does the country’s tradition of tolerance and respect for women. Indonesia’s first two democratically elected presidents were Abdurrahman Wahid, a devout Muslim leader and proponent of religious tolerance, and Megawati Sukarnoputri, a passionate spokeswoman for democracy. Neither presidency was very successful, but the values each embodied were influential.
Redoutable civil society
So too were a variety of civil society groups that thrived despite restrictions from the Suharto regime. Indonesia’s press was financially independent and competitive, so the country had the basis for a free media as soon as censorship restrictions were lifted. Many of the country’s leaders were also educated in democratic countries. Mr. Yudhoyono is a graduate of the U.S. Army’s Command and Staff College.
All of these factors and more have contributed to Indonesia’s contemporary success both on the global stage and domestically, not the least of which is the Indonesian state’s constitutionally enforced religious pluralism and founding philosophy of pancasila:
Pancasila (pronounced [pantʃaˈsila]) is the official philosophical foundation of the Indonesian state. Pancasila consists of two Sanskrit words, “panca” meaning five, and “sila” meaning principles. It comprises five principles held to be inseparable and interrelated:
- Belief in the one and only God, (in Indonesian, Ketuhanan Yang Maha Esa).
- Just and civilised humanity, (in Indonesian, Kemanusiaan Yang Adil dan Beradab).
- The unity of Indonesia, (in Indonesian, Persatuan Indonesia).
- Democracy guided by the inner wisdom in the unanimity arising out of deliberations amongst representatives, and (in Indonesian, Kerakyatan Yang Dipimpin oleh Hikmat Kebijaksanaan, Dalam Permusyawaratan Perwakilan, dan)
- Social justice for the whole of the people of Indonesia (in Indonesian, Keadilan Sosial bagi seluruh Rakyat Indonesia)
Wolfowitz also adds some caveats:
But we can’t be complacent about Indonesia’s future. The problems facing the country are enormous, poverty first among them. Corruption remains a deterrent to foreign investment. Islamic fundamentalism poses a threat. The authorities have shown a disturbing passivity in the face of attacks on churches and mosques of certain minority sects. Many Indonesians are fearful that government restrictions on pornography and proselytizing will be used by extremists to restrict free expression.
On the positive side, recent elections showed that there has been a decline in the influence of overtly Islamist parties.
The U.S. has an enormous stake in Indonesia. It provides stability for the whole of Southeast Asia, a region of more than half a billion people. It is an example for other aspiring democracies. And if it continues to make progress on religious tolerance, it can point the way for other majority Muslim countries.
One pleasing note is that he doesn’t use the term ‘the Muslim world’ as so many have. At any rate, the recent elections, perceived declining influence of the Islamist parties and now these bombings, which are likely to galvanise Indonesian public opinion even further against the extremists, are promisin signs for the future in one of the world’s most diverse, Muslim-majority nations.