Thu, 13 Oct 1994

Government urged to speed up democratization

JAKARTA (JP): A seminar sponsored by the Armed Forces (ABRI) urged the government yesterday to heed the growing demand for greater democracy by involving the public in political decision- making.

Observers of the nation's political scene Amin Rais, Nazaruddin Sjamsuddin and Bintan R. Saragih agreed that the current system put the people at the disadvantage because they were denied many of their political rights.

They told a discussion organized by the ABRI faction in the House of Representatives (DPR) that high level state institutions such as the House, Supreme Court and State Audit Agency should truly support the democratization drive.

"Our democratization process is hampered by the failure of our political structures to function as expected," said Nazaruddin, a professor in politics at the University of Indonesia.

Nazaruddin said that democratization process here moved slowly. Government officials are often quick to single out pro- democracy intellectuals as "too westernized", he added.

Contributing to the slow pace, officials consider the level of public political awareness as "still low" and therefore not ready for a faster democratization process, he said.

Nazaruddin said Indonesia's "immature" democracy was well reflected in cases of development projects in which the government used heavy handed approaches to the people.

He added that the central government also dictated to village administrations on economic and political matters, disallowing the masses to contribute more to development.

"People are often forced to sell their land to make way for development projects," he said.

He said that the existing political development had suppressed conflicts and kept them from surfacing, but hurt the relations between the people and the government.


Rais, who is also chairman of Muhammadiyah, a Moslem social and educational organization, said that many developing countries claim to have democracy but in fact their governments are authoritarian.

Authoritarian policies are obvious in cases like the banning of seminars and the eviction of people from their land with the compensation decided unilaterally by the government, he said.

He criticized the government's recent policy of banning seminars and art shows in various cities throughout Indonesia for unclear reasons.

"I believe that seminars are the appropriate places for people to express their criticism," he said. "I believe people should be given the freedom to organize meetings."

Police have pointed out that they did not have a policy to prevent seminars from being held but the bans occur because the organizers failed to apply for permit to hold public gatherings.

Rais said that a "mature" democracy could be judged from whether the government was willing to involve the people in decision-making processes and whether it allowed the check and balance mechanism.

Rais, well known as one of Indonesia's outspoken intellectuals, suggested that the DPR should intensify its public hearings in order to get better knowledge of what happens in society.

He maintained that leaders in the country should have the spirit to create a situation conducive for democracy to grow.

"South Africa has emerged as a country of hope since its new leaders have come up with new a spirit of democracy," he said. (par)