Thu, 24 Jul 2003

'Nobody is happy with Mega, that's good democracy'


Yuji Suzuki, one of most renowned Japanese experts on Indonesian politics, is scheduled to speak at two seminars dealing with bilateral relations between Japan and Indonesia/ASEAN in Jakarta on Wednesday and Thursday. The professor of politics at Hosei University talked with The Jakarta Post's Kornelius Purba about the current Indonesian situation.

Question: Indonesia has decided to finish its program with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and hopes that Japan will replace that funding to assist Indonesia. Do you think it is feasible?

Answer : My first impression about the current discussion in Indonesia about her graduation from the IMF, is that actually this is not a graduation from the IMF program. The IMF is simply allowing Indonesia to graduate, terminating its scheme, and the IMF can no longer justify investment and assistance to Indonesia. I found that Indonesia is reaching such a state of affairs that the country just needs to work more on her own in this very much globalized era.

It is important insurance for Indonesia to negotiate on a bilateral basis with major donors like Japan, the United States and many other donor countries, to follow the IMF framework for the benefit of Indonesia's balanced economic development. Now without the IMF umbrella, Indonesia needs to negotiate bilaterally for its own interests and benefits.

How about Indonesia's position among foreign donors and investors?

In the middle of the recovery after the economic crisis in 1997, Indonesia started to lose attractiveness as far as the private sector was concerned, along with its official donors. On the other hand, China started to attract more and more private sector investment over Indonesia. It also started to attract more lending from donor countries. And as the best student of IMF for such a long period, today Indonesia no longer appeals in that manner. Instead Indonesia began to earn a kind of image that it is not doing what it should do in a way that meets international expectations.

After the IMF's exit some might argue that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) should play a supplementing role, but I think what is more important is that the Indonesian government itself must come up with a concrete plan and a long-term vision to attract more investors.

As the largest lender to Indonesia, is Japan capable and willing to help Indonesia after the IMF, in light of the pledge by Prime Minister Koizumi to Megawati during their recent meeting?

I think yes. My answer is very clear: Indonesia is too important to be allowed to just go bankrupt, not from just a market standpoint or as place for resources, but more strategically, I think ASEAN in the last 36 years played a very significant role as a stabilizer of regional conflict... ASEAN needs Indonesian leadership which used to play a very significant role in encouraging market economy in the last four decades such that the whole region became prosperous and developed. Japan cannot do much without Indonesia. Now, with or without the IMF, Japan needs to work together with Indonesia.

On Wednesday, President Megawati Soekarnoputri commemorated the 2nd anniversary of her presidency. How do you perceive her leadership and achievements?

I don't think we can criticize the slowness, the incompleteness of Megawati's government, simply because we, in Japan, have also suffered for the past 10 years with the threat of insolvency of our banking system. The reforms of the administration, which had been discussed for nearly two decades, we've never implemented, and there are other types of reforms that we've not implemented. In this case we cannot blame the Indonesian government in many areas. But from a mid-term perspective, please look at what Megawati's government has achieved.

First, there are incredible problems that this government inherited from the previous governments. But now there is stability without denying democratic participation. So anybody can criticize anybody else. Nobody is happy with Megawati's administration, and everybody is criticizing her. This is an incredible development of democracy in this country. Look at the TV, newspapers, they indeed report what they feel right and they compete with each other. There is incredible competition and freedom of expression that never was the case before here.

However, we can see -- to a certain extent -- a return of the systems of the Old Order and the New Order or a mixture of the two systems. We see signs of authoritarianism, yes, but nonetheless, Megawati has not destroyed democracy. In that sense stability can be maintained with a 'democratic flavor'.

Secondly, there is economic instability, which her government inherited from Soeharto's downfall. But now there are signals that the rupiah is strong enough. Now the country has US$33 billion in foreign reserves. One can express any criticism, but yet there is a lot of money in foreign reserves.

Third, there is also a sense of political stability to attract more fundamental, or what we call as infrastructure building -- the so called privatization -- in which there is no longer 100 percent government responsibility. Now the government can share the responsibility with the private sector.

The country is also coping with graduation from the donor system. People are asking for berdikari (self-reliance) in the economy, which is totally different from the previous mentality. People now are willing to take up the challenges at their own cost. This is something new.

For such a long time the Indonesian government was very much optimistic about, for instance, international institutions being always ready to help, because Indonesia is just too big for everybody to lose. Yet, within this process Indonesia has started to take the risks on her own.

How about the presidential system here?

Now the government is very much dependent on who will be the president. This country is too big to rely only on one person. Now it is time for Indonesia to have a strong state with 'weak' leader.

I think the achievement of Megawati's government is to allow a popular election, perhaps not only at a national level, but also hopefully at the local levels, like governors or mayors. You will see, of course, an incredible expansion of corruption. Yet it is the problem all other countries go through too. Japan has also had a tremendous history of corruption. Distributors of money always became the political leaders. It is still very difficult to fight against corruption, but gradually it has started to be checked by the participation of the civil society.