Sat, 29 Apr 2000

Talk, talk and talk

Instead of coming out with ways of solving the country's many pressing problems, President Abdurrahman Wahid and leaders of the House of Representatives ended up hurling accusations at each other in their latest round of consultations on Thursday.

It is now clear that the controversy over the dismissal of two Cabinet ministers this week will take up the attention of our politicians in the days, weeks or even months to come.

The President's explanation, that they were fired because of alleged corruption, has only angered the Golkar Party and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan). As the country's two largest political parties, they are not likely to let the matter rest easily.

If consultation is supposed to be an exercise in democracy, the meeting on Thursday was a really bad example. The already confused public is confounded by the lack of commitment from leaders of the executive and legislative branches to address much more serious problems facing the nation today, such as the economy, the violence in various regions, and the lack of progress in human rights investigations.

If these and many other problems remain unresolved, people in the country will begin to have doubts about the ability of their leaders to live up to their responsibilities. Worse, some may begin to doubt whether or not the problems besetting Indonesia can be resolved in a democratic fashion at all (i.e., through dialog and compromise).

There should, however, be no question that consultation is the preferred means of solving differences. The alternative is force and violence. It is therefore crucial that the leaders of this nation engage in continuous dialog in order to iron out their differences.

It is also understandable that our leaders face a long learning curve in mastering the skills necessary to practice democracy. But it is also important that they realize they must meet their responsibilities while learning on the job.

Presently, leaders in the executive and legislative branches seem to have caught the NATO virus: No Actions, Talks Only.

Both branches of government have little to show for themselves in the six or eight months that they have been in charge of the country; though they certainly have talked a lot.

The economy, in particular, remains in the doldrums with little signs of real significant improvement. The constant quarreling between the country's political elites, and the uncertainty they have created, have virtually put all new investments in Indonesia on hold.

The economic condition has become so exasperating that even noted economist Sjahrir, who is known as a democrat, last week called for a "moratorium" on political debates so that the nation could focus its attention on fixing the economy.

As much as we share Sjahrir's concern about the state of the economy, his moratorium proposition is not without risks, and could plunge the country back into authoritarianism.

A moratorium was what Soeharto essentially imposed on the nation when he rose to power in 1966. True enough, the country enjoyed 30 years of almost uninterrupted economic growth. The political moratorium was never lifted and the country suffered severely through deprivation of political rights and injustices. And the rampant corruption ultimately undid almost all the gains of the economic development.

We have been down that road before and should not want to make the same mistake again.

Yet, Sjahrir's drastic proposal is a sign that many people, including those who have fought for democracy such as he has, are having second thoughts about the ability of the political system and the present political leaders to successfully deal with and resolve the country's economic problems.

Among the doubters are bound to be little Soehartos -- ambitious and power-hungry politicians or generals -- who will be only too happy to use force and take charge of things. If and when that happens -- God forbid -- then Indonesia's present leaders must take the blame for wasting their time quarreling over petty matters while neglecting their larger responsibilities.