The Indonesian Model of Democracy

I am not sure it will work in the Middle East. But surely religious moderates and nationalists are the building block of our own version of democracy.

Can an Indonesian Model Work in the Middle East

“Can an Indonesian Model Work in the Middle East?” An article from the Middle East Quarterly shocked me. The writer, Paul J. Carnegie, a lecture at Universiti Brunei Darussalam, has purposely placed Indonesia as a role model of a democratic nation. With the intriguing title, Carnegie suggests that Indonesia version of democracy may be replicated in the Middle East. That is a good news for us. Despite the challenges that we have here in Indonesia, academicians such as Carnegie still believe that Indonesia is on the right track on becoming an advance democratic nation.

The Indonesian way toward democracy has been very bumpy, in some instance bloody. Of course, there is no short cut and easy way in becoming a big democratic nation. However, as the biggest moslem country in the world, Indonesia has been proven being able to pass through various turmoil, namely mass killing of communist party members in 1965-66 and economic crisis in 1998-99 that has forced Soeharto to end his 32 years of dictatorship.

I think there are two major factors that guard the big ship of Indonesia from sinking and disintegrating. First is the religous moderates. The religious moderates are among the silent majority in Indonesia. Religious moderates are not politically active but they are very dynamic and tolerant. Among numbers of Indonesian moslem organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) is a religous moderate that has been playing important role in spreading universal islamic values rather than symbolic one.

Abdurahman Wahid or well known as Gus Dur was a prominent Nahdlatul Ulama figure that has built the foundation of what so called traditional moslem. A moslem group that differentiate itself from conservative or modern one. The traditional moslem have sufism root that sometimes reflected in the way they are practicing islam or in how they are interacting with others. Since, sufism is closely tied to symbol of tolerance and syncretics with other culture, traditional moslem tend to accept difference and embrace cultural diversity.

Gus Dur1

In term of consolidation toward democracy, the traditional moslems, led by Gus Dur have showed their eagernes in engaging with other part of Indonesian population. Including but not limited to Christian and Chinese minority. The acknowledgement of Kong hu cu as one of Indonesian “official religion” by Gus Dur was major democratic milestone in Indonesia history.

The second factor is strong nationalists among Indonesian. In Geertz’s classic classification, nationalist sit well among abangan and priyayi. The abangan class in the modern Indonesia politial party system can be referred to nationalist secular party, such as Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan (PDIP). A party that led by Megawati, the daughter of the first Indonesian president, Soekarno. On the other hand, the priyayi may be fit to Golongan Karya (Golkar) Party that has been a ruling party since 1968 up to 1999, and part of a ruling government until today.

Though Geertz classification is over simplifying, his framework has easily helped us to identify a “modern” santri class that always seek a way to occupy the Indonesian political system and in longer term seek to change Indonesia into an islamic state. Even though most of islamic parties never admit their intend to impose shari’a law, one of the prominent islamic party, Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS) has strong tie with Moslem Brotherhood. Moslem Brotherhood is an islamic group in the Middle East which seek a stronger and more visible islamic symbols to be implemented in the governmental system through the incorporation of shari’a in the law and regulation.

The general election in 2009 showed that national secular parties were still favoured among Indonesian than islamic parties. Moreover, some islamic parties have more inclusive platform and accept members who are not islam, such as Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa (PKB) and Partai Amanat Nasional (PAN). In some instance, the member of local parliament from PKB and PAN are not moslem. Even though PKB and PAN are always referred as islamic parties, they can also be classified as “traditional” santri or the religious moderates.

So, to conclude. I am not sure, whether Indonesian democracy model can work in the Middle East. But surely those religious moderates and nationalists are the building block of Indonesian democracy.

note: picture taken from Middle East Quarterly

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