Indonesian parliament claims a scalp

The real test of the maturity of Indonesian democracy might turn out to be nothing to do with how it handles an election, but what the parties do with the legislative power they received after that election. Those that provide critique of liberal democratic approaches to transitional constitutionalism – that is that merely instituting democratic elections without more doesn’t quite cut it as far as attaining ‘democratic’ status goes – may now be adjusting their arguments on the basis of ongoing developments in Indonesia.

Whether or not the resignation today of Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawatti will be sufficient to overcome disaffection with the SBY government is a matter only time can tell. The announcement of her appointment to a position as Managing Director of the World Bank came just one day after she had completed her testimony to the Corruption Eradication Commission concerning the Bank Century bailout. What is certain is that this is a blow of the kind that, if repeated, may see the SBY government fail to see out a five-year term to which it has only just begun.

The Bank Century bailout scandal, in which the national government did what just about any other government in the world would do in similar circumstances, i.e. bailout a nationally significant financial institution on the brink of collapse despite the fact that banking executives would most likely get off scot free, has claimed the first of three major targets which include both the President himself and his Vice President and former Reserve Bank Governor Boediono.

Before I left Yogyakarta I had a fascinating discussion with an Australian whose identity I’ll keep to myself because I didn’t disclose that I’m a blogger, or ask if I could attribute any of the things he said. Also, I have no evidence to prove that he is who he said he was, or that he works where he said he did. So you can take all this with as much salt as you like.

In a nutshell, he expressed a fear, which he purported to be one held within diplomatic circles, that a combination of parties including Golkar, the PDI-P and Gerindra (and it now seems that Hanura’s in on it as well, but I’m not sure if he mentioned them at the time) could be working very hard to impeach the President over the Bank Century affair. Such a campaign, he suggested, might include widespread popular protests of a scale not seen since the end of the New Order era.

Now it is the case that many in the left are disaffected as a result of the rise of SBY and the persistent strength of the influence of the military and technocrats in government in Indonesia, and the way in which those forces operate to prop up a significant disparity between the rich and poor of the archipelago. Some mention should also be made of the environmental problems which are attendant on the manner in which Indonesian natural resources are exploited, problems which are exacerbated by the corrupt erosion of already light environmental protection laws.

So the ignominious departure of SBY and the system which he represents might be cheered in some circles. Such critics of the current government would need to ask themselves, though, what kind of outcome might result from this process?

Would the likely instability caused by such a transition be superior to the status quo? If a new strong leader is believed to be needed, and the choices are Kalla, Sukarnoputri and Prabowo, which of these three is most likely to get up, and what would the implications of that choice be? Or could such instability even give comfort and rise to other, more radical movements?

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