As we continue to feel the effects of the Covid-19 virus, Indonesia faces a looming dilemma regarding their next important election coming in 2024. The country’s current president Joko Widodo (known as Jokowi) is nearing the end of his second presidential term. By the Indonesian constitution, this means that he will need to peacefully transfer power over to a new president. However, the debate has risen among the ranks of Indonesian politics about whether he should be able to serve a third term. Though he has denied and disregarded questions on whether he would take a third term, he has yet to rule out the idea completely. While it seems unlikely that this will happen, the discourse among Indonesian officials to even bring up the idea should be taken with concern for the state of democracy within the country of Indonesia.
Indonesia continues to be at the forefront of worry when it comes to democratic backsliding. In 2017 Indonesia fell back twenty spots from 48th to 68th in the Economist Group’s annual Democracy Index meaning it was the worst performer out of all 165 countries surveyed. As Indonesia has felt the effects of Covid and the pushback of its national elections concern grows about its leader Jokowi and the current sentiment for a third term. Jokowi himself has denied any plans on running a third campaign and he continues to speak on his commitment to the Indonesian constitution. Other influential figures, however, speak a different tune. Minister Luhat Pandjaitan wrote to social media speaking on how they should allow Jokowi “one more term” and that it would be “just this once”. Other supporters have gone out to state that due to the current economic and global status of Indonesia due to the Covid-19 virus, Indonesia would be best served to allow Jokowi more time to carry out his plans of economic reform. Many Indonesian pundits find this discourse incredibly discouraging and call for Jokowi and the government to shut it all down. While it appears Jokowi continues to have no intention of running for a third term we must speak on the dangers this discourse brings.
A significant reason that the idea of lengthening presidential terms is dangerous is that it allows a country to become vulnerable to “stealth authoritarianism”. This term is brought up by Ozan Varol and is described as the underhanded tactics governments use to discretely overtake democratic systems and utilize them in their favor to create a more authoritarian government. This is stated to be done using tactics such as controlling the judiciary, creating electoral laws that limit citizens, and, in this case, bolstering their legitimacy through democratic reforms. Governments find many ways to cleverly trick their citizens into allowing them to control and change their democracies with the intention of allowing themselves easier venues to take power within a governmental system. This is somewhat indirectly happening within this political discourse within Indonesia as officials and other supporters continue to try to justify Jokowi a third term to allow him to finish the reforms he promised when being elected into office. They also utilize the extreme circumstances of Covid-19 to further this belief as a way of furthering their claim that he requires more time to help Indonesia during these unprecedented times. What this does, however, is bring a bad precedent to the Indonesian democratic system. Loosening these barriers and laws that help prevent leaders from overstaying their presidency sets a bad precedent for the future and is a real cause of concern for stealth authoritarianism.
As these other political pundits and leaders continue this discourse of a potential third term it allows the current regime to create cracks in the constitution. It will enable them to potentially create compromises that they can use as leverage to strengthen their democratic legitimacy. What makes this strengthening of legitimacy dangerous is that it gives the current regime more justification for more reforms and changes to the current political system. While it appears to be minor at first, it is these original cracks and small compromises that allow authoritarian regimes to grow steam and gain more influence right under citizens’ noses. The most dangerous part of all this is that many countries can’t go back once they allow these acts of stealth authoritarianism through as it was usually the mechanisms of actual democracy that allowed stealth authoritarianism to take control in the first place.
The country of Indonesia has already fallen victim before to authoritarian rule. They have since built themselves to become the 4th largest democracy in the world. Talks and discussions around a potential third term by Jokowi should remain concerning among the people of Indonesia. As other officials weigh in on the matter citizens should remain wary of the current political climate. Recognizing these subtle actions should remain at the forefront of voters in order to ensure security over stealth authoritarianism among its government figures.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? is a Latin phrase roughly translated as, Who guards the guards? The Indonesian dilemma of a third term for President Joko Widodo speaks of a perfect tale where political intent meets an irresistible opportunity. The article clearly identifies President Widodo as the successful yet reluctant protagonist, unfairly treated by the unprecedently hard times of the pandemic. Through his people’s clamor and his allies plead “just this one time…” President Widodo will heroically redeem the nation and bring its citizenry to a place where, if not the scourge of the pandemic, should now have been enjoying. As exciting as this narrative is, have we not heard of this type of story told in so many ways and different forms? Of individuals fated to single-handedly lead his/her people to the land of plenty and away from the crutches of despair? Let us always remember that history is a cruel teacher and that first and only times are practically followed by seconds, thirds, and even fourths. But by then, who will be counting?
Democracy was never designed to be about one man or one woman. The human species’ innate flaws assure this fact. May Indonesia heed this reminder, lest its people will hear history tell the same old tale, over and over again.
Kudos to the writer.