12 February 2011

"Reform Unplugged"

A shout out to Treespotter who has made a post already using this title. I have been toying with the idea of writing a piece on how the events in Egypt over the [almost] past three weeks is perhaps a lesson that Indonesians could heed, some Indonesians more than others. Conversely, the reform that Egyptians so overwhelmingly crave could do with a shot of reality, particularly regarding the pace of managed or guided reforms. A managed reformasi process is something that all Indonesians are all too familiar with. On that note, anyone looking for an interesting read on the similarities, head over to Jakartass.

The other reason for the 'unplugged' title is that I have been chilling out to a couple of unplugged albums; Bob Dylan and Neil Young. And, the lack of creativity that I have suggested that something 'unplugged' would make a good blog post.

Hosni Mubarak was a tyrant, a dictator, that has supposedly amassed a fortune somewhere in the vicinity of USD 40 to USD 70 billion over the course of almost 30 years of power. He has done this at the expense of his people. It is little wonder that critical mass was reached and protests began. I have always wondered why tyrants and dictators never come to realise that if they shared just a little they would always get a few more years at the helm. To be honest, all these people could have used a few pep sessions with Singapore's elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew on how to properly stage manage democracy, or at least the semblances of it.

But, I digress.

The reality for most Egyptians, as it was for most Indonesians in 1998, is where to next? The King is dead, sort of. He will move, most probably out of Egypt and retire with his ill-gotten billions. Some will be returned as a small gesture. But, for those ordinary Egyptians struggling on, or below, the poverty line the cold, hard reality is that change or reform will be slow. If Egyptians want to get a good idea of what not to do, at least with respect to pace, then they should look to Indonesia. In the more than twelve years since Soeharto stepped aside after violent street protests and handing the reins of power to his deputy, much has changed and much has stayed the same.

The positives are that Indonesians enjoy greater freedoms of sorts, and except if you are an Ahmadi [minority rights, not!], including the freedoms of speech and expression. Indonesians have enjoyed an opening of the political process to a degree and experienced, by most accounts, a free and fair presidential election. Sadly, this has seen a succession of presidents elected who have been unable to deliver on the promise of the 1998 protest movement.

Gus Dur, despite his good and honourable intentions was a populist at heart who did not really have the heart to make the tough decisions. Megawati, well, "nuff" said. And, the incumbent, SBY. So much promise and so little progress. To Egypt, SBY shows how hard it is to remove entrenched special interests and how those interests continue to hold sway over how Indonesia's new-found democracy operates.

Unfortunately, the coming of democracy has  not seen a reduction in corruption levels or any significant improvement in the bureaucracy that channels that corruption. There is nothing like statistics to hide poverty or the careful manipulation of numbers to lower the threshold in order to hide those living on less than USD 2 per day. What Egypt has to look forward to is entrenched interests who pull their collective heads in in the after math of the killing of the king and biding their time.

For all the steps forward that Indonesia took in the post-1998 period with the establishment of a corruption eradication commission and the pursuit of those special interests it was only a matter of time before the special interests fought back. It appears a compliant [and complicit] president was the only trigger needed to convince those special interests that the ball was in their court.

Egypt does not want reform. Egypt needs complete and fundamental changes to the way the business of democracy is done. Ordinary Egyptians do not want to leave this important business to those schooled in the ways of the old master, Mubarak. Let Indonesians tell you how that turns out. The reality that Indonesians now understand is that letting those schooled in the ways of the previous master means that the practices remain entrenched and the mechanisms and skills required are absent for real change to occur. Skip a generation, the protests were led by the youth let the young leaders of the movement assume control over its ultimate destiny.

Maybe, there is a lesson for SBY in the protests that have rocked Egypt to its core. Listen to your people, listen to their aspirations, after all they are the ones that elected you and they are the ones that you work for. A presidency of unrealised promise might be just the right trigger for a renewed push to "reformasi -- part two".

I guess the reason reform works so slowly, or not at all, is that there is no clear separation from the past. Perhaps the French realised this and that is why the opted for a revolution.

Yes, it is a messy post. But, it is really just a rambling rant ;)

Image courtesy of Dave Granlund.

1 comment:

site said...

So, I don't actually believe this will have effect.