Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Democracy the right choice over theocracy

The Jakarta Post
Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Thang D. Nguyen, Jakarta

As Indonesia turns 62 this month, Indonesians should be proud of their nation's democratic transformation.

Since 1998 when strongman Soeharto was toppled, Indonesia has become a rising democracy. With free elections and a democratically selected government, Indonesia is, in fact, the world's third-largest democracy, after the U.S. and India.

But what makes Indonesia's democratic transition outstanding is that it has taken place in the world's largest Muslim-majority nation.

Amid global debates on whether Islam and democracy can coexist, this transition has, indeed, been an inspiring success story.

Although most Indonesian Muslims are considered moderate, radical, hard-line Islamic groups do exist in Indonesia, and they are not happy with the country's democratic change.

What these groups want, instead, is a theocratic state, an Indonesia that is ruled by sharia, or Islamic law. And to that end they have made numerous attempts.

In 2002, for instance, a motion to institute sharia in Indonesia was put before the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), but it was rejected.

This Aug. 12, 90,000 Muslims gathered at Jakarta's Bung Karno Stadium for the International Caliphate Conference. This was the second conference by Hizbut Tahrir, a global Islamic organization whose mission is to build an Islamic state throughout the world.

During the event, the group blamed democracy as the main reason why Indonesia is lagging behind other nations.

"What has democracy brought us?" asked Muhammad Ismail Yusanto, spokesperson of Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, a chapter of two million members. "Democracy only brings us secular policies, like what's happening nowadays (sic)."

But, seriously, what can theocracy, or sharia, bring to Indonesia, where 39 million people live in poverty and 22 million others are still unemployed?

And if sharia is the key to Indonesia's, or any other country's, problems, why is it that the Islamic world is so far behind the West and other non-Muslim countries in economic development and other spheres?

To be sure, if we take a good look at the Islamic world today and ask ourselves which countries are peaceful, prosperous and advanced, we can only name a few: Brunei, Malaysia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

As for the rest, some are either at war with a foreign country or in a civil war, e.g. Iraq, while others face the threat of terrorism masterminded and launched by homegrown radical Islamic groups, e.g. Indonesia.

Ironically, this is the Islamic world that is 1.3 billion strong and has the biggest oil reserve in the world, among a wealth of other natural resources. And, lest we forget, this is the same Islamic world that was the most powerful, advanced and enlightened civilization at one point in history.

Unfortunately, as the West developed and gained dominance following the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution, the Islamic world continued to live in its once-glorious past and gradually fell behind.

And as the development gap between the West and the Islamic world has widened, Muslim groups, such as Hizbut Tahrir, have put the blame on democracy as the cause of all the wrongs in the Islamic world.

Some other groups, such as al-Qaeda, have taken a more extreme view, calling the West the enemy of Islam. Thus, they have turned to jihad as the way to fight against the West, particularly the U.S. and its allies, in defense of Islam.

This is certainly the case of the al-Qaeda-linked Jamaah Islamiyah (JI). With its links and operations across Southeast Asia, the JI has been responsible for major terrorist acts in Indonesia, namely the Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005; the Jakarta JW Marriott blast in 2003; and the attack on the Australian Embassy in Jakarta right before the 2004 elections.

As we have seen, violent jihadism is no solution to poverty, backwardness and other problems that Islamic countries are facing today; in fact, it has done more harm to Islam and Muslim-majority nations.

In the JI attacks, for instance, most of the victims were innocent Muslim Indonesians. What is more, these attacks have damaged Indonesia's global image, investor confidence and tourism industry.

But most importantly, these attacks have darkened the good name of Islam.
In a nutshell, such jihadism is no way for Indonesia, or any other Muslim-majority nation, to overcome its national challenges and move forward.

Likewise, instituting sharia, as Hizbut Tahrir would have you believe, is not the answer to Indonesia's problems either.

To be sure, democracy may not be the best political system in the world. Or, as the former British prime minister Winston Churchill put it: "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

So, until Indonesia finds a better form of government, it had better stick with democracy.

The writer is a Jakarta-based columnist. His writing can be read at www.thangthecolumnist.blogspot.com

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Just Do It instead of playing blame games

Business Times - 07 Aug 2007

Indonesia must step up moves to improve its investment climate to retain foreign players


IF you want to solve a problem, the first step is to acknowledge it exists. But sadly, this is not the case with some people in Indonesia, who like to blame foreigners for many things that go wrong in the country.

Take the case of Nike. Recently, thousands of workers from Naga Sakti Parama Shoes Industry (Nasa) and Hardaya Aneka Shoes Industry (Hasi) took to the streets in rallies against the American athletic apparel company because it ended working contracts with them.

Nike said it did this because of poor quality and late deliveries.

But the workers thought otherwise. Carrying banners like 'I hate Nike' and 'Go to hell Nike', they demanded the company restore its contracts with their factories - and denied the problems that Nike said it had.

What these workers do not realise is that Nike is not responsible for their problem and therefore they are not entitled to seek compensation from it.

'Nike is only a buyer - not the investor who owns the factories and employs the workers,' Nike spokesman Maretha Sambe was quoted by The Jakarta Post as saying. Furthermore, Nasa and Hasi were given the chance to improve their production quality and retain their contracts with Nike. But they failed.

'Nike had already warned them of their sub-standard output and other problems in March this year,' said Nike's director for corporate responsibility communications Erin Dobson.

And 'because there has been no significant change in quality and delivery, Nike headquarters sent termination notices', said Maretha Sambe.

Like many Indonesians, Nasa and Hasi workers do not realise that in today's global economy, making a good product is no longer enough for investors or buyers.

They demand the best product in terms of both quality and production cost. And if this demand is not met, they will go somewhere else where it can be met.
That's exactly what Nike did. It shifted orders to 37 other sports-gear factories in Indonesia to meet its demand.

What's more, Nike, which started sourcing from Indonesia in 1989, said this week that it remains committed to doing business with Indonesia despite the problems it has had with Nasa and Hasi and despite the worker protests. Nike could have shifted its orders to India, China or Vietnam. It could have wound up doing business with Indonesia because of the problems it has faced and the Nasa-Hasi protests. But it did not.

As opposition against Nike mounted, the Indonesian Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) intervened and helped resolve the dispute.

And the outcome is positive: Nike agreed to extend its contracts with Nasa and Hasi, ending weeks of confrontation among the parties involved.

Still, the Nasa-Hasi protest reminds us of how challenging Indonesia's business or investment climate is.

Besides labour laws and worker protests, foreign investors face a host of issues including corruption, inadequate infrastructure, political instability and legal uncertainty. Together, these issues raise the cost of doing business and drive investors away.

To be fair, the Indonesian government does recognise the problems. Since taking office in October 2004, the administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has taken numerous steps to improve the investment climate.

It has held two major conferences to lure foreign investors for infrastructure projects, though little has resulted from these events.

There are major problems, like poor infrastructure as traffic jams in Jakarta and Bandung are getting worse day by day.

Mr Yudhoyono, who campaigned for fighting corruption among other things, set up the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). And for about three years, KPK did a good job, filing several high-level cases. But earlier this year it was dissolved, even though its job was far from completed.

If anything, now is the time that the Mr Yudhoyono's government needs to do more - not less - to carry out its economic, legal and social reforms.

If not, distrust will only intensify. For foreign investors, it will be distrust in Indonesia as a place to do business. And for Indonesians - particularly those who voted for Mr Yudhoyono - it will be distrust in democracy.

The writer is a Jakarta-based columnist. His writings can be read at www.thangthecolumnist.blogspot.com

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