Jannus TH Siahaan

United States, India, Indonesia, and Global Democracy

2024 will be a testing year for democratic government systems in the world. The reason is that three large countries that adhere to a democratic system of government will hold general elections, where one of the election participants in the three countries has the opportunity to worsen the performance of democracy in the country concerned if they win the general election.

The three countries are the United States, India and Indonesia. As we all know, the United States is the world champion of democracy which is often used as a reference and direction for other democratic countries. Since this country was born two hundred years ago, a system of democratic government has existed periodically and consistently.

Elections take place regularly, whatever the circumstances being faced in the country. In situations of war, crisis, internal chaos, and the like, this does not prevent general elections from taking place in Uncle Sam’s country. Why? As according to American standards, consistency in carrying out democracy, the appearance of which can be seen from the continuity of the electoral process on a regular basis, is a sign of democratic consolidation and stability, in addition to the factors of law enforcement and certainty and freedom of the press.

As Mark D. Brewer and L. Sandy Maisel wrote in their book, “Parties and Elections in America: The Electoral Process,” democratic consistency is one of the characteristics of American politics. Whether it’s rain, storm or flood, whether it’s crisis, normal, stagnation, recession, war, peace, and whatever the circumstances, elections are still held at the appointed time. It cannot be negotiated, postponed, let alone extending the presidential term.

But in 2016, American democracy was put to an extraordinary test. The election of Donald John Trump as the 45th president not only shocked the entire United States, but also the world. The issue of immigration (intolerance) driven by the spirit of White Supremacy, anti-globalization, anti-democratic institutions, and the like, promoted by Donald J. Trump has lowered the level and status of the democratic champion country that the United States has held so far.

The January 6, 2020 movement was the real peak of Donald Trump’s anti-democratic spirit, where he supported several groups of his voters to surround and attack Capitol Hill (the office of the United States Congress) as a form of rejection of the results of the 2020 general election which confirmed the victory of Joe Biden, the 46st President of United States. And now, after being confronted by various legal cases, Donald Trump still has the potential to run again as the main challenger to Joe Biden, who is now 81 years old, in the 2024 presidential election.

Especially after the war raged between Palestine and Israel, Donald Trump’s chance is increasingly wide open. Not because his electability has increased, but precisely because Joe Biden’s approval and electability levels have dropped due to his support for Israel in its military action to bombard the Hamas group in Gaza.

In other words, Joe Biden has a chance of losing because voters in the United States chose not to take part in the general election. And if Donald Trump can return to the White House, then American democracy will probably decline further on the one hand, which will bring the world political economic order to decay with him on the other hand.

Meanwhile, India and Indonesia are two other countries that are barometers of democracy on the Asian continent. Even today, India is not only a democratic country with the largest population in the world, namely 1.4 billion people, but also the champion of Asian democracy because of its consistency in democracy since the country of India was born in 1947.

On the other hand, Indonesia is a champion of democracy in Asia, apart from India and Japan. Since the 1998 reforms, Indonesia has been the champion of democracy in Southeast Asia, aka the pulse of democracy in the ASEAN organization. Apart from Indonesia’s largest population in ASEAN (278.8 million people), democratic governance in Indonesia is also considered to be the closest democratic practice to democratic practice in developed countries, with a level of freedom and openness in elections that tends to be better than Singapore and Malaysia.

However, both Indonesia and India have not yet perfected their practice of democracy, especially in the last ten years, which many analysts and observers consider to be an extraordinary decline in democracy.

Since Narendra Modi was elected as Prime Minister in 2014, democracy in India has increasingly been harmed by the tyrannical practices of the Hindu majority on the one hand and the use of this “tyranny of the majority” by Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to maintain the legitimacy of his government on the other hand.

As a result, democracy in India is increasingly intolerant, especially towards the Muslim voting community, which numbers around 200 million people. Discriminatory practices, both from a social, political and economic perspective, as well as administratively, have become a common sight in India, since the BJP and Narendra Modi came to power.

These practices have lowered India’s status from a democratic country with a good and high democracy index to a democratic country with only a “partly democratic or partly free” score in the Freedom House Score assessment. The decline in India’s democracy score is also one of the causes of the worsening growth of world democracy in the last decade.

However, it is even more unfortunate, because there is no restriction on the term of power of a Prime Minister in India, like in Turkey, Narendra Modi is also on the road to the third episode of his government, if he succeeds in winning the elections in April and May 2024, aka he succeeds in blocking Rahul Gandhi from the party, India’s opposition Congress Party heads to the prime minister’s bench.

In slight contrast to India, where the quality of democracy has declined over the last ten years, Indonesia is also facing the same problem. The election of Joko Widodo in 2014, which was considered a symbol of the victory of Reform over the successor or remnant of the New Order (Prabowo Subianto), apparently does not bring about the maturation of Indonesian democracy.

Apart from being hit by the threat of Islamic fanaticism and radicalism which has the potential to increase the level of intolerance in Indonesia, the deepening role of economic oligarchic networks in the Jokowi administration has worsened the level of responsiveness of the government and elected officials to the public interest on the one hand and worsened conditions of economic injustice on the other hand.

This internal situation is intertwined with the geopolitical and geoeconomic tendencies of the Jokowi administration towards China, which in fact is not a democratic country. As a result, the economic interdependence between Indonesia and China also influences democratic practices in the Indonesian government. In the name of the interests of national strategic projects which are productive areas for investment from China, democratic practices and law enforcement tend to be secondary.

As a result, technically, as written by Edwards Aspinal in his book “Democracy for Sale” (2019), the practices of “vote buying” and “money politics” have polluted the electoral process in Indonesia, which is supported by an abundance of funds from the economic oligarchs who wants to participate in securing its interests in the general election process.

And don’t forget, the driving factor that also plays a big role in the decay of Indonesian democracy is the practice of political dynasties that the palace authorities are starting to play ahead of the 2024 elections. The combination of the political forces of Hambalang (Prabowo) and Solo (Jokowi), after the post-2019 reconciliation, actually makes the future of national democracy tend to become even bleaker, because there is a “symbiotic mutualism” relationship between the two camps which then tolerates non-democratic practices for the sake of power.

This can be seen from the tolerance of political elites for the birth of the Omnibus Law, the politicization of the use of the ITE Law (information and Electronic Transactions) to criminalize government critics, the disruption of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), the use of the Constitutional Court (MK) to family interests, dynastic politics, and others. All of these examples have worsened the quality and performance of Indonesian democracy in recent years.

Just look, Indonesia’s global democracy index score is still recorded as not developing positively. Indonesia is below Colombia and the Philippines, as revealed by the democracy index report released by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in early February 2023.

The Index score is on a scale from 0 to 10. The measurement is based on a ranking of 60 indicators, all of which are grouped into five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; government functions; political participation; and political culture. Each category will be given a scale of 0 to 10. The total index is a simple average of the indices of the five categories.

Indonesia is now ranked 54th out of 167 countries with a score of 6.71. This score is the same as the 2021 democracy index. However, Indonesia’s ranking fell from 52 to 54. Indonesia is now below Colombia which sits in 53rd place, namely with a score of 6.72. Indonesia is also below the Philippines which is ranked 52nd with a score of 6.73 and Malaysia is ranked 40th with a score of 7.30.

Meanwhile, Indonesia’s freedom score according to Freedom House is also not improving. Freedom House is an institution in the United States whose services are used by many parties to measure the implementation of democracy.

If you look at Freedom House data for Indonesia from 2013 to 2022, Indonesia’s democracy score has decreased from 65 in 2013 to 59 in 2022. As a result, Freedom House determines Indonesia’s democratic status as “partly free” or not yet fully democratic, just like India.

However, it is somewhat different from the United States, the potential for voter abstain is not too high for Indonesia in 2024 because of antipathy towards the authorities and one candidate can still be substituted for another candidate who falls into the category of some voters who have “not disappointed the public too much.” In the United States, antipathy towards Joe Biden does not necessarily add value to Donald Trump’s electability, because antipathy towards Donald Trump is actually also very high.

As a result, like in 2016, supporters of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders carried out a group abstention which caused Hillary Clinton to lose, because Bernie Sanders voters were already antipathetic to the “liberal Clintonian” wing in the Democratic Party, but on the other hand, it was impossible to vote for Donald Trump, who was ideologically opposite. Well, in 2020, Joe Biden, the Democratic Party candidate who ideologically falls into the “center” category (center left) enjoyed the votes of voters from the Bernie Sanders camp, which made him win over Donald Trump

Meanwhile in Indonesia, for example, antipathy towards Jokowi due to his dynastic politics will result in the same antipathy towards the pair Prabowo Subianto and Gibran Rakabuming Raka, but the chances of voter abstain is still not too high, because there are still Ganjar Pranowo and Anies Rasyid Baswedan, who are at the national level still has not established a significant track record for generating antipathy or fanaticism.

However, the potential for voter abstain is still quite high for those who are skeptical of the existing system. This group is mostly educated people and the general public who do not see the connection between election results and improvements in their daily lives. This means that if the candidate pairs fail to present a policy plan that can answer the real needs of these voters, then the potential for voter abstain is still quite high, around 10-20 percent, which could make the candidate fail to win the contest.

So in short, returning to the prospects for global democracy from the three general elections, with political developments in the three countries, the United States, India and Indonesia, which demographically are home to around 2 billion people, the future of world democracy is indeed being tested. The positive or negative progress of the democratic movement in these three countries is expected to greatly influence the performance and trust of the global public in the democratic system.

But if the opposite happens, where global uncertainty actually gives birth to far-right or far-left wing actors who actually have the potential to damage institutions in these three countries, then global public trust in democracy will further decline. And that will be the beginning of a bleak future for democratic systems throughout the world. Hopefully that’s not the case.

About the Author
Doctor of Sociology from Padjadjaran University, Indonesia. Defense and Environment Observer.