Sondang Grace Sirait
In one of his last speeches after concluding10 years as the first ever directly elected leader of the world’s fourth most populous nation, former Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono likened running a democracy without political development to walking on a treadmill.
“Eventually, you come to the realization that the world around you has fundamentally altered, but you are not politically able to adapt to it. Thus, in the absence of political development, we will end up with political decay,” he remarked.
Yet today, 12 years after Yudhoyono first launched those reforms, and 18 years after Indonesia’s radicaltransformation from repressive authoritarian rule to democracy, homework remains. While milestones include peaceful leadership transitions, free press, vibrant civil society and influential presence of the social media, there remains an uphill battle against corruption. Factional political infighting has also continued to hinder implementation of critical reforms. Yudhoyono’svision of an ideal concoction of political development, socio-economic progress and public participation is still an elusive goal.
It’s a reality common not only in Indonesia, but across many developing countrieschartingtheir own coursestoward democratic governance. In fact, many have suggested that the ground where Myanmar stands on today is where Indonesia was in 1998, savethe similarities in history and political landscape, which includes an active military presence and challenges of ethnicconflicts, turn to each other for inspiration. Take for example, its progress toward implementing the rule of law and battling corruption to matters concerning insurgency, ethnic and religious violence, as well as decentralization.
But first things first, University of Indonesia Southeast Asian political analyst Evida Kartini tells me, there’s the issue of civil military relations and how it has affected, if not altered, the leadership of both countries.
“NLD’s victory proved that there has been a strengthening of the political culture in Myanmar that longs for democracy, aptly aided by the civil society. What makes Myanmar different from Indonesia is the course it will take with regard to military presence in the government, and how far the military is willing to relinquish its role in politics,” she says.
However the political constellation ends up, no one will argue that past the jolt, like Indonesia, Myanmar too will be facing the issue of institutional reform. The model of institutional change provided by Greenwood, Suddaby and Hinnings (Andrews 2013, pp. 98-99) passes through a series of stages: deinstitutionalization, preinstitutionalization, theorization, diffusion, and reinstitutionalization. Where a country is on that lineup depends on the effectiveness of its institutional entrepreneurs.
But more that, as Andrews warns, institutional reform requires more than mere engagement of a few champions. It also calls for the involvement of ‘distributed agents who ultimately have to implement reforms’, in culture, conscience and ethics.
Reform might start later in Myanmar than it did in Indonesia,but given the right push by the right people, it could well be on a faster trajectory, and certainly not stuck on a treadmill.