Eastern gaze

Posted in democracy, politics by jrahman on December 23, 2014

Ten years ago this Friday, southeast Asia was hit by the tsunami.  For Indonesia, it came after a series of adversities dating back to the Asian Financial Crisis of the 1997.  Indonesian was hit particularly hard by the crisis, with its per capita GDP falling by 13 per cent in 1998.  The crisis led to the toppling of three decade long Suharto dictatorship, and ethnic and communal violence.  In 1999, East Timor broke away, raising the fear of further disintegration.  Islamist violence soared over the following years.  Indonesia had five presidents in seven years to 2004.

While Asian Crisis started started in Thailand, in the early 2000s, it was Indonesia that looked like the region’s massive failure.  Then things changed.

Over the past decade, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono substantially stabilised Indonesia.  Islamist terror was beaten back, but substantil decentralisation of political power allowed Islamist politicians to join the democratic mainstream.  Interestingly, voters don’t seem to like Islamists in office — not surprisingly, sermonising about women’s attires is not a substitute for governance.  Democratisation and devolution, however, have opened up the political space for people who are willing to do the hard work.

As a result, Indonesians this year chose as their president a small town furniture manufacturer turned successful local mayor over a retired general turned business tycoon married to Suharto’s daughter.

While Indonesia turne around, so did Thailand, but in the opposite direction.  In 2001, Thai voters elected a corrupt businessmen turned populist as its prime minister.  The Thai elites refused to accept the legitimacy of Thaksin Sinawatra.  Over the past decade, the contry has been rocked by a series of political crises that makes Bangladesh look placid.  The country is now firmly in the grips of an army regime.  Democracy, it seems, does not suite the genius of Thai elite.

While the SBY administration has dithered about hard reforms, and President Joko Widodo has tough tasks ahead, political stability has allowed the Indonesian economy to grow steadily.  Meanwhile, instability and populism keep buffeting the Thai economy.


For some reason, both Awami Leaguers and BNP-wallahs (and their pseudo-intellectual cheerleaders) seem to imagine themselves to be with the Bangladeshi Thaksin.  Here is to our future Jokowi.


One Response

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  1. kgazi said, on December 26, 2014 at 1:50 am

    Each nation has had their civilian Super-Thieves disguised as democracy-wallas, Philippines had Marcos, Indonesia Suharto, Pakistan Zardari, Thailand Thaksin.

    A few Asian nations have politicians who pretend an angelic image of democracy, but are hardcore Super-thieves, who are masters in fooling the people, and are genius in concealing corruption while totally siphoning the nation’s revenue, with a façade of patriotism.

    People must dig deep inside their psyche, to disregard their party-following, to eliminate these SUPER-THIEVES for the greater interest of their nation.

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