Celebrating Indonesia’s Festival of Democracy 

With Indonesia heading to the polls to elect a new President and members of the legislatures, it gives me special delight as the Ambassador of India, the largest democracy in the world, to congratulate the people and government of Indonesia on this momentous occasion. Over the last 25 years, Indonesia has proven to its people and the world, the innate value of the democratic system in terms of peaceful transfer of power and inclusive politics. Democracy in Indonesia is a source of regional and global stability and a force for peace in the world. Democracy at home lends greater credibility and acceptance to the call for the reform of the international system and the demand for peace. 

Representative photo.

2024 is indeed a special year for democracies – it is the biggest election year in the world’s history. Elections are taking place in many democratic countries this year to choose governments by an electorate of more than half the world’s population. Credible elections provide mandate to the governments because in democracies the power resides with the people, they are the sole arbiters of the destiny of a nation. Countries around the world, and very prominently Indonesia and India have convincingly proven that for pluralistic and diverse societies, the democratic pathway is the only real road to inclusive and sustainable development. 

We all have watched with great fascination the Indonesian election campaign for this round of presidential elections.  In the course of this campaign different candidates have articulated their own policies and mutual differences with considerable honour and respect. The presidential and vice-presidential debates have been a master class on public communication and civil debate: itself the hallmark of mature democracies and even more impressive in young democracies such as Indonesia. Remarkably, though not at all surprisingly, the youth have been active participants in the process. They have used their adroitness with social media as well as many other creative means of communication to great impact. This is a manifestation of Indonesia harvesting the benefits of its demographic dividend as the youth are aware that the politics of the day will play a major part in deciding their future. Through interacting with the Indonesian youth as well as the ordinary people, one easily discerns great deal of knowledge about the electoral processes as well as the candidates. The Indonesian electorate is well informed. They are keen to express their choice. This has been the invisible yet tangible gain of years of democratisation of the country.  

Representative photo.

Freedom of speech, free media, and freedom to practice faith are deeply cherished rights of individuals and societies. Sometimes a tendency is discerned in some quarters to diminish the importance of elections as not being a critical democratic attribute, while ascribing greater value to other characteristics. However, the cardinal truth is that only with credible elections and peaceful transfer of power, can the rights of the individual and the collective be guaranteed in pluralistic democracies. It is the single most or perhaps the most important determinant as well as contribution of democracy. 

Organising credible elections on such a scale is an extraordinary feat. I congratulate the efforts of the Election Commission of Indonesia for the gigantic efforts it has made in both voter education and organising the elections in an archipelagic country where logistics is a huge challenge. The Indonesian elections are undoubtedly the most complex of elections held anywhere in the world. It is not commonly known that Indonesian elections are held on a single day, involving an electorate of about 204 million voters who will elect more than 20,000 national and regional representatives. The voters are spread over thousands of islands of the world’s largest archipelago. Every one of them needs to be provided a reasonable opportunity to vote in the more than 800,000 polling stations established across the country. The same goes for the Indonesian diaspora which also has the opportunity to vote at their Embassies abroad. This is an exceptional feat that most countries would struggle to emulate. Yet this is not all. Indonesia with a voter turnout of more than 80% recorded in 2019 has a level of democratic participation which is the envy of even the more established democracies of the world. 

Indonesia is the world’s third largest democracy and along with India and the US represents the aspirations of almost two billion people living under a democratic framework. In fact, these three countries prove that democracy does not hold any special affinity with any race and religion and that it is enthusiastically adopted by all. India is majority Hindu, the US is majority Christian whereas Indonesian has a Muslim majority. Yet the passion for adherence to democratic values and practices is shared by all. A democratic polity protects rights of minorities and women. In both Indonesia and India we have witnessed the inexorable empowerment of women. Today, Indonesia has 30% reservation of seats for women in legislatures and India has enacted the 106th Constitution Amendment Act in September 2023 reserving 33% seats for women in legislatures.   

Democracy is not only a political framework to bring people together but is also a suitable mechanism to deliver development to the people who live in pluralistic societies. No system is perfect and perhaps achieving perfection is beyond the human realm. However, as current systems go, there is widespread recognition that democratic polities and regulated free market economies bring the maximum material and non-material welfare to their peoples. Democracies engender enterprise and innovation and encourage the free human spirit to take wings and soar. It is no wonder that the most exciting global startup ecosystems prevail in the democracies of the world. Just as the world’s most renowned artists, crafts-persons, designers, sports-persons or entrepreneurs are democracy’s gifts to the world.   

Mr Sandeep Chakravorty, a 1996-batch Indian Foreign Services Officer, is India’s Ambassador of India to the Republic of Indonesia.

Immanuel Kant’s ‘Democratic Peace Theory’ postulates that to attain peace, States must first be democratic. Values enshrined in the liberal democratic framework ensure promotion of peace and Democratic States do not go to war with each other. The world which has seen a relatively peaceful international system in the post Cold War era is itself now under great geopolitical strain. The way forward, however, lays not in retreat from democratic principles but in yet more democracy for people at home and across the international system. That is why democracy and elections in Indonesia are so important for the world. 

The ‘Pesta Demokrasi’ is a cause for celebration not only for Indonesia but also for democracy and forces for peace all over the globe. 1.4 billion Indians who will also be celebrating elections soon, rejoice and take great pride in this Indonesian festival. 

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s personal opinions and do not reflect the views of Connected to India.