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Digital Democracy in Indonesia: An Asian Giant in Transformation

All over the world, new technologies are transforming our societies, and especially political practices. Politicians increasingly circumvent mainstream media by building their mass audiences on social media, while citizens and activists express their views and political communities online.

These trends are particularly pronounced in Indonesia, a large developing country in Southeast Asia with a population of 277 million. After the G20 summit in Bali this November – against the backdrop of a faltering post-COVID global recovery and growing conflict between the West and Russia and China – now may be the best time to consider how technology and politics may interact Timing The largest democracy in the Islamic world. In fact, promoting digital transformation is one of the country’s G20 priorities.

Indonesian politics goes digital

With the fall of the country’s military dictator Suharto in 1998, Indonesia began a rapid democratic transition. Since then, Indonesian politics has been characterized by regular elections and largely peaceful transfers of power. Decentralization measures empower Indonesia’s provinces and municipalities under directly elected local leaders.

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The “court politics” of the dictatorship is concentrated in the capital Jakarta, and everyone else is a passive bystander, replaced by a surprisingly vibrant and diverse political landscape across all classes and regions of society. Indonesians are proud of their country, and with annual GDP growth rates typically exceeding 5%, they believe their children will be better off than they are. However, corruption and mismanagement remain pervasive challenges.

The digitization of Indonesian politics has amplified the country’s democratic trends. In fact, Internet penetration is high, with an estimated 191.4 million social media users in the country, more than two-thirds of the population. Social media usage has skyrocketed across much of Asia, with Hootsuite estimating that the average Indonesian spends more than three hours a day on social media.

The country’s president, Joko Widodo, an outsider in 2014 and re-elected in 2019, maintains a strong social media presence with nearly 50 million followers on Instagram and 19 million on Twitter. Local and regional political leaders have also been able to amass large social media audiences and the consequent influence.

For activists and ordinary citizens alike, the political uses of Internet media are as diverse as Indonesian society. Progressives have used social media to challenge traditional norms on LGBTQ issues in the country. Environmental activists condemn deforestation and dumping plastic into the sea, and Islamist groups recruit new members with carefully crafted online messages.

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However, there are limits to what you can say online in Indonesia. This is partly driven by social pressure and uneven enforcement of censorship and blasphemy laws by national and local authorities and courts.

“You could go to jail or be forced to pay huge fines for criticizing how a hospital is run or a local public figure,” said Patrick Zeegenhain, a professor of international relations at Cikarang Presidential University in West Java. “That’s why you have to be careful what you say , but enforcement is selective and somewhat haphazard.”

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The more religious elements of Indonesian society often take the lead in enforcing social norms. In one case, the popular pub chain Holywings got into trouble with a special promotion offering a free bottle of gin to a man named “Mohammad”. The use of the name of the prophet of Islam has sparked outrage among many Muslims.

In 2019, President Joko Widodo picked conservative cleric Marouf Amin as his vice presidential running mate. Just this month, the country passed a new penal code that activists say poses a threat to women’s and LGBT rights. Meanwhile, the movement and expression of more radical Islamic groups could be severely curtailed, as has been the case with separatist movements in places like Papua and Aceh.

As in the West, there is sometimes conflict between liberal rights and democracy understood as majoritarianism. As noted in the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index entry for Indonesia:

[T]highly pro-democracy [in Indonesia] Seems to be in conflict with simultaneously strongly supporting non-democratic positions. For example, in a September 2019 survey, 52 percent of Muslim respondents opposed the idea of ​​a non-Muslim becoming governor. …Indeed, for many conservative Muslims, a stronger role for Islam in the organization of the state is not only compatible with democracy—it is, for them, an inherent requirement of democratic values, since Muslims are Indonesia’s largest religious group.

Political Use of Social Media

Citizens’ use of social media for political purposes is often superficial. Many young people get most of their news from social media and can put too much faith in what they encounter. Others may not want to express critical opinions online at all.

“Sometimes young people in Indonesia don’t have enough critical thinking,” said Max, a recent political science graduate. “Critical thinking can be seen as being too provocative and therefore looked down upon. There is a strong culture of conformity and not everyone has the courage or confidence to stand up to it.”

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Social media “buzzers,” local influencers who can reach large audiences and occasionally make political commentary. Rightly or wrongly, public figures can attract negative attention and be mobbed online by hordes of critics.

So far, Indonesia’s digital transformation does not appear to have led to the severe social and political polarization we see in many Western countries. However, as elsewhere, life in Indonesia will continue to be transformed by the adoption of new technologies in many areas.

This is especially true because Indonesia is a highly tech-friendly society.Earlier this month, West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil highlighted the province’s concern on Twitter on Twitter. Agricultural Technology: Motorcycles are being used to grow rice and drones are being used to spray pesticides or liquid fertilizers.

Technology empowers us but is arguably morally neutral and can be used for good or evil. Worldwide, how we use new technologies will determine whether these technologies worsen our social problems, or whether we can move towards a sustainable society and maintain our social cohesion.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Fair Observer.

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