Complacent Govt Can Do Much More to Shake ‘Failed State’ Tag
A debate has been sparked by the publication of the latest Failed State Index, which placed Indonesia in the “warning” category, meaning the country is in danger of becoming a “failed state.” Its rank worsened marginally, from 64th in 2011 to 63rd this year.
Despite that, the indicators in general are positive, with Indonesia’s score actually decreasing from 81.6 in 2011 to 80.6 in 2012 in the study compiled by the US-based think tank Fund for Peace in collaboration with Foreign Policy magazine.
This means that the overall situation of the country improved slightly with progress in almost every sector, especially the economy.
On that topic, the report noted that economic development had improved, the poverty level was declining and gross domestic product was increasing. There’s still a long way to go, but any gains on the economic side, especially sustained across five years, is good news.
History shows us that the collapse of states and the rise of religious and nationalist extremists to power are almost always preceded by economic collapse. With the moderates discredited in many parts of the world due to failed economic policies, radicals and extremists with utopian, “pie in the sky” solutions become attractive to desperate populations hoping to escape economic hardship.
This is especially true in Indonesia, where regime changes have historically been preceded by economic crisis. The falls of presidents Sukarno and Suharto happened after economic conditions worsened. But as many analysts noted, the Failed State Index report found that social indicators were showing stalled progress. The report notes ongoing problems in infrastructure development, demographic pressures and “an increase in protests, harassment and violence against religious minorities. The government’s ability to curb violence between groups has been limited.”
While the government is trying to improve the economy in order to prevent social breakdown, it does a bad job in actually addressing the root cause of the failure, notably extremism and violence due to its own passivity or incompetence.
The examples of the latter were especially glaring in recent weeks, during which there were several reports of police misconduct. In Papua, the controversial shooting of independence activist Mako Tabuni on June 14 led to unrest and mysterious shootings. Regardless of Mako’s guilt or innocence, the situation would not have deteriorated had the police acted with restraint that considered the already-volatile environment there.
Elsewhere, police in Serang, Banten, landed in hot water over the false arrest, kidnapping and torture of Jumhani, a fried-food seller. Not long after that, Twitter was abuzz with the story of Jakarta policemen who allegedly attempted to blackmail a woman by declaring that her allergy medicine was some sort of illegal substance.
Pundits have had a field day, pinning blame for Indonesia’s worrisome rank on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
While it is probably unfair to put all blame on Yudhoyono’s shoulders, his presidency did raise expectations. The government is seen as passive, unwilling to push through law enforcement reforms and address the growing evidence of corruption within the ranks of the ruling party. Unsurprisingly, trust in the government is declining.
This feeds the narrative of Indonesia as a failed state. The claim, while unfair, is the result of the government’s inability to control violence caused by either hard-line organizations or from within the ranks of its own law enforcers.
Yohanes Sulaiman is a lecturer at the Indonesian Defense University (Unhan).