In Bali, Democracy Diplomacy on the March
On Thursday and Friday, Indonesia will host the fifth Bali Democracy Forum. This year’s BDF will focus on the contribution of democratic global governance to international peace and security, the enjoyment of human rights and economic development. As in past years, the Forum will be graced by the presence of many heads of state and government.
In its fifth year, BDF symbolizes the ever-increasing role of Indonesia in the promotion of democracy. This has been driven by the fact that Indonesian democracy itself is becoming more substantive, and by the country’s strong commitment to sharing its democratic experiences with other countries. Today, like the economic and development agenda, democracy is increasingly a strategic pillar of Indonesia’s foreign policy.
The inclusion of democracy in the core values of Indonesian foreign policy reflects the ability of the country to calibrate its foreign policy vis-a-vis the amplifying democratic voices at home and in other parts of the globe. And BDF is only one of the vehicles through which Indonesia’s democracy diplomacy has been exercised.
The fact that BDF itself is the brainchild of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and that it is ministry-driven reaffirms the significance of democracy in Indonesia’s foreign policy. As the reform era was unfolding, the ministry was able to read the spirit of the times in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It was a time when citizens’ calls for democracy were very strong and democratic transformation began in Indonesia.
Through “intermestic” lenses that highlighted the confluence between developments at the global level and the dynamics domestically, the ministry captured the democratic hue in the very fabric of Indonesian society. The ministry confidently included democracy as an important part of its creed and made it one of the tenets of the foreign policy framework it labeled “bebas aktif” (“free and active”).
To reflect a democratic spirit in the business of foreign affairs, as supported by the 1999 Law on Foreign Relations, the ministry developed a mode of diplomacy that gave the public the chance to participate in foreign policy discourse and in the setting of the Indonesian foreign policy agenda while preserving for itself the primary role in the conduct of foreign policy.
The ministry has played a critical role in the planning of the BDF. Now, the challenge is how to use the ideas and best practices collected over a series of BDFs for practical purposes by the Forum’s participants. In addition to collaborating with the Institute for Peace and Democracy at Udayana University, partnership between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other institutions will become critical in responding to that challenge.
While the central role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will remain pivotal for the future of the BDF, preserving Indonesia’s democracy and making the democratic transformation irreversible is a shared responsibility. Thus, support from all quarters in Indonesia — inside and outside the government — for the BDF and other initiatives that promote democracy is critical.
Partnership with civil society organizations is also important. In Indonesia, CSOs could play a pivotal role not only in helping disseminate lessons learned and best practices to the grassroots level, but also in embracing and turning them into practices. This would eventually add new weight to Indonesia’s homegrown and people-driven democracy.
In addition to the BDF, there are other avenues through which Indonesia’s diplomacy on democracy can be enhanced. The United Nations is, of course, one important platforms through which Indonesia’s advocacy for democracy is expressed. Indonesia has been an active delegation in the deliberations on democracy at the UN, and is a strong sponsor of the UN General Assembly resolution that declares that Sept. 15 should be observed as the International Day of Democracy each year.
Norms-setting processes are also an important avenue. Indonesia’s initiative and support for the inclusion of the principles of democracy in, among others, the Asean Charter and Bali Concord III reflects our commitment to democracy.
Indonesia also may promote its democracy diplomacy in various post-conflict peacebuilding missions, such as those under the UN umbrella. The democratic needs of a country arising from conflict often include not only electoral assistance but also institution building and administrative aid. This avenue will allow Indonesia to involve civilians such as economists, public administration experts and practitioners, development specialists and transitional justice and legal experts in those missions.
One strong point of Indonesia’s democracy diplomacy is that its approach is not assertive, let alone evangelistic or combative. It is more dialogic, receptive, responsive and open-minded, with a lead-by-example approach.
The BDF is set to remain a critical forum. It will remain important to Indonesia’s democratic leadership in the region. But it is important to also ensure that the BDF process makes significant contribution to the consolidation of Indonesian democracy at home. A robust and genuine democracy, in which human rights are protected and the rule of law is observed, will help strengthen the credibility of Indonesia’s democracy leadership abroad.
Yayan G.H. Mulyana is an assistant to the Special Staff of the President for International Relations. The opinions expressed are his own.