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Saturday, October 25, 2008

An Indonesian example for the US By Ann Marie Murphy

As the United States election season swings into high gear, millions of Americans are following every detail of the presidential campaign. Few, however, are paying attention to Indonesia as it prepares for elections in 2009.

Indonesia may be the world's fourth most populous country, third largest democracy and home to the world's largest community of Muslims, but it is also the most important country Americans know virtually nothing about. They should take notice. Over the past decade, Indonesia has undergone a remarkable political transformation that clearly refutes the proposition that democracy and Islam are incompatible.

Following the overthrow of General Suharto after over three decades in power, Indonesia began a political transition under extremely inauspicious conditions in 1998. The economy shrank 14% that year, the largest single year economic contraction of any economy since the Great Depression. The economic crisis plunged millions into poverty and social violence erupted in parts of the country.

But Indonesia rose from these depths, consolidated democracy, restored economic growth, and resolved major social conflicts. Since then, Indonesia has held two parliamentary elections in 1999 and 2004, which international observers deemed free and fair. In 2004, Indonesia elected its president directly for the first time.

A decentralization program transferred significant powers to local governments and since 2005, there have been over 350 elections for local officials. Voter turnout in Indonesia's local elections averaged 65-70%. (In contrast, only 55% of Americans voted in the 2004 elections.) In Indonesia, 43% of incumbents running for re-election were defeated, while in the US incumbents won over 90% of congressional races.


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