Anis Matta: Welcoming the third wave of Indonesian history

M. Anis Matta*

As the 2014 election nears, let us take a bird’s-eye view of the course of our history. The 2014 election is important not only because it signifies a power shift in government, but also because it serves as momentum for the third wave of Indonesian history.

The first wave occurred from the 17th century to the mid-20th century, which I refer to as the process of “becoming Indonesia”.

The second wave took place between proclamation of our independence in 1945 and today, as we have dealt with the issue of “becoming a modern nation-state”. From 2014 onward, we will enter a new wave in history, in which we will face entirely new challenges in amid a different environment.

The first wave in Indonesian history lasted around 300 years. After the integration of the colonies, which were referred to as the East Indies or Dutch East Indies, the name Indonesia evolved to become a political economic notion.

After a long history of struggle and suffering, the Indonesian people realized that imperialism could not be conquered by the divided power of the small kingdoms and many ethnic groupd that existed. The only way forward was to merge all the primordial nodes into one powerful force. It was then that the founding fathers of this nation made a spectrum shift.

It was not easy to pick one name to unify all the different ethnic groups, and the name Indonesia was a symbol of agreement, born from willingness and solidarity, as a result of a long history.

After the declaration of independence, Indonesia faced the challenge of finding a compatible system that was relevant with its history and culture. To become a modern nation, we needed a modern constitution, strong state institutions and culture of democracy.

For nearly 70 years, we have been debating the most suitable ideology, political, economic and government system for our country. This struggle to identify the right systems was the zeitgeist that stretched all the way through the Old Order, New Order until the Reform era.

This is also the reason behind the episodes of heated argument between various ideologies of Islam, nationalism, socialism and many others that we went through as a nation. We have survived long and tiring discussions over the relationship between religion and state and over the right economic system to implement.

Unfortunately, all these struggles were like a pendulum that swung from one extreme point to another. The New Order came as an antithesis of the Old Order. In this era we had found for ourselves a strong state institution but at the expense of freedom and liberty of the people. This was the core of the criticism aimed at the reform movement.

The Reform era brought a new equilibrium for Indonesia. It became the synthesis of the Old and New Orders, in which we have successfully attained balance.

First, the balance of the relationship between state and religion. We have finally met a consensus that we can use the Islamic principles within the nation, as we can put Pancasila as an open stage for different identities.

Second, we start to find a balance between the freedom and welfare of people. Even though we have not reach the ideal standard yet, we can safely say that we are getting there.

Third, we have also found some balance between democracy and development; between freedom and security; between state autonomy and national integration.

We have managed to surpass the existential challenge as a nation-state and transformed ourselves from a vulnerable country with a history of rebellion and conflict into a strong nation-state ready to face the new historical wave.

At the moment, we are entering the third wave of Indonesia history, with different main driver of change. Before we have had to deal with external challenges (i.e. imperialism, the Cold War), now we have to deal with a new set of internal drivers of change, which is the significant change in our demographic composition.

The ultimate change is due to the emergence of new middle class. This group will make up 60 percent of the total population. It has recently become “the new majority” in Indonesia. Economists and demography experts refer to them as “demographic bonus” or the “demographic dividend”.

The political challenge that will soon arise will be the urgent need for new categorizations not based on ideology to represent this new group. Old political polarizations, especially the ideological polarization of Islam versus nationalism, is no longer relevant. We have to define “the next Indonesia”.

The strengthening of this new middle class has impacted massively on social structures as well as improving the bargaining power of the civil society vis-a-vis the state. Moreover, this new middle class will gain more confidence as the world economy starts to move toward Asian territory.

We are now also witnessing the birth of native democracy generation, a generation that has only experienced democracy. They did not go through the New Order into the Reform era. They perceive democracy as something that is given and not something that is achieved through bloody struggles. Furthermore, for this group, the chaotic state of our political landscape right now could feed into a sense of apathy toward democracy.

As this new wave is driven by the demographic changes, therefore, orientation toward humanity as the pinnacle. There should no more divergence among the state and the civil society. The state should go back to its core definition as a social organization to create order. Social consolidation will help grow communities.

The state is then put to the test of capacity: Can the state successfully deliver its role? The state authority is no longer relevant if its capacity to function does not meet the expectancy of this new majority. Hence, I believe, to address this issue we would need a new leadership approach.

The 2014 election will not only accommodate the shift in power, but also the incoming shift of this new historical wave. A shift in power is not uncommon in democracy.

However, what is more pressing and important right now is to understand what this means to us as a nation. That is, what I believe, we must really dig into and discuss right now.

*The writer is president of theProsperous Justice Party (PKS).

(Terbit di koran The Jakarta Post edisi 19 Nov 2013 dan edisi ONLINE)

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