Branch Manager of BIRCU Publisher in Switzerland
Founder of Miroslaw-Matyja-Academia for Democracy
Logos International University / USA
Polish University Abroad in London
Selinus University in Bologna/Italy
Indian Management School and Research Centre in Mumbai/India
We observe an interesting but also dramatic revival in emphasis on local democracy around the world. This renewed interest in this case has arisen for many different reasons. In established democracies, new social pressures emanating from the influences of globalization, lobbying, urbanization, and increasing human migration, have led to a review of how cities can better cope with these challenges. In countries that have recently become more democratic, there is an opportunity to design systems of local democracy anew, and many countries have taken such initiatives, through decentralization and improved local governance. And what about Indonesia?
Local democratic problems in Indonesia
More than 300 ethnic groups and cultures, with dozens of languages, different social and cultural backgrounds with European, Middle Eastern, and Asian influences make up the unique society of Indonesia and Indonesian culture.
In Indonesia, major urban arenas today feature cultural minorities and distinct ethnic, religious, or linguistic groups. Promoting social peace at the local level has become a common challenge for all cities. In some regions, there are also towns emerging from protracted periods of violent conflict. In such situations, building sustainable peace lies for the first in reconciling communities and reconstructing economic and social boundaries at the local level.
More than ever, cities need innovative tools for democratic governance to manage the challenges and respond to the opportunities of today’s urban environment.
Democracy at the local level should respond to this need by providing a practical review of key concepts and essential tools to enhance local democracy. It should be presented ideas, options, resources, and methods for practising local democracy in an accessible and easy-to-use format.
Local arenas in Indonesia face common problems today, among them:
■ Delivering fundamental social services – such as water or transportation networks – in a sustainable way;
■ Urbanization, or the movement of people from rural areas to cities, and the
pressures on the environment and on governmental capacity that this migration brings;
■ Economic vitality, or creating opportunities for jobs and prosperity in a global marketplace;
■ Fostering social peace in increasingly diverse social settings, where a myriad of ethnic and religious groups must live side by side.
One of the principal challenges facing local democracy in Indonesia is how to manage cities that are increasingly rich in cultural, ethnic and religious diversity.
Local government is the tier of public authority that citizens first look to solve their immediate social problems. It is also the level of democracy in which the citizen has the most effective opportunity to actively and directly participate in decisions made for all of local society.
Local governance, by virtue of its smaller size and focus on their issues, offers greater prospects for the use of direct democracy.
Don’t forget: there is an important difference between representative and direct democracy.
In representative democracy, citizens choose among candidates or political parties who make authoritative decisions for the entire community.
On the contrary, direct democracy is engagement by the citizen on virtually all matters before the community.
It is worth emphasizing here that certain concepts are critical to our understanding of local governance, including the following:
■ Local governance is a basis of citizenship and community.
■ Democracy involves ongoing deliberation — meaningful dialogue, debate and discussion in an effort to solve problems that arise before the community.
■ Citizen participation allows individuals to gain knowledge about community affairs that otherwise resides with the elected officials.
■ Direct democracy tends to enhance good relations among the citizens, building a community that is self-reliant and public-spirited.
■ The decisions made in the referendum (direct democracy) are objective, ethical and just.
The principles mentioned above show that direct democracy offers a real alternative for local politics in Indonesia in the future.
Referendum as the most important democratic instrument, can give voters a direct say in important policy matters.
In many countries and municipal settings, there is an increasing use of popular referendums to settle contentious community disputes. Many praise referendums because they give voters a direct say on important policy matters.
Others question whether the public has enough information on certain policy issues and whether the people can always make the best choice.
What is crucial is an educational process in society, within the citizens learn about the advantages of direct democracy. This process generates a higher political culture and ultimately a development of a civil society.
How does direct democracy in Indonesia work at the local level in detail? We will describe it in the next articles.
Prof. Miroslaw Matyja