Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Divergent Paths: Contrasting Democratic Transformations in Myanmar and Indonesia

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Indonesia has been vocal in expressing its concern over the situation in Myanmar following the military coup that took place in Myanmar in 2021 and has called for an end to violence and the release of political prisoners. As ASEAN chair, Indonesia aims to facilitate a constructive dialogue between Myanmar’s military junta and the opposition, with the goal of finding a peaceful and inclusive solution. Their actions emphasized the importance of upholding democratic principles and human rights in Myanmar. As seen from news reports, President Joko Widodo has urged the military to engage in a meaningful dialogue with all stakeholders, including the National Unity Government formed by elected lawmakers who were prevented from taking office after the coup. Indonesia has also stressed the need for an inclusive political process that takes into account the aspirations of the Myanmar people.


Indonesia’s approach to the Myanmar crisis reflects its commitment to regional stability and the promotion of democratic values. The country’s own experience with democratic transition and its successful establishment of a pluralistic society makes it a credible and influential actor in addressing the situation in Myanmar.

The historical context sets the stage for understanding the differences in these two countries’ democratic transformations. In Indonesia, the military’s role in politics diminished significantly after the fall of Suharto. Reforms aimed to reduce the military’s political influence, and the armed forces underwent significant structural changes. Civilian control of the military became more established, and the armed forces shifted their focus primarily to defense and security matters. In contrast, the Myanmar military retained considerable power, including reserved seats in parliament, control over key ministries, and authority over security matters.

Myanmar’s military rule, which began in 1962, stifled democratic institutions and suppressed dissent. In contrast, Indonesia experienced a mix of authoritarianism and guided democracy under President Sukarno before President Suharto established a military-backed autocratic regime, which lasted until 1998. The removal of Suharto sparked widespread protests and led to a relatively smooth transition to democracy in Indonesia.

The transition processes in Myanmar and Indonesia reflect these historical trajectories. Myanmar’s transition, which began in 2011, was initially marked by some reforms initiated by the military government, including the release of political prisoners and the relaxation of media censorship. However, challenges persisted, such as power-sharing between the military and civilian government, and conflicts with ethnic minorities. The recent coup undid much of the progress made and reinstated military rule, creating a setback in Myanmar’s democratic journey.

In contrast, Indonesia’s transition, starting in 1998, saw the establishment of a democratic system and the holding of free and fair elections. The political landscape expanded, allowing for a more pluralistic and competitive environment. Reforms aimed at reducing the military’s political influence were implemented, and civilian control over the military was strengthened. This led to a diminished role of the military in Indonesian politics, with a focus on defense and security matters.

The role of international influence and engagement is another contrasting factor. Indonesia’s transition received substantial international support and recognition. The country has actively participated in regional and global forums, promoting democratic values and acting as a bridge between nations. In contrast, Myanmar’s democratic transition has drawn international attention and scrutiny due to ongoing human rights concerns and the military’s actions, including the recent coup. Sanctions, condemnations, and diplomatic efforts have been employed to pressure the military junta.

While these differences highlight the contrasting trajectories of Myanmar and Indonesia’s democratic transformations, it’s important to acknowledge that the situations in both countries are complex and ever-evolving. Myanmar’s recent setback demonstrates the fragility of democratic progress, while Indonesia’s success showcases the importance of institutional reforms and inclusive governance. As the ASEAN chair, Indonesia has an opportunity to play a pivotal role in addressing the crisis in Myanmar, leveraging its commitment to diplomacy and regional stability to promote dialogue and support a political solution.

The future of Myanmar’s democratic transformation remains uncertain, with ongoing protests, civil disobedience movements, and armed resistance. The international community’s efforts to restore democracy continue, but the military’s hold on power remains strong.

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