Ailing economy a threat to RI democracy: Survey

M. Taufiqurrahman, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

More than 70 percent of Indonesians in a recent survey believe democracy is the best of all political systems but they are far less happy about the economy, and support for alternative authoritarian systems is growing, the pollster says.

A public opinion poll conducted by the Jakarta-based Indonesian Research Institute (LSI) found that during an eight-year period from 1998 to 2006, an average of 72 percent of people surveyed here were positive about democracy.

That public approval rating is not far from levels in mature democracies. In similar surveys, 84 percent people in South Korea and 88 percent in the United States also thought democracy was the best system, while in the politically unstable Philippines, democracy's approval rating was polled at around 70 percent, the survey says.

However, during the years after the downfall of former president Soeharto, public sentiment about the economy never reached beyond a 35 percent approval rating, dipping to 24 percent in 2006, more than a year after the first directly elected president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, came into office.

People were most positive about the economy during Megawati Soekarnoputri's administration in 2004, when 35 percent of people said they believed the economy had improved.

"We have to be very concerned with these findings, as stagnant or worsening economic conditions would put any consolidation of democracy in jeopardy. There can't be a democracy without economic growth," LSI senior researcher Sjaiful Mujani told a discussion here Thursday.

He said future leaders must focus on improving the country's economy if they wanted to ensure democracy was not a short-lived phenomenon.

The LSI in cooperation with the Syarif Hidayatullah Islamic State University's Research Center for Islam and Society, interviewed 1,400 respondents in the multi-stage survey between 1998 and 2006.

Growing resentment about their economic circumstances had led more people to believe an authoritarian government would better help the nation weather tough economic times, Sjaiful said.

Public support for a president who is an active member of the military had risen from 13 percent in 1999 to 36 percent in 2006, the survey finds.

In similar surveys of people in Pakistan and Turkey, 40 and 26 percent of people supported active soldiers as state leaders respectively, Sjaiful said.

"There is still a possibility that a military coup could take place here as has happened in those countries," he said.

Commenting on the survey, Muslim scholar Bachtiar Effendy said the sluggish economy was not the only challenge to the country's fledgling democracy.

Many Muslim fundamentalist groups here had also voiced their outright rejection of a democratic political arrangement, he said.

"These groups have proven to be detrimental to democracy and their contribution to consolidating democracy is nil, empirically speaking," Bachtiar said.
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