Leading Article: A hopeful augury for a democratic world

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
DEMOCRACY IN the Third World got a huge boost on Monday with the unexpectedly peaceful elections in Indonesia's 13,000 islands. This giant democracy, with its 116 million voters was the scene of riot and revolution just a year ago. True, the counting of the votes yesterday was taking place with excruciating slowness, with observers divided between attributing this either to the carefulness of the election officials in compiling the results, or to the efforts of party stalwarts to engineer the results. But the view of the financial community was unequivocal: the Indonesian stock market rose 12.2 per cent yesterday.

Nigeria, too, pleased itself and foreign well-wishers with its peaceful transition from military dictatorship to democracy, following elections in February and the handover at the end of last month to the newly elected president, General Olusegun Obasanjo. As his title tells us, the army is still a force in Nigeria, as it remains, too, in Indonesia. In fact, owing to the guaranteed seats for the military in the Jakarta parliament, it may well prove to have the decisive vote in the choice of President, currently set for November.

The Asian tigers and the "miracle" of economic growth they were thought to have brought are now remembered more for the damage they did in their collapse than for the riches they produced in their glory days. The hope of Indonesia must now lie in the honest watchfulness of the civil society that grew up within the shade of Sukarno's dictatorship, and that may have come to fruition in this week's peaceful elections.

In August, the promised referendum for East Timor independence is scheduled to take place. A peaceful resolution of this long-standing problem could entrench Indonesian democracy, reduce the importance of the military and send a hopeful sign to nascent democracies everywhere.