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Diaz Hendropriyono discusses his work with President Joko Widodo and his optimism for the future of democracy in Indonesia

Cursory glance at newspaper headlines or a scan of television news channels these days reveals global political shifts from traditional regime change. With new governments sworn in within the past few months across the world, there also appears to be a rise in the so-called ‘populist movements’ where the voice of those who believe they have been cast aside during the rush for democratic progress have finally come forward. Here in Indonesia, too, the city of Jakarta is engaged in the political process with the election of the next governor. What role does democracy play in all this? Are the voices so far hidden indeed being given a platform? Why are we seeing these shifts? These and other questions were on our mind as we met with Diaz Hendropriyono, Special Staff to President Joko Widodo.

Although his father (Abdullah Hendropriyono) was involved in politics for many years (he is the former Director of the Indonesian State Intelligence Agency), Diaz has spent the past few years of his own political career establishing his own place in the world of Indonesian politics. Introduced to Joko Widodo during his time as governor of Solo, Diaz - who had just returned from University studies in the U.S. -- says he felt inspired by Joko’s platform of bringing change to Jakarta and so began campaigning for him in 2012 and then in the 2014 campaign for President.  “I joined politics because I wanted to support the person I believed could help Indonesia for the better,” he tells us.

Setting out to prove that he was capable of doing the job on his own with no connection to relatives or anyone else, Diaz has been navigating the political spectrum well in his position. As Special Staff to the President, Diaz provides his analysis and insights on a specific subject to the President on a regular basis or whenever the President asks for it. In addition he helps ensure that presidential directives and policies are carried out the way the president intends to.

Many may remember that Jokowi’s rise to the Presidency in 2014 was partly due to his ability to connect with everyday Indonesians, people who dreamt of a better country for their families, and sought a leader who was more like them and would, perhaps fulfill what they wanted.   Diaz confirms those assumptions and notes that  President Jokowi is “really an honest, dedicated, and good-hearted person who wants nothing but to help the people. I can also see that he is simple and down-to-earth, and enjoys meeting the people during his official visits to cities and villages across the country, while patiently letting people take a selfie with him.”

Joko’s election has also given thought to the process of democracy and its role in Indonesian politics today. While democracy isn’t new here, it re-emerged in the late 1990s and it is widely believed that post-reformation Indonesia has thrived as a result of democratically elected leaders. Diaz attributes this success to reasonably high voter turnouts (which, one might argue, is due to participatory democracy where individuals feel compelled to campaign for candidates can do so freely), freedom of the press and a high rating on the Human Freedom Index which are higher than some other countries in the region. Also, the Constitution has removed some of the earlier barriers prescribed for those intending to run for high office.

While it is true, Diaz notes, that there have been instances of corruption, he adds that it is due to the democratic process that these incidents have emerged. “Without  democracy that we have now, there would be no Ridwan Kamil, Tri Rismaharini, Nurdin Abdullah, or Joko Widodo. As democracy encourages accountability and transparency, individuals with good leadership will emerge,” he notes.

That said, Indonesia continues to elude the minds of those in power overseas. Despite its many advances, the true strength of Indonesia has not been lauded by global leaders. However Indonesia will always be pivotal for the region and the world, Diaz says. “As one of the world’s most diverse nations, Indonesia’s politics and economy have progressed reasonably well. Unfortunately, others may not realise the “true” strength of Indonesia,” he adds noting as an example when former U.S. President Barack Obama wanted to reach out to the Muslim world, he gave a speech in Cairo, Egypt, while talking about democracy in Myanmar. “In this case, I think, we deserve more to be seen. As the largest Muslim-majority country which adopts democracy, we could be an example to the world of how Islam and democracy could go hand in hand.” he says.

Diaz believes that President Jokowi’s push for domestic development will lead toward a greater global perception of the country. While some critics have said these policies don’t promote an international outlook, Diaz refutes those claims noting that it will encourage foreign investment. “Being domestically strong will definitely impact foreign investment as we improve our Global Competitiveness Index, Ease of Doing Business Index, and so forth. And by continuing to do so, I believe Indonesia’s place — or competitivenes — in the region will also improve, and other countries will see the “true” strength of Indonesia.” he says.

Populism vs Pluralism

With the rise of populist movements around the world, there is growing concern that there are large sections of society  that feel underrepresented and are speaking up for political candidates they believe speak for them. This has especially been seen in the West in their recent elections with a growing fear that these movements may be gaining traction and a foothold on global politics. 

Diaz notes that in Indonesia it can be dangerous too because unlike pluralism it does not “accept the legitimacy of many different groups. As a result, the rise of populism may threaten the rights of Indonesian minorities,” he says. To counter this, however, he notes that the system must engage those involved and work toward the betterment of everyone. “To weaken the attractiveness of populism, the system must start working again for most but stand strong on its core values,” he opines.

With regard to the recent elections in the city, Diaz maintains a diplomatic front and notes, rightfully, that the people have to accept who ever wins the elections as that is who they have voted for. “What we must avoid is the childish attitude of crying foul if one side loses. That can weaken the democratic norms we have only recently established,” he says.

Looking to the Future

“This is the best time for youth today to participate in politics,” Diaz advises, noting that youth voters (age 17-30 years old) comprised  approximately 30 per cent of eligible voters in Indonesia during the 2014 election. As an illustration of the youth voters’ significance in elections, he says one could observe Jakarta’s gubernatorial election. He notes that there are approximately 1.3 million youth voters  in Jakarta, a substantial number when the gap between the candidates is fewer than 200,000 votes. “These numbers should be encouraging to the youth generation to participate in politics, as they could hold a major sway in how politics in Indonesia shapes in the future.” Diaz says, adding that it isn’t necessary to actually join politics but to participate in local communities and have their voices heard. He invokes Jokowi’s past - and President Obama’s past too noting that they began their careers in community leadership.

The world is a constantly evolving place and there will always be a diversity of opinions in any given space. The key to achieving that balance, perhaps is to be more involved  and to express oneself - in the hope of bridging the gaps and living in true harmony.

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