Asian Development and Democracy: An Indonesian Account Toward Global Moderation

UMNO’s Annual General Assembly, Kuala Lumpur, December 3rd, 2013

IMG_00000022Honorable guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

Assalaamualaikum Wr. Wb.

It is a great honor to be here with you as a friend of UMNO and of Malaysia. I wish to thank you for inviting me to participate in your Annual General Assembly.

Let me be frank to you. I am always a secret admirer of UMNO and of Malaysia’s great statesman, Mr. Mahathir Mohamad. I have personally known Mr. Mahathir for many years. He is like a teacher to me – I think he is a great teacher to us all. With his sharp intellect, his optimism, and his deep understanding of how to combine leadership and persuasion, he has shown the world how Malaysia could be brought forward and became one of the most successful examples among developing world.

Most importantly, Mr. Mahathir has injected a healthy self-confidence, a sense of purpose, as well as a can-do spirit in the bloodstream of the people of Malaysia, which of course radiated to the region and the world, including Indonesia.

For all that, I wish to use this opportunity to thank the former Prime Minister and to wish him well.

Whenever I think about Mr. Mahathir, I always think also about two other great ASEAN leaders, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, the former Prime Minister of Singapore, and Mr. Suharto, our former President. They lived in the same age, became something like a triad of power who understood each other. Of course they had their differences, but without their leadership, peace and rapid progress in our region in the 1970s and 1980s would have perhaps been impossible.

As for UMNO, I have a dream that I better tell you up-front. I am Chairman of the Golkar Party, the oldest political party in Indonesia. The election season is coming. In April next year, the Indonesia people are going to choose their legislators and, in July, their new president. If my party wins both elections, I will build a coalition of parties, and if possible, I will persuade some of them to establish a strong permanent coalition, using UMNO and Barisan Nasional as our model.

I do not know whether it is possible to build such a coalition in Indonesia. But at least I am going to give it a try, because I think, to govern a big and plural country like Indonesia, it is much better to do it with unification of forces. Our newly evolving democracy needs a powerful guardian of unity and progress, otherwise the country is perpetually pulled in different directions.

So let us see how far my party can move forward. I hope the people of Indonesia, like the people of Malaysia, are supportive of such idea.

Honorable guests

Ladies and gentlement

As for the topic of our panel today, I think it is very timely. I am hopeful that Malaysia, Indonesia, and other countries in our region can contribute positively to global peace. World harmony is not utopia. It is possible to realize this noble dream as long as we in the community of nations are able to excercise power in moderation, with a healthy dose of common sense, and with respect toward others.

Harmony, respect, and global moderation cannot be achieved only with the languange of might and brute forces. Of course, there must be an architecture of power relationship among nations (such as ASEAN, APEC, NATO, WTO, G-20, the UN and others) that guarantee the possibility of dialogue and peaceful resolution of conflicts.

We also know from history that power is constant and even necessary to guarantee peace. In the era of the Roman Empire two millenia ago, lawful relationship among its subjects, which included many civilized nations of the time, followed the concept of Pax Romana, without which no peace was possible. After Rome, in the dawn and after the birth of modern times, there was Pax Britannica which ruled the waves for some three hundred years, or so it was claimed. Closer to our time in the mid 20th Century, it was the two superpowers, the US and the Soviet Union, who were in constant competition to claim the mantle of the world guardian.

In our time now, in the dawn of the 21st Century, some experts speculate that it has been, or it will be, the era of Pax Americana. With the demise of the Soviet Union, the US is the only superpower left standing, unmatched by the rest of nations in power scale and projections, despite the fact that its economy has been in deep trouble in these last several years.

There might be a grain of truth behind this speculation. But I think we all agree that the world and its people are now different. This is now the age of globalization. The world is getting smaller and everything is moving faster, including money, trade, people, news and information. The subjects of Pax Romana and Pax Brittanica were mostly illeterate. Now, world’s citizens are equipped with smartphones, live much longer, move faster and futher away from their place of birth, with much better education. With this kind of change and transformation, old rules and habits in governing the world have become obsolete.

The concept of superpower is no longer suffice to capture the complexity of the new reality. More so than ever before, the world can no longer be ruled simply by power or force alone. Persuasion, reason and common sense are becoming the main currency of our new international order.

There must be a new paradigm that fits with the changing world reality. And I think, whatever this new paradigm will be, it has to encourage more moderation, more open and responsible excercise of power in the community of nations.

Apart from this new paradigm, I also think that the best and the more lasting way to secure peace is through progress and democracy. With successful economic development, we provide better education, better healthcare and welfare for the people. With democracy, we recognize their rights as individuals, their freedom and their dignity as human beings. With all these, the dream to secure a lasting world harmony has a deeper and stronger foundation.

Fortunately, globalization of the world provides lots of opportunities for poor or developing countries to catch up with economic modernity. It also provides a more solid ground to start democratization. I am not saying that all of these are easy or automatic. But at least, they are possible and the world has already seen some convincing examples of how the two grand objectives were achievable in one or two generations.

Here we have to rejoice as members of the Asian nations, because many of such successes occurred in Asia, particularly in East and Southeast Asia. Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as others like Singapore, Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and China, have given the world some kind of positive examples in achieving either economic development or democracy, or sometimes both.

We have to be proud of these achievements. As an Indonesian, what I am also proud about is the fact that as the world’s largest muslim nation, Indonesia has proven that Islam, modernity, and democracy can go along well. Islam is no threat to modernity and democracy. In fact, it encourages moderation and enriches our sense of togetherness as a people. This is a true success story, especially if we see the fact that Indonesia, with its 240 million people, is one of the world’s most plural societies.

By explaining all that, I am not saying that economic progress and political opening in Asia have all been seamlessly accepted or have been without conflicting implications in world affairs. In the short run, change and transformation will always create ripples and confusing responses.

Here, the best example is the rise of China, our giant neighbor who has rapidly expanding its economy. Because of its size, everything related to China will always be treated with hyperbole. Many countries, including the US, seems to give divided responses on how best to deal with the rising giant. Unfortunately, the confusion was also fueled by the hard-liners in all the parties involved, as we have witnessed recently in the news regarding the posturing in the issue of Senkaku or Diaoyu Islands in the South China Sea.

The posturing by the parties involved (Beijing, Tokyo, Washington) will of course be fading away in the coming weeks. But it is a small example which tells us a bigger picture, that the transformation of China needs to be absorbed by the world with care and responsibility (the awakening dragon needs to be handle with care and friendly gestures).

That is only one examples of many such issues. From India to Japan, there are things to settle with care and responsibility. The same is also true in many regions, from the Middle East, Latin America and Eastern Europe, which of course will be too long here if we discuss them one by one.

In Asia, one thing we always have to remember: more than half of the world population live in our region. Asia is very dynamic, with lots of people: let us direct this dynamism and energy toward peace and prosperity, not toward conflict or petty posturing. In the context of world economy, to certain degree we have created some kind of Pax Asiana. Our great challence now, in the context of politics, security and world peace, is to make the same positive contribution and achievement.

So, Asian countries have a very important role to play in world affairs. I think the best way to excersize our role is to define the issues, to set up the agenda, and to mobilize strong coalition of nations in the direction of our goals. I strongly believe we can do all this. We have been successful in many fronts. Now is the time to help lead the world into a better future.

As a closing for this short remark, I should say that I am proud that a political party like UMNO in Malaysia (which is truly Asia) is thinking far ahead and discussing the topic of power and global moderation in its general assembly meeting.

I congratulate UMNO for this. My party, Golkar, will learn from it. Already, before I flew to Kuala Lumpur yesterday, I had asked my deputies in the Golkar party to plan for a seminar with the topic of the same nature, discussing the future of the world. (But of course, we in Indonesia have a more immediate task early next year, to win the elections for our legislators and to win the presidency. We will talk about the world after that).

Again, I thank you for inviting me to this panel.

Wabillahitaufiq walhidayah,

wassalamualaikum Wr. Wb.

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