Lee Kwan Yew teaches us a lesson

Singapore-window.org – Ten years ago the economic crisis hit Asia. One year later, Soeharto was forced to end his 32-year reign and the nation entered a reform era. Indonesia is now the world’s third largest democracy after India and the US.

However, many Indonesians are asking the same question: Is the Indonesia of today the answer to our collective dream from nine years ago? It is difficult to say yes. Mainly because while an atmosphere of absolute freedom now transpires, there is still a paradox.

The paradox is the slow acceleration of the economic sector, especially when compared to similar indicators in the regional context; in Southeast Asia.

Additionally, reform has produced another effect; a political upheaval that appears to be the result of never-ending conflicts among the country’s elite.

In this context, the former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kwan Yew, has some critical input. Lee was in Jakarta recently to meet several Indonesian leaders.

Lee highlighted three main issues concerning Indonesia’s situation following the Soeharto era.

First, he argued the multiparty system that exists in Indonesia today is too complicated for any government to successfully deliver its programs.

Second, Indonesian leadership lacks consistency in keeping its promises.

Third, Indonesia has low investment competitiveness.

We may disagree with Lee’s opinions. But, like it or not, they are the opinions of the leader of our neighboring country, whose track record in transforming Singapore from a third world nation to first world one is undeniable.

On the issue of a multiparty system and its impact on government performance, it seems Lee’s argument is valid. The House of Representatives (DPR) is too strong, while the government has no majority or sufficient support to sustain itself.

It is a paradox because while Indonesia still employs a presidential system, it appears as though a parliamentarian system has been adopted.

Lee analyzed further that Yudhoyono is mainly supported by a small party; The Democratic Party. He pointed out this is not support to create political stability. Yudhoyono must make political concessions and be accommodative to approach other parties in order to create stability in the parliament. This condition is adverse to that found in Singapore and Malaysia.

Lee illustrated the Indonesian government’s difficult position, citing the interpellation in parliament over Indonesia’s support for UNSC Resolution 1747 on Iran’s nuclear sanction. Lee saw the interpellation not aimed at “attacking” the President’s policy, but rather a tool that could reduce the popularity of Yudhoyono. The Iran nuclear issue has become a domestic political vehicle for interest groups in facing the upcoming 2009 elections.

The second issue analyzed by Lee was Indonesia’s leadership consistency. Lee shared his experiences in transforming Singapore to become an advanced country as it is now. Personally, Lee himself did not think up complicated concepts and theories. He is a rather pragmatic and rational person, and his leadership concept lays in his promises to the public. He fulfilled his promises without big talk or boasting pledges.

The third issue addressed by Lee was that of Indonesia’s poor investment competitiveness. If we look to Singapore, China and India as examples, we can learn that successful investment competitiveness depends quite heavily on the support of infrastructure. Without this, investors will move their capital to other countries.

Actually, the Indonesian government has responded to the declining investment climate in the country and taken action in an attempt to fix the problem. However, the results until now have not been as expected.

As revealed in the World Competitiveness Yearbook 2007, published by the International Institute for Management Development (IMD), Indonesia’s competitiveness is in the second lowest position of 55 countries. Indonesia’s position is just slightly better than that of Venezuela.

The sources used by the IMD in analyzing the competitiveness of each country are based on four main aspects: economic performance, governance efficiency, business efficiency and infrastructure. The best aspect achieved by Indonesia is the economic performance, while the worst is infrastructure.

Lee Kwan Yew’s comments and lessons can be a source of contemplation for this nation.

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