As the most democratic country in ASEAN, Indonesia, the grouping’s current chair, should set an example to other member states and lead the way to democratization while also boosting economic development in the process, experts say.

Centre for Agricultural Policy Studies executive director Harbrinderjit Singh Dillon said that while Indonesia was the most progressive among other ASEAN countries in terms of democracy, Indonesia lagged in developing its economy and was unprepared for many free trade agreements that threatened the country’s manufacturing industry.

“[Indonesia] should lead democratically, but not lag in its economy,” he told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

Other analysts said Indonesia had failed to make any difference in the regional bloc — especially in improving human rights and developing the economy — after six months at the helm of ASEAN.

Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) deputy coordinator Haris Azhar said Saturday that Indonesia failed to deliver on the high expectations many stakeholders had when it took up the chairmanship that ASEAN would become more democratic in part due to the country’s standing as the largest democracy in the region.

“For example, Indonesia still uses a militaristic approach to address national security, with defense ministers recently endorsing the implementation of the Internal Security Act in Malaysia and Singapore,” he said.

“Indonesia’s democracy is a mere claim. It is Indonesia itself that is actually trying to imitate an undemocratic country, so it cannot push for democracy in ASEAN.”

The chair of ASEAN, Haris said, also stood aside and remained silent over the arrests of 1,667 demonstrators in Malaysia.

Malaysian authorities made the mass arrests and used tear gas on 20,000 demonstrators on July 9 who, marching under the slogan “Bersih 2.0” (Clean 2.0), called for electoral reforms. The arrested demonstrators were released the following day without any charges.

Indonesia’s representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), Rafendi Djamin, earlier confirmed that even he, as chair of AICHR this year, could do nothing to address the Malaysian government’s crackdown.

Haris said the AICHR, which earlier said it would issue a declaration on human rights, had only managed to establish a group tasked with drafting the declaration.

Rafendi said he would submit the AICHR’s second working plan at the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) in Bali next week.

Bali is hosting a series of meetings, including the 44th AMM, the Post Ministerial Conferences (PMC) and the 18th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) for seven days starting

Echoing Haris, National Commission for Human Rights deputy chairman on external affairs, Nur Kholis, said under the leadership of Indonesia, ASEAN had not progressed much in improving human rights in the bloc, as evidenced by incidents around the region ranging from civil rights violations to discredited elections and migrant worker abuse.

University of Indonesia international relations expert Syamsul Hadi said Indonesia had made no “difference” to ASEAN when dealing with the Thai-Cambodian border conflict due to the bloc’s policy of noninterference.

The relatively stable situation in the regional economy was a result of better preparedness by financial institutions in the region following the 1998 financial crisis, “not because of the effect of Indonesia’s chairmanship of ASEAN”, he said.

However, Syamsul added that Indonesia could still play a role as a facilitator in diplomacy between two world powers, China and the US, for example in mediating the South China Sea issue to prevent the escalation of tensions. –Mustaqim Adamrah, The Jakarta Post, Nusa Dua, Bali