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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story


But some don't want to hear it

Indonesia's Elections: History in the Making Endgame The jockeying begins as the vote count plods on

Casualty Targeting the attorney-general

Economy Getting better but still rough

Interview The IMF's Indonesian agenda

Elections Who says democracy is better?

previous stories
Decision '99 Only a slow vote can spoil Indonesia's free and triumphant elections

The Parallel View Flashback to the 1955 ballot

Money Talked, But How Loudly? Accusations fly that Golkar and others misused funds to woo voters
YOU KNOW WHAT SOME people say about democracy: it doesn't work well if you introduce it too quickly, it's not good for the economy, it may not even be right for Asia. Indonesia's first free elections since 1955 could prove that, in fact, democracy is just what a country in crisis needs. "The elections are a good development for Indonesia and for the entire region," says Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan. He and others believe that if any country can show that democracy works, it is Indonesia - the most populous in Southeast Asia and the worst victim of the Crisis. "Amid almost every sort of problem you could imagine, Indonesia has been able to organize elections," says Suchit Bunbongkarn, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University. "That is very important."

Not everybody, of course, thinks so. But the generals in Myanmar and the communist party leaders in Vietnam kept quiet as Indonesia approached the June 7 vote. Only Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad made a point of voicing his doubts, as is his way. Four days before the elections, at a press conference in Tokyo, Mahathir warned of more trouble in Indonesia. "Democratic elections at the best of times are very destabilizing," he said. "It is even more destabilizing when it is conducted at a time when there is economic and political turmoil." Eventually, Indonesia may well be ruled by a fragile coalition government. But it is likely to inspire more confidence than either former president Suharto or his successor, B.J. Habibie, could in the Crisis.

Mahathir has always argued that Asia's economic troubles were caused by fickle international investors (or, as he called them recently, "funnymentals, intelligent humans behaving like silly animals in a herd"), not a lack of financial transparency and accountability and certainly not because of a lack of democracy. But others in ASEAN, notably the leaders of Thailand and the Philippines, believe that economic recovery (and growth) depends on democratic reform. That message has so far been lost on those in charge in Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. Though the elections "will not hasten the advent of democracy in these countries," says Suchit, "at least it sends a signal to them that democracy works."

Or will work. After all, they're still just counting the votes. Megawati Sukarnoputri might not even be the next president, but many in the region think she is likely to be. She has a famous name, sure, but as Sumit Mandal, a research fellow at the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies, says: "In 1996, Megawati was removed through very shady means with the outright collusion of the government. It mobilized the people." Megawati is a symbol of resistance to authoritarian rule. "She is the choice of the people, and the people know best who their leader should be," says Philippine Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Indonesians have waited a long time to say so.

- By Susan Berfield, with reporting from Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo and Manila

This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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