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Rights or repression -- Southeast Asia's choice

Indonesia shows democracy can advance but needs public backing and enlightened leaders

| Indonesia
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, left, visited Indonesian President Joko Widodo after elections in both nations highlighted democracy's strengths in Southeast Asia.   © Reuters

Attention has focused on whether the local elections in Indonesia helped or hindered President Joko Widodo's re-election in next year's presidential contest. But the real significance of the on June 27 polls to elect provincial governors across the sprawling archipelago was that they passed off peacefully, with high voter turnout averaging over 70%. This showed that there is continued public enthusiasm for how Indonesians are governed at the local level.

This demonstration of democratic rights, combined with the recent election in Malaysia that toppled one of the world's oldest ruling parties, suggests that reports of democracy's demise in Southeast Asia are premature. Significantly, newly elected Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad visited Indonesia in late June in his first overseas trip to discuss "securing democracy" with Widodo.

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