Today, the question facing a region living in the shadow a revolution is, “what next?” The Arab Spring took the world by surprise and it is therefore unsurprising that detailed plans for what to do next do not exist. How do new leaders begin the long work of building the democratic foundations their citizens’ demand?
By Matt Baker and Nathan Gamester, The Jakarta Post
On Dec. 17, 2010, the single, desperate act of a 26 year-old Tunisian entrepreneur plunged a country and ultimately an entire region into chaotic and violent protests that marked the start of a revolution.
Mohamed Bouazizi, a university educated street vendor in the Sidi Bouzid region, was accosted by police who beat him and seized his goods, thereby removing his only means to livelihood. After trying to make an official complaint but finding no one interested in his case, Mr. Bouazizi, doused himself in petrol and immolated himself on the steps of a government building. This act represented the beginning of what we now know as the Arab Spring.
Today, the question facing a region living in the shadow a revolution is, “what next?” The Arab Spring took the world by surprise and it is therefore unsurprising that detailed plans for what to do next do not exist. How do new leaders begin the long work of building the democratic foundations their citizens’ demand? To whom should they look for example and inspiration? Certainly Turkey has been held up as a model for the region by some.
Indeed in September of this year, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan visited Egypt, Tunisia and Libya in an attempt to leverage Turkey’s position in the region as a source of inspiration during their period of transition. However, while Turkey, may be to some extent, a good example of effective democratic governance among Muslim-majority countries, this is not the whole story. In other areas, notably the economy and important governance indicators, the post-Arab Spring countries could look to Indonesia and Malaysia.
Of course, there can be no single model for the region after the Arab Spring. Each country’s path to prosperity is unique. However, findings from the 2011 Legatum Prosperity Index™ show that both Malaysia and Indonesia could offer a different example than the often touted Turkey.
The Prosperity Index shows that both Malaysia and Indonesia outperform Turkey on the Economy sub-index, ranking 17th, 44th and 78th respectively out of the 110 countries that the Index measures. In Malaysia this economic success is largely due to export-led industrialization, fuelled by foreign direct investment. In addition, the country has low unemployment and high public confidence in financial institutions (at 87 percent).
While, Indonesia’s success partly comes from having the 19th largest market in the world following a good recovery from the 1997 Asian financial crisis, which has enabled the country to reduce poverty levels and maintain robust economic growth even during the recent global downturn. Further, job market expectations have continued to improve since 2008, while satisfaction with living standards has risen from 44 percent in the 2009 Index to almost 70 percent in this year’s Index.
Despite its economic successes, democratic Indonesia still suffers from high levels of corruption and low levels of rule of law. But most notably, Indonesia, which started its transition from autocracy to democracy in 1998, has relatively high levels of political rights and democratic accountability. In contrast, is Malaysia’s effective, yet relatively unaccountable, governance.
Malaysia’s strengths are in areas such as the rule of law and business-related regulation. However, there may be signs that the political concerns that emerged during the July protests regarding electoral reform are being addressed. The setting up of an inquiry into electoral reforms by Prime Minister Najib Razak is a positive sign but it still needs to deliver tangible change. Like Indonesia, but for different reasons, there remain areas for Malaysia to improve in key areas of governance.
In the words of the cofounder of the Tunisian En-Nadha party, Rachid Ghannouchi: “...there are other successful Islamic models that are close to us, like the Turkish, the Malaysian and the Indonesian models — models that combine Islam and modernity?” While both Indonesia and Malaysia differ from many Arab Spring countries in both history and context, they may nonetheless be able to provide an alternate perspective than that of Turkey. It is important to not limit our attention to only those countries that are close at hand and convenient.
The power of example — the need for a model to inspire positive change — should not be underestimated. But because no model can ever be perfect, it is prudent to hold up more than one, and to keep in mind what the Prosperity Index continues to demonstrate: That the world changes, regions and countries change, but the foundations of national prosperity remain the same.
A commitment to free markets and democratic governance will remain central to the future success of not just the Arab Spring countries but also those that seek to offer themselves as an example to others.
The writers are co-authors of the 2011 Legatum Prosperity IndexTM, which can be read online at: www.prosperity.com. The annual Index is produced by the London-based Legatum Institute.