Indonesia’s disaster politics

Source(s)
Foreign Policy

By Alejandro Quiroz Flores

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This fall, however, [Indonesia's early warning] system did not live up to its promise. It — and the organization responsible for its maintenance — are now under scrutiny because key components failed and because the actual tsunami warning was apparently inadequate and short. In an established democracy such as the United States, such a show of governmental unreliability would typically lead to a wave of resignations, or at least depositions. In Indonesia’s young democracy, by contrast, political breakdown could follow.

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In a more robust democracy, a natural disaster does not usually undermine democratic institutions, even if it harms the career prospects of underperforming elected officials. However, when a destructive disaster is combined with incompetence in a transitional country like Indonesia, that could be a setback.  In Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, the inadequate provision of disaster relief led to looting and the near-total discrediting of democratic institutions. In the wake of the latest earthquake in Indonesia, the government has invited the military to step in to deliver aid, which is worrying given the armed forces’ historical role in undermining elected officials. Throw in endemic poverty, inequality, and corruption, and this month’s earthquake and tsunami could put pressure on an already strained democratization process.

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