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Acceptance Speech of the Prsident of the Republic of Indonesia in the Conferment of an honorray Degree Doctor of Letterr HC from NTU Singapore

Hotel Shangri-La, Singapore, Senin, 22 April 2013

Acceptance Speech in The Conferment of an Honorary Degree Doctor of Letters, Honoris Causa, NTU, Singapore











H.E. President of the Republic of Singapore and Chancellor of Nanyang Technological University, Dr. Tony Tan Keng Yam, 

Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Mr. Koh Boon Hwe, 

NTU President, Professor Bertil Andersson 

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me first and foremost express my appreciation to the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) for hosting me today. It is a great honor, and at the same time, a privilege for me to receive an Honorary Doctorate from one of Asia''''s leading universities.

I am pleased that my two sons, Agus Harimurti and Edhie Baskoro, also earned their masters’ degrees from NTU. Well, I know not many fathers would say this about their sons, but I am glad that I am following in their foot-steps. 

Since graduating from NTU, Agus Harimurti has returned to his military duty, presently at the 17th Airborne Brigade of the TNI. Meanwhile, Edhie Baskoro has joined and continues to be involved in Indonesian politics. 

In saying this, I am echoing the sentiment of thousands of Indonesians who are in this country for many reasons. The latest statistics indicate that in Singapore there are around 8,500 Indonesian professionals and 24,500 students, as well as more than 105,000 domestic workers. They are a vibrant community in their own right, and once they return to Indonesia, they carry their experience and expertise to further contribute to Indonesia''''s development. 

Over the decades, the size of this Singapore-related Indonesian diaspora has grown considerably. I therefore wish to thank the Government, universities, employers and good people of Singapore, who have extended their hands of friendship to our Indonesian diaspora here. This people-to-people link is by far the greatest asset in the very close bilateral relations between our two countries.

In his kind letter to me, the President of NTU, Professor Bertil Anderson, explained that the conferment of the Honorary Degree, Doctor of Letters, Honoris Causa to me was due to my achievement, as President of Indonesia, in delivering—and I quote—"political stability, economic development and democratic change". This recognition, in my view, goes to the people and the Indonesian nation. 

I am now eight years into my Presidency, which will end at the end of next year. While there is still much to do, now is perhaps a good time to begin reflecting on how Indonesia has come to where we are today.

On October 20th 2004, I was sworn-in as Indonesia''''s sixth President, and the first to be elected directly by the Indonesian people. Despite the joyful moment of the inaugural ceremony that day, what raced through my mind was how I would fulfill the hopes of a quarter billion people for a better future. 

I inherited a state, which had begun to recover in terms of governance capacity. The economy was picking up, but it was still hovering below 5%. As an “IMF patient”, Indonesia was still in debt with the international financial body for more than 7 billion US Dollars. Our democracy was becoming more steady but relations between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, and all the institutions within them, were still fluid. Security had improved, but there were still problems in Aceh and Papua. We were still in the middle of a ten-year military embargo placed by a number of countries. And corruption remained a persistent and pervasive challenge.

I knew full well that Indonesia''''s success was relevant not only to our nation, but also to the region, and the wider world. As the largest country in Southeast Asia, the whole region was invested in our peaceful transition. And while I realized that Indonesia had the potential to be one of Asia''''s giants, I was determined that we must be a benign one.

By the time I assumed office, the financial crisis was already 5 - 6 years behind us. This is important because it was the 1998 financial crisis that compelled us to reform. With the crisis turning to normalcy, there was a danger that the nation was returning to a false comfort zone. The worst thing that could happen was for reform to start losing steam at a time when things were looking up for the country. I knew that the drivers of change would have to draw on other sources, namely leadership and governance. Stability, growth, progress—all this could only be achieved if we set the right priorities and execute bold policy measures to achieve them.

My instinct in leading Indonesia therefore was NOT to go slower, but to run even FASTER with reforms. In the course of doing so, we did not just reform, we transformed. We elevated our ambition from "reformasi" to "transformasi". 

Today, despite on-going challenges, and occassional setbacks, Indonesia is no longer defined by our problems but by our achievements and opportunities. The Economists recently designated Indonesia as one of "Asia''''s two new stars", the other one being The Philippines. 

We have become a trillion dollar economy, the largest in Southeast Asia. We also have the largest middle class in the region. Our economic growth—at 6,3 %—is the second highest in Asia after China. Our debt to GDP ratio—which stands at 23 %—is the lowest among G-20 economies. And significantly, we are no longer an “IMF patient”. 

We have resolved conflict in Aceh, and promoted political reforms in Papua. We also pursued rapid decentralization.

With all this, the past decade has been called the "transformational decade".

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In my view, Indonesia''''s democratic development is more than just an interesting experiment. It is arguably one of the most significant political developments in the first decade of the 21st century. And it has revealed important lessons about democratic development and broke a number of myths and stereotypes about democracy. 

To begin with, we broke the notion that democracy and ECONOMIC GROWTH are not mutually exclusive. There was a time decades ago when Indonesians felt that we had to choose between 2 critical objectives : either a lot of democracy but little economic growth; or a lot of economic growth but little political freedom. Well, it turned out we did NOT have to choose between democracy and development : we have achieved both. We have become a solid democracy - with 3 periodic elections in 1999, 2004 and 2009 - while at the same time attaining high economic growth around 6%. Thus we have demonstrated that democracy and economic growth can be mutually reinforcing.

To achieve this, I have adopted a four-track development strategy—pro growth, pro job, pro poor, and pro environment. This strategy aims to promote a balanced and comprehensive economic development. Additionally, I have also emphasized the need for a development framework based on the principle of “sustainable growth with equity”, where the expanding economic pie does not produce larger inequity but leads to greater equity. I have also stressed on the need to promote a resilient and vibrant domestic market. I am pleased that these strategies have proven effective in keeping the Indonesian economy afloat in the midst of a global economic slowdown.

We have also proved that democracy, ISLAM and MODERNITY can go well together.

Yes, Islamic political parties at some point proliferated, but they have also become staunch defenders of our democracy and our religious freedom. Muslims in Indonesia are very comfortable with democracy and with modernity. Thus, the Indonesian democracy may well offer valuable lessons to Arab Spring countries who are now facing similar challenges.

Our experience has also shown that democracy does not necessitate the presence of a large MIDDLE-CLASS. There is a school of thought who would argue that a nation would be ready for democracy once a large middle-class is in place.

Well, when we had our first free multi-party elections in 1999, the middle-class was relatively small, at around 25 % of the overall population, at around 45 million people. Indeed, in the last 2 elections, voting turn-out remained consistently high : at around 77 % on average, which is among the highest in the world for open democracies. This means that enthusiasm for democracy is high across all levels of economic spectrum in Indonesia - the rich, the middle-class, and the poor. They all energetically go to the ballot box because they believe that their vote counts, and relevant for their future.

Another interesting development is how we pursued democracy and DECENTRALIZATION.

Indonesia used to be one of the most centralized governments in Asia, where political and economic decisions were pre-dominantly made in Jakarta. We had always thought de-centralization was a good idea, but for a variety of reasons never really pushed it hard until the last decade. In the 5 years between 2004 and 2009, around 60 (sixty) local direct elections were held throughout Indonesia. All the Governors, regents and mayors throughout the country were directly elected, which had the dramatic effect turning the national political pyramid upside down. It was so sweeping we call it the "quiet revolution". And in the process we proved that we could consolidate our democracy while simultaneously pursuing ambitious decentralization.

Another myth that we broke was the inter-relationship between democracy and NATIONAL UNITY and SECURITY. Yes, there was some concern - genuine concern - that democracy would lead to the unravelling of Indonesia. This is because Indonesia is one of the most ethnically diverse nations in the world, and some predicted that the next "Balkan" would be in Indonesia. 

Indeed, there were serious challenges to the national unity and security in the early years of our reform period. Separatist conflict in Aceh and Papua intensified. Serious violence erupted in Poso, Ambon, and Maluku. Mysterious killings in East Java. Bali was hit by terrorist attack and a string of other attacks followed. Pockets of extremism rose.

But, I am pleased that the strengthening of our democracy has brought about numerous positive impacts. The long-standing separatist conflict in Aceh was permanently resolved in 2005. We have also ended the violence in Poso, Ambon and Maluku. Power was devolved to the provinces and regents, which made much development more localized. And economic growth no longer gravitates in Jakarta but also widely spread out throughout the regions. 

In line with these positive developments, law enforcement and conflict resolution have become top priority for successive governments since 1998, including my administration. We separated the police from the military. We reformed the army. We formed a highly effective counter-terrorism unit, and apprehended scores of terrorist cells as well as curtailed extremism. 

I would not say that today Indonesia is free from security challenges - indeed, like many other nations, there are plenty of potential security threats that we have to be vigilant for. But I can say that a good portion of the security problems from the past have dissipated.

This is why I have made it also a priority for the TNI to undergo significant modernization. Not only do we need a strong and modern military to enhance the security of our nation. But this is also as part of our effort to contribute positively towards greater stability and peace in the region. This is in line with our “million friends, zero enemy” foreign policy approach.

Yet another challenge was concerning the link between democracy and STABILITY.

This indeed is a common challenge for new democracies. As reforms set-in, the system changes, new players come in and shake things up, and confusion and uncertainty may occur. Sometimes, it would take a while before things would settle and find the right rhythm. In Indonesia, this did happen. Our long time stability ended in 1997 - 1998 when the financial crisis hit us hard, evolved into a social, economic and political crisis, and brought President Suharto down with it in May 1998. In the 4 years between 1998 and 2001, we had 4 Presidents. We had street demonstrations, political infighting and political crisis. We faced a period of deep uncertainty. 

But we pressed on with reforms, we addressed the challenges—not all successfully—and in the end we overcame and found stability. There has been no coup in Indonesia, and in fact democracy has gotten stronger. In 2009, I became the first President in the democratic era to finish a full term. And Insya Allah, by next year, I expect to finish my full second term. 

I have full confidence that my successor will be able to continue this precious condition of maintaining democratic stability.

In a nutshell, we faced many road blocks but in the end, we broke some of the myths and stereotypes about democracy. We demonstrated that democracy can co-exist with development; with national unity; with security; and with stability.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have said earlier that things look promising for us in Indonesia. Our historic challenge now is to maintain this upward trajectory for Indonesia. A number of prestigious international analysts are predicting that Indonesia can shine even brighter in the future. A recent McKinsey study predicts that Indonesia will be the 7th largest economy in the world by 2030. 

All in all, encouraging predictions. But all this is not preordained. Our future will need to be created. Our continued success will need to be earned. And Indonesia''''s future leaders will need to continue to adapt, advance our transformation, plug Indonesia with the world, and make the many hard decisions that come with it.

In spite of our achievements during this transformational decade, there remains much homework to be done. Indeed, sustaining Indonesia’s transformation will require the hard work and diligence of the country’s people, and particularly, its leaders.

As a large country that stretches across three time zones from Sabang to Merauke, much remains to be done in terms of developing infrastructures. I have made it a priority for Indonesia to enhance our internal connectivity through infrastructure develop-ment across the country. 

We must also strengthen the rule of law and good governance. We will continue to work hard on combating corruption, which remains an uphill battle.

Also, like all Indonesians, I know that harmonious relations among our diverse ethnic and religious groups is of supreme importance to our national survival. We must continue to work hard to maintain moderation, pluralism and tolerance in our society. 

I certainly hope that with all this, in 2045—after one hundred years of independence—my vision of an Indonesia fully transformed will become a reality. An Indonesia that is democratically mature, stable and peaceful. An Indonesia that is economically prosperous at all levels of society. An Indonesia that is well plugged with the world. An Indonesia not just ripe with freedom but also with opportunity. 

A decade ago, many would have thought this vision far-fetched. But today, this is a future well within our reach. 

As a concluding note, I am confident that Indonesia will emerge to be a vibrant nation living in democracy, peace and progress. I do also believe that Indonesia can contribute to regional stability and international cooperation.

Here is where I have high hopes that Indonesia can continue our partnership with Singapore. Like Indonesia, Singapore has much to offer to the world. Singapore has the most advanced economy in Southeast Asia, is an essential member of ASEAN and has become a valuable global player. Much is riding on our positive relations, not just from the bilateral standpoint, but also for our common regional and global interests.

And I am glad that today, in this solemn occasion at NTU, we once again have the honor to highlight our close ties and celebrate our bright future.

I Thank you.

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