Building the Central Force

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Sudirman Said Head, Harkat Negeri Institute

IO – In late 2020, a national media organization held a survey on political consolidation; it reported its findings on 4 January 2021. The report’s opening sentence was: “The year 2021 is the right moment to start political consolidation of elites in the Center and the Regions. There is only one objective: to pull Indonesia up from the multidimensional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The survey shows that the public has great expectations of various improvements in our overall condition, in contrast to the situation in 2020. Consolidation should not just be limited to the elites, but also spread out among the people: “Other than consolidation among the elites, cooperation with the people is also necessary in order to uplift the framework of daily living in 2021, so we can return to living normally.”

Naturally, the constructive questioning that we can ask is how to allow immediate consolidation, as the issues raised by the COVID-19 pandemic have brought additional complexities to many sectors, apart from health. Furthermore, these complexities must also be addressed as quickly as possible, to forestall further complexities. Nobody refutes the view that the problems our people currently face can be solved if and only if we all walk in the same direction.

President Soekarno declared the importance of unity in any struggle, as early as his Pancasila course held in the Palace on 28 May 1958: “… that the struggle of the Indonesian people can only succeed if all Indonesian people enter the same fighting arena.” This statement contains three essential points: (1) clarity of the destination to reach; (2) clarity of the path to take; and (3) clarity of the basic steps to be taken.

If consolidation is the method we can use to get out of the crisis brought on by the pandemic, an equally important and necessary question is: “What justifies consolidation other than the fact that a number of well-orchestrated small forces can do so much more than huge individual forces that move without orchestration?”

In this context, consolidation is actually a historical calling. We consolidate in order to return to the noble aspiration of being a nation, the one written in the Preamble of the Constitution of 1945: “To have a free life as a nation.” If we look at the position of this phrase in the Preamble, we can tell that this desire is the foundation behind the Indonesian people’s declaration of independence. Is there a stronger justification than this aspiration?

Independence

What is meant by the “independence of the Indonesian people”? As a nation, we need to have an official, normative explanation about what we mean by “independence”. Why? Because time always leaves the past behind. The 17 August 1945 Proclamation will naturally remain “then and there”. However, the narrative of “independence” must remain alive throughout our journey as a nation.

Let us imagine a time far into the future: 2045. At this terminal, will we still have identical ideas about independence, i.e., that it is an ideal condition as it was an ideal back in 1945? If not, what will happen? These questions will certainly bother those with “a sense of history”. A dear friend, senior journalist, stated boldly and heavily in an online discussion: “Will Indonesia still exist in 2045?” Is there a constructive way of answering this question?

We believe that the future of the nation, the continuity of the nation, strongly depends on the strength of the spirit of independence as a force of its people’s lives. This life force is a function of the definition, administration, and sense of utility the people as a nation enjoy. A fundamental issue that all of us as a nation must be aware of is that during the times of struggle, the name “Indonesia” itself is something that is understood beyond any geographical or ethnological term: it is a term with a definition directly opposed to the idea of colonialism.

The book Maju Setapak (“One Step Forward”), edited by Pitut Soeharto and A. Zainoel Ihsan (1981), contains the article “Sekelumit Tentang Nama” (“A Brief Summary about a Name”) on page 291. The original article was edited by the staff of Jong Indonesia. It was an excerpt of an article that had appeared in Indonesia Merdeka magazine, March-April 1927 edition, and Indonesia Moeda magazine No. 8, to explain the origins of the name “Indonesia”: “…used as a mark of the noble aspiration that they are seeking: a land that of liberty and independence: Indonesia.”

We can say that “Indonesia” is an idea that contains noble aspirations, the soul of liberty, and a spirit of humanity and justice. As stated in the first paragraph of the Preamble of the Constitution of 1945, “colonization is a denial of the sense of humanity and sense of justice.” Therefore, “independence” in the context of “Indonesia-ness” is defined as both “free of” as well as “free to”.

To be “free to” is when a nation is free and able to do what it needs to do in order to survive and develop as an independent entity. This is the deepest meaning behind the litany of “free, united, sovereign, fair, and prosperous”. This phrase clearly states that once a nation becomes “independent” (“free of”), it needs a special ability, “sovereignty”, and “sovereignty” is the next level of “unity”. Therefore, the step taken to unite is one that is made to ensure that the sovereignty of the nation is obtained. What is meant by “sovereignty” here is two-pronged: outside, it means that the nation is not under the control of another political entity, while within, it means that the people have such sovereignty that will allow them to make use of all the tools they possess to achieve the new life that they want.

Prof. Notonagoro interprets the meaning of the Declaration of Independence, as quoted in the Preamble of the Constitution of 1945 (“… therefore the people of Indonesia hereby declare their independence”) in his speech during the Anniversary of Airlangga University on 10 Nopember 1955, as “…a way to eliminate all doubt concerning the Declaration of independence by all of the people, any doubt that this nation was established in the interest and for the happiness of all of its people.” He went on to say, “… to reiterate that the highest power for Indonesian people and the newly established nation of Indonesia rests in the entirety of the people themselves, a basis of life for the State and the Nation, which in the fourth part is called “the sovereignty of the people”.”

Democracy

How do we administer this “independence” then? If we do our utmost to fully read into the minds of our nation’s founding fathers, as shown in the sentence: “…, therefore we organize the National Independence of Indonesia within a Constitution of Indonesia, which is formulated within the organization of the Republican Nation of Indonesia with sovereign people, …” it is obvious that the format for administrating independence that they have selected is as follows:

(1) That the State is based on the Law, wherein the Constitution is created within the realm of the Republic. In other words: (a) power comes from the Law, not the Law from power; and (b) the Law is the full expression of “the public”.

The text of the Constitution of 1945’s Explanation, before it was deleted by the Amendments, contained the following: (1) Indonesia is a National State based on Rule of Law (rechtsstaat) and not one based on Rule of Power (machtsstaat); and (2) The Government’s power is based on a Constitution; it is thus not absolute. (2) That in order to ensure that the Law is not twisted into becoming a tool of power, the sovereignty of the people (democracy) must be supreme. These provisions should be interpreted as a historic message, declaring that the concept of democracy that we adhere to does not just take procedures into account, but also (i) the source of a specific procedure; and (ii) the benefits and purposes of the procedure. A procedure is not unimportant. Rather, it is that procedures only are not enough. The historic experience of various countries shows that an election that is claimed to be democratic does not always result in a democratic Government. On the contrary, the opposite frequently happens.

Prof. Boediono reminded us, in “The Economy-Political Dimensions of Indonesian Development”, his Confirmation Speech of Gadjah Mada University Lecturers (UGM, 24/02/2007 of the importance of viewing democracy from two sides, i.e. its formal mechanisms and its basic values, the ones that imbue it with soul. He went on to state “… we frequently feel that even though we have satisfied nearly all formal requirements of democracy, we are still disappointed because we have not tasted the democratic atmosphere that has been promised to us…” In other words, our democracy is a soulless one.

This concern was expressed much earlier than that. During the Investigating Committee for Preparatory Work for Independence (Badan Penyelidik Usaha Persiapan Kemerdekaan – “BPUPK”) Conference held on 15 July 1945, M. Hatta expressed his concern – a concern shared by many wise persons of the day – that there is a possibility that the State will be a Power-Based State: “…therefore, let us not grant absolute power to this new State, to prevent this State from being a Power-Based State.” (Summary, 1995: 262).

Frans Magnis-Suseno, S.J., stated in his column in the book Hatta, Jejak Yang Melampaui Jaman (2017) (“Hatta, The Traces that Withstood Time”), first included in Tempo magazine special edition (18 August 2002), interpreted Hatta’s work as a reflection of the latter’s awareness that the sovereignty of the people is closely related to the welfare and prosperity of the people: “Hatta is aware of something extremely important here: Social justice, and its consequence, the welfare and prosperity of the people, hinge on the idea of the sovereignty of the people. In order to ensure that the people’s stomachs are properly filled, their sovereignty must be upheld.” (p. 148).

If the people see that “democracy” moves counter to their interests, what will happen? As long as they only view this condition as a “deviation” from the normal performance of democratic institutions, the problem is still containable, even though it is a problem with serious consequences. What I’m saying is that as long as the people still believe in democracy, there is still a chance to make reparations. The big problem occurs when the people harbor seeds of distrust of democracy. It is a much worse challenge, as there is a real possibility that the public will fall into the trap of one of two extreme poles: the all-political system (no matter what ideology they espouse), or the pragmatic-transactional system. Is it possible for consolidation to be effected under this situation?

Central Force

When the very existence of democracy is quietly being doubted and the structure of welfare and prosperity results in strategic issues, consolidating forces are faced with a double load. On one hand, it is expected to serve as a means to gather all forces in a single power for the nation, and on the other hand, it is expected to resolve the weakening of social cohesion, whether because of economic or political factors. We would like to believe that an opportunity for political consolidation exists. However, the process cannot depend on one single formal channel. We really need to consider non-formal channels.

The formal channel naturally has the capacity of moving all existing instruments, especially through strict regulations and coercive apparatus, to ensure that an action is taken or not taken. Throughout the year of the pandemic, we see how the dynamics of dealing with the diseases go on. These dynamics clearly affect our efforts to cut down on the chain of virus spread.

The various challenges in the field show that for massive efforts to become effective, social support is crucial. And this is exactly where the problem lies: thanks to post-electoral political residues, many programs do not go as planned. The only cause of optimism here is that under this situation, civil society initiative grows well. Various actions in the field are taken by ordinary people towards the same direction: to strengthen the people’s own capacity. In other words, all social, political, and economic forces move according to their own methods and capacities when resolving the pandemic and accelerating post-pandemic recovery.

However, the problems have grown much more complex, because issues that arise in non-health sectors thanks to the viral infection start to overlap with other national issues that existed before the pandemic and remain unaddressed. This is why we need consolidation. Not only will it bring about effective implementation of actions, but it will also grow a sense of “Indonesia-ness” among the people, who we expect to be able to bear the noble aspirations of our nation. We need to interpret “consolidation” not as an ad hoc (political) event, but as a long-standing national program.

This is the point where we need what is called the “central force”. This term first appeared in Budiman Tanuredjo’s article (Kompas daily, 09/01/2021), Rindu “Muazin” Bangsa (“Yearning for the Nation’s “Muezzins””). As he aptly said, “This nation is in need of “muezzins”, people who call to the spirit like the actual muezzins call the faithful to prayer five times a day. People with deep-rooted intellectual traditions and a robust vision about Indonesia’s nationality. “Muezzins” who consistently build up the central force with the power of the people.”

For us, this “central force” is not a political power or the power of brute masses. On the contrary, it is the force of the amalgamation of ideas. Prof. Ahmad Subardjo Djoyoadisuryo, a member of the BPUPK, detailed in his speech, Peranan Ide-ide dalam Gerakan Kemerdekaan Indonesia (“The Role of Ideas in the Indonesian Independence Movement”) (29/07/1974), how ideas work in the struggle for independence. Naturally, “…it is not any random idea that can move humans to do something of use for the State and the people. Only ideas containing truth and justice can touch the souls of humans who feel.” In fact, “These ideas in turn fill the official texts of the State, serve as the guidelines in State administration in order to ensure that it can work as intended, according to the ideas that propel its existence in the first place.”

Therefore, central force is the non-formal power of ideas. By their very strength, these ideas are able to stimulate the reasons of the nation, forging the nation’s readiness to wholly guide the State’s performance, so that it remains strictly within the path required to achieve our noble national aspirations. By focusing on ideas, central force can also free us from the dread that we are only seeking pragmatic benefits. This is the path we can take to ensure that consolidation will be constructive, and will in turn support the sustainability of a nation marching towards its century-long independence.