Tuesday, July 16, 2024 | 03:43 WIB

Democracy and civil society

IO – Does the majority of the electorate still believe in democracy? There are two important reasons why this question must be asked. First, people tend to react negatively, no matter what the result of an election is, starting from mild disapprovals to harsh denials. Let’s take the most recent incident in the United States: what the media describes as an attack to the Capitol Building can be said to be an inability to accept the results of a democratic procedure, the elections that are actually the heart of procedural democracy. Rejecting the results of an election due to suspicion of fraud is only natural – and it is also legal. What is unnatural, and therefore must be questioned, is when one rejects the procedure of democracy itself even though it is transparent and established from the start becauseof theresults.

The second is actually the opposite condition – a “conditional acceptance” of the electoral process. This is certainly not the usual way to read the situation, therefore we need to show you why this perspective appears. This “unconditional acceptance” accentuates the involvement of the people (voters) from the start, specifically when determining who will get to use the votes. This is extremely important, as elections are rare events that require the time, thought, energy, and even the finances of the State. It is not right if the people are – or only viewed are – objects that receive information and socialization from electoral organizers, and if they are finally to be ridiculed when the people they choose turn out not to have the required capability, even though the Constitution clearly state that the people are the holders of sovereignty.

Furthermore, there doesn’t seem to be any connection between the Candidate’s mission and the people, whether before or after the elections. What I’m trying to say here is there doesn’t seem to be any bond of togetherness, no sense of fighting together for the same agenda. What is called the “vision and mission of the candidate” is, in practice, not the solution to what the people view as their underlying problems.

If candidates formulate their vision and mission as “how to solve the people’s problems”, they would have cooperated with the people and formulated what they can offer through their position in their campaigns, and fight for these issues to be included as priorities in national development plans through the elections. However, this logic is completely ignored. “Candidate vision and mission” are just formalities that candidates make up in order to satisfy the requirements for candidacy set by electoral organizers. Perhaps, as the people are fully aware that their “constitutional rights” have been abbreviated to cover just the “voting”, the people in turn do not consider elections as important political event in their lives as citizens of a nation, let alone at a historical moment.

If the first attitude describes more of a “disbelieving” or at least “doubtful” attitude towards the performance of democratic procedures, the second attitude is more like a “whatever” or “I don’t care” attitude towards democratic processes. A combination of this “doubtful” and “don’t care” attitude must be highlighted, as elections are events that determine a people’s fates for a specific period.

Can these two attitudes be the basis for asking the question asked at the start of this article? Political thinkers may ask a more basic question: “Was this question the surface question for the question beneath the surface, i.e. “What kind of democracy are we currently upholding?”? Naturally, we can’t reject this question out of hand, because any kind of academic question has the right to be asked. However, for all of us, the new question requires a deeper exercise of thought than the first one.


Even though the information provided to us tends to reveal disbelief in democracy, the answer can still be “believe” or “disbelieve”. If the people fully believe in democracy, what does that mean? If all of these statements are not viewed as an expression of disbelief, or on the other hand is viewed as a form of belief, then we can ask: “Belief in what, and believe in who?”

There are two possibilities: First, the people are fully aware of their position as formulated by the political decision-makers of the State. Second, the people will accept anyone who holds a position in democratic institutions. Both of them are expressed by outward acceptance of any regulation issued towards them, with neither the ability nor willingness to refuse, because that’s how it’s supposed to be. Within our long experience of democracy since our Proclamation of Independence, we experienced practices that political thinkers will view as conflicting with each other, but all of whom are accepted or experienced without comment by the people.

We know that experts work hard to build theoretical frameworks to explain what actually happened. Those who hold the participative point of view will naturally say that the people do not simply accept things, but they accept them grudgingly. Power provides two types of instruments, “ideological” and “coercive”. Those who believe in the superiority of top groups believe that only those at the top have a powerful-enough mind to think things through properly, and therefore participation cannot be unrestricted. They believe that participation should be allowed to the best possible proportions, and the rest  of democracy should be pre-determined. Democracy is not viewed as something that should be adjusted to the noble missions of the nation, or something that requires a sense of history. It is only viewed as a way to choose political leaders, nothing more. Therefore, we shouldn’t hope that people have the ability to think about the national agenda and such stuff. That’s the duty of those on top, those sitting in the tribunes of power. In brief, those on top are producers, while those at the bottom are the consumers of democracy. Only “superior” people on top can have democracy. This is why I call it “superior” democracy.

The existence of superior” democracy cannot be dismissed offhand or claimed as something that is “wrong”. Why? Because firstly, “superior” democracy does not negate legal frameworks. This model works fully within the law, and it follows existing rules of the game. Even if anyone should level a criticism, the criticism is not a total ignoring of the text it criticizes, but more of a different interpretation of the same text. Secondly, “superior” democracy relies on full control of the political arena. It seeks to restrict the opposition, to marginalize or even eliminate it legally if possible.

Many criticisms have been leveled to existing political patterns or configurations that are said to have “killed” democracy. However, it cannot be denied that this dominant configuration was born from processes legitimized by the rules, and wherein the rules do not strictly regulate ideal formations. In other words, if democracy is more a procedure for selecting leaders and/or a method for making decisions, then all results generated by this process must be accepted as logical and legal consequences. If there is a more basic, underlying criticism, especially in relation to the performance of “superior” democracy in bringing the objective of our nation, i.e., social justice for all Indonesian people, into reality, the criticism must come from a different space.

Civil Society

If democracy (in the Indonesian context) is unable to manifest into reality  Pancasila’s  fifth  principle, “Social Justice for all Indonesian People”, then what is the basis for preserving it? Or what have people been doing all this time, that a primary agenda of the State is neglected? Or why is democracy not working solely to achieve this purpose? Then what are the fruits of all of these properly implemented procedures and regulations? How come in a condition where democracy does not take the nation towards its primary purpose, there are no “counter opinions” that will help democracy to look at itself, and if necessary, correct the current situation? Who is expected to provide this counter opinion?

In the context of “our-ness”, we believe that procedural democracy or “superior” democracy is not enough. This democratic model must be complemented by the unvoiced voices of the people, the voice Ahmad Subardjo Djojoadisurjo termed “the voice of truth and justice”. Here is where we need to reinstate the important role of civil society (“CS”). As formulated by Ernest Gellner (1995), this is the society that contains non-governmental groups that can check and balance the State. CS groups do not obstruct the work of democracy, to

the extent that such work does not create a dominant system wherein everything is controlled by the State, and/or as far as it does not cause the people to become even more badly divided that they do not have the power to control the State.

In other words, if the people truly disbelieve in democracy, CS’ primary duties are: First, to provide education in order to grow what Bung Hatta calls “political awareness”. In his speech before the Municipal Police in Solo on 7 February 1946, Bung Hatta declared: “Also, the people are responsible about how they determine their own fates. If the people do not have political awareness, their sense of responsibility will be sorely lacking, and how will the people exercise their sovereignty if they do not understand responsibility? Such a people will very easily send into the People’s House of Representatives members who really do not represent them.” In other words, the people must have sufficient understanding about who they are and what position that they have in democracy, so that their sense of responsibility for their own involvement in the democratic process will arise.

Second, to bring public spaces to life in such a way that ideas that can serve as “counter opinion” to public policy can appear and grow. The “opinion” meant here is obviously not political opinion, but closer to “opinions based on solid arguments”. In situations where grassroot political disarticulation occurs, such opinions basically represent what the people feel.

Therefore, the opinions being developed actually grow in two directions: Downwards, they connect to the interests of the people and/ or are the expression of the people’s voices; and upwards, they generate dialog space, so that current public policies have comparisons and contrasts that allow things that are out of place to be clearly exposed, and from here we can expect awareness that allows reforms – sustainable reorganizations – to occur. Opportunity for reforms will grow when awareness among the top elite meets with the people’s political awareness. This is probably the path that CS can take in order for democracy to be able to win back the people’s belief.