Indonesia’s democracy derailed

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Seminar titled “Consolidating Democracy towards Social Justice” held at ITS Tower, Pasar Minggu, South Jakarta, on Monday (17/02/2020). (Photo: IO/Rayi Gigih)

IO, Jakarta – The “open democracy” system that we implement in Indo­nesia incurs great political costs. It is thus no surprises that many candidate regional heads must seek funding from outside their parties. It should, there­fore, be no surprise that once elected, these regional heads do not choose to work for the interests of the people but rather the obligation to the investors they “owe favors” to.

Economic and Social Research, Education, and Information Agen­cy (Lembaga Penelitian, Pendidikan, dan Penerangan Ekonomi dan Sosial – “LP3ES”) founder Emil Salim states that democracy in Indonesia has been derailed, because it is pretty much under the thumb of political investors. We urgently need to change the funda­mentals, if we want to free Indonesia from this enslavement. “Our democ­racy is not on track. It is trapped by ‘sponsors’; thus, when decisions are made, only the funders’ interests are taken seriously. We need to change our democracy for the future,” he declared in a seminar titled “Consolidating De­mocracy towards Social Justice” held at ITS Tower, Pasar Minggu, South Ja­karta, on Monday (17/02/2020).

Emil is convinced that Indonesia’s current electoral system inherently forces our future leaders to be chained to the interests of the moneymen back­ing their campaigns. It is no wonder that our citizens rarely perceive any progress after Regional Elections. “The funders use their money to fund can­didates and control them. With each election, power continues to shift from the people to a candidate’s funders. Thus candidates feel they need not struggle for the interest of the peo­ple they are supposed to represent, but rather to repay their funders by advancing their interests,” he com­plained.

Emil further warns that if this process of selecting officials contin­ues, most elected officials will steadily abuse their authority when elected, in order to be able to “return the invest­ment” their sponsors have paid out. Therefore, he suggests that in the fu­ture, the Government should take over political party expenditures for regional head candidates. In this manner, the Government will also be able to access political party financial documents and push for the transparency of fi­nancial management. “This kind of de­mocracy is bad. The key is to eliminate investor-type funders of candidates. The 2020 Government must take over party expenditures to fund candidates. In this way, Government access to a party’s financial records will signify open auditing,” he said.

Fight Among the Elites
LP3ES/Leiden University Associate Researcher Ward Berenschot states that elections in Indonesia are more about power struggle among politi­cal elites as opposed to a competition between political parties. Therefore, elections are also more about candi­dates instead of political parties. “We can see this in the responses the peo­ple give when we ask them about their choices. They tend to pick individual candidates in a national or regional election instead of a favorite political party. Democracy in Indonesia is can­didate-centered, not party-centered,” he observed.

Ward stated in his Democracy for Sale that Indonesia’s democratic sys­tem tends to make people think that candidates for any position – whether for regent, governor, mayor, or mem­bers of the National House of Repre­sentatives (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat – “DPR”) and the Regional House of Representatives (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat Daerah – “DPRD”) – will nat­urally emerge from wealthier so­cio-economic classes, or can at least secure support from moneyed class­es. Therefore, when elected, they will only strive for continued protection and expansion of the welfare of their original class – or ways to repay the investments made in their campaigns. “This results in political inequality, as the candidates do not represent every social class in the community. As they identify with a higher economic class, it is harder for them to fight for social justice for everyone, rich or poor,” he said.

According to surveys, democracy in Indonesia initially shows a 50% close­ness between the people and political parties. However, this closeness de­cayed to about 30% after 2004. This is bad, as Ward believes that political parties should play a very important role in a democratic community. With­out strong parties, campaigns will be­come more expensive, as candidates are forced to build their own political networks. Furthermore, through ser­vice to party causes, citizens from the lower levels of society can earn the op­portunity to enter government or legis­lative bodies. And finally, an important idea can attain momentum when peo­ple fight for it through political parties.

However, there are a number of structural obstacles that weaken the contribution of political parties in In­donesia:

First, Indonesia implements an open system in its legislative elec­tions. This means that any candidate will have to compete openly with their compatriots from the same party.

Second, all candidates must seek support in order to surmount the 20% threshold of votes required for their candidacy. “In terms of our democra­cy, this means that candidates don’t necessarily need to come from politi­cal parties. This makes the competi­tion occur at an individual instead of a party level,” Ward said.

Third, the people cannot access State wealth through political parties. Therefore, in order to strengthen the contribution of parties in the future, we could integrate legislative elections with regional head elections. “For ex­ample, a candidate submitted by a political party that wins an election can be directly appointed as a regional head,” Ward said.

In relation to social justice, Depu­tyu Chancellor of Academics and Stu­dent Issues at Diponegoro University (Undip) Semarang Budi Setiyono stat­ed that a significant segment of Indo­nesian citizens only receives irregular income and work in the informal sec­tor. Statistics Indonesia (Badan Pusat Statistik – “BPS”), states that some 57% of Indonesians work informally. “According to BPS, nowadays about 60% of our citizens, or 57% this year, derive income from the informal sector. They live without any certainty of reg­ular income and have no protection. This include hawkers, farm laborers and mine workers,” he said.

“If Indonesia is likened to a house, only about 44% of citizens are protect­ed indoors. The remaining 56% are forced to live outside, while they are the ones who need the most protec­tion. This is why Indonesia is rife with cases like poor people being refused treatment in hospitals because they cannot afford to pay the fees, and the State fails to cover for them,” Budi said. (dan)