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.
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)