Political Parties failing to regenerate – Indonesia’s democracy stagnates

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Public dialog held by Institute for Economic and Social Research, Education and Information (LP3ES) titled “Saving Democracy in Indonesia” in Falatehan Hotel. (photo: IO/Dan)

IO, Jakarta – 21 years after the advent of an era of Reformation, Indonesia is still in a transitioning period. In fact, several places have become worse off, causing Indonesia to be far from its hopes of a consolidated democracy. The signs of a consolidated nation, among others, are a long-term functioning democracy, well-working law enforcement, independent courts, fair and competitive elections, a strong civil society and the fulfillment of its citizens’ civil, economic, and cultural rights.

According to Wijayanto, Associate Director for the LP3ES Center for Media and Democracy, what seems to be Indonesia’s democracy’s crucial problem is the absence of a civil society critical of power, low quality member regeneration in political parties, disappearance of opposition, and high costs of campaigning as a result of money in politics.

“We are experiencing a critical situation of critical voices of power as almost all elements of civil society, starting from non-governmental organizations, campuses, the media, and university students have cozied up with central power or at least chosen to stay quiet to avoid the “stigma” of siding with intolerant, anti-Pancasila, and anti-democracy groups. More or less, this is caused by a sharp political polarization which has divided Indonesia into two groups and has caused every anti-government voice to be immediately branded as an anti-democracy group. This is despite the fact that the absence of a critical voice is a giant loss for democracy, which needs strength that is healthy to control power,” explained Wijayanto in a recent public dialog held by the Institute for Economic and Social Research, Education and Information (LP3ES) titled “Saving Democracy in Indonesia” in Falatehan Hotel.

In tune with Wijayanto, LP3ES researcher Muhammad Najib added that campuses were especially of note as this was the first time since Reformation that universities were in such a rush to get close to power. This can be seen from the widespread practice of coopting campus alumni associations so that people in the palace circle would head the awarding of honorary degrees to political elites not based on their real contributions to society and the sciences but rather for political reasons. Other than that, the absence of student movements which bring about pithy ideas and are brave enough to voice criticisms of the powerful, rectors who are chosen through the Ministry of Research, Technology, and Higher Education, to supervision of lecturers activities on media social or the real world are symptoms of obstacles to other academic freedoms which increasingly weaken critical voices from campuses.

“The biggest problem of our democracy today is the weakness of political parties. Proof of the issue starts with the unserious and careless recruitment of its members. Societal figures, of the quality of lecturers, researchers, increasingly rarely become involved in the executive or legislative (branch). During the two decades after Reformation, parties have not started to show any serious effort in recruitment and political party regeneration: it is only done ahead of the elections. On the other hand, elections in an open proportional system do not strengthen the institutionalization of political parties as loyal party members can be defeated by new members who win the competition because they can infuse money in politics on a more massive scale. This results in the national political system being filled by ‘instant’ party members,” Najib asserted.

Not only that, the high cost of campaigning as a result of the large-scale practice of money in politics is another reason. Since the era of the Reformation, running campaigns from the local to national level have become increasingly expensive, with campaigning in the 2019 election being the costliest. These campaigning costs effect the rampant corruption in various levels of government institutions as candidates who are elected are now more interested in making a return on their investment during the campaign stage.

Fajar Nursahid, Executive Director of LP3ES, stated that the poor internalization of civic virtues in the nation, which could be seen in the sharp, shallow, and uncivilized fights between netizens on social media was another essential part of the problem. Other than that, threats to freedom of the press and expression such as the suppression of books, blocking of book and film discussions, criminalization of scientists abroad are problems. The use of the Electronic Information and Transaction Law to criminalize citizens and journalists are also threats to the freedom of expression.

After four years of the current administration, criticisms from analysts in Indonesia and abroad have begun to appear. Ed Aspinal (2018), Tom Powel and Eve Warburton (2018 and 2019) analyzed the development of democracy in Indonesia and argued that there has been stagnation and even regression in its democracy, where Jokowi has begun non-democratic practices such as disbanding mass organizations without going through a legal process, in addition to the presence of increasing intolerance, strengthening of political polarization, and proliferation of fake news and human rights violations.

“There needs to be the participation of all sides; intellectuals, activists, journalists, and political parties to become aware of the stagnation and regression of democracy in Indonesia to fight together to save democracy in Indonesia. The low amount of dialogue and synergy between these various sides is our democracy’s problem right now,” he concluded. (Dan)