Public Voice: The Soul of Democracy

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Sudirman Said Head, Harkat Negeri Institute

IO – The dictionary defines ideals as desire or will that is always in the mind; perfect goals (to be achieved or implemented). Each of us certainly has our own understanding of what ideals are. The sages of the past advised the young generation to put their aspirations as high as the stars in the sky. We have not yet explained what the message actually means. However, some of us might be willing to provide information that their dreams have contributed to what they achieved today. Of course what is meant is not the ability of the ideal as a physical thing, but the power contained in it, which allows the owner of the ideal to mobilize all the potential that is in them, so that they became motivated to move in the direction where the aspirant is.

What may be rarely recognized is that when an ideal is formulated, the process is not an event separate from reality. On the contrary, it is often closely related and even the reality is a steppingstone to those dreams. Thus, ideals are not primarily about “what was there and then” but “what is here and now.” It is not (only) about how to achieve a new, more promising future, but (also) about how to leave the current situation which is seen as not giving meaning and hope. Ideals can be said to be the most honest “eyewitness” of what is going on and is therefore about to be abandoned – to some place far away. If what is meant is about individu-

als or personal goals, surely not many” “challenges will arise. Personal goals can change and can also be ignored. What if the ideals concern the public or a society? Could it be that the public has aspirations? What is the process of shaping it? And can the public ideals that have been formed simply be changed or perhaps neglected, just as the private ideal works? Then, do the aspirations of the public also contain a testimony to what it faces, in such a way that it feels necessary to design a move to a new future? What is the public facing so that it feels the need to set an ideal? Do these public ideals end up becoming something that is kept secret, or is it hidden, like private ideals?

The Public

If we can go all the way back to an important moment 75 years ago, then perhaps we will discover what was once considered an ideal, and has now been written as “history”. In that period, Indonesia at that time was under a colonial system. Even though we easily say the word colonial, reality is not that simple. It is not only complex but also contains things that are historical and deeply rooted. Colonialism is not only about “taking”, but also about “the process of forming the soul”. What is meant is an accepting soul, or a sense of the soul that does not think that colonialism is a condition that is contrary to humanity and justice. With that way of thinking, we might say that when some parts of society, especially the educated, begin to see that what is considered naturalness is actually a condition that degrades human dignity, that is when the seeds of a public ideal begin to form. Gradually a new awareness was formed, namely, the awareness that what is happening is not a virtue, but the opposite. When that consciousness is fulfilled, there is an important moment where the “self” manages to free itself from reality, and then takes a distance. What happened next? If it can be said that at that time, a new dawn, independence, was rising. It was an aspiration of the colony, to have a future which he determined and built himself with his own hands.

Freedom in the colonial system is a formulation of ideals on the promised land. Of course, in such a land the colonial system did not exist. If in the colonial system the fate of the community was to be determined by its colonial rulers, then in a free land, it was the public (the people) themselves who would determine what was good and what was bad, what was allowed and what was not. These are the ideals which we shall call the ideals of the public. An ideal that is formed from a situation, in which personal ideals, have become a part of it, or aspirations of individuals form what is described as the ideal of the public. It can even be said that only by achieving these public aspirations can the aspirations of the individuals within them be fulfilled.

In the Indonesian context, what we describe as the aspirations of the public, or in this case are the ideals of the nation, have been formulated in a beautiful and solemn manner, as  written  in  the  Preamble  of  the 1945 Constitution. For us, the text is not only about what will come, but also about what was “accepted” in the past, namely about what can no longer exist in the future. Strictly speaking, the future must not give the slightest consideration to any aspect that is not saving the people; this includes all aspects that degrade human dignity and all aspects which in themselves contain injustice. Unlike volatile personal ideals, the public ideals that have been laid down as basic law are of course principles that cannot be ignored. A principle that will not only be a driving factor, or ensure that the public moves forward, but also a factor used to ensure that the public moves in the right direction. The challenge is how to ensure that the basic principles, which are none other than the sedimentation of the noble ideals of our nation, do not experience a degeneration so that they only function as text, but remain”

“a living force? It is at this point that the importance of a public voice becomes clear.

Democracy

Democracy is definitely not an end goal, but a tool. It is recognized that in a democracy there are many records. However, borrowing from Winston Churchill, this is perhaps the best of the worst. For sure, we have chosen it, and neatly noted this choice in the Preamble to the 1945 Constitution (hereinafter the Preamble). The journey of the government for 75 years provides additional information, that we are constantly trying to find the most ideal form, one which is in accordance with social, economic, political and cultural realities. More than 20 years ago, the public made corrections to development performance, which was seen as putting economic development first, and ignoring democracy, human rights and the environment. We recognize various economic achievements, such as high growth for a quarter century. However, the public considers that this achievement is not sufficient, because there are still many aspects that are not being taken care of and there are also many impacts that occur due to development performance. Reform is the chosen path. The essential essence of reform, if one could say, is democratization.

About seven years ago, an anthology titled “Designing New Directions for Democracy, Post-Reform Indonesia” (“Merancang Arah Baru Demokrasi, Indonesia Pasca-Reformasi”) was published, with AE Priyono and Usman Hamid as editors. To a certain extent, the book can be said to be an attempt to revisit the journey of reform: whether the reforms have achieved their ideals, so that reforms were rolled out, or have taken a different route. Regarding the journey of reform, the prologue section contains a picture: “It is clear that especially since the second half of the history of a decade and a half of reformation, Indonesian democracy has been increasingly controlled by elitist and oligarchic forces. Almost all formal power holders at the executive and legislative levels are now opening alliances with those who have material power.” He continued, “This is the primary alliance for the interests of political and capital accumulation which has succeeded in controlling democratic institutions and procedures at various levels”. This picture certainly does not represent the whole reality at work. However, this expression, can be captured as a form of socio-political anxiety, about the journey of reform, which is seen, does not tend to place the public as the subject.

Why  is  the  public  voice  so  important in a democracy? The picture above shows clearly that democracy, if it can be called an arena, is actually a very vulnerable arena. There is not only expected to be a means for the public to fight for their aspirations and interests, but also an arena for anyone to take part, and if necessary, take more portions, in such a way that the performance of democracy no longer depends on public votes. Symptoms of the abandonment of the public by “democracy” have actually been recorded by many studies. Therefore, the word democratization, in practical terms, can be understood as a public flow to regain democracy. A research book entitled “Reclaiming The State, Mengatasi Problem Demokrasi di Indonesia Paska-Soeharto” (Reclaiming The State, Overcoming the Problem of Democracy in Post-Soeharto Indonesia [2016]), edited by Amalinda Savirani and Olle Tornquist, can be called one of the records about the development of democratic performance, and from the choice of the title, it is an academic contribution to help improve the quality of the democratization movement. It should be said that the importance of the public voice in democracy does not mean that democracy will immediately place the public voice as the main thing that becomes the basis for justifying its existence.”

“As it turns out, the public still have to safeguard it.

The  public’s  performance  in guarding democracy is a historical feat. For us, what needs to be academically scrutinized is the stature of the public in a democracy. Using the optics of the Preamble, it is clear that the choice of democracy is based on the will that public policy is truly in line with what is in the public interest. Thus, the basic legal text does not provide room for a free interpretation of the democratic formation. The public cannot be reduced to only a constituent where voices matter only when  election  comes  around  and then serves no purpose when the victors are announced. That is not what the public should be. In the Preamble text, it is indisputable that the public (the people) are those who form independence and forms the state, with all the accompanying provisions, including democracy. This means that the public is not only not allowed to be positioned as an object, but from the start it must be understood that the public voice is the soul of democracy.”