Revert to ‘Indonesian-style democracy’ before it’s too late

Emrus Sihombing Executive Director of EmrusCorner Institute

IO – When we left the authoritarian times of the New Order and entered the Reformation era, our democracy has been colored by voting. The presidential, legislative, and regional elections have all been carried out through a direct vote. All voters have determined which of the candidates they chose. The presidential and legislative elections are filled with candidates chosen by political parties, while the regional election is open to independent candidates. 

This system ensures that every Indonesian citizen has the same voting rights, regardless of their social status. This is different than the presidential election in the United States. This practice has been carried out for at least 15 years. So, what has happened in this nation with this democratic direct voting? 

The direct vote protocol we have implemented in the last 15 years has spawned a new phenomenon: volunteers. Volunteers have become integral as they are the main factor in ensuring a candidate wins their election, whether in the executive or legislative branch. Through volunteers, political barriers to the public can be breached. This is because candidates, directly or not, attempt to approach, and/or form volunteer communities. As an apolitical act, their relation with volunteers is still not free from undeniable political truths such as “There is no such thing as a free lunch”. This has resulted in the cost of candidacy becoming extremely bloated. 

Volunteers are also often more active and braver in expressing political messages compared to candidates’ party members or supporting party members. What is done by the volunteers, directly or not, can potentially move the role of party members and party sympathizers. This is despite volunteers not being institutionalized in the pillars of democracy. Mean while, party members are already a part of formal institutions of democracy. This is something which must be seriously discussed in building the Indonesian political process in our nation. 

Just look at what happened after the election. Many volunteers have been placed in positions in the “structure” of executive and legislative power available or created to “accommodate” them. This can be understood to be the politics of “returning the favor” and at the same time as “synergy” of power between them. This is a practice that frequently happens: they guard each other by collaborating power. On one hand, this can disrupt democracy at its core, and on the other it can strengthen a procedural democracy which is full of falsehoods. Aa a result, it certainly threatens the essence of democracy itself. 

The facts also show that the direct voting currently being carried out in Indonesia requires an enormous sum of money, and is often riddled with “money politics”. The sayings wani piro (How much are you willing to pay?) in Java and togu-togu ro (are you asking for help?) in Sumatra or other various sayings in different regions are often seen as a symbol for “money politics”. This is heart-wrenching. Democracy which truly should be to actualize the people will could potential shift to a democracy for the interests of capital holders. In the end, those who holds power over the public are no other than those who have money. Democracy changes into a business transaction. 

In addition, since this nation has implemented direct voting, there have been hundreds of regional heads, hundreds of legislators, and several ministers, who we have “sent” to the Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi – “KPK”) as a result of suspected corruption. Not few of them have been convicted and others “staying” behind bars. Why? It could be because of their expenditure during the regional elections, which could for instance, cost tens to hundreds of billions of rupiah. 

The rational is that, using very rough numbers, annual income for a regional head is at most IDR 1 billion. So, only IDR 5 billion in 5 years. The “deficit” experienced by a candidate sitting in an executive or legislative seat tempts them to engage in corruption in the budget, and/or put their authority up for sale through various means, such as issuing regional regulations which could make public services such as licensing difficult. In a transactional process such as this, a concept of corrupt bureaucracy is unveiled, which is “attempted”, connotatively meaning to cause financial profit for those in and in relation to the center of power. 

As a result, in my opinion, this nation cannot “simply shrug” and especially not “clap their hands” seeing the political realities of current day Indonesia. For instance, hundreds of public officials in the legislative and executive branch have been jailed. Because of that, this nation must be introspective and deeply contemplate on what is wrong this the political system, especially our elections as a whole during this Reformation era. 

What is certain is that there is a “tangled thread” which we must process, without cutting the “thread” itself, as homework for this nation which we must finish as soon as possible. If not, we could be entrapped in a vicious circle of political problems which endlessly continue. 

I am someone who isn’t very happy to see many of our nation’s leaders be imprisoned. It is better for us to systemize Indonesia democracy by going to the Pancasila ideology, especially the fourth sila and the fourth paragraph of the Opening of the 1945 Constitution. The point is our political system is truly a people’s consultation democracy with representatives at all levels of the political process – not with direct democracy or liberal-style voting, where the strong in all sectors defeat the weak in various social sectors. 

For that, there is a plan to return of the People’s Consultative Assembly (Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat – “MPR”) and the 1945 Constitution limited amendment, could be a door for this nation to be able to realize an Indonesian-style consultative-deliberative democracy. This is because this Indonesian-style democracy ensures that the rights of every individual and minority group from the aspect of amount still accommodate and most importantly protects. With that, inclusivity in relations between Indonesians will grow. Automatically, exclusivity will erode away by itself, so there will be no room for political actors to bring in narrow political identities. Let us return to Indonesia-style democracy before it’s too late. 

Truly, Indonesian-style consultative democracy has since long ago been practiced in everyday life in all sectors of social life in Indonesia. The implementation of this consultative democracy has even been achieved on all social levels, starting from the smallest (family) to the highest organization (MPR). Our MPR has just recently successfully consultatively chosen a leader. 

As a result, in all of life’s social sectors, especially in the political process, this nation truly practices consultative democracy, not voting. For that, political parties who will have conferences and congresses in the future must avoid “political voting”. Then they must put forward consultative politics. With that, our democracy can be filled with Indonesia’s noble values. Hopefully.