Friday, November 7, 2008


1. One decade after the Reformasi movement in May 21, 1998, Indonesia has undergone a long process of transformations in its body politics which depart from its past history under the New Order’s authoritarian regime. During this period, there have been at least four major institutional reforms aimed to facilitate, promote and strengthen democratization in the long term. First and the foremost has been, obviously, the amendment of 1945 Constitution which occurred four times during the period of 1999-2002. Thanks to this constitutional reform, the three key branches of government (the executive, legislative and judiciary) have been revamped to meet the demands for more accountability, transparency, and autonomy as well as enforce the basic principles of separation of power and of checks and balances. Second has been the fundamental reform within the military (TNI, the Indonesian Armed Forces)which makes it possible for the latter to distance itself from practical politics which had entrenched in Indonesia’s political scene for more than three decades prior to the Reformasi. Third has been the reform in the field of central-regional governmental relations, namely the implementation of decentralization system that put an end to the centralistic model of governance practiced for decades by both the Old and New Order governments alike. Fourth has been the reform in the field of protection and promotion of the people’s basic rights through various new legislation and the establishment of independent commissions devoted to the human rights issues. Thus, Indonesia has ratified the Universal Human Rights’ Two Protocols on Political Rights and Social, Economic and Cultural Rights. In addition a plethora of legislation has been promulgated to implement the reform such as the Law on Access of Information for the Public, the Law on National Broadcasting, the Press Law, the Law on Anti-Discriminations based on Ethnicity and Religion, as well as the new Citizenship Law, to mention only a few.

2. Moreover, the post-Reformasi era has shown to the international community a working democracy in Indonesia, making it the third largest democratic country in the world, in the forms of free elections (both in the legislative and executive branches), multiparty system, direct elections of national and regional chief executives, and more or less exuberant activities of the people’s representatives. For the first time after more than four decades, the members of the House of Representatives at both national and regional levels (DPR, DPD, DPRDs) have become active participants in the public policy makings together with the executive branch. The former has also exercised their power in order to put pressures on the executive, as evidenced by several attempts to use its investigative right, interpellation right, and open public hearings for augmenting its power. With regard to the people’s political participation in the public policy-makings, the post-Reformasi era has witnessed the enhancement of the role of civil society (CS) and its organizations (CSOs). Especially, the role of NGOs, mass organizations, and the media has been unprecedented in Indonesian politics since independence, even if compared to the much heralded liberal democracy era in the 50s. The above list of achievements might have made some analysts and observers to maintain that Indonesia’s politics has been moving from an “illiberal” to a “liberal” democratic system. A closer look to the dynamics of political reform in Indonesia, particularly in the context of consolidation of democracy, however, would reveal some serious pitfalls which could hinder the achievement of the goal.

3. In spite of the above achievements, many political observers and analysts as well as practitioners have argued that the political reform in Indonesia has remained stuck in the so-called transitional phase and been unable to move to the next phase of democratic consolidation. That means that the seemingly exuberant and democratic appearance is only a temporary state of affairs at best, or a façade at worst. The reality is much more disturbing one, namely that the possibility of having a political “u turn” toward crisis could not be underestimated. Some critics of Reformasi have gone so far as to say that the existing democratic practices have been running amok (kebablasan), so much so that both Reformasi and democracy as its result have become tools to serve personal and group’s vested interests as well as self aggrandizement which detached from the nation, people, and public’s interests. Still other critics have maintained that the current political system has been characterized by overemphasis on procedures by the political elites whose outcome has been the absence of real and substantive political reforms. For instance, there has been no real change when it comes to the roles and functions of political institutions even after they undergoing reforms. In the realm of the state institution, it is only the executive branch that has, actually, been undergoing substantive institutional reforms, yet the same is not true in the case of the legislature and the judiciary. This occurs because the executive branch has become the main locus of political transformation due to its past role as the main bulwark of the authoritarian system. By contrast, both the legislative and judiciary bodies have relatively left unreformed in spite of the constitutional amendment that has bestowed more authorities and power to them in accordance with the principle of checks and balances.

Consequently, in reality both the legislative and judiciary bodies have been weak vis-à-vis the executive power and the notion of checks and balances has been far from materialized in the state affairs. This uneven development of institutional reforms at the state level has contributed to the widespread public disillusions and distrusts to Reformasi and democratization process in Indonesia.

4. The weakness of institutional reforms within the legislative branch can be easily found in its three main functions: oversight, legislation, and budgetary. The failures of the DPR (the House of Representatives) to become an effective oversight body vis-à-vis the government has become the bone of contention in the public discourse, so much so that the level of public trust to the DPR has steadily been in decline during the past three years, reaching approximately 20%. In the field of legislation, the DPR has been widely accused as being utterly unproductive and incapable of meeting its own targets, not to mention the poor quality of its legislative products. The DPD (the Regional Representatives), an Indonesian version of the Senate, is even less significant since from the beginning its legislative function has been marginal and limited, making it in the subordinated position to the DPR. The DPR’s failures in enacting key legislations on time has often caused public outcries and accusations, notwithstanding various legitimate arguments it would provide. The absence of real power in budgetary function has also put the DPR in a more or less defensive position, particularly in countering the executive’s arguments in the budgetary decision-making process. In addition, the lack of the real “power of the purse” within the legislative branch has practically crippled the institution; it has not even been able to allocate its own internal budget and, instead, subject to regulations from the executive body! This has also contributed to the pervasive corruptive practices among the members of the legislative body.

5. But the more troublesome condition is to be found in the judiciary branch. Of the three branches of government, I would like to argue, this is the weakest point and it poses the most dangerous threat to the nascent democracy in Indonesia. The judicial reforms have so far been marred by all kind of internal problems and political interventions, including collusions with political power holders and corruptions among its high ranking officers. Attempts to reestablish strong, credible judicial institutions by setting up ad hoc courts and commissions have resulted only a little fruit. Instead, recent cases of corruptions involving many high ranking court officers have shown the extent to which institutional and capacity buildings has failed. Again, the principle of checks and balances as well as the rule of law embedded in the democratic polity could not be well nurtured and implemented in practices. One could easily argue that the power of judiciary branch would be far more inferior compared to that of the executive.

The only exception is probably the Constitutional Court (Mahkamah Konstitusi, MK), a newly judiciary institutions established after the amendment of the Constitution which has the judicial review power over legislations made by the legislative branch. It has shown its independence from both the executive and legislative branches and relatively been immune from political interventions. It remains to be seen, however, whether this Constitutional Court could, in the long term, play a pivotal role in promoting democratic consolidation like in the case of the American Supreme Court that has become the bastion of justice in the land.

4. A closer look to the role of civil and political society in this transitional phase would also reveal some shortcomings which become handicaps for moving toward the democratic consolidation. Arguably,  Indonesian civil society (CS) and its organizations (CSOs) era have been important agents of political reforms, especially prior to Reformasi, and during the early phase of transition. They used to function as quasi political parties when the latter was mostly under the state’s tight control. It is a matter of historical fact that the NGOs, students, intellectuals, professionals and media became the main components of the Reformasi movement which in the end succeeded in toppling the New Order regime. And yet, once the reform is in progress, it was the political parties that took the driver seats even though many of them were part of the ancient regime and have yet to undergo internal reforms to spearhead reform activities in the next phase. This has resulted in some kind of straining relationship between the two actors resulting in the undercurrent mutual distrusts and antagonism. It goes without saying that the lack of mutual trust between CSOs and political parties would make it difficult for synergy and network buildings that are pivotal for institutional and capacity building among the CSO’s activists, politicians and political parties.

A case in point is when Indonesian society faced serious social problems caused by natural disasters, massive unemployment and poverty, as well as the deterioration in public health. Ideally, both political parties and CSOs should have worked hand in hand in order to address these nation wide problems and coming up with appropriate solutions and action programs. However, there has been no evidence of efforts to build synergy in time of crisis and, instead, most political party elites have alienated themselves from the people’s plights and engrossed themselves in political bickering and internal conflicts. As a consequence, many CSOs and democratic activists feel disillusioned with such a development and decide to disengage from formal political reforms because they feel that Reformasi has been hijacked by political parties. Unfortunately, this disengagement from politics would contribute to the weakening of Reformasi zeal among the democratic workers and affecting the progress of political reform in the near future.

Based on the above critical assessment, it is safe to say that the proverbial “a half full or a half empty glass” is probably the most appropriate picture of the current political development in the post-Reformasi era with the end result of Indonesian democratic polity is still being unable to go beyond the transitional phase. The ongoing democratization will remain a fragile enterprise and uphill movement in the near future.

6. I would argue that the general election, as one of the most important political processes in a democratic polity, will only be meaningful for the consolidation of democracy if it is able to promote and facilitate genuine institutional reforms in its body politics. Consequently, if the outcome of general election would only repeat the existing political order of things, then one should expect that the post-election period would see the transitional condition remains intact. The political order of things in the post-Reformasi era  has been characterized by weak leadership, disorganized governance, and unimaginative government. Therefore, one could argue that a sort of  “regime change” is needed in order for the country to  embark from the current political impasse. So far, the weak leadership has made it impossible for the policy makers, from the top to the bottom levels, to make decisive and tough decisions in facing pressures coming from inside and outside their circles. The disorganized governance has been responsible for all kind of failures in policy implementations due to the lack of coordination, accountability, and transparency. Finally, the unimaginative government has caused bureaucratic gridlock, inflexibility and the lack of creativity in response to challenges and sudden changes. Instead, it has a penchant of repeating past errors and depending heavily on the existing rules of the game even if they are already proven obsolete and unworkable.

Therefore, the next Indonesian general election could be seen as a major test for the sustainability of Reformasi movement in general, and democratic consolidation in particular. Seen from the vantage point of political reform agenda, Indonesia cannot afford to repeat another five years of the same if it wants to continue its march forward to strengthen democracy and improve the welfare for its people, or, in different words, the process of nation building.

7. Having said that, it soon becomes apparent that the existing power configuration and the political momentum seem to be less favorable for such a goal. First of all, at the moment there has not yet appeared the so-called the game changers for the 2009 general election in terms of political parties or the Presidential contenders. The main political parties which would determine the election’s outcome have remained the same old political groupings. The new political parties therefore will not have much room for maneuvers like in the 2004 election, much less the 1999 one. Thus among the old parties, Golkar, PDIP, Partai Demokrat, and PPP would remain the major players followed by PKS and PAN respectively. The new comers which could have a better chance to pass both the electoral and parliamentary thresholds probably consist of the Partai Hanura, PDP, Partai Gerindra, and PPRN. Furthermore, the new regulation on the eligibility of candidacy set by new Law on Presidential Election, namely 20% of the House seat or 25% of popular votes, would make it very difficult, if not impossible, for political parties outside Golkar and PDIP to have Presidential/VP candidates without party coalitions. Evidently, even Golkar and PDIP have felt the need to reach out for such a coalition, just in case they could not muster the required percentages. In the case of the new parties the road is obviously much steeper, for any of them needs to garner at least 7-10% popular votes to become the leader of a coalition, something which could be very hard to meet. Predictably, most if not all new comer parties would play the role of supporting member within a coalition established by the big players! The chance for the new parties to repeat the previous success story of Partai democrat in 2004, for instance, is quite slim considering the stiff competition among so many contestants in the election, not to mention the high degree of political apathy among voters as evidenced by the huge numbers of non voting (the Golput) in several elections for regional chief executives (Pilkada) recently.

The current political configuration and electoral regulations would certainly shrink the number of President and Vice President candidates. Only those who have strong back up from political parties or wide grass roots appeal could expect to be eligible and obtain meaningful political support and votes. From this perspective, the incumbent President SBY, the Vice President JK, former President Megawati, Gen. (ret) Wiranto, and Hidayat Nur Wahid could be considered as the main Presidential contenders. Political figures such as Sutrisno Bachir, Yusril Ihza, and Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X could be considered as the second tier contenders. For the VP ticket, there are probably more rooms for candidates from outside the political parties, even though the support from major parties still the most powerful determinant factor. Thus JK, Wiranto, Hidayat, and all of the second tier Presidential hopefuls will be the main VP contenders. In addition, there are some party and non party figures who might be the second tier VP contenders. They include Akbar Tanjung, Gen. (ret) Prabowo, Dien Syamsudin, Rizal Ramli, and Fadel Muhammad, to name only some of them.

8. With such a limited choice of candidates and more or less unfavorable political environment, the Indonesian voters would be forced to choose the candidates not based on the political parties’ platforms or programs, but on the candidates’ personal appeals and popularity. Of course, primordial identifications such as religious, ethnicity, and regional affiliations would still play a significant role in determining their voting behaviors, particularly in the rural areas and among lower middle class populace. Ideological adherence, however, would be less influential because the increasing blurring ideological distinctions among political parties coupled with pragmatism among voters. This political landscape prior to the election has also necessitated political parties to recruit its candidates, especially for the legislature, not only from among party cadres but also from the so-called vote getters who have high public appeals such as religious leaders, artists, celebrities, local adat chiefs and what not. The prevalent political outsourcing could, however, have negative implications in the long term for the party’s capacity building, since it could diminish the required standard of competence among the candidates and weaken their commitment to the parties’ ideology and platforms.

9. Drawing from the above discussion, I would rather be cautious to expect that the next general election in 2009 and its outcomes are going to facilitate and engender the kind of fundamental change needed for ending the transition phase and accelerating the shift to the consolidation of democracy phase. At the minimum, though, I would expect that the existing reform process, whatever its pace at the moment, is going to be neither inhibited or backtracked in the post-election, no matter what is the winning camp. The ultimate goal of political reform to establish what Richard Barber calls “strong democracy” in Indonesia might require strong political stamina and tons of patience. At the end of the day, leadership is of paramount importance in that endeavor, not only because of the existing traditional value system that gives primacy to leaders remains an important factor in Indonesian politics, but also the reality of multicultural society that demands sustainable senses of directions, purposes, and unity. Therefore, one decade of Reformasi is but an initial step forward in a very long journey toward the goal of establishing a strong and workable constitutional democracy.




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