Guest Post: In retrospect – Yudhoyono and Indonesia’s scrapped democracy

indonesian democracy

One of the many Twitter pictures trending in Indonesia’s media (Source: http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=901880)

 

By Edward Tanoto

This article is solely of the author’s opinion.

 

It was an intense hour for Indonesia. The bill proposed for regional government election was deliberated by the House of Representatives for approval. At first, it seemed to pose no significant worries for the Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle. They have won the presidential race and the public seems to be ready to hear the good answer on better freedom in electing their local leaders. It was assumed to be a sure drift toward victory, until the Democratic Party decided to announce their 10 requirements of the reformed election system. But when their appeal was not taken seriously by the pro-direct election parliament members, they chose to walk out during the plenary session, sealing the fate. Losing the largest number of voices in the plenary session, the vote had a dramatic overkill of 226 to 135, the larger of which went to the decision to scrap regional leaders’ direct election. It signals a dark hour for democracy in Indonesia.

Immediately in its aftermath, many were quick to criticize the result. An overnight Twitter tag #ShameOnYouSBY gave the president, now in his final year, the global spotlight. 10,000 followers overnight came up to condemn the decision of the legislative. It portrays the Democratic Party as the bad guy and blame its leader, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, for the fiasco. But, is this necessarily fair?

To shed some light, the 10 requirements postulated by the Democratic Party members are:

  1. The running regional candidates must be publicly tested for their integrity and capability
  2. Compulsory assessment on the cost efficiency of a regional election must be adhered to
  3. There must be control and limit of funds expended for the candidate’s campaign
  4. Accountability in the usage of campaign funds is required for each candidate
  5. Campaigning by money and vehicle propaganda is prohibited at all time
  6. Insulting and black propaganda is strictly prohibited
  7. There must be no involvement of the bureaucratic members
  8. No bureaucratic members can be displaced in the event of post-election
  9. Any post-election disputes must be settled
  10. Candidates must avoid violence instigated by their supporting parties’ decisions

(Source – in Bahasa Indonesia: http://news.detik.com/read/2014/09/25/231641/2701657/10/paripurna-kembali-dimulai-f-pd-ngotot-10-syarat-pilkada-langsung-masuk-opsi)

 

gerindra

Edhy Prabowo, a Gerindra member gesturing during the vote on the bill in the House of Representatives. PHOTO: AFP

 

The ignorance of the other parties toward its proposal further infuriated the Democratic Party members so much that they chose to walk out of the plenary session and abstain from voting. However, looking at the points in the proposal, one cannot help but wonder what reason these parties had for ignoring such important points. A new bill requires clear and just rules before being implemented. This is especially so in a young democratic nation like Indonesia, where loopholes in the legislation are readily misused. They need well defined laws and assessments to ensure the bill’s effectiveness. The failure to realize this reflects just how little the parties have learnt from past mistakes.

The oblivion exercised by the other parties may have infuriated the Democratic Party, that in the spur of the moment, they may have decided to walk out of the plenary session. But, this also means giving the sure win to the opponents as the Democratic Party members currently make up the largest share in national parliamentary seats. With a such dramatic loss of supportive voices, it is almost unsurprising for the vote to go in the opposition’s favor. Then, looking at it, the Democratic Party may not be the only one to blame. Other parties should have given more weight to what it is postulating before dismissing it. However, the impulsive decision of the Democratic Party also reflects possible underlying query – does it even wish for the bill to be accepted in the first place? If it truly did, it should have known better than to abstain from the vote. Another possible speculation is that it may be a personal vendetta toward Indonesia Democratic Party – Struggle after years of political rivalries between the two. Should this have clouded their judgment, a more pressing issue will thus be to consolidate relationships between parties. They should endeavor toward healthy competition and not let their past disputes impact their judgment.

However, the lasting impact that this will leave means a major setback to Indonesia’s democracy. The passage of this bill means the same political leaders – remnants from the past authoritarian Suharto’s regime – will still remain political elites rather than the people. It will shift the power back to the higher-ups as people become discouraged from making their opinions heard. It will reopen the trauma of being gripped by powerful conglomerates, and worse, amplify the possibility of political dynasties on a regional level, further dismissing the 16 years’ worth of democratic reforms since 1998. Is this what President Yudhoyono want to leave his office with? If not, then Indonesia will have a long way to go.

All said and done, the final decision will be drafted by the Constitutional Court. Toward that day, Indonesians and pro-democracy leaders must make up their mind on what they truly want out of their country – and how they will achieve it.

 

Edward Tanoto is an Indonesian student currently in his final year at St. Andrew’s Junior College, Singapore.

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