Monday, June 12, 2006

A Derailed Democracy?

Eight years have passed and Indonesia is still struggling to find the imagined form of democratic governance. The reform movement emerged in the late 1990s now seems to stumble upon a huge boulder that blocks its forward movement. The multiparty system, direct presidential elections and Constitutional amendments have not yet been able to create the desired dream of a democratic Indonesia. On the contrary, these promising processes of democratization in Indonesia have now seemed to lead into a derailed democracy in Indonesia.

The post-Suharto Indonesia is marked with the opening of political valves that led into an increasing level of political participation. The different political parties with various ideologies emerged as vehicles that would launch any individual into the top executive position in Indonesia. The Constitutional amendments allowed this political process to continue and shape Indonesian democracy. The president-centric constitution was transformed into a more parliamentary-oriented constitution in which the Indonesian parliament is designed to play a more significant role in the process of checks and balances of democratic governance.

The rubber stamp parliament during Suharto period is transformed into a legislative body that checks and balances the power of the executive, the president. With this process, a possibility of authoritarianism from a directly elected executive could be avoided. Early signs of the functioning of this new democratic setup could be found in the case of President Abdurrahman Wahid. His controversial and erratic presidency period in which he issued a decree to dissolve the parliament was rejected and he was ousted by the parliament from his office before the end of his tenure to be replaced by Megawati.

However, this early positive signs of balance between the executive and the legislative in Indonesian polity soon evaporated when direct presidential elections was held for the first time in 2004. With a majority seat in the parliament, the combination of Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party and Kalla’s Golkar Party controls the functioning of the parliament. Many of government’s controversial policies got easy approval from the parliament.Any voice of dissent emerges among the members of parliament opposing the policy would immediately be defeated in the early stage of parliamentary process through voting.

For example, the controversial policy of rice import from Vietnam got an easy approval from the parliament even though certain factions in the parliament opposed this policy. More recently, the decision by the Indonesian government to award an American company, Exxon Mobil, to manage the exploration and production process of Cepu oil field instead of giving the responsibility to the Pertamina, government owned oil company, in which both parties hold equal percentage of shares, has resulted in the protest by the members of the Indonesian parliament.

In both cases, the parliament threatened to use its constitutional right to question the government on the related policy. If this constitutional right is successfully implemented, it could either jeopardize or support the policy. But in both cases, the voices of dissent in the parliament proved to be mere hollow voices, far away from the high expectation from the people. In both cases, the move to question the government was defeated by the majority members in the parliament who, understandably, are the members or the representatives of political parties in the government. The parliament has once again turned into a mere rubber stamp parliament who approves all government policies without even dare to raise any question, leave alone the possibility of objecting it.

The vibrant and promising democratic process in Indonesia seems to have been derailed. The parliament is unable to play the role of checks and balances to the government. The elected people’s representatives who sit in the parliament are now the representatives of political parties who feel more obliged with money and the instructions from the party bosses than from the voice of the people they have claimed to represent. Fear of losing ‘lucrative’ positions and recall from party bosses are bigger than fear of betraying and destroying the trust of the people. The moral responsibility of these people’s representatives are at its lowest thus contribute to the possibility of an authoritarianism.

To avoid the possibility of democratic derailment in Indonesia, there are steps that might be taken for consideration. The multiparty system, direct presidential elections and constitutional amendments adopted by Indonesia should not be abandoned to create democratic governance. They are the perfect steps toward achieving this goal. It is the political parties and political leadership that should realize their moral obligation and responsibility in building democratic governance. Secondly, besides actively educating the people about politics and political process, the paternalistic philosophy long followed by political parties should be abandoned to make the party cadres more responsible to their constituencies.

These two steps, imparting moral responsibility among political parties and political leadership and abandoning paternalistic philosophy by political parties, if taken seriously, can be a stepping stone in avoiding democratic derailment in Indonesia. Besides creating responsible political leadership, it would also allow the checks and balances process to function properly. Strong political leadership and legitimacy by the executive through a direct election process would be balanced by a responsible parliament that is free from the pressure of paternalist political parties. Thus the vibrant Indonesian democracy would not be derailed due to personal ambitions and irresponsible political leadership.

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