Sunday, March 11, 2007

Dialectics of Party – Movement: A Note on PKB’s “Green Party” Declaration

Theoretically, political parties and movements are different but sometimes are in collusion to reap the biggest benefit possible. While parties tend to organize on the basis of numbers, movements organize themselves on the basis of beliefs. Electoral success and therefore numbers matter to most parties thus it entails a tendency to be inclusionary and to compromise principles more readily than movements would. They mobilize most extensively just before elections and if elected, it is likely to subside.

By contrast, movements tend to be more committed, more uncompromising, and sometimes more exclusionary. They also tend to view mobilization as an end in itself, a source of creativity, empowerment, and identity-building rather than simply a route to achieving power. Thus movements tend to have more confrontational, spontaneous and open-ended mobilization than that of political parties.

These differences may be mutually advantageous. While allying with social movements is likely to heighten parties’ aura of being committed, egalitarian, and grassroots-based, the movements which ally themselves with political parties may achieve longevity, national prominence and political access. But these differences can also become source of tension. For example, the tendency of movements to use militancy, violent agitations and non-negotiable offer are in contrast with the methods and tendency of political parties to make compromises for electoral benefits. Thus, when this situation occurs, split is the most likely result.

On the basis of these theoretical facts, the declaration of the PKB as a green party recently needs to be scrutinized further. Because PKB is a political party while its new political agenda on the concept of environmental preservation is more movement-like theme.

Two reasons can be described here why the PKB suddenly took the issue of environmental preservation as its main political agenda. The first is the increasing challenge from other Muslim parties like the PPP, PAN, PKS and PKNU to win the support from Indonesian Muslims in the upcoming general elections. While the PAN and the PKS have built their own support base through their party cadres, the PPP, the PKNU and the PKB share similar background. They were born out of a single community, the Nahdatul Ulama community.

Thus if they have to fight it out in the elections to win the support of the NU community, the most likely result is the split of those votes into three opposing parties. It needs to be noted here that while the PKB and the PKNU were splinter groups from the PPP, the PKNU is born out of dissatisfaction of several PKB’s cadres over its leadership.

Second is the ambition of the PKB leadership to expand its support base. They understand that the party cannot solely rely on its traditional supporters, the NU community, when they have to fight it out against the PPP and the PKNU. The need to increase PKB’s political tally in the 2009 general elections forced the PKB leadership to take a new strategy. Thus by taking the issue of environmental preservation it hopes to expand its support base and to embrace wider audiences. Moreover, the PKB seems to describe itself as a “committed, egalitarian and grassroots-based” political party.

Environmental issues are usually voiced by NGOs to challenge governmental policies. By taking the stance of a movement, the PKB is unconsciously transforming itself as an opposition group. In a political system where the word “opposition” is still regarded as a taboo, PKB’s new avatar should be welcomed.

It should be noted, however, that the PKB should be careful in taking up environmental issues and not to be trapped in the interests of the NGOs and foreign agencies as Abdurrahman Wahid has rightly said. Because when they are indulged in popular environmental issues but unable to propose any solution, the PKB would lost the momentum it builds and get immersed in the sea of conflicting interests.

For a party to take a popular issue usually brought by a movement or NGO is interesting. Moreover, environmental issues have now become a global concern. Even an Al Gore, ex-US Vice President, took this kind of issue to global audiences and received wide support. Thus the decision by the PKB to take this issue as its political manifesto in the next election should be regarded as a huge step. We should now wait and see how this decision could be implemented into concrete actions.

If an Al Gore got an Oscar for his work on environmental issues, who knows that the PKB would get additional support in the 2009 elections.