Monday, July 06, 2009

Say It Wasn't Me!

When presidential hopeful, Jusuf Kalla, shot at Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, another presidential hopeful, in the final round of presidential debate organized by the Election Commission on the single round presidential elections campaign, SBY simply answered that the advertisement is not his.

SBY said, “Those are not mine and they do not belong to my official campaign camp.”

Whose advertisement? Who provide the fund for the campaign?

Danny JA, the director of Lingkaran Survei Indonesia, while denying that the single round presidential election campaign advertisement by his polling institution is not illegal, gave no clarification on the source of fund for the advertisement that stemmed from LSI’s latest opinion poll.

My question is where is the transparency?

I remember in the recently concluded elections in the world’s biggest democracy, India, the Congress Party spent thousands of Indian Rupee (approximately Rs. 400,000) just to buy the rights of the song Jai Ho (means Let there be victory or simply Victory) from Oscar winning movie Slumdog Millionaire and used it as the Party’s campaign song. The spirit of the movie and the message of the song had certainly played positive effect to the Indian Congress Party thus allowing it to reap the biggest electoral victory long after their domination in Indian politics ended in the late 80s and early 90s. Two Gandhis, one Singh and a spirited Hindi song helped the Congress Party won the elections.

Here, we can clearly see that the principle of transparency has been highly placed in Indian political landscape. In that way, we have to take our hats off and asked ourselves, can we do that? Can our neetas (Hindi for politicians) do the same thing as the Congress Party did in India?

Back in Indonesia, ever since the campaign period for presidential election was started earlier last month, there has been non-stop airing of an altered version of the popular jingle of one of Indofood’s product, Indomie, on the radio and on various TV stations. It made me question myself, have the copyright of the jingle been bought by the campaign team of SBY – Boediono? Or has the Indofood freely given the copyright of the jingle and donated it to the campaign team of SBY – Boediono and let them alter the jingle to suit the campaign purpose?

If it did buy the copyright of the jingle, how much did they pay? And if it was given or donated for free to the campaign team of SBY – Boediono, what will Indofood get if SBY – Boediono win elections? Should it be reported to the Election Commission as a donation from a corporation? How much does it amount to?

And many other questions that need clarifications and answers.

Assuming that the jingle was deliberately altered by SBY – Boediono’s campaign team without the consent of Indofood to suit the campaign purpose, it definitely an obstruction of one’s rights. It is amount to the practice of piracy, a problem that Indonesia continues to face. But if it was altered with the consent of Indofood, there should be explanation to the public and to the Election Commission about the matter, about the amount of money donated by Indofood to SBY – Boediono’s campaign team.

Similarly, if Danny JA with his single round presidential election campaign advertisement continues to be aired and spread nation wide, he must clarify the source of fund for his ad and report it to the Election Commission.

Because, even though he claimed that the ad is for the sake of political education and has nothing to do with any presidential candidate, but with the picture of SBY – Boediono in the advertisement, we do not need to ask an expert about who is behind the campaign advertisement.

To conclude, democracy is expensive and needs a lot of efforts to substantially establish it in Indonesia. Similarly, building transparency, honesty and integrity as part of a working, substantial democracy should start from within our selves, if not, who else will start?

As such, whoever wins in the July 8 elections, transparency must be established and practiced, between us.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Another note on transparency in Indonesian democracy

This is the second time I wrote about an issue of transparency in Indonesian elections. I wrote on similar issue in March during the early days of campaign period for legislative election.

Officially, the campaign period for presidential election to be held in July 8, 2009 was started earlier this month and the open campaign phase in which public rally and other legally sanctioned campaign methodology has just been started on 10 June 2009. The three presidential hopefuls have kicked off on their campaign trails, trying their level best to win the most votes. And money does play significant part in this process.

Naturally, the bigger the chance for a candidate to win the bigger the money that follows.

Thus, if we believe the result of several recent surveys by different pollsters that SBY – Boediono will win the battle, it is no surprise that SBY – Boediono leads the roster with the most campaign fund followed by Mega – Prabowo and JK – Wiranto. Data from the Election Commission confirmed this information about the campaign fund. The bigger the money will certainly provide the needed ammunition for the campaign team to conduct diverse campaign activities to widen the candidate’s opportunity to win in the election. But we all have to wait until the voting day to see the final result.

As such, I will not delve into predicting who is the winner or the loser in the July 8 election and instead I will discuss about the issue of transparency, especially on the use of money and the amount of donation given to the candidates for campaign purposes.

In the recently concluded elections in the world’s biggest democracy, India, the Congress Party spent thousands of Indian Rupee (the exact amount was not disclosed) just to buy the rights of the song Jai Ho (means Let there be victory) from an Oscar winning movie Slumdog Millionaire and used it as the Party’s official campaign song. The result: the spirit of the movie and the message of the song had certainly played positive effect to the Indian Congress Party thus allowing it to reap the biggest electoral victory long after their domination in Indian politics ended in the late 80s and early 90s. Two Gandhis, one Singh and an inspirational Hindi song helped the Congress Party won the elections.

Similarly, when Karan Johar of the Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (Something happened) fame produced his equally successful movie Kal Ho Na Ho (If tomorrow never comes) in 2003, he bought the rights of the famous movie Pretty Woman’s theme song for Indian Rupee 800,000 (approximately 15 – 16 thousand US Dollars) just to ensure the legality of its modification of its lyrics and its use in his movie. It proved that the Pretty Woman song had added the movie with additional selling point thus catapulting it to the box office of Bollywood movie.

From the above illustrations, we can see that the principle of transparency and respect on copyrights in compliance with international law on copyrights has been held high in Indian democracy. Both the Indian Congress Party and Karan Johar, an Indian movie director, transparently declared to have spent enough sum of money just to ensure the legality of using someone else’s product. In that way, we have to take our hats off and asked ourselves, can we do that? And to be more specific, can our neetas (Hindi for politicians) do the same thing as the Congress Party did in India?

Hearing again and again the altered version/lyrics of popular jingle of Indofood’s Indomie on the radio and watching it on various TV stations made me question myself, have the copyright of the jingle been bought by the campaign team of SBY – Boediono? Or has the Indofood simply given the copyright of the jingle and donated it freely to the campaign team of SBY – Boediono and let them alter the jingle to suit the campaign purpose?

Next, if the copyright of the jingle was bought, how much did it cost? If it was given or donated for free to the campaign team of SBY – Boediono, what will Indofood get if SBY – Boediono win elections? Has it been reported to the Election Commission as a donation from a corporation? How much does the copyright amount to? (maximum amount of donation for corporation is 5 billion Rupiah)

And many other questions that need clarifications and answers.

Assuming that the jingle was deliberately altered by SBY – Boediono’s campaign team without the consent of Indofood to suit the campaign purpose, it definitely an obstruction of one’s rights. It is amount to the practice of piracy, a problem that Indonesia continues to face.

But if it was altered with the consent of Indofood and freely given to the SBY – Boediono campaign team, there should be explanation to the public and to the Election Commission about the matter.

If big businesses continue to fund politicians in exchange of favor or business deals once the politician grabs the power, it will be difficult for the politicians to realize their campaign promises to the voters.

In an election, the voters are king makers and transparency, honesty and integrity are keywords for the politicians to win the hearts and minds of the voters. Thus if our neetas continue to preach but fail to observe what they preach, what will happen to the people and the nation?

As such, there is a great deal of necessity to start establishing transparency, between us.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Luxury of Transparency in Indonesian Democracy

The third post-reformasi general elections is around the corner. With less than two months before the Election Day, political parties and their legislative candidates have been working hard to try to win the elections. Both first-timers and seasoned politicians are using all legally sanctioned means to campaign and advertise themselves in the hope that when April comes, the voters will remember their names, their parties and vote for them. Thus it is understandable that political advertisements in all forms can easily be found both in print and electronic media.

I remember in the last week of January when I was waiting for my train in Gambir Station, I received a freely distributed book published by the State Secretariat. The book, blue in color reflecting the color of the incumbent presidents’ party, was also distributed to anyone at the station. It was such a high quality publication.

However, upon opening and reading the book, several questions popped up in my mind.

First, the book only lists the highlights of the so-called achievements by the current government. From poverty reduction to economic growth, the book tells all about the milestones that have successfully been achieved by the incumbent government. The illustrations in the book are dominated by the pictures of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Furthermore, no single flaw of or under-achivement by the government has been disclosed in this book. The content is starkly one sided.

Why hide the facts and data about the state of development in Indonesia? What about the unending drama of Lapindo mudflow, the malnutrition cases, the increase of unemployment, the increasing cases of horizontal conflicts?

Quoting Anas Urbaningrum of Partai Demokrat in response to the latest political advertisement by Partai Keadilan Sejahtera which critizes the tug-o-war between leading presindetial contenders, the duties of a government is to provide positive information to the public while the negative or the so called under-achievements should become the responsibility of the opposition parties to response.

Is that so?

In my view, an official publication or report should provide a balanced picture about the state of progress in Indonesia’s development. There should not be any hidden facts and data so as to build culture of transparency and accountability thus providing greater trust and confidence of the people towards the government.

The next question disturbs me even more.

Where does the source of fund come? Does it come from the taxpayer’s money? Or does it come from other sources?

Since the book is published under the banner of the State Secretariat, it must have used money from the taxpayers as the source of fund. State Secretariat is a public office that functions using public money. It is highly unlikely that any personal/private money is used to fund such state sponsored publication project. It would be foolish for any rich person to fund such state sponsored publication for free. Nothing is free in this country. You have to pay for everything, even if you have to go to relieve yourself for nature’s call.

Thus, assuming that the source of fund for this publication is coming from the taxpayer’s money, how can we justify this fact? Does it amount to the practice of corruption and misuse of power?

I will leave the answer to this question to the readers. And since it is election time, the Baswaslu (General Elections Oversight Body) should conduct investigation on this matter.

To preach about morality and good deeds is easy but to do what you preach is difficult. In the same vein, to eradicate corruption and to build culture of transparency and accountability in a country such as Indonesia is not an easy task. All elements in Indonesian society, regardless of their background, should work hand in hand (gotong royong) to realize the dream of creating better future for Indonesia as stated in the Preamble of 1945 Constitution.

And even though I am less optimistic about the result of the upcoming April elections, it should, however, provide a strong basis for Indonesia to move forward and transform the procedural democracy into substantial one. Furthermore, the increasing role of civil society organizations in playing a watchdog to the government should provide incentive in the progress of Indonesian democracy.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Some Rooms to Improve the KPU

Policy reforms that alter the formal rules should have the capacity to generate important consequences for political representation and for voting behavior. Indonesia’s political development during reformasi period has introduced major changes in many aspects of the nation’s democratic life starting from building a legitimate government, amending the constitution to lay the foundation for a democratic construction that has sufficient checks-and-balances, and introducing political practices aiming at building an effective and accountable government and trustworthy representation. The current political development has built a critical momentum for these changes to fully entrench democratic practices through the development of a competent independent electoral management body by taking advantage of the Law 22/2007. This momentum should be capitalized through seizing the opportunity provided by this improved legislative framework to build a credible and competent KPU.

Furthermore, any intervention framework such as reforms to the legal statues and party rules governing party eligibility and candidate nomination, the administrative process of electoral registration and voting facilities, the regulation of campaign finance and political broadcasting, and the process of election management shall be based on the assumption that the program must incrementally push for substantive democracy that would ensure such long term and sustainable support to all the actors in the field. This entails that intervention be made aligned with the agenda to not only encourage deeper political knowledge, understanding and disposition on the part of the citizens but also essential skills and competencies of political leaders and activists alike. It is assumed that through this kind of approach, initiatives to effect changes to the formal rules would be feasible. Surely, such a development takes time but careful and attentive process of shepherding shall guarantee that the reform does not become a mere flash in the pan phenomenon.

Institutionalizing Election Best Practices for Sustainable Democracy

Democratic practices can be found anywhere in this globe irrespective of the locations. It might be found in the highest peak of Himalayan mountain or at the shore of Vanuwatu. The conduct of the last two democratic elections of 1999 and 2004 had built national confidence that Indonesia has the capability to conduct regular free and fair elections with ambitious timetable for its comparatively massive electoral size. While this confidence is important, it should not be under estimated that the past two miraculous achievements were made possible because of strong motivation driven by the euphoria of reform. As voters started to face democratic reality and accumulate apathy this motivation will die down and needs to be substituted by sustainable organizational capacity to institutionalize the democratic practices. Formalization of the principles and procedures and building technical capacity in conducting regular practices should be systematically carried out. Permanent democratic institutions including the KPU, the parliament, and the whole governance machinery need to be strengthened. The period leading, during and after the upcoming election is an epoch where those practices could be institutionalized through yet another practice, but with more permanent processes and less ad-hoc approaches.

Similarly, institutionalization of international election best practices shall provide additional input to the process of instilling professionalism and accountability of electoral management. Combined with local election best practices, there would be substantial framework to achieve sustainable democracy in Indonesia.

Building Long Term Political Education Capacity

Experiences around the world suggest that democracy and political education cannot be achieved only by conducting few regular elections. However, it is clear that election is a real opportunity for an effective political education. Election events which demonstrate direct interaction between electorate and the elected would serve as a powerful civic education tool. The 1999 and 2004 elections have been viewed by many as democratic festivities, but had not been used as a means of educating the public to critically look at the good and bad lessons of democracy. Codifying the experiences from the election as large as Indonesia’s will provide important teaching not only for the Indonesian, but also for the inspired citizens in other emerging democracies.

By building long term political education capacity, it is assumed that the public would become aware of their important position in the political process. The public would also understand that their active participation in the political process will ensure the sustainability of democracy in Indonesia.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Engineering Electoral Management

Electoral management largely determines whether an election is free and fair, or rather whether it represents some kind of symbolic event or affirmation of the incumbent leadership. In this regard the more pure an election is in terms of being free and fair and open for participation by all groups like voters or candidates, the more secure such an election will be as conveyor of popular sovereignty. In essence, the conduct of the elections determines the legitimacy of the elections as a reflection of the people's choice.

The two democratically administered general elections in the post-Suharto Indonesia, 1999 and 2004, marked Indonesia’s departure from non-democratic society into an evolving vibrant democracy. It allows greater participation of the Indonesian people in the decision making process through the democratically elected representatives. Various political parties that emerged in the post-Suharto Indonesia provide the necessary channel for the functioning of a representative democracy. New party cadres have been born from this process to ensure the re-generation of political actors as a means of establishing sustainable democracy in Indonesia.

The 1999 General Elections provided several valuable lessons for more effective and independent electoral management. The composition of KPU which comprised of representatives of political parties was proven to be problematic. While an inclusive KPU was useful in engaging political parties in the management of the electoral processes, the partisan nature of the members created difficulties for the KPU in producing effective decisions. The large number of the political parties contesting the 1999 election also posed special challenges in maintaining peaceful campaign. Voting and ballot counting during the 1999 election also presented a new challenge for the KPU. With previous elections prior to 1999 being mostly a formality to maintain the dominance of Golkar as the New Order’s political machinery, there had been many detailed election processes that the KPU was not prepared to anticipate. Genuine voting, vote tallying, and seat allocation were all new to both the KPU and the political parties. As most voters were happy enough to be able to exercise their democratic rights without being afraid of the government’s interference, little attention was paid to the representativeness of the election results.

The 2004 General Election was a major improvement in both the electoral management and the electoral system. In 2001 a new KPU was formed as a non-partisan institution. But, its formation based on a presidential decree was seen as a temporary measure although nomination of its members involved a consultation with the DPR. The 2004 legislative election was eventually implemented based on Election Law (Law 12/2003) which introduced several new additions such as the direct election of DPD, the use of partial open-list system for candidacy of DPR and DPRD, and the mix of proportional and district representation system for the election of members of DPR and DPRD.

The passing and enactment of Law No 22/2007 on General Election Organizer by the Government of Indonesia, which put the General Election Commission (Komisi Pemilihan Umum – KPU) as a national, independent and permanent body rectifies this situation and provides further assurance in establishing sustainable Indonesian democracy. The presence of such an independent institution shall induce some sense of security and trust in the minds of the public on the conduct and management of elections. In addition, the Law made the KPU as one of the ancillary state institutions with a specific mandate of managing the critical component of Indonesia’s democratic cycle that is electoral management on the basis of professionalism and accountability. The KPU is the sole authority for any democratic election for elected offices in Indonesia, be that for national executive leadership (president and vice president), legislative (DPR, DPD and DPRD), or for regional and local executive leaderships (governors and regents/mayors).

This development reflects significant departure from Indonesian election and electoral management being an ad-hoc activity which only occurs once in every five years. The enactment of the Law No 22/2007 has also added some constitutional framework and a starting point toward building national institutional capacity to manage Indonesia’s open democracy.

However, there is always room for improvement. Mere presence of an independent, permanent electoral management body with full constitutional backing does not guarantee the successful functioning of such a body and the administration of democratic elections. The eligibility and result of the selection process of the KPU commissioners proved to be problematic. With seven members of KPU commissioners for 2009 general elections having different background and considering the current situation related to the preparation for the elections, there is likelihood that the administration of 2009 general elections might face some hiccup. Revamping the membership of the KPU, the eligibility for the position and the division of role and function between the election commissioner and the Secretariat General shall rectify the situation in the future. Adoption of international best practices on electoral management body shall provide necessary inputs to rectify the current state of Indonesian electoral management body.

Similarly, national debates on other important aspects such as electoral threshold for parties to contest elections, district magnitude, party magnitude, women candidacy as well as on possible implementation of fully open list system for legislative elections have continued to take place. It indicates the presence of significant aspirations for the electoral systems and processes to be further improved to move toward more reasonable number of political parties as well as the adoption of electoral system which could ensure more representative results.

Electoral system is one of the most basic democratic structures, from which much else flows. It determines how votes cast in an election translate into seats won in parliament thus it is the central rule of the game determining who governs. Failure to adopt suitable electoral system to accommodate the diversity of aspirations and equality of representation in a heterogeneous society such as Indonesia would only hamper the democratization process. Strong, independent and permanent electoral management body will not be able to produce quality outputs if the electoral system does not reflect the goal of establishing democracy and good governance. Electoral engineering has the capacity to generate major consequences by altering the strategic behavior of politicians, parties and citizens. It allows the feasibility of deepening process and entrenchment of democratic principles in young democracies. Thus, continuous adjustment of electoral system to develop the most suitable electoral system for certain polity to achieve the goal of sustainable, substantial democracy becomes possible.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Political Party and Political Legitimacy

Political party is an organization that is locally articulated, that interacts with and seeks to attract the electoral support of the general public. It plays a direct and substantive role in political recruitment and education. Political party is also committed to the capture or maintenance of power, either alone or in coalition with others. It becomes the vehicle for mass political participation based on political culture and ideology. In a democratic polity, political parties play a significant role that they become the backbone of the polity. The quality of democratic political system depends on the ability of the political parties to absorb demands and aspirations of the people and deliver them back as a product of political process. With Indonesia's return to democracy in 1999, operational controls on political parties and the ban on the establishment of new parties were lifted. This situation has allowed greater opportunities for all Indonesians to actively participate in Indonesia's transition to democracy.

Similarly, moral acceptance of the subjects to the authority of the rulers is deemed important for the justification of their right to rule. Legitimacy relates to the acceptance of power by the people and the process whereby power gains acceptance by the people which essentially includes the process of mobilization of support through ideology, institution building, system of rewards and punishment, performance or manipulation. It involves the capacity of the system to engender and maintain the belief that the existing political institutions are the most appropriate ones for the society. Furthermore, legitimacy brings about stability and possibility to create changes and improvements in the society. It also expands the authority of the ruler as well as limiting it. Legitimate government will bring about political stability and eventually deliver what the voters expect. Thus in order to create political stability and changes in the society, rulers or regimes need to have legitimacy, the moral right to rule, failing of which crisis of legitimacy and stability is the consequence. Democratically administered elections will provide a thoroughfare for a party or coalition of parties to gain necessary political legitimacy to rule.

In the same vein, the electorate in a democratic polity plays a very significant role: it can either establish or bring a government down. No party or parties shall possess any moral right to rule or legitimacy unless it receives endorsement from the electorate. As such, government is merely a form of representation of the people through a democratic process called elections. Once installed, a government is expected to be effective: to run its large administration efficiently and to set goals for policy that are realistic and achievable, and within the broad outlines of its election program. Moreover, it is expected that the government is to be publicly accountable: "the government must be able to give an account of their actions and policies, to explain and justify them to an appropriate audience." The government must act within the terms and conditions of their authority, and conform to standards of conduct that are appropriate to their office.

However, in emerging democratic society like Indonesia, many of a time we find out that once elected, the representatives tend to forget the fact they are essentially subjected to being publicly accountable. They neglect their constituents who have successfully catapulted them to power. Once elected, they would mostly indulge in their own business and greedily reaping the "fruits" of being successfully elected as the "respected members" of people's representatives while neglecting their foremost responsibility and duty as people's representatives: to articulate, defend and support the interests, preferences and grievances of those whom they represent. Instead of focussing on their professional responsibility as people’s representatives, personal gains becomes their main agenda in office. They ignore the fact that they are there for a reason: to serve the public at large.

To rectify this situation, one should return to the fundamentals of representation. Political representation essentially implies “government of, by and for the people”. In parliaments, whether at the national, provincial or local levels, the representatives are obliged to articulate the aspirations and supports from their constituents, and turn them into policies or laws, which would affect not only their constituents but also the public in general. Sound judgment and bold arguments of these representatives are thus functions of a good policy or law. Without them, everybody loses, including those who are not their direct constituents.

Such fundamentals will highlight the need for people's representatives to fully comprehend their duties and responsibilities in a system of political representation. They must realize that the positions they are holding come with huge responsibility. They are merely the extension of people's power and their ultimate duties and responsibilities are being professionally serving the public, not only their own constituents but the public at large. The representatives should be held accountable to the people whom they supposedly represent.