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.