Mar 05


Almost all speakers briefly refreshed the journalists’ memories of the recent history of Indonesian politics.

Kuskridho Ambardi, the first speaker, prepared the ground for further discussions that would follow in the next two more days. He provided the forum with some theoretical background to help participants read current developments. His take was mainly on the behavior of political parties, leaving the topic of voter behavior to the next speaker, Saiful Mujani. Both Kuskridho and Saiful are political scholars, both are from the Lembaga Survei Indonesia, Indonesia’s foremost political polling agency.

“Political parties are the translation of interests competing within the society,” Kuskridho said. He also said that to understand political parties one needs to be knowledgeable of what is happening in society, what has changed and what remains the same over the decades.

While the history of the making of political parties in Indonesia is more or less similar to ones in Europe, the United States, and Latin America – in terms of following a modernization trajectory, from the agricultural tradition toward the industrial one – Indonesia never sees the full growth of labor and capitalist parties, according to Kuskridho. In fact, Indonesian political parties are never straight-forward regarding their economic ideology, except to say that they are for “ekonomi kerakyatan” (populist economic jargon which, literally translated, stands for “the people’s economy”).

Saiful Mujani, and also later speaker Rizal Mallarangeng of the Freedom Institute, concurred. Both showed data indicating the shift of mass support from the Indonesian “grand old” parties like PDIP and Golkar to the newer parties like the secular-nationalist Partai Demokrat and the Islamist Partai Keadilan Sejahtera.

According to Saiful, the explanation of why Indonesian political parties are never ideological in their economic program is “because the majority of the masses are of the lower class;” in fact, they are only “clear” when it comes to them being religious or not since they are always either openly Islamic or secular.

“The majority of Indonesian voters, however, are secular, not Muslim, and of the lower class, which explains why all economic programs are basically welfare-ish and nationalistic and the supports for secular parties always higher than for Islam-based ones,” he added.

One useful analytical tool to understand the Indonesian political development over the past decades is to understand the concepts of fragmentation and the politics of aliran (that Indonesian society is divided along religious-secular lines), Rizal suggested.

He said: “Even so much has changed in Indonesia (Islamist parties are moving to the center in realization of the shift within the society), there is something that has not changed much. Our way of economic thinking is still as classical as in 1955.”

Rizal concurred with sentiments raised in earlier discussions by politicians of Indonesia’s two largest political parties, PDIP (Ganjar Pranowo) and Golkar (Ferry Mursyidan Baldan), who admitted that the economic programs of their parties are not different from one another.

Rizal said that although not yet a perfectly ideal system, change has occurred over the past decade in that newer parties (like the incumbent president’s Partai Demokrat) can now take over from the traditional ones, seem to lead well and the economy continues to move to the Right (following the global trend). The lesson: that such change should teach every Indonesian “The importance of an understanding that political parties and democracy should be seen as merely tools for the competition for power, as the tools for the competition of ideas, of how to make a better and prosperous Indonesia, rather than an end of and for itself.”

“While on the one hand modernist parties have won the competition in the religious idea realm (with less electoral support for Islamic-based parties), the competition in the realm of economic ideas and its development remains to unfold today,” Rizal said, predicting that the nation may still have to wait for 5 to 10 years to see such change.

Interestingly, underlining the central role of the individuals rather than the parties, Rizal said that although political parties and presidents may not be economically ideological, Indonesia’s economy has always been driven by individual decision makers who are liberal (in the classical sense): Widjojo Nitisastro under President Soeharto, Boediono under President Megawati, and Sri Mulyani and Mari Pangentu under incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.(Sugianto Tandra)
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