Political Party Reform
The title of this edition’s Political Analysis is borrowed from a Kompas Editorial earlier this month (5/2/2021).
The title of this edition’s Political Analysis is borrowed from a Kompas Editorial earlier this month (5/2/2021). The editorial highlighted the need for political party reform, related to the commotion of the Democratic Party. Chairman Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono claimed his party leadership would be taken over by a high-ranking official in the inner circle of President Joko Widodo\'s Palace -- the official in question was Presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko. Moeldoko denied this speculation.
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As reviewed in the Kompas Editorial, in Indonesia\'s political history, conflicts and efforts to take over a political party are not new at all. “In the Reform Era, this usually is made by certain people within the party who are dissatisfied with the change in the party’s leadership. In a number of cases, such a practice involves certain people outside the party”.
As a result, political parties cannot play a more significant role in strengthening democracy, rather than just being tools for aggregating power.
Even though the three-party era (Golkar, the Indonesian Democratic Party [PDI] and the United Development Party [PPP]) during the New Order regime ended more than two decades ago since the 1999 General Elections, political parties have thus far not undergone substantive reform. As a result, political parties cannot play a more significant role in strengthening democracy, rather than just being tools for aggregating power.
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In the midst of the dynamics of Indonesian democracy, the dominant political culture in political parties is not a democratic culture. On the other hand, political parties are chronically stifled by internal problems, such as factionalism, strengthening clientelism and patronage with the ruling regime. As a result, political parties\' political culture does not reflect democracy, but tends to be oligarchic-dynastic.
Therefore, political parties have contributed to a decline in the Indonesian Democracy Index over the last several years. The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) launched its 2020 Democracy Index Report in early February. In its release, EIU said Indonesia\'s score was 6.30. On a scale of 0-10, the higher the score, the better the condition of the country. The score of 6.30 in 2020 is Indonesia\'s lowest score in 14 years since the EIU created the Democracy Index in 2006.
Indonesia is classified by the EIU as a flawed democracy. Indonesia is in 64th place out of 167 countries. In comparison, based on data from Freedom House (Washington DC), Indonesia is in the category of "partly free" -- not yet full democracy -- being ranked 61st out of 101 countries.
There are domestic and foreign observers or high-ranking Indonesian officials who claim Indonesian democracy is "more dynamic" than neighboring countries. However, the scores given by credible institutions, such as the EIU and the Freedom House, place Indonesia\'s democracy below Malaysia (7.19), Timor Leste (7.06), or the Philippines (6.56).
Political culture is the lowest aspect for Indonesia on the EIU Democracy Index. The value of Indonesia\'s political culture in 2020 is only 4.38 points; decreasing from a score of 5.63 in 2019. Of the five aspects of democracy assessed by the EIU, three other aspects are stagnant: political participation (6.11), electoral processes and pluralism (7.92), and civil liberties (5.59). The only aspect that increases is the functioning of the government: score 7.50 (2020), up from 7.14 (2019).
Apart from political parties, there are several other aspects of Indonesian democracy and politics that need to be reformed or addressed
What should be done if political party reform is urgent and badly needed to strengthen and reconsolidate democracy? Apart from political parties, there are several other aspects of Indonesian democracy and politics that need to be reformed or addressed. However, given the crucial position of political parties for substantive democracy and procedural democracy, political party reform should be the first priority.
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Borrowing the framework of Fionna and Tomsa (2017), Indonesian political parties may be better than political parties in Thailand or the Philippines. Indonesian political parties are institutionalized in a better way and more effective in carrying out political functions: recruitment, political participation and mobilization, and articulation of interests and power.
However, Indonesian political parties continue to face problems that require reform. Most of the main problems are closely related to political culture, such as the pragmatic-transactional orientation in political power and financial-economic interests. In addition, rampant corruption and money politics, the strengthening of bourgeoisie, elitism and feudalism have created a wide gap between political parties and constituents or masses of the people -- voters are important for political parties only during general elections and local elections.
Besides that, political parties are stifled by problems such as dominant centralized, oligarchic and dynastic leadership; acute divisive factionalism; clientelism and rent-seeking, both to the central circle of power and downward. Also, a strong pragmatism orientation towards upward political patronage by ignoring party ideology and the supporting masses. As a result, the level of mass trust in political parties is very low; only 47.8 percent, according to the latest survey by Indikator Politik Indonesia research institute.
Many problems faced by political parties can only be resolved by building a fair and impartial democratic paradigm, concept and praxis on the basis and orientation of merit.
In view of the complexity of the problems, political party reform must begin with the substantive and procedural democratization of parties. Many problems faced by political parties can only be resolved by building a fair and impartial democratic paradigm, concept and praxis on the basis and orientation of merit.
With sustainable democratization, parties can consolidate more solidly. Factionalism cannot be avoided in any political party; there is no other way to solve it, except by establishing principles, procedures and a democratic political culture to prevent divisions.
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The frequent divisions of the political parties make Indonesian political parties and politics vulnerable. Most of the new political parties that "move away" from their "parents" have no chance of passing the parliamentary threshold test. If political party reform can produce a paradigm of "peace resolution of conflict", consolidation and strengthening of political parties and democracy can occur.
Political party reform by establishing a platform, framework, and praxis of elite relations and political party leadership with political aspirants and voters also helps consolidate democracy. The farther the political parties are from the citizens, the more they fall into transactional relations, clientelism, and patronage with the regime and the elite of the power.
Considering all these phenomena and arguments, it is time for the parties to build up momentum for reform. Delaying party reform means allowing Indonesian democracy to continue to decline. The task of political parties together with the press, civil society and public advocacy institutions is to continue to strive to consolidate democracy through internal and external reforms.
AZYUMARDI AZRA, History professor, Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN) Jakarta; member of the Cultural Commission, the Indonesian Academy of Sciences (AIPI)
(This article was translated by Hyginus Hardoyo)