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JAKARTA - Back in May 1998 I wrote that “the departure of Suharto as President Indonesia will very probably be followed by the emergence of new political forces and the disappearance or decline of old established forces.” I had no inkling at that time that there would be 98 political parties trying to win the trust of the people and competing for seats at the national, provincial, and district parliaments. I also had no foreboding that the competition for seats in the executive offices would so truculent and create the culture of “money politics.” I was also entirely unprepared for a new political game that at the end made a winner become the big loser, while a collection of losers become the winner.
In addition, I was so disappointed to watch that “the old forces” which I thought would soon disintegrate survive the historic political test, and remain active players in Indonesian politics. I underestimated the savvy of these “old established forces” and overestimated the strength of the public sense of history. These old political forces demonstrated their expertise as political acrobats. Maurice Barres, a French novelist and politician once remarked that political acrobats are politicians who keeps their balance by saying the opposite of what they do. The survival of these old political players was the product of their ability to use and abuse the new political language. Politicians who understand democracy have no difficulty in speaking this new language. But those who deep in their hearts still believe in the politics of indoctrination and repression –military politicians for instance—have great difficulty in speaking the language of reform.
Now, two and a half years after that tumultuous political transition that started in May 1998, politicians and political groups are seen preparing themselves for the next big political competition, the 2004 general election. It is not only political parties that are at present represented in the House of Representatives that are engaged in these political preparations, but political groups that are still outside the “official arena” are also seen doing the same activities. It will be interesting to ask in this regard, how the political landscape of the country will look like as the result of the 2004 general election.
It is still too early to talk about the contour of the next political community in Indonesia. Nonetheless, one thing looks quite sure to me, i.e. that the situation at the “left of center” side of our political spectrum will probably show a significant change. And my guess is –and this is purely a guess-- that the space at the “right of center” side of our political system will not be much altered after 2004. What is the basis of this speculation?
I based my speculation about changes at the “left of center” side on my observation that at the moment political groups that harbor “progressive” ideas–genuine democracy building, greater social justice, formation of civil society, etc.,etc.—do not feel represented by Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan (PDI-P). This is the one party that is perceived by many as occupying the space at the left side of the center at the moment. But political activists who currently have gathered in para-political organizations like Partai Rakyat Demokrasi (PRD), or groups that call themselves “Social-Democrats”, labor unions, a number of NGO’s like Urban Poor Consortium (UPC), and politically minded intellectuals are not interested to join PDI-P. Many people in these groups frequently say that this is because PDI-P does not really know what ‘democracy’ is, and that many of its leaders behave in a manner that does not indicate signs of democratic spirit.
Some of these groups show signs of wanting to become political parties, while some others seem determined to stay “neutral”, meaning politically active without officially joining any political party. For the time being, they prefer to maintain their status as mass organizations or as non-governmental organizations. I think those who decide to form political parties will place their parties at the same side as PDI-P, and as such they will become “rivals” or allies of PDI-P, depending on the demand of situation at any given time.. Those who want to maintain their existence as a mass organizations or as an NGO will become, in my opinion, embryos for civil society organization and will exert effluence on the behavior of parties at the “left of center” side. No splinter groups originating from the old PNI camp, the Marhenis camp, and the old PDI camp will play any significant role in the coming political competition.
At the “right of center” side of the political spectrum what may happen is regrouping or reconfiguration of political forces that are already there at the moment. This means that perhaps a realignment of political parties based on Islam will take place. One question that merits our attention is whether the presence of Front Pembela Islam (FPI) and the Lasykar Jihad Ahlissunah wal Jama’ah will leave impact on the next group of Islamic parties. One possibility is that their presence at the moment will in the future radicalize some of the Islamic parties. Faisal Basri of the Partai Amanat Nasional (PAN) thinks that this is unlikely. He based his opinion after comparing the results of the 1955 general election with those of the 1999 general election. And what he sees is that there is tendency to move toward the center. Accrding to him, extremism at both sides of the spectrum is unlikely in the future.
Who will come out as the big winner in the 2004 general election? Three political parties assert that they will be the big winner in the coming general election, i.e. Partai Kesatuan Bangsa (PKB), the GOLKAR Party, and Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan (PDIP). Each of these three parties has its own calculations for hoping so. PKB is sure to become the next winner, because it is now in the government. In this position it feels it can dominate the next campaign period. And according to sources that do not wish to be identified, PKB has also begun building a huge campaign funds. And political campaigning being a matter of “buying” votes it is very sure that it will be able to attract –again through money—a large block of voters to its side.
GOLKAR is sure to get a large size of the national votes because it has the political experience, it has money. And it dominates the bureaucracy. With three assets there is no reason for fearing that in the next election it will come out only as the second largest party. This time they will be the big winner. And the winner takes all. PDI-P is equally sure that it will come out of the next election with a greater share of the national votes. It is still has its popular leader, Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri, and this is a very important asset. Which leader can top her in this regard?
Who will come out as the real winner? I have neither the information nor the intellectual capability to evaluate these three assertions. But the information I have concerning political groups that are now at work in Indonesia reminds me of Henry Adams’ statement that “Modern politics is, at bottom, a struggle not of men but of forces. The men become every year more and more creatures of force, massed about central powerhouses.” The art of managing these forces is to ensure, to paraphrase Henry Adams, that these political powerhouses do not become organizations that systematically exploit prejudices, dislikes, and hatreds. Genuine democracy can be built only on mutual trust and consultations. This is, I think, a maxim that future political leaders have to keep in mind.

Mochtar Buchori

Posted in Politics @ 11 December 2000 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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