Jakarta election, the true test of Indonesia’s democracy

Jakarta election, the true test of Indonesia’s democracy

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Jakarta Post


The registration of candidates for the Jakarta governor and vice governor posts was officially closed on Tuesday. One thing is sure: The nomination process is an important signal of growing democracy in Indonesia.

Last week, the Golkar Party announced a coalition with the United Development Party (PPP) and the Prosperous Peace Party (PDS) to nominate incumbent South Sumatra Governor Alex Noerdin for the race. The Golkar Party succumbed to Noerdin’s extraordinary feat in leading South Sumatra during turbulent times, including his effort to make the province a successful host of the Southeast Asian Games last year.

But two days before the closing date of registration, all eyes were on political parties, including the Democratic Party (PD) and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), which were the only parties able to designate a gubernatorial candidate without forming a coalition.

One day before the deadline, the split between young Turks and the older generation at the PKS was resolved. Former People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) speaker and PKS co-founder Hidayat Nur Wahid prevailed over Jakarta legislative council deputy speaker Tri Wicaksana, the preferred candidate of the PKS younger generation.

The PKS named National Mandate Party (PAN) executive Didik J. Rachbini as Hidayat’s running mate.

In a matter of hours, two other candidates entered the race. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party declared it formed a coalition of eight parties to nominate incumbent Governor Fauzi Bowo.

A coalition of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) and the Great Indonesian Movement (Gerindra) nominated Surakarta Mayor Joko Widodo.

What do these four candidates nominated by the political parties have in common? All the parties have simply adopted a strong, top-down approach, in which the elites force their will on constituents.

The political intensity in the race for the governor has defied the flourishing democracy in Indonesia. The Economist Intelligence Unit, a subsidiary of The Economist magazine, ranks Indonesia 60th out of 167 countries on its world democracy index.

Why is democracy so important?

Mancur Olson said that “in an autocracy, the autocrat will often have a short time horizon, and the absence of any independent power to assure an orderly legal succession means that there is always substantial uncertainty about what will happen when the current autocrat is gone”. Olson’s elaboration defined the norms of democracy compared to the authoritarian counterpart.

Olson’s analysis presupposes democracy as a necessary part of a system that creates certainty and sustainability in governance. The policies on transportation, workers’ rights and minimum wage are among a few that require sustainability over a long period of time. Each of these policies is crucial for a better Jakarta. Without a sustainable leadership and democracy, neither of these policies will last long.

The bitter truth is that Jakarta replicates of Indonesia’s flawed democracy for three reasons.

First, the nomination of each candidate was not conducted in a clear and transparent manner. The nomination should have been preceded by primaries or a party convention to nominate best candidates.

Constituents within the party should vote for their desired candidate. The Democratic Party should have given leeway to decide between Fauzi or Nachrowi, who chairs the party’s Jakarta chapter.

Candidates that were perceived as having strong support, such as the chairman of Golkar in Jakarta, Prya Ramadhani, Golkar lawmaker

Tantowi Yahya and Alex should have fought for a space on the ticket.

The same should have been the case in the PDIP-Gerindra coalition and the Muslim-based PKS. The primaries selection in party A will consolidate the effort to withstand the challenges of party B.

Internal consolidation is important for the sustainability of democracy in Indonesia. Bowing to nominations made by party chairmen or powerful boards of patrons is authoritarian and defied the will of rank-and-file members.

Second, each candidate should have been exposed in a fair debate on their ideas and platform for Jakarta. Without the division of political ideology nor access to party primaries, voters do not have access to information to inform their decision. Separations between the middle class, elites and lower-wage workers are not clearly defined by a single party.

Without a debate, candidates for the executive posts are unable to present themselves in ways that would benefit their credibility in the eyes of voters. Without an argument between the candidates, constituents are unable to clearly define what they are seeking from the aspirants.

Third, the constituents should have been given an opportunity to hold a dialogue with candidates before the definite nominee was selected. Feedback resulting from dialogue between candidates and constituents is important to create stronger bonds between the candidates and their promises.

Jakarta is a symbol of a progressive democracy in Indonesia. If we are unable to strengthen and improve the flawed democracy in Jakarta, then the Indonesia’s overall democracy is at stake.

The writer is a graduate student at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

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