The High Cost of the Superficial Indonesian Democracy

A total of Rp 16 trillion will be used for the implementation of the 2014 election. The fund is twice higher than the Election 2009 budget of Rp 8.5 trillion. It’s even bigger than the education budget in Jakarta, which amounts to Rp 11.5 trillion in the provincial budgets (APBD) in 2013. However, the magnitude of the budget for the upcoming election is not yet proportional to the actual life of democracy in Indonesia. Especially since the reformation occured 15 years ago. That’s what happens in this country.

Expectations soared after the authoritarian Soeharto stepped down from the presidency and the people’s dream of Indonesia becoming a democratic country, where the public could gain space for expression without a shadow of fear and intimidation, has been achieved. At first we may smile satisfyingly while seeing the impact of reformation: a group of people daring to appear in public to shout their political opinion, community organizations daring to voice their opinions and executing their exclusive activity in a public space, until the emergence of new mass media and non-governmental organizations to monitor the government, if they do not want to be labeled as a government critic.

Take for example the demonstrations taking place in the regencies following the results of the regional elections that often led to clashes. The actions were perpetrated by mass organizations that sometimes commit acts of violence for reasons of their ideology. These organizations may trigger horizontal conflict, again driven by ideology or religious differences. The condition is not much different from the mass media, which is supposed to provide positive insight for the audience but is biased instead, in favor of a particular political force or working on the principles of friendship, and sometimes ignites a debate that does not educate. While some groups of activists emerge with piles of data they collect as the basis for crimes they inflict on government, they then appear in front of the media as if they are going to save the state money.

Those four layers of society on top are an example that is visible to the naked eye and shows the changes that occurred in Indonesia after the reformation. Yes, democracy happens. Communities gain political freedom and there is an openness and freedom of information. However, instead of giving room for argument or expression as one of the characteristics of democracy, what we see is rather an event to force their truth or their will. This is the real portrait of democracy in Indonesia, which has occurred since the tragedy in May 1998.

The image of democracy in Indonesia is unsightly to view as the representatives directly elected by their own people work more for the benefit of their group. After getting a seat in Parliament, the representative turns into a negotiator between personal interests and political organizations, which then fertilizes corruption that is detrimental to state finances. This makes the cost of politics in Indonesia more expensive, beyond the official cost budgeted for election by the government. They don’t work to uphold the principles of democracy, which consists of respect the civil liberty, pluralism, social welfare, as well as becoming an example of how to implement the correct political culture.

We know for sure the essence of democracy is for the people’s welfare. Welfare has broad meaning that not only talks about the economy scale, such as the rising middle class or economic growth in Indonesia. But there is a sense of security, halcyon, prosperous, happy, free from all kinds of nuisances. And, had the state provided welfare for the people? If yes, the public certainly would not read the news and confirm there’s a horizontal conflict because of political or ideological differences. The public would not obtain information that is politicized by the mainstream media and non-governmental organizations. The representatives would not also be involved in corruption news.

Once again, democracy in Indonesia should aim to provide for the  welfare of the people at large rather than simply running a law to hold an election every five years. Nor should it shout to protest unfounded prejudice that there has occurred activities of pro liberal or Westernized politics as if the protesters had applied the principles of democracy as they should. So that the democracy in Indonesia is indeed a lifestyle, not a camouflage through activities that gave the impression on the surface that democracy exists.

Speaking of democracy, one facet of which is transparency of information, there is no transparency in the use of the budget for the 2014 election. This more and more shows how democracy in Indonesia is superficial. It does not absorb.

About Rina Hutajulu 17 Articles
Rina Hutajulu is an independent journalist for the Dekker Centre focusing on political studies of civil society movements and environmental issues in Indonesia. She writes for various on line media and print media as well. Rina is based in Jakarta.

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