Mon, 10 Apr 2000

Acclamation democracy

Few political events since the 1999 presidential elections have drawn as much public attention as the recent Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle Congress. This was certainly not at least due to the fact that many people were keen to see how the party would deal with an emerging internal opposition and with Megawati Soekarnoputri's two competitors -- Dimyati Hartono and Eros Djarot -- for the top post. All those who had hoped that the party would live up to the noble principle as reflected in its name, namely to fight for democracy, must have been gravely disappointed. To me, the congress seemed to be a nearly perfect copy of past Golkar congresses under the direction of former president Soeharto.

It is quite obvious that chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri is not willing to allow an internal party opposition. This may lead to the question of how she might deal with an opposition in the legislature, if her party were to win the 2004 general elections and she were to become president. It is also obvious that Megawati and her fanatic supporters have judged the candidacy of Dimyati Hartono and Eros Djarot not as a legitimate and democratic proceeding but as lese-majesty (insult to her majesty) that deserves to be punished.

The fact that Megawati was finally reelected by acclamation, and that she was given the right to select the new executive board members instead of a voting process, are proof of the political immaturity of the congress delegates who made these decisions. Even if Megawati would have proposed her election by acclamation as party chairwoman for life, I am sure the majority of delegates would have given her their enthusiastic approval.

I consider it an alarming sign when in a political party which calls itself democratic, members are either not allowed to bring their criticism to the attention of their leaders or agree without question to whatever their leaders deem right. And it is even more alarming if members threaten to mobilize "50 party cadres ... trained in supernatural powers to counter groups which wanted to disrupt the congress and block Megawati from the chairmanship election" (The Jakarta Post, March 27, 2000).

For the party's leaders, the congress could have been a great opportunity to provide badly needed political education to the party's grass roots and the public at large. They certainly failed to make use of this opportunity, perhaps because they need political education themselves -- particularly some basic lessons in democracy.