Wed, 05 Mar 2003

Corruption? 'Right or wrong, my party"

Mochtar Buchori, Legislator, Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), Jakarta

We all know the English saying, "Right or wrong, my country." According to one source, this is a variant of a statement made by an American commodore, S. Decatur (1779-1820). Commodore Decatur was said to have stated the following when proposing a toast in Norfolk: "Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right, but -- our country, right or wrong!"

But according to another source, this popular saying originated from another English saying, a sentence coined by C. Churchill, who in the book The Farewell (1764) wrote the following: "Be England what she will / With all her faults she is my country still."

In any case, the above saying is used to express one's absolute loyalty to one's country. It is a solemn pledge, promising one's readiness to serve the country.

Lately, a new variant of this popular saying seems to be budding in our society, i.e. "right or wrong, my party." This is the sort of feeling that seems to dominate the minds of many members of many political parties. To these people, their party can do no wrong, and it must therefore be defended against any attempt to undermine it.

Two different ways seem to be followed today to implement this pledge. One is by "punishing" those considered to be endangering the party, using violence if need be. The other is by "purifying" the party, i.e. cleansing the party of all elements that perpetrate malpractices within it.

I have always had reservations about the above English saying, and have always tried to avoid using it. And I am even less comfortable still with its derivative, "Right or wrong, my party." I fear someone will advocate a still smaller derivative, "Right or wrong, my leader." Under this banner, members of every political party will then be urged not only to be loyal to the party, but also be loyal to its leader, especially its supreme leader.

If and when this happens, I fear we will find ourselves more deeply entrenched in a political culture that is oriented entirely towards personalities. This will prevent us from moving towards a genuine democratic society, which can be accomplished only by developing and establishing a political culture that is oriented towards society and all its members.

If one chooses to interpret the original saying as meaning that every citizen should be loyal to the country without losing sight of basic ethics concerning respect for human life and humanity, then the pledge of blind loyalty to the party is invalid, and therefore unacceptable.

If, on the other hand, one chooses to interpret the saying as meaning that it is always the country that must be served first, whatever the situation may be -- then within this mindset it is quite logical and consistent that one gives his or her loyalty entirely to the party and its leaders. I would call this kind of loyalty "barbarous loyalty."

What kind of political culture do we need to develop? If we really want to have a democratic society, how are we going to proceed from where we are now to a political life that places the welfare and interests of the people as our central concern?

This transformation towards a "civic political culture" cannot be taken for granted. So many abuses are perpetrated in the name of "democracy". One of these is the slogan of "defending the leader", taken to mean "defending the party" and "defending the country." Criticizing a leader is subversive; or worse, a betrayal of the country.

This way of looking at things can create confusion among the rank and file of any political party. The sad thing is that at the moment this confusion seems to prevail in a number of parties. It exists within the PDI Perjuangan, within the Golkar Party, and, I think, also within the National Awakening Party (PKB) and the United Development Party (PPP).

Who has committed treachery in the PDI Perjuangan: Kwik Kian Gie or the ones who have allowed, or even urged, individuals within the party to commit corruption?

Who is trying to restore the honor of the Golkar Party: Those who want its chairman to resign or those who have been trying to defend him until the very end? Which of the two rival PKB camps is really betraying the original mission of the party?

Every side involved in these controversies has its own way of justifying its position.

I cannot pretend to be an arbiter, either. I have simply made my choice of how to interpret the above saying.

But what worries me is the bleak prospect of the next generation being incapable of interpreting the meaning of "right or wrong, my country" within any given set of circumstance.