Wed, 21 May 2003

Democracy remains a fantasy for reform dreamers: Observers

A'an Suryana and Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Five years have passed since the reform movement put an end to three decades of authoritarian rule in 1998, but democracy, the ultimate goal of the movement, has not yet emerged in the country, political observers say.

Indria Samego, a researcher with the Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI), said that the reform that the students fought for five years ago had indeed resulted in some improvement in terms of legislation that supports democracy.

Freedom of expression and freedom of the press, for example, had been given space to flourish, he said.

However, Indria asserted that the reform movement had not improved politics here. The starkest example of the failure could be seen in the political parties, most of which, ironically, claimed to be the vanguard of democracy.

Antidemocracy behavior takes place right under their noses, he added.

"Patron-client relationships between the elites and the grass- root party members still exist, which hampers democracy," Indria said.

The presence of popular leaders remains a trend in the political parties, which often leads them to a dictatorial style. It happens in most parties, including those led by Megawati Soekarnoputri and Amien Rais, Indria said, adding that they were no different from former autocrat Soeharto.

"Any dissident in the party is quickly eliminated as the leaders, in most cases, cannot accept differences," Indria said.

Fellow political observer Ikrar Nusa Bakti shared Indria's view, saying that the ideal of democracy had only been partially practiced in the country.

Citing an example, he said the House of Representatives, the people's representation in the country, had indeed shown its teeth and become credible critics of the government -- no longer a rubber stamp like what it was during the Soeharto era.

However, Ikrar pointed out that democracy remained far away, as it was being tarnished by rampant corruption and the government's failure to enforce the law.

Corruption, he said, had spoiled democracy, as political parties and elite groups were competing to pursue their own interests at the expense of the national interest.

Ikrar said corruption cases involving House speaker Akbar Tandjung and businessman Probosutedjo were but a few examples of how powerless the law was in the country.

Both have been sentenced to jail by lower courts, but remain free pending their appeals.

"Political parties are also competing for places in strategic state companies, so that they can secure funding for their campaign to win the 2004 general election," he said.

President Megawati Soekarnoputri, who leads PDI Perjuangan, admitted that corruption, collusion and nepotism still plagued the image of political parties, including her own.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the United Development Party (PPP) congress here, Megawati expressed concerns that corruption had involved the legislative branch and other politicians.

She said the widespread corruption took place due to lack of control from the party's leaders.

In order to prevent corruption, both in political parties and legislatures, Megawati proposed that political parties exercise more power to recall or dismiss any members implicated in graft cases. Related story on Page 8