Fri, 05 Mar 1999

Euphoria of number

The Team of Eleven, the verification committee tasked with determining the eligibility of poll contestants, did not surprise anyone on Thursday when it announced the 48 political parties meeting all criteria to contest the June general election.

This fails to surprise us because the nation knows that, since president Soeharto's downfall in May, busy politicians have established more than 100 parties to contest the June general election. At least 24 of these parties, calling themselves either national or Islamic parties, are sponsored by Muslim social organizations.

At a glance this mass movement seems counterproductive to national development, as it is seemingly based solely on political egotism and a mad grab for power. This provokes the question: How can a nation which prides itself on the virtue of musyawarah (deliberation leading to consensus) produce so many leaders who shun this noble wisdom?

But further analysis unearths other explanations.

The present situation can be likened to the trauma of the 1950s, when established political entities were dismembered by their own ambitious reactionaries. Perhaps now politicians are opting to work separately from the beginning to avoid bitter separations in the future.

However, the most logical explanation is perhaps simply the desire to enjoy the newly found political freedom following the fall of the dictator.

But politicians, as seasonal as some of them are, have to bear in mind that desire alone is not enough, because a general election is not a Latin American carnival. The voters, especially the more educated among them, need to learn whether the parties' agendas are good enough to salvage this nation from the present political and economic morass.

As of Thursday, only the National Mandate Party and the Justice Party had announced their respective political agendas in detail.

Although many parties have claimed they will each win about 40 percent of the vote, deep in their hearts they must know it will be a difficult contest. So there have been talks about the sharing of power, because some of the more astute politicians have realized that they have been living under the delusion of having tens of millions of supporters.

In the planned power-sharing system, a party receiving more than 40 percent of vote will be free to select its partner, or partners; those with about 30 percent each would negotiate a partnership on an equal basis; and those with less votes would be begging to join a coalition.

But this kind of partnership may turn out to repeat history, although more foolish than what happened in the 1950s, because once the partnership is dissolved the government will fall. And this would lead to further political instability.

It is true that in our political wilderness there are still politicians roaming the provinces unknown to their electorates. They are products of Soeharto's concept of the "floating mass", in which the government prohibited village level political representation. These leaders visit the populace once in five years to feed them with empty promises, exploiting the honesty of our rural people. But they might also win millions of votes.

It is certainly hard to pick who will emerge as the biggest political entity, as it is not clear which of the political leaders is fit to head the nation for the next five years.

However, most thinking citizens today agree that any politician who has served in the Soeharto regime should be barred from leading the country. They know that the general election will only have meaning if it can point this country toward a new era and leave behind the nightmare of the status quo.