Fri, 25 Apr 2003


2004 ELECTION & THE REFORM PROCESS: In Search of a Leader

Part 1 of 2

J. Soedjati Djiwandono Political Analyst Jakarta

Under Soeharto's "New Order" regime a general election was held every five years from 1971, the last being the general election of 1997. It resulted in the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), the supreme governing body based on the 1945 Constitution, which, in turn, elected Soeharto president consecutively for the seventh time, each time as sole candidate.

But for his resignation in May the following year, thereby completing his 32 years of dictatorial rule, the 1999 elections would not have been held. This was the first general election during the "era of reform"; the next general election in 2004 will be the second.

In terms of reform in the sense of a change within and through the existing system, the 1999 elections may be regarded as the beginning of reform toward democratization.

Indeed, the drastic, if excessive, increase in the number of political parties contesting the elections, from three for most of the New Order period to over 40, clearly indicated the degree of freedom of expression and association enjoyed by the people.

No less important, if equally excessive, was the number of presidential candidates nominated by the political parties. The election of Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) to the presidency was an interesting phenomenon. He was, indeed, the most democratically elected president in the history of independent Indonesia until then, at least within the context of the 1945 Constitution.

Nevertheless, for one thing, Gus Dur's election clearly indicated not only one of the fundamental defects of the 1945 Constitution, as it was also a mockery of democratic ideals, particularly the principle of equality. A direct presidential election was unknown to the 1945 Constitution. The president and vice president were to be elected by the MPR.

That was, in a way, ironic. Megawati won a majority in the general election, if not a single majority vote. But because many of the members of the Islamic-based political parties, which after the elections formed the "central axis" in the MPR, were against the election of a woman president, she had to accept the post of vice president.

In addition, while Gus Dur was elected president by the MPR on the basis of a majority vote by the MPR, he was a representative of the ill-defined "functional group", whose membership in the MPR was by government appointment; thus he was chosen without contesting the election. This was a mockery of the election.

Therefore, Gus Dur could not but be indebted for his presidency to his supporters in the MPR, particularly the central axis forces and the Golkar party, rather than to voters at the election. It was reflected in the membership of the cabinet he formed, which looked more like than a parliamentary one within a multiparty system, than a presidential cabinet, as required by the Constitution.

As he honestly admitted, his cabinet was not just a compromise cabinet or a "thank-you cabinet", but also a "salad cabinet". The 1945 Constitution created the distinction between election politics and MPR politics.

Nevertheless, the new government under Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati Soekarnoputri was, in fact, a blessing in disguise. It was the best for national unity, in that the election of both Gus Dur and Megawati saved the nation from serious conflict.

In fact, the new government appropriately called itself the "Cabinet of National Unity", which served to indicate the right priority of the government's overall policy. One of the most serious consequences of the country's multidimensional crisis was the danger of national disintegration.

Unfortunately, the political elite, particularly legislators, seemed to enjoy to the full their newly won freedom. Under Gus Dur's presidency, continuous bickering among politicians, arguing on legal and constitutional matters, particularly a tug-of-war between the legislature and the president, marked Indonesian politics.

The DPR would resort to the Constitution in its action against the president. In turn, the president would challenge the DPR, and then the MPR, also by using the very same Constitution as the basis of his arguments.

Indeed, since the 1999 election, Indonesians have been watching an increasingly chaotic ball game without an umpire. The president seemed to hope that the involvement of the Supreme Court would help him win the match.

Unfortunately, the president's opponents questioned the authority of the Supreme Court, and thus the effectiveness of its intervention. Ideally, the Supreme Court should have been in a position to act as umpire, for the ball of the politicians' game was the 1945 Constitution, which was supposed to provide the rules of the game.

In this country, however, in the new ball game between politicians, it is not a question of the rules of the game that matters, for it is precisely a game of the rules. Unfortunately, without an institution vested with the power of judicial review, the bickering between Indonesian politicians was like a football game without an umpire.

If Sukarno's "guided democracy", as well as Soeharto's New Order regime, became in effect a dictatorship, since then Indonesia seems to have developed into a "parliamentary dictatorship".

The 1945 Constitution as practiced in this country for over half a century has been in force merely on the basis of Sukarno's decree of July 5, 1959, not on a decision by democratically elected people's representatives.

It provides for no effective control mechanism, because it does not provide the principle of separation of powers in a system of checks and balances, thereby rendering it vulnerable to manipulation by whichever branch of government happens to be the dominant power.

It seems doubtful if today's politicians are aware of that delicate aspect of the country's current system of government. In fact, the 1945 Constitution was never meant to be final and permanent.

Yet, most of them seem to understand that constitutional reform should not only be limited to amendments -- thereby not resulting in a change to the constitution itself -- but also understand that constitutional amendments do not apply to the preamble of the Constitution containing the five principles of the state ideology Pancasila, which they consider to be sacrosanct.

;JP;ANR; ANPAk..r.. elections-reform

Part 2 checked JP/6/DJATI

Part 2 of 2

2004 ELECTION & THE REFORM PROCESS: In Search of a Leader

J. Soedjati Djiwandono Political Analyst Jakarta

The 1945 Constitution is one of ambivalence and ambiguity, subject to conflicting interpretations, right from the preamble. This has resulted in contradictory legislation that is contrary to the Constitution. At the very least, it may result in endless legal and constitutional wrangling. Yet, it would be dangerous to have a mechanism for judicial review unless and until Indonesians reach a consensus on certain core (common universal, human) values that bind the people together as a nation, as expressed in human rights and democratic ideals. These might be possible if Indonesians were committed to the principle of a separation between state and religion. This is the essence of secularization, which is by no means opposed to religion, but definitely against state intervention in religion and religious matters -- matters that relate to human conscience -- such as reflected in the marriage law and the law on the national system of education, as well as the current bill to replace the latter. Unfortunately, Indonesians tend to revel in ambivalence and ambiguity, which make apparent consensus seem possible, but which also make it possible for every group to take advantage of their different interpretations. Pancasila is a clear case in point, particularly its first principle. Without a complete change to the Constitution, on the pretext that "the people are not ready", that "they do not want to betray our founding fathers", or some other senseless argument, we are likely to get another form of dictatorship -- whoever may happen to be president -- in which the incumbent would be capable of manipulating this ambiguity or ambivalence. Hence the reform process is at a crossroads. What, then, could we expect from the 2004 election and the reform process thereafter? The most important aspect of the 2004 election is the direct election of the president, the first since Indonesia's independence. Indonesia is now going through the worst stages of a leadership crisis since the resignation of president Soeharto, the onset of the "era of reform". Since the monetary crisis in 1997, which has developed into an ever-worsening multidimensional crisis, there seems to have been little, if any, serious sense of crisis or sense of urgency on the part of any of the leaders, from Soeharto to Megawati Soekarnoputri. The leadership crisis also lies behind the current legal confusion and uncertainty and the increasing tendency toward lawlessness. It is important to note that, despite the increasing antiwar protests against the U.S. invasion of Iraq barely three weeks ago, demonstrations demanding the resignation of President Megawati and Vice President Hamzah Haz -- which had begun earlier, particularly since increases in the price of fuel, electricity and telephone calls, and, before that, over the issue of illegal Indonesian migrant workers, particularly to Malaysia -- have continued to this day across the nation. The nation clearly needs and demands a new leader, who will carry on and determine the direction of the reform process. It is clear that not only the present leader, but also the present generation of political leaders and politicians, have been losing credibility and confidence, at home and abroad. Unfortunately, the crisis of leadership also means a scarcity of potential leaders who are likely to meet the needs, requirements and aspirations of the people in many respects: a person who will be regarded as being genuinely concerned about the public interest, particularly that of the poor, alienated and downtrodden, and who will therefore enjoy public trust and confidence. The question is whether the 2004 general election, particularly the direct election of the president and vice president, will resolve the leadership crisis. The main obstacle would be a condition set by the election law that only political parties that had previously won a certain percentage of the seats in the legislature (DPR) -- a "threshold" -- could nominate presidential and vice presidential candidates. That, at least, is the issue now in the DPR in the debate on the election bill on the presidential election, yet to be enacted. Given the possibility, even the probability, that the major parties of 2004 will more or less be the same as today's major parties in terms of the result of the 1999 general election, then the "new" leaders after the next election in 2004, even with a direct presidential election, will most likely come from these same large parties. Unfortunately, our electoral law does not provide for independent (nonparty) candidates to contest the election. People have mostly lost confidence in most -- if not all -- existing political leaders. However, a potentially good leader is almost definitely to be found outside the party system. This would give us some hope. The question is, in the light of the electoral law, particularly that relating to the direct election of the president and vice president, will there be a political party, or at least a coalition or alliance of parties, large or small, ready and willing to nominate their candidates for president and vice president from outside any of the existing political parties? Such candidates, however, must be willing to join a political party, or one of the political parties in a coalition. Indonesia can learn from the experience in the U.S., where, upon retirement, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower eventually chose to be nominated for president by the Republican Party and won the presidential election in 1952. There may be a setback, however, as regards the election of politicians to membership of the DPR from an open list or an open, proportional system. Indeed, through such an open list, members of the legislature would be more representative of the people than of their respective political parties. But with the spirit of "regional autonomy" tending to become "ethnic autonomy", not only the election of provincial governors -- as has been the case with some provinces -- but also that of representatives of the people at the national level, may in part be heavily and adversely affected by ethnic or sectarian orientation. Still, the election of a good president and vice president will be of greater importance, in that they would likely be more decisive on matters of national policy, and thus of the reform process as a whole.