Wed, 15 Mar 2000

To be a modern party PDI-P faces tough challenges

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) is holding its congress at the end of this month. The Jakarta Post talked to Mochtar Buchori, a deputy chairman of the party, who is also a member of the House of Representatives, a noted columnist and an educator.

JAKARTA (JP): The upcoming PDI-P congress in Semarang, capital of Central Java, will be the first congress since the party won the 1999 elections, the first democratic elections after more than 40 years.

Despite the victory, however, the party failed to place its chairperson Megawati Soekarnoputri in the highest office as the People's Consultative Assembly elected Abdurrahman Wahid as president and Megawati as vice president in October 1999.

It is difficult to separate Megawati from PDI-P, partly because of the public's penchant to identify its party with a leading figure and partly because she was the symbol for the oppressed during the Soeharto years.

PDI-P is a relatively new party, formed in February 1999 following prolonged conflict with the Soeharto government.

PDI-P was first announced at the fifth PDI congress in October 1998 in Bali when Megawati's supporters decided to leave the two- year old government-created PDI executive board. The board sought to block Megawati from national leadership.

PDI was established in 1973 when Soeharto limited the number of political parties to two plus Golkar. The New Order had always refused to call Golkar, its effective political vehicle, a political party although it functioned exactly that way.

PDI became a force to be reckoned in 1992 elections, five years after Megawati joined the party, when it ended third and last but with growing support.

The media described the PDI election campaign with Megawati as its major drawing card the "return of Sukarno's ghost".

The PDI executive board sanctioned by the Soeharto government was a testament to the plight of this daughter of first Indonesian president Sukarno during the years before Soeharto's downfall.

The five-month old government of President Abdurrahman Wahid has yet to uncover numerous human rights violations allegedly committed by the Soeharto government, one of them is to find the perpetrators behind the July 27, 1996 bloody attack on PDI headquarters in Jakarta.

Question: As the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI- P) is preparing itself for a congress at the end of this month, the name of Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri, the incumbent chairperson of the party has featured prominently, how do you see this situation?

Answer: I think she is unstoppable. She wants to retain the party leadership. The question is can PDI-P set up a new board that will ensure the party's daily activities run smoothly while she concentrates on her tasks as Vice President.

The party is considering organizing a board of 17 people, including eight co-chairpersons, three of whom would work on a full-time basis on the party's payroll.

Q: So, do you think it is a liability for her to be Vice President and chairperson of a major party at the same time?

A: No, as long as she does not neglect her duties as Vice President and the party's activities are being taken care of. Unlike the Vice President's duties, party activities can be delegated. The PDI-P secretary general would be assisted by four deputies in the new organization and the treasurer by two deputies, making up a total of 17 people. In addition, there would be 28 departments with 28 department heads. If you add 17 and 28 you come up with 45, another sacred number (Indonesia's independence is August 17, 1945).

Q: How do you view this fondness for sacred numbers?

A: I just laugh. The number 17, for example, you can't change it (because others would fight for it), even the symbol of PDI-P (a bull's head) is a bone of contention. Some say the bull's head should point to the opposite side, the side of Pandawa (the good character in the wayang shadow puppet plays) instead of Kurawa (evil character) which the current symbol suggests. And you call yourself a modern party. But what can we do, this is the way we are.

Q: Why do you say Megawati is unstoppable?

A: I mean she is overwhelmingly supported at the grassroots, especially by the villagers. Urban dwellers are more critical. The villagers' maxim is that PDI-P without Megawati is not PDI-P. And there are talks that should Megawati no longer able to lead the party, the leadership should be given to one of the other children of Bung Karno (first president Sukarno). Well, isn't that similar to the Nehru dynasty in India?

Q: What do you think about people like Eros Djarot (artist and businessman) who would like to become the party leader?

A: Personally I welcome him. He will give fresh blood to the party. As a secretary general, for instance, he would be effective and efficient, because as a businessman he has organizational experience. But whether or not he will become the secretary general will depend on the congress. The scenario is Megawati will retain her leadership and if so she will name other members of the party's executive board assisted by eight other party officials.

Q: It looks like that the target of the upcoming congress is party consolidation...

A: Yes, improvement of internal organization of the party because all of us agree that there have been massive inefficiencies in the past and "skirmishes" in the lower level of party leadership have not been addressed appropriately.

Q: What kind of skirmishes?

A: Well, things like rivalry between branch party leaders, regents and the like. Hopefully this kind of thing can be addressed satisfactorily. Once money enters into the equation it will be more difficult. Money politics has become the nation's disease, not only that of the PDI-P which only learned about it from Golkar (Soeharto's political machine).

Money politics has a new slant, political parties are jockeying to seize state companies.

Q: So this disease has definitely inflicted PDI-P as well...

A: Yes, it is an affliction of the nation, even PKB (the Awakening Party, founded by President Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur). Gus Dur, himself, practiced money politics during the Soeharto years, and Habibie years; by no means should we close our eyes to his weaknesses. How this disease be cured?

I am witnessing a cultural evolution in politics. We should not stop this process. I am hopeful that one day political parties will be manned by reasonable and broad-minded people like Ulil Abshar-Abdallah (young leader from the Nahdlatul Ulama), Bara Hasibuan, Abdillah Toha, Faisal Basri (all hold senior positions at the National Mandate Party) and hopefully Eros Djarot.

We should not close the door to these young people as it was to Faisal Basri. Efforts are being made to stop Eros Djarot at PDI-P.

Q: As a political party, has PDI-P fulfilled the basic requirement of a political party?

A: We are going to strengthen the party secretariat, oversight for sources of money, administrative affairs which are still messy, membership dues and others. So far, party funding depends heavily on donors. With all the good intentions of society, the party can not afford to be entirely dependent upon gifts.

Q: If I may come back to leader devotion, in the case of PDI-P it is Megawati, what impact does this have on the political stage?

A: Well, it is not good, whether the individual figure is Sukarno, Soeharto, Amien Rais or Abdurrahman Wahid for that matter. That is figure worship. At Nahdlatul Ulama, it is Abdurrahman Wahid, at PAN it is Amien Rais, PAN can not exist without Amien Rais, at PDI-P it is Megawati. Golkar is still in limbo, it has no party figurehead.

Q: You mentioned cultural evolution, does it apply to this particular issue?

A: Yes, modernization being implemented. The party has to modernize itself or the politics Indonesia has to modernize itself.

Q: How to...?

A: Clearly through rejuvenation. Within the United Development Party (PPP, a Muslim based party, one of two minor parties apart from Golkar allowed to exist during Soeharto's years), who is capable of rejuvenating the party? The present leadership has failed to address the current issues facing the party, not to say challenges in the near future.

Q: Then we come to the question of cadre...

A: The question is how to give the opportunity to the younger leaders to come up.

Q: Did they get adequate leadership training?

A: No, who will give the training? Their leaders do not grasp the essence of being a modern party themselves. They also don't understand where society is heading, what is the global society? Do any of those party leaders understand? No way. Any one of them read books?

Political parties should never detach themselves from academics and academics should never become allergic to politics. Now, they are still allergic (to politics). "I am not involved in this or that political party" is an oft-repeated comment, as if the speaker is loftier than people like me who left the academic world (to become politicians).

Q: You said that nurturing a party's cadre is necessary, but such a process is absent. Are you suggesting that despite the absence of such a process, that political parties should dare to hand over leadership to young aspiring leaders??

A: Young leaders who have good education. It is evident that they are intellectually better equipped compared to the old generation of party leaders. People like Cornelis Lay (lecturer at Gadjah Mada University) or Eros Djarot are obviously intellectually better equipped than the current leaders at PDI-P.

Q: But how far does your line of thinking gain currency in PDI-P or in the upcoming congress?

A: You would bet, based on my visit to rural areas, they (PDI-P supporters) have the same line of thinking, even up to sub- district level. In Rawapening (a Central Java township near Ambarawa), a university graduate of animal husbandry is in charge of the party's village leadership. In Karanganyar (also a town in Central Java) a medical doctor is in charge.

Q: So you have hopes that young leaders will eventually come to the fore

A: Yes, the important thing is that they should be visited regularly by party sophisticates to hold dialogs with them and to guide them. They told me that what they need is a direction from the party which they said did not exist. I told them I can't speak on behalf of the party except in a private capacity. I could only offer my personal ideas and said that should they follow them it would strengthen my ideas within the party.

Q: So it seems they are quite forward looking...

A: Yes, because they are not satisfied with the current condition. Many of the branch leaders were junior high school graduates. One provincial House of Representatives (DPRD) chairman, is a bakso (meat ball) seller, a primary school graduate. As DPRD chairman he received a car but the car is idle in the garage because he doesn't know how to drive.

Q: What shortcomings must PDI-P overcome?

A: A lot of them. For example, there are many kinds of democracy. What kind of democracy we want to develop within PDI-P? Indonesian democracy as perceived by Bung Karno? But what is Indonesian democracy? If we read 20th century books we know there are four basic models of democracy, falling one by one into oblivion. Moving to the 21st century, two models remain, pluralistic democracy and cosmopolitan democracy. So which one do we want? And how is the transition process from our current amorphous democracy to, I believe, pluralistic democracy?

Q: The answer is...

A: The development of a pluralistic culture to overcome numerous kinds of primordialism, of course. The current religious fighting (in Maluku), the anti-Chinese sentiment, they are all primordial. Now we have a new one added to the list: anti-Ambon and more. This is so because we don't have a pluralist culture. This is what we should nurture.

In fact, our motto of bhinneka tunggal ika (diversity in unity) should enable the growth of other cultures. But what happened was the domination of Javanese culture. Wasn't the growth of Javanese bureaucracy fostered throughout the country?

Bureaucracy has become so powerful it obstructs the growth of democracy. One of the greatest obstacles to democracy in Indonesia is the bureaucracy. As long as the bureaucracy fails to become professional, democracy will never come to fruition, good government will never become a reality.

Q: How can the present bureaucracy become more professional?

A: It is a process of its own. We don't know how yet, so we must give it careful consideration. The bureaucracy can only become a professional one if it has re-learning capability. This will only be possible if they (people in the bureaucracy) master the basics (of learning). But how can this be achieved when such a fundamental thing as using language correctly does not exist.

Q: What will PDI-P do on this particular issue?

A: The agenda commission will discuss it in the congress.

Q: Are there many PDI-P members in the bureaucracy...

A: There are, but once you are in the bureaucracy, whether you are from Golkar or PDI-P, you become identical. Only the outer attribution differs, but you have the same attitude inside. A Golkar regent and a PDI-P regent are the same.

I'm not cynical, but this is a reality we all have to face. It is in the congress agenda but don't expect too much from it. We are still in our infancy.

Later on, when we have more thinkers (there will be some hope), but as I said, academics are still allergic to politics. Politicians should not treat academics as enemies and they should rid themselves of feeling inferior to academics.

Q: This is a sort of feudalism too...

A: Yes, but if we look around, that kind of blend is there already. A person like Tony Blair (British prime minister), for example, is not the old type of labor party member who depends solely on the party's political force. He often uses brain power instead. He is actually an aristocrat who enlisted himself in the Labor party.

In Germany, the SPD (Social Democratic Party) has many intellectuals, in France, Lionel Jospin is a graduate of Ecole National de l'Administration, a prestigious education where most prime ministers came from including Jacque Chiraq.

Among those countries with fewer intellectuals in politics are Japan and Malaysia. In Thailand, many academics from Chulalongkorn universities work in the political world.

Q: So there is no point of being ashamed of...

A: Yes, in my generation only I decided to enter politics and I have had to bear the brunt for it.

Any talk of the 2004 elections?

Yes, four commissions -- politics and elections, organization, agenda and the commission for responsibility -- will assess the party's performance over the past year.

Q: Is there still a resentment because Megawati did not make it as president?

A: Yes, resentment is still a widespread. The source of indignation does not come only from the fact that Megawati failed to become president but also from the fact that the party is not well represented.

Q: Including in the cabinet...

A: Yes, should Megawati become president she would set up a cabinet different from the one we have now. The present cabinet is a broad compromise, and it has its cost. It is a non- performing cabinet.

Q: Do you think Megawati still has an eye on presidency?

A: I think she is still hoping for it, that's why she is determined to retain her chairmanship at PDI-P. If PDI-P can win again and if PDI-P together with PKB can get 51 percent at the very least, which is not impossible, then the possibility is bigger.

Q: How do you see PDI-P performance so far, in terms of real development of a political party?

A: It survives merely by Megawati's popularity. She has a popular appeal. Like it or not, she is the one who receives the grassroots support.

Thus, the party is not yet capable of binding all elements in the society. As a nationalist camp for example, it has yet to establish itself as a power to be reckoned.

That's why PDI-P leaders should change their behavior. Now it is still very heterogeneous whereas it should already have a common platform.

On the other hand it should allow its leaders to retain their individualities. For instance, I would speak in a different way as Dimyati Hartono (fellow PDI-P leaders) or Kwik Kian Gie. So even with a common platform there should be such leeway. I can not speak the way Megawati does, I simply can't, I would not sound true. My forte is contemplation and thinking based on instilled knowledge and wisdom. This can't be conveyed as an orator.

Q: There are some who have said aloud that Megawati was less than intelligent...

A: The strength of PDI-P is in teamwork. Now, who is assisting Megawati as Vice President? None of them are politicians. All of them are bureaucrats from Setneg (state secretary office). Megawati is under the spell of the bureaucrats just like during the general session of the People's Consultative Assembly she came under the spell of Gus Dur. But people say she is learning. She is said to be competent to chair a cabinet meeting.

So team work is very important for PDI-P.

Q: Even when she becomes President?

A: Yes, the strength lies in teamwork, not in one person. This is the mistake of Bung Karno. He did not value intellectuals on his side. He dumped people like Soedjatmoko (a world renown intellectual), Mohamad Roem, Natsir who helped Bung Karno in defending the fledgling republic. But as soon as his power grew Bung Karno dumped them one by one, including Sjahrir (first Indonesian prime minister).

Q: If Megawati becomes President what will happen to the culture of figure worship?

A: There should be simultaneous growth between democracy and governance. You can never separate democracy building and good governance. Governance depends on democracy building, democracy building depends upon good governance. So there must be a two- front attack. (hbk)