Thu, 26 Jun 2003

Tyranny by the majority: Current decision making

J. Soedjati Djiwandono Political Analyst Jakarta

Under Soeharto's New Order, the pattern of decision-making, particularly in the legislative bodies, invariably took the form of "deliberations towards unanimity" (musyawarah mufakat). The democratic mechanism of voting, first described by first president Sukarno as democracy of "half (50 percent) plus one" was dismissed as an essence of liberal Western democracy unsuitable to musyawarah mufakat as an expression of the traditional spirit of mutual cooperation (gotong royong).

However that pattern of decision making satisfied no one but the leader himself (the President), who was interested in making so many things sacrosanct, thus not open to challenge or change at all, as part of his efforts to perpetuate his own position and power. The big parties considered the principle of unanimity amounted to a tyranny by minorities.

Yet such fears were baseless, for the minorities always gave way to the wishes of the majorities, for fear of violating the principle of unanimity, and precisely for fear of accusations of practicing tyranny by minorities. They did so to the extent that they agreed to the enactment of legislation that were against human rights, and as such, against the ideology of the state, Pancasila, particularly the first principle, belief in God.

Thus the marriage law was passed by unanimity by the legislature, although it contains an article stipulating that one shall marry in accordance with one's religion, thus imposing the obligation of professing a religion, which is a violation of religious freedom. The same was true with the law on the national system of education of 1989, recently replaced by a new, but worse law.

In 1978, however, a big party, the United Party of Development (PPP), while not violating the principle of unanimity, dared to "walk out" from the session of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), when the Assembly passed the decision of Pancasila indoctrination (P4) "with unanimity" -- because the party did not accept an article on the recognition of beliefs other than religion (aliran kepercayaan).

The party again walked out from the MPR session in 1983 when the MPR passed the state guidelines, which required all political parties and mass organizations to adopt the compulsory recognition of Pancasila, which also meant that no party or organization would be based the same basis of (asas tunggal -- monolithic ideological basis) Pancasila.

In the era of reform, often known as the post-Soeharto Indonesia, a walkout was first done by the National Awakening Party (PKB) on the MPR's decision on an earlier Special Session in 2001 that ended with the impeachment of president Abdurrahman Wahid and the accession of President Megawati Soekarnoputri. And yet a new way of expressing dissent was then introduced in September 2001 by Megawati's ruling party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), in the form of a "note of understanding" to be appended to the DPR's decision to enact the law on broadcasting in September 2003.

The latest decision pattern of decision-making in the legislature, particularly the DPR, is the "no-voting" method. This is not the same at all as Soeharto's style of unanimity. It is one in which a consensus is assumed to have been reached during the "lobby", thus outside formal sessions, among the different factions in the House-- not the individual House members.

Thus the House speaker simply asks with boring and disgusting nonchalance if the members present can agree on the enactment of the bill under discussion, and the members will respond almost in unison, "aye" or "agree", without the speaker in the least bothering to look or somehow to check or assess if a majority of those present, or how large a majority, votes for the bill and how many, if any, of them are against.

That recently happened in the case of the enactment of the controversial law on the national system of education. It was the unfair, the most dishonest, and the most pretentious and hypocritical way of decision-making, especially in the light of such a strategically important legislation.

It was, in the first place, definitely not a decision based on unanimity, for the entire faction of the PDI Perjuanagan, the largest in the House, did not even attend the session. At least one faction, no matter how small, the faction of Kesatuan Kebangsaan Indonesia (national unity of Indonesia), though present in the session, did express opposition to the enactment of the law and proposed a postponement.

Secondly, in that light, it seemed doubtful if it was a decision by a majority.

Thirdly, it was even doubtful if it was a legal and valid decision, for oddly, the final session was considered to have met the quorum required, which was not based on the actual number of members attending that final session, but reportedly on the quorum reached at the first of the series of general sessions when it was first convened.

Fourthly, worse still, because there was no voting, while there was no unanimity, there was no record -- some kind of congressional record -- on the members' respective performance their voting records, so that in effect the members are not accountable to the people -- generally to their respective constituencies if such constituencies did exist, which they do not, for House members are responsible to their parties, which they represent, rather than the people, despite their official designation.

Worst, however -- fifthly -- it was an unjust procedure of decision making in view of the controversy of the bill. To force its enactment would amount to a tyranny by the majority, especially because the controversial issues relate to state intervention provided by the bill in matters of human rights, particularly freedom of religion.

In essence it amounted to state intervention in internal matters of religion, and thus in human conscience. Otherwise a majority decision through a democratic mechanism would be valid, not a tyranny by the majority.

House members should have realized that the forceful imposition of such a controversial law would be harmful to national unity, at a time when the nation is on the verge of disintegration. It may well be a bad precedent for future legislation. When will Indonesian politicians learn honesty, to themselves, and to the public -- the people whose interests and aspirations they are supposed to represent?