TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Twenty years after the reform movement, the quality of our political parties remains mediocre. Once out of the iron fist of Suharto’s authoritarian regime, instead of becoming progressive, these parties became elitist and figure-centric institutions. These are worrying signs because such parties are usually more interested in serving the interests of its elites than the public.
Heavy dependence on leaders or personalization politics exists in almost all parties. The image of Megawati Soekarnoputri, for example, is imprinted on the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). In their congress in Bali last week, the winning party in the general elections re-elected Megawati, 72, as its chairperson for the period 2019-2024. The same trend went on in other parties, among others, Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) led by Prabowo Subianto, Democratic Party chaired by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and National Democrat (NasDem) Party under the leadership of Surya Paloh.
The phenomenon eventually gave birth to the traditions of feudal leadership and patron-client relation within the party. Besides being considered as having charisma useful to mobilize the masses, central political figures are generally positioned as patrons given their ability to fund the party and their ties to power.
A party’s function should be to channel aspiration and political participation as well as serves as a democratic instrument to prepare suitable candidates for public offices, both in the government institutions and the cabinet. However, a patron-client based leadership turns it to an elitist and oligarchical one that cares little about the interests of the public.
It seems political parties only need the public every five years. What they promote during the elections even are not programs or the party’s ideology, but 'sweets' - be it charismatic leaders or, well, money, and, of late, identity politics that divide the nation.
Certainly, that is not a unique phenomenon of Indonesia. Political personalization is prevalent in immature democracies where political parties have not yet grown into modern organizations that uphold democratic values. Such parties are prone to breakups. If not, personalization slows down regeneration and creates dynasty politics; a practice equally detrimental to democracy.
The PDI-P has begun to show the signs. Megawati’s children, Puan Maharani and Prananda Prabowo, have been lined up in the succession of party leaders and are said to be being groomed to replace their mother to maintain the Sukarno clan's leadership over the bull party. The PDI-P will also nominate Puan as the speaker of the House of Representatives for the period of 2019-2024.
Of Democratic Party, SBY’s second son, Edhie Baskoro Yodhoyono chairs the party faction at the House, and the eldest Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono is predicted to succeed his father as the party chief. Agus is usually nominated by the party for various political ventures, most recently as a Jakarta gubernatorial candidate. Meanwhile, NasDem has reportedly proposed Prananda Paloh for one of the ministerial positions.
For obvious reasons, political parties should not be run like a family business. In a normal democracy, the public would reject such a practice by not choosing elitist and dynastic parties that breach the social contract and fail to side with the public. Indonesia apparently still has a long road ahead.
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