New Parties, Same Old Faces

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  • Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Berkarya Party, Tommy Soeharto, shows number 7 when Political Party Number for 2019 Election in Election General Commission, Jakarta, Feb, 18. 2018. Tempo/Fakhri Hermansyah

    Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Berkarya Party, Tommy Soeharto, shows number 7 when Political Party Number for 2019 Election in Election General Commission, Jakarta, Feb, 18. 2018. Tempo/Fakhri Hermansyah

    TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - The qualification of the Berkarya Party, the Indonesian Renewal Movement Party, the United Indonesia Party and the Indonesian Solidarity Party for the 2019 General Elections is nothing out of the ordinary in a democratic country. The Constitution gives all citizens the right to assemble and associate, including to establish a political party, and these four new parties meet the requirements laid down by the General Elections Commission.

    What is regrettable is that the existence of these four new parties does nothing to increase the political choices for the people. Alongside the 10 old parties that qualified the National Awakening Party, the Gerindra Party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, the Golkar Party, the National Democratic Party, the Justice and Prosperity Party, the United Development Party, the National Mandate Party, the Hanura Party and the Democrat Party they are only adding to the clamor of the political stage.

    Let us take a look at the first contender, who claims to be different: the Berkarya Party. This party, sponsored by Hutomo Mandala Putra, youngest son of former president Suharto, wants to 'revive' the New Order regime. They are targeting fans of the New Order, also voters who, disappointed with the results of reform over the past 20 years, hope the Suharto regime will return in the form of his offspring.

    But targeting fans of the New Order will be a problem for the Berkarya Party considering most of the voters in the 2019 elections will be youngsters who may not be familiar with the Suharto administration. Moreover, the party mission poses a danger for democracy since it aims to restore the old Suharto-style rule, which was centralized and non-participatory.

    Suharto restricted people's freedom to express opinions and participate in politics. He was corrupt and paid for extravagant subsidies using foreign loans. The people acted and overthrew the New Order in 1998 because they were sick of Suharto's authoritarian rule supported by Golkar and the military for over 30 years.

    Political parties should be established with good intentions, namely to provide increased political choices for people not represented by the existing parties. Luiz Lula da Silva did this when he established the Labor Party in Brazil. He used an innovative approach putting the working class first and prioritizing public participation. He also vowed to end hunger, which was haunting the poor of the nation. Although he was subsequently not able to fulfill all his promises, Lula provided hope. He was elected president of Brazil for two terms (2003-2011).

    Indonesian political parties back in the liberal democracy era of the 1950s and 1960s also offered hope and new choices. For example, the Indonesian Socialist Party emerged as a democratic socialist movement. The cadre-based party was a magnet for intellectuals, especially in urban areas. Then there was the Masyumi Party, with its Islamist ideology. If the Nahdlatul Ulama had not split from it and contested the 1955 election separately, Masyumi would have garnered more votes than the Indonesian National Party and won the election. Even the Indonesian Communist Party, when it entered the political arena at the time, attracted many because it offered to defend the proletariat.

    Now we have more parties, but the quality of our democracy is not improving. The number of stalls is increasing, but the goods are old and all the same. Using different modes of propaganda, all the parties talk of poverty, democracy and anti-corruption. All defend the farmers and the teachers while offering programs of subsidies for education and health.

    This is what happens when parties are established merely to seek power, influence and political access. The ideological differences between parties are set aside for these pragmatic aims. Money politics is tolerated, and religious symbols are used as much by the nationalist parties as those who from the outset use religious themes. Look at the tug-of-war over Law No. 17/2014 on the People's Consultative Assembly, House of Representatives (DPR), Regional Representative Assembly and Provincial Legislative Assemblies, known as the MD3 Law. This law gives the DPR opportunity to criminalize ordinary citizens. Yet almost all the parties with the word 'democracy' in their names except the National Democrats (NasDem)support this law. On the other hand, the United Development Party opposes it for the pragmatic reason it will not be awarded any of the additional speaker or deputy positions stipulated in the law. 

    Indonesia is a large nation with many opinions needing political representation. In future, the General Elections Commission should tighten up the selection process for parties, to not only concern itself with administrative aspects, but also consider originality of ideology and vision. This way, qualifying parties would represent a wider range of political opinion. The public needs new parties that provide new hope, not mindless followers or those who want to see the return of an authoritarian regime.

    Read the full article in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine