10 | Jakarta Globe Tuesday, December 9, 2014


Politics Boni Hargens

Aburizal and the ‘Golkar Paradox’ Behind the Red-White Coalition

“We all know that the systemof direct elections is not thereal problem. The real evil isthe system of local ‘bossism’or strongmen.”

Golkar Party’s national colloquy in Bali on Nov. 30 unanimously decided on Aburizal Bakrie as chairman for his second term until 2019.

This obvious political stunt is certainly rejected by his opposition in the “Golkar Rescue Team” fronted by Agung Laksono, Priyo Budi Santoso, and Yorris Raweyai. This faction held a rival colloquy in Ancol, North Jakarta, on Saturday.

And in the midst of this chaos, Aburizal’s Golkar refused to support the government regulation in lieu of law on local direct elections (Perppu Pilkada No.1/2014), which was issued by former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono before he left his post on Oct. 20.

This refusal by Aburizal’s Golkar has been raising the temperature of political tensions between the Awesome Indonesia Coalition and the rival Red-White Coalition within the legislature.

Aburizal told the media that Golkar’s decision was in accordance with current political dynamics and presented the spirit of 2014 Bali colloquy.

“The decisions and recommendations are made by all participants of this national conference, and not by me personally,” Aburizal said while delivering the closing speech in the ballroom of the Westin Hotel in Nusa Dua, Bali.

But what is the real reason behind Aburizal and the Red-White Coalition’s rejection of the Perppu Pilkada?

Beside everything else, direct elections form part of the spirit of the 1998 reform era. In that time, we talked about decentralizing power and empowering local communities.

Direct elections are one way to achieve a strong local democracy. The election of local leaders by local legislatures, instead of local communities, is a legacy of the Suharto era. It is regarded as less democratic because it does not reflect the will of the people, but only the will of oligarchs, political cartels and local strongmen.

The electoral mechanism is actually not the only problem. Local politics are the problem in Indonesia. It is an indisputable fact that local politics are dominated by a few corrupt strongmen (Migdal, 2001) or local bosses (Sidel, 1999). They assume control over society as a whole in the absence of the state. Such local bosses corner the economic and political realms so that all democratic procedures serve their vested interests (Boni Hargens, Ed., “The Deadlock of Local Democracy,” Jakarta: Parrhesia, 2009).

This is the real reason local autonomy has not yet fully benefited the people.

This is the context that gave birth to reformist ideas. With direct elections, we expect elected leaders to represent the people’s interests, although there are no absolute guarantees. But why not? Because old political actors accustomed to surviving in a corrupt system learn to adapt to such new mechanisms.

With the power of money, they attempt to manipulate the popular vote with all kinds of political strategies including money politics, voter fraud, and even election violence. The more money dished out, the greater their chances of winning. They reshape politics from a culture of participation to a culture of money. Politics become a marketplace.

People are swimming in the stream created by these corrupt elites. Ironically, for this reason, too, those elites are trying to do away with direct elections, as if this is considered to be the root of all evil. We all know that the system of direct elections is not the real problem. The real evil is the system of local “bossism” or strongmen. They use money and intimidation as political tools to gain and maintain power.

This is the paradox defended by the Red-White Coalition, and especially Aburizal’s Golkar. But why Golkar?

The system of direct elections spells big trouble for Golkar. Firstly, direct elections have put Golkar’s local elites in a precarious position. They have run out of money and lost the election. Now there is widespread political infighting among them. When Aburizal invited them back into the past, they only found a candle at the end of the tunnel.

Secondly, there is a linear correlation between control over local politics and the mastery of national politics. Golkar is apparently realizing that the more control it has over local politics, the greater its chances of winning the next presidential election. With a mobilization pattern that is common in electoral activities in Indonesia, the regional heads could form the spearhead to winning the presidential election in the future. This is the long-term strategy behind Golkar’s rejection of the Perppu Pilkada.

We could say that Golkar’s interests certainly run contrary to the spirit of democratic development but the party, as well as other political parties in general, are shouting loudly about the good of the people (bonum commune). But what kind of “common good?” Or for which people? This is the context of what we call the “Golkar paradox.”

Surprisingly, this paradox remains the binding spirit of the Red-White Coalition. They talk about the people’s good while destroying their future. They talk about democracy while killing the spirit of democracy. The ruling parties should be smarter by initiating political maneuvers in the national legislature to end this “Golkar paradox.” They could do it if they really wanted to.

Boni Hargens is a political analyst at the University of Indonesia, and coordinator of Lembaga Pemilih Indonesia (LPI)