EDITORIAL: Elitist democracy
The Jakarta Post
When the midnight sky sparkled with fireworks at the turn of the year, wishes were made and hopes abounded for good luck. For most politicians ( and adventurers), aspiring for office in the June regional elections in 171 regencies, cities and provinces, good fortune is all they seek.
They have even had to ask for Lady Luck’s favor to win the tickets to contest the local elections, no matter their merit. Unless they dare to run as independent candidates, their eligibility to join the race is solely determined by a handful of political party elites, if not oligarchs.
A number of parties claim to have commissioned a selection process that starts from the very bottom or grassroots level. Each regional branch sifts through potential candidates and submits two or three names to the central board, but such a procedure seems like a formality because at the end of the day the party boss can veto as he or she pleases. In some cases, the party chair has already handpicked a candidate before the selection begins.
Simply put, the selection of regional head candidates follows a centralized mechanism, given the absolute power of the party chiefs. In the West Java gubernatorial election, for example, the Golkar Party under then-chairman Setya Novanto preferred Bandung Mayor Ridwan Kamil over its provincial chapter’s choice of Dedi Mulyadi, who is also the Purwakarta regent. It was only after Setya stepped down that Golkar accepted Dedi.
Obviously the deciding role of the party elite runs counter to the spirit of decentralization to which every elected regional head should adhere. We can imagine how a product of centralized politics could exercise the huge power transferred to the regions as part of decentralization.
The rules of the game have bred regional heads who owe a lot to party oligarchs. There is a time for the elected regional heads to service their debts, which in many cases takes form in government projects awarded to cronies of the party bosses.
The upcoming simultaneous regional elections are deemed as far more strategic than the previous editions in December 2015 and February 2017, as they will involve the country’s three most populous provinces of West Java, East Java and Central Java. The outcome of the elections there will more or less mirror how the political parties will fare in the 2019 legislative and presidential elections next year.
So crucial are the June local elections that all decisions related to the event have been made at the central level. That appears as a legitimate justification of the party oligarchs’ overwhelming interference, but in fact it could endanger democracy as it fertilizes top-down, patriarchal relationships and potentially kills local aspirations.
Needless to say, the selection of gubernatorial and deputy gubernatorial candidates in the three Java provinces were restricted to the party elites, which cannot be said as representing the wishes of local people. Amid high hopes that the regional elections will benefit people the most, the local democratic event is unfortunately an elite affair.
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