Join the ride of opposition pluralist parties
A friend sent a text message a few minutes after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced his Cabinet lineup, saying Yudhoyono's new non-economic ministers were people with moralistic and anti-pluralist track records.
The friend, an activist and public lawyer, explicitly said the appointment of Tifatul Sembiring, president of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), as communication and information minister would harm freedom of press and of expression, a pillar of democracy.
Suryadharma Ali, the chairman of the United Development Party (PPP), who was made the religious affairs minister, was once known for suggesting the banning of the Islamic sect Ahmadiyah.
Although famous for his anticorruption stance, the new Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi, who was also West Sumatra governor, did nothing when several regencies and municipalities in his province applied sharia-inspired bylaws.
Padang was among the first municipalities to set up such a sharia-inspired bylaw. The bylaw was then copy-pasted by many regencies and municipalities across the country.
The minister will think similarly to his predecessor, Mardiyanto, that nothing is wrong with the bylaws. He, like many other positivistic supporters, would deem the current decentralization, with regions authorized to issue discriminatory bylaws, is a consequence of democracy, a trend hinted at by political observer Henk Schulte Nordholt in his article on decentralization in the post-Soeharto era in the book Politicizing Democracy: The Local Politics of Democratization.
In short, the activist doubted the President's second-term goals, which were revealed in his inauguration speech before the People's Consultative Assembly: that prosperity, democracy and justice could be achieved.
The creeping Islamization in Yudhoyono's first term would continue to walk or even to run faster in his second term.
If it's a soccer game, the President's dream team would be Chelsea (blue is the favorite color of Yudhoyono and his Democratic Party), full of star players (all Islamist party chairmen became ministers) ready to defeat underdog teams and, even, threaten to kick the spectators in the stadium.
But let's look at the possible positive outcome: Tifatul would prohibit TV stations from airing stupid sinetron.
The stations would commit suicide if they had to replace the soap operas with unpopular programs spreading religious messages or promoting polygamy, such as the flick Ayat-Ayat Cinta (Verses of Love), in an effort to win the heart and mind of the minister.
The minister would firmly reject Japanese AV starlet Maria "Miyabi" Ozawa. He was also rumored to want to ban Facebook, but has denied this. Earlier, he supported the banning of the Jaipong, the traditional West Java dance he called "erotic".
Let's take a khusnudz dzon (good prejudice) that the all President's men and women in the Cabi-net display Yudhoyono's sincere willingness to maintain checks and balances, by excluding the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the third-largest party in parliament, in his lineup.
But we should not fully believe the PDI-P will play its role as an opposition party as it declared in the first term.
The party's chief patron, Taufik Kiemas, has been appointed the People's Consultative Assembly speaker with the support of Yu-dhoyono's party.
PDI-P secretary-general Pramono Anung has even stated the party will become a strategic partner (of government), a term known in economics and business, but not in political science.
Individual politicians from the PDI-P and other parties could still be expected to voice opposition to the strong regime of Yudhoyono's.
Besides parliament, an opposition role could be played by institutions such as civil society organizations, including religious groups, such as Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah, and the mass media.
In many cases, such as clashes between religious groups as happened in past years, it proved effective.
Hoping that NU and Muhammadiyah would act as "opposition parties" is wide open since the two largest moderate Islamic organizations must be angry and hate the administration after Yudhoyono decided not to pick their members as religious affairs and education ministers, as was traditionally done in the post-Soeharto era.
Yudhoyono's decision not to include NU and Muhammadiyah members is politically correct in terms of democracy building because they are not political parties. His move to exclude them could be understood as retaliation for the organizations' support for Jusuf Kalla in the presidential election.
Since the day of the Cabinet announcement, NU chairman Hasyim Muzadi and Muhammadiyah chairman Din Syamsuddin criticized the Cabinet members as unprofessional and representing only the political parties.
Now, Hasyim and Din have the reason and argument to consider that the government is upholding a hard-line teaching of Islam or even Wahabism due to the domination of ministers from the PKS.
So the mass media and civil society organizations with additional friends - the brokenhearted NU and Muhammadiyah - as well as individual politicians can do the checks and balances. Yudhoyono's intention to build democracy is not an empty word.
The author is a staff writer at The Jakarta Post.
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