Civilian politics is in the balance
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At its national leadership meeting in Bogor, the Golkar Party named chairman Aburizal Bakrie as the party’s presidential candidate. Despite the undemocratic method of appointment, the party’s executive board managed to push through the proposal to nominate the business tycoon and eliminate another respected candidate, Jusuf Kalla. Aburizal asserted that a definitive candidate will shift the party into focusing on solidifying itself and winning the election rather than being trapped in disagreement near election time.
Prior to the 2014 election, endorsing Aburizal as Golkar’s presidential candidate, with far from unanimous support from within the party, is a grave turn of events for civilian politics. It seems that chairmanship of the party is a direct ticket for the presidential nomination in this republic. Strong control and authority of the party’s chief are instrumental in shutting down the opportunities of other cadres.
An excessive oligarchy in the country’s parties led their members simply to say “yes” or “amen” in response to their elites’ wishes and decisions. Any protests are considered unacceptable while cadres’ endorsements are highly required. As a consequence, the best talents miss the chance to lead this nation. Is a chairman of the party considered as the best party figure, so that he or she may run as a presidential candidate? In fact, there is no guarantee that a chairman is always the best figure to do this.
There are many other party cadres who are capable, qualified and eligible candidates irrespective of their backgrounds or gender. Yet a proper mechanism needs to be guaranteed. It is unfortunate that party elites fail to place this as a major concern, whereas in fact, people long for a president who performs well and shows the required coping skills. I am skeptical that those sorts of candidates will come from our parties’ current structures.
Some countries show that a party’s chief does not always run for the presidential role. Instead, the party’s best candidate is preferred. This gives a moral message that the door is always open to the best figures of the party to join fair and honest competition to devote themselves to the larger cause of national awakening and leadership. Though the final policy depends on each party, the way the voters in the US elect delegates to national conventions seems elegant and is worth pondering. Such a mechanism is more promising to attract the best figures in the party.
Expanding the tyranny of capital is another factor that leaves civilian politics hanging in the balance. It is common knowledge that a race to become the chairman of a political party is always tinged with political intrigue and money politics. The principle of primus inter pares (first among equals) is never applied to the selection of party leaders. In contrast, the elected party chair is likely to come from powerful capitalist groups, owing to a costly election campaign. Thus, one can imagine what would happen if they are given a direct ticket to pursue the presidency.
Such is the case with local elections. Many candidates with deep pockets have a better chance of being selected in the election. In local direct elections, financially abundant candidates can buy the party and block their competitors, as occured in Jakarta’s gubernatorial election five years ago. Elected lawmakers relying on financial power and absurd fame but without a strong political vision and clear track record can hardly be expected to fight for the public interest.
It is no surprise that the performance of public officials in various regions, particularly the executive and legislative branches, has frequently disgruntled people. The Home Ministry reported that more than half of the governors and dozens of regents and mayors have been involved in graft cases. This snowball effect has lead to a slowdown in growth and development in many regions, including in new administrative districts. According to the Disadvantaged Regions Ministry, a large number of regions are still categorized as disadvantaged in terms of economy, human resources, infrastructure, financial capacity and local accessibility.
In this context, a decision by the National Democrat Party (NasDem) to give as much as Rp 10 billion (US$1.1 million) to each of its candidates preparing to run for a seat in the House of Representatives in 2014 is shocking and has caused intense interest. The NasDem party executives argue that it is a smart way of helping the candidates stay out of financial difficulty. They may further believe that the approach plays a momentous role in selecting and maintaining the party’s best talents, reducing potential rotten politicians who are known for their financial might but who are also brainless and heartless, and also knocking down the wall between elites and members in the party.
The NasDem party, however, should not fall into the same hole again and again. Like it or not, history repeats itself and money still propels politicians forward. Financial hegemony in politics turns politicians from representatives of people into party machines, destroying their free will, and setting the scene for a top-down political culture laden with monological circumstances as well as one-way political communication.
The writer is a lecturer in the school of cultural sciences at Andalas University, Padang.