The Jakarta Post
Indonesia’s hard won democracy still allows for political dynasties to thrive, a fact resented by many following the euphoric regime change in 1998 for fostering the kind of corruption, collusion and nepotism that characterized the New Order regime.
In 2015, the House of Representatives passed the Regional Elections Law that barred family members of an incumbent from running for a regional head post. What was thought to be a breakthrough for this young democracy, however, was overturned by the Constitutional Court, another product of the 1998 political reforms. In its decision, the court said equal opportunity needed to be preserved for all.
But equal opportunity does not mean anything without a level playing field. In politics, a son, daughter or spouse of a prominent political figure are the most likely to win an election, benefitting from the latter’s sphere of influence and the other advantages they enjoy. Political parties, unsurprisingly, support political dynasties because of the lure of power.
The decision of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) to nominate President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s eldest son Gibran Rakabuming Raka for the Surakarta mayoral election was, therefore, to be expected, although it came a few months late because of internal squabbling. Other parties within and outside the ruling coalition look set to throw their weight behind Gibran.
Observing the current political landscape in the Central Java city, Gibran may emerge as the sole candidate for the mayoral post, making the December election simply an expression of how much faith Surkartans have in Gibran to emulate his father, a popular two-term mayor of the city. If elected, Gibran could have the opportunity to follow father’s political trajectory.
Few could doubt the sincerity of Gibran’s intentions to improve the wellbeing of the people of Surakarta, but the manner in which he was able to enter the race does not bode well for the maturation of the country’s democracy. He would have not secured the ticket had he not been the son of the incumbent president.
Indonesia’s democracy appears not to have moved far from its taking off point. It is a system in which decisions are made based on mass mobilization, like an expression of mob power.
Political dynasties prevail in this country because democracy has yet to fully take root and the political system remains prone to manipulation. There have been numerous cases throughout the country of political dynasties breading systematic corruption, and yet many tend to ignore this risk, as in the case of Gibran and perhaps Jokowi’s son-in-law Bobby Nasution, who the PDI-P may pick as its mayoral candidate for Medan.
If we truly believe in democracy, we should not give space for political dynasties to grow, as it will lead to the accumulation of power by a small group of families. Worse, it will deprive us of opportunities to find better candidates for leadership positions at the regional and national levels.
Now that Gibran has been nominated and more political dynasties are in the making, we have an idea of where this nation is headed.