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Jakarta Post

What’s in democracy?

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, August 11, 2020   /   08:21 am
What’s in democracy? Gerindra Party chairman Prabowo Subianto delivers a speech during the party's 12th anniversary at the Gerindra Central Executive Board (DPP) offices in South Jakarta on Feb. 6. (Antara/Sigid Kurniawan)

The reelection of Prabowo Subianto as Gerindra Party chairman on Saturday was just a formality as in early June all the party’s 34 provincial chapters unanimously agreed to entrust him to lead the party for another five years.

In fact, the party has owed him a lot in its transformation into a key player in domestic politics. Starting as a minor party Prabowo founded out of his disgruntle with the Golkar Party, Gerindra has now matched, if not eclipsed, the former political vehicle of the now defunct New Order.

Under Prabowo, Gerindra, or Greater Indonesia Movement, has inched close to seizing the presidential seat, namely in 2014 and 2019, both in a see-saw contest. And now, after the upset double defeat, Gerindra is an influential actor that can shape Indonesia’s future through its role in the legislative and executive branches of power.

Gerindra holds two strategic ministerial posts in the current Cabinet of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, with Prabowo helming the Defense Ministry. It has turned out that Prabowo is more than just a defense minister, as Jokowi has put his faith in his former rival for big programs like food estate establishment and poured hefty funds into improving the country’s defense capability.

It is just unimaginable for Gerindra, which is growing in strength, to let go of Prabowo, who may bring more success to the party in the future. A change of guard may be not timely now for the party, despite a global trend that has witnessed the young take lead.

For the ruling coalition and the government, Gerindra provides assurance of political stability following its decision to jump ship from the opposition force last October, to the chagrin of those who wanted a regime change. Thanks in part to Gerindra, Regulation in Lieu of Law (Perppu) No. 1/2020 on the COVID-19 pandemic response and Regulation in Lieu of Law (Perppu) No. 2/2020 that reschedules the simultaneous regional elections to Dec. 9 were endorsed by the House of Representatives unopposed, as will some more contentious bills now being deliberated.

With Gerindra’s arrival, the ruling coalition now controls nearly three quarters of the House seats, making it unreasonable for us to expect the legislative body to perform its checks and balances role in the second term of President Jokowi. Many have, therefore, expressed concern about Indonesia experiencing a regression in democracy.

Perhaps, as some political experts believe, the country’s political system does not support a strong opposition and even gives only little room for dissent under the guise of national unity and harmony. Over the past few years the strengthening of the ruling coalition has come with measures to silence critics.

Gerindra, like other parties, easily changes its stance for whatever excuse, which shows the true face of politics as the art of the possible. Democracy, as former vice president Jusuf Kalla put it, is simply a tool.

Whether it is a tragedy or comedy of democracy, we may have to be ready to watch Jokowi campaign for Prabowo in the 2024 presidential election.