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Jakarta Post

Insight: The politics of wealth, Jokowi and the future of RI democracy

  • The Jakarta Post

    The Jakarta Post

  /   Wed, February 12, 2014   /  08:13 am

In the absence of comparable examples, perhaps '€œindustrialist'€ Arifin Panigoro was the pioneer marking the first post-Soeharto capital migration into the political realm. Hours after the fall of the New Order regime in 1998, Arifin publicly declared his '€œpolitical conversion'€ to the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). What makes Arifin'€™s case so special is that he was not only a former member of the state-sponsored political machine Golkar, but also a brave dissident against the powerful president Soeharto in the prelude of the New Order fall. In the context of wealth, he was one of the state'€™s clients who, under the tutelage of then junior minister of domestic production Ginandjar Kartasasmita in the early 1980s, received political support to grow as a prominent oil man. His '€œpolitical conversion'€ thus highlights a new dimension of the post-New Order political struggle.

Putting this in perspective, one must dive first into the ocean of Indonesian political history.

After the Aug. 17, 1945, proclamation, Indonesia abruptly attained independence. However, it was precisely the style of this bold political move that produced a distinctive power game pattern. Engulfed by the bitter experience of Dutch capitalist-based colonialism, the revolutionary leaders of independence based their movement more on their political paraphernalia and ideology than pursuing material control. Since 1945 up until 1966, the sustainability of the state and extra-state forces had rested therefore mostly on the ability to manipulate the symbolic world rather than the material one.

It was the New Order regime (1967-1998) that was profoundly aware of the importance of wealth as a political weapon. Under the management of a Western-educated technocratic group, and equipped with the slogan of '€œmodernizing politics'€, the state transformed itself to be at the vanguard of wealth creation. This was strikingly characterized by the abandonment of symbolic manipulation, imposing draconian discipline in implementing viable and systematic economic development and sending ideological zeal into the oblivion of the past.

This soon shaped a specific socioeconomic contour of society directly reproduced by the state, whereby most societal groups served more as state clients and constituents. They ranged from politico-military-bureaucratic groups, business people (mainly big capitalists), modernized societal groups filtered from the increasingly wider access to modern education, leading to the educated middle and lower-middle classes in urban areas. Finally, the state'€™s clientage reached '€” the newly rich people in rural areas. These diverse groups distinctively grew as the result of massive wealth accruement run by the state. As groups whose wealth largely derived from the state'€™s dispensing of resources, they were naturally subjected to be the state'€™s constituents, which were politically consolidated by Golkar.

Meanwhile, the rest of the political forces remained profoundly bound with the symbolic world. The United Development Party (PPP) and the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) found their base increasingly tapered to traditional groups, the remnants of their 1950s '€œGuided Democracy'€ loyalists. But through the progressive wealth-based New Order state'€™s aggrandizement, these traditional loyalists had gradually faded away.

Since the late 1970s, inspired by the new consciousness created by the so-called modernizing state and willingness to join the new '€œaffluent society'€, many young educated Muslims as well as those with secular-nationalist backgrounds shifted their favor to the state'€™s ideals. The sphere of influence of these political parties therefore rested mainly on the '€œunsophisticated'€ groups '€” scattered within the poor settlements of the urban and rural areas '€” in terms of both economic and educational standards.

The New Order political struggle was thus conspicuously different than earlier periods. While the state-sponsored Golkar was protected and favored with facilities, the PPP and PDI suffered a severe decline and were shut out from access to state wealth. As a consequence, this widened further the intellectual and wealth gap between party loyalists and New Order constituents.

The aforementioned post-New Order '€œpolitical conversion'€ of Arifin was thus a watershed, marking a fateful change to the political parties'€™ base. Through Arifin'€™s case, we witness the break down of the old nexus between the state and its capitalist clients. Although Arifin has long freed himself from the PDI-P, his move sets precedents for other capitalists.

In addition to taipan and media mogul Hary Tanoesoedibjo, who joined the People'€™s Conscience (Hanura) Party, Rusdi Kirana, the owner of carrier Lion Air, has followed suit, becoming a deputy at the National Awakening Party (PKB). Both have completed the steps already taken by previous wealthy politicians: Aburizal Bakrie, Jusuf Kalla, Prabowo Subianto and media mogul Surya Paloh.

This phenomenon vividly depicts huge capital migration into politics, which was previously almost totally controlled by the state. This background vividly shows how many capitalists who formerly served merely as '€œpolitical embellishments'€ in the New Order era, have currently taken the helm of the political parties.

Theoretically, this fantastic development has turned Indonesia into a wealth-based political oligarchy. This is substantiated by the fact that only the wealthy parties and politicians can afford the myriad campaign preparations needed to win people'€™s support in general elections. The new philosophy is that the most popular leaders are those who have disbursed wealth to the masses.

However, recent various polls suggest this oligarchic tendency has been stemmed by the sudden appearance of a '€œvillage-background politician'€: Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo. Stepping up onto the Jakartan public stage, it seemed he offered only modesty and honesty in leading the capital city. Curiously, the cosmopolitan Jakartans favored him over an entrenched incumbent in the 2012 gubernatorial election, and now'€™s he'€™s the people'€™s favorite for president.

Intellectually, Jokowi doesn'€™t seem like the ideal leader for Indonesia. But once he is able to officially become a presidential candidate, he would become the strongest challenger to the wealthy politicians. If Jokowi breaks through, the Indonesian democracy'€™s trend toward wealth-based oligarchy may not continue.

The writer is cofounder of the Institute for the Study and Advancement of Business Ethics (Lspeu Indonesia).

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