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The Contemporary Political System of Indonesia and the Opportunity of the Idea of Social Democracy July 27, 2010

Posted by taufandamanik in Uncategorized.


Apparently, although the reformation has been running for 10 years indicated by the toppled down of an authoritarian regime, the dream of the benefit of the people – democracy and social justice – are not yet realized. Some parties, even pessimistically predicted that this political and economic condition would be difficult to achieve, if the conditions or perquisites to achieve them are not placed as the basis in the political system of Indonesia. Therefore, this discussion is very interesting since the changes in authoritarian political system which later being liberated has produced a big question: will it lead to the dream of justice and democracy or to a dead end (see: failed state).[1]

The last-10 years note indicates how the condition of social-economic, political, laws and cultural is entering a multi-dimensional crisis (see the basic rights based on the standard of economic, social and cultural rights, or referred to those are civil political which never get better)[2]. Therefore, it could be understood why many communities are losing meaning on the democratization process in Indonesia, and therefore, they are losing trust in the on going political processes or experiencing distrust to the political system, political leadership, political organizations as well as political institutions (formal and non-formal ones). Some parties, at least, worried that this condition will lead to political stagnant; therefore, the reformation project will end up failed, which in the end will cause more serious political and economic crisis that ever.

It should be admitted, the rapid change of political system in Indonesia since reformation 1998 is not totally in the hand of the movement people, to say that it had fallen into the hand of other ideological group. In a simple word, it could be said that the liberal power that brought ideas of political and economic liberalization, is more dominant. Even if the circulation of leadership among the political elites in this country, actually, the circulation removed the “left” and “social-democracy” groups, although the reformation idea was initiated by these groups.[3] Various reasons could be described however; the main reason is the failure to build strategic organization to direct the changes. The left and social democrat groups, are lack of innovation in designing the organizational scheme of their struggle, and failed to convince the platform of more practical struggle to the public. The habit to have discourse in “abstract ideology” caused them less supported by the public, besides endless internal conflict problems.

Therefore, it is easy for the liberal “to be accepted” as a new design of Indonesia political system, while the capitalistic economic system is just continuing the economical scheme of New Order with many small  polishing plus the penetration of neoliberalism idea into the economical system. The insufficient and weak control over social, financial and social-political network, plus the poor creation had pushed the left and social democrat groups aside.

Later, in such position, our governance format is designed, where the domination of the liberal is so dominant, beside the pragmatic groups who are the old players in the national political and economic stage (I called them as “political and economic broker” a term, which is less appropriate academically). It is not surprising when later the course of political system reformation is barely out of control. The change in constitution or its consequence in changes in institution and political norm, policy and practice of the government is far from those are expected by the left and social democrat groups.

Several models of analysis on political system

Quoted the idea of Gabriel Almond on political system and its performance, he explained there are 5 capabilities that become achievements for a political system:

Extractive Capability. It is ability to gather and manage natural and human resources from both national and international. The capacity of natural resources is still a potential until it is used maximally by the government, as the government manages the mining dealing with domestic or foreign capital and the interest of people welfare on the other side. Meanwhile the ability to manage human resources will be related to issues of education, resources improvement, allocating human resources and others. Indeed, in the end these two dimension of ability in managing natural and human resources should be combined into one purpose – for the nation benefit where the political system works.

Distributive Capability. It refers to the ability to allocate and distribute economic sources, appreciation, status, and opportunity for all societies. Human resources of the society and state are being process in such way to be distributed equally for the creation of social justice. At the same time, distribution of sources of living and employment as well as the social mobility are also important to be shown by this distributive capability. The tax as the source of income for the state should be re-distributed from the central to regional government. The tax system and structure, therefore, will influence the characteristic of state, whether it could be said as more or less fair, more capable in applying distributive capability or even failed to do so.

Regulative Capability. It is the regulation that refers to the flow of control over behavior of individuals and relations into a political system. In monitoring the behavior of individuals and groups, therefore it requires regulation, where state plays an important role in regulating and ensuring the rights of individuals and groups.

Symbolic Capability. It means the ability of the government to create and selectively make policy that is acceptable to the people. The more acceptable the policy is the better the symbolic capability of a political system.

Responsive Capability. In the political process, there are relationships between input and output. The output is government policy, which could be measured to what extend the policy influenced by input or the available community participation (as the input). Here, it is slightly different with the symbolic capability, the most essential is not obtaining the connection between the policy and community demand/aspiration, but how the process of policy-making – institutionalizing the mechanism of aggregation and political articulation of people interest into a political policy. Therefore, it is not just viewing whether policy output is parallel to the people’s demand/aspiration (capacity to catch aspiration discourse), but whether in the political system, a mechanism where the people are easier and more likely to be involved in steps of policy-making – has been institutionalized.

This capability could be measured from the responding the domestic and international progress. This capability is related to the global progress of politic, economic and culture.

It is slightly different, David Easton offers other approach, which view politic as dynamic organism, keep moving and changing and does not always lead to an equilibrium point. However, Easton still sees political system as refers to question about how to manage political system to be intact in world’s situation that full of fluctuation and vulnerable to changes. Therefore, Easton analysis will focus on the perspective on how the political system interacts with its environment, either within or outside the society.

The research of political system, therefore, it will be viewed from 3 dimensions namely polity, politics, and policy. The polity dimension is taken from the formal political dimension – structure and norms, as well as regulation on which institutions should be in the political. The political of procedural dimension leads to how the process of decision-making, resolving conflict, and realizing the purpose and interest. In this regards, the emphasizing is who could impose interest, how the regulation mechanism to resolve conflict to obtain a consensus[4] which accommodates various interests. Finally, it is policy dimension or policy as political dimension, which views substance and ways of solving-problem and task accomplishment through administrative system, which produce a binding decision. However, the focus of the Easton thought, although it is different with Almond’s in analyzing political system, but still about effectiveness of a political system in implementing its functions answering both domestic and foreign challenges. Therefore, using the approach of “Input – Process– Out Put –Easton finally distinguished the effective and dysfunctional political system due to the failure in accommodating input elements; failure in processing various demands or aspirations or even contradicting; failure to generate a policy or responsive decision acceptable by many parties; as well as failure to create a political dynamic that is able to answer both domestic and foreign changing (dynamic) challenges.

Of course, both studies on this political system could not be separated from other approaches – cultural, political and historical. For Indonesia case, historical dimensions from the era of kingdoms, colonialism, independence (liberal-parliamentary, presidential and led-democracy, and militaristic-authoritarian of the New Order) or post-reformation democratic transition will influence the process of creating political system in Indonesia. As the cultural dimension which, influences the creation and implementation of political system.[5]

Therefore, the key word is the capability of the political system in responding the present and future challenges, domestic and foreign demands, to present the collective will – an equal common will for fair and prosperous life. In such position, the political system should be designed which later on resulted in normative aspects to be built, what kind of structure institution and what kind of functions required, the pattern of political interaction, system of the party and election, models of policy, decentralization and so on.

Apart from the basic differences regarding the idea of state, democracy and social justice, either presented by the liberal or socialists (as well as the social-democrat), basically, all these ideologies are imagining a characteristic of democracy where political participation of the people is accommodated. Meaning that the universal suffrage becomes a common issue where the assurance of the equality in basic political rights is matters. They believe in the idea of people sovereignty because philosophically all parties recognize the basic philosophy concept of democracy means a government emerged from ancient Greece political thoughts and practices: government for the many, for the poor, for the disadvantaged[6]. So, democracy always considered as a political system, which strives for equality for everybody. These principles are different with the system of autocracy or monarch, which provide power and special rights (privilege) to a certain classes. Democracy born as idea and practice during the ancient Greece (demos-kratos) which is the “counter” for the political idea and practice of autocracy and monarch by teaching the principle of equality, and even special attention to the “poor” (see Andrew Heywood, Politics, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, page 67-71).

Indeed, the philosophic difference in viewing the freedom of individual freedom, collectivity or state, from the liberal and socialist ideology (and social democrat) will generate a different democracy model as well. Idea of democracy is the same; however, it has different models. In the end, it will also generate different state concepts. However, whatever ideology and model of democracy or political system, the main prerequisite is about consistency, solidarity – and quoted Easton -; the effectiveness could not be avoided by any ideology. The different perspective between John Rawls[7] and Edward Bernstein[8] on how to achieve social justice, whether entrusted it to an open competition (by the principle of fairness – by Rawls) and the requirement for state intervention in certain degrees on certain aspects – by Bernstein. However, still both of them need consistency in the idea and practice of the state, democracy and social justice. Meaning, if the social democracy approach (with the purpose of social justice and equality, either Rawls’ or Bernstein’s or other’s approaches) is the choice, there the state’s constitution must regulate political, economic, laws and cultural institutions that share the similar idea. As the structure, norms, relations of institutions of power, recruitment, socialization and measurement of those political achievement.

The Failure of the Political system

Of the theoretical and conceptual understanding mentioned earlier, there we, then, are able to assess the changes in political system in Indonesia following the reformation. The main change is indicated by changes in constitution, started from amendment 1st to 4th (the debate on the possibility of the 5th amendment suggested by DPD is in progress). In relation to our topic on opportunity to build a social-democracy state, therefore constitutional changes (the constitution 1945 amendment 1st to 4th) noted several important issues:

First, the split of policy-making power into some political and legal institutions, unfortunately, more and more does not reflect a design of strong state. The administration system becomes unclear whether it follows presidential pr parliamentary system. The president is elected by the people – therefore, it reflects the presidential system – have lost some prerogative rights. Even in some aspects, the power of the legislative is overlapping with those are executive or even above it.

Both, the holder of interpretation and constitution controller are overlapping between the power of the Supreme Court, Constitutional Court and People’s Consultative Assembly. Such condition reflects the disjointedness between political institutions and their functions. This condition shows the figure of the state is split and dysfunctional.

Third, the power delegation process, which then came up with autonomic power in the practice of KPU, MK, KY or others. In a glance, the changed delegative nature into autonomic power reflects a democratic condition of check and balances prerequisite. However, in many aspects it generates 2 effects. Firstly, power fragmentation of smaller and not solid autonomy elements, since the sources of power are split into different actors and institutions. Secondly, the results of policy and decision that overtaking one another and therefore, it is hard to expect that it would meet the symbolic or responsive capability.

Forth, the inconsistency in bringing new ideas (mainly Human Rights) into the amended constitution, either conceptual or implementation. The article 33 that has social-democracy ideology is “cut off” by laws and implementative policies below it, which tend to the liberal or neo-liberal. The recognition on the universal principle of human rights is cut off in the laws below it that refuse the principle of retroactive; the limited position of Human Rights National Commission; and justification for capital punishment. Furthermore, the practice of state and administration, although then ratified other human rights law instruments (cosmopolitan laws), did not fully harmonize them into domestic laws or program policy instruments. Therefore, it is difficult for the state to meet the rights protection function as set by Human Rights standards, to implement development based on the purpose of independence (the idea of Amartya Sen) and on the contrary, it failed to protect the citizens from violence and destruction (refer to one of the characteristic of failed state as expressed by Chomsky).

Fifth, the position of ad-hoc institutions becomes more important than permanent ones. For example, KPK which is ad-hoc – although its works quite pleasing many parties – gradually is taking over the function of the permanent law enforcement – attorney and the police.

Sixth, decentralization does not generate distribution of economic political power as part of the idea of pluralism and political recognition. Because what happened then was a slightly power shift (including some areas of political and economic conflicts) from central elites to regional. Meanwhile, the welfare of the people in the region is not improving. The distribution of national budget to the expanded regional is not automatically has consequence in the distribution of people welfare to these areas, however, it is more likely to be controlled and dominated by some local elites or national elites who moved to the local areas.

Furthermore, national politic is not integrated because expansion goes as the emerging of pseudo-ethnicity. Meaning, the format of state is leading towards “poly-ethnics state” as meant by Anthony Smith – the realization of political recognition over cultural/ethnicity elements to enforce the nationalism – but towards formation of ethno-nationalism manipulated by the interests of local political elites to get a grip on the sources of political, economic power and natural resources in the local areas.[9]

Seventh, the multi-parties system never succeeds creating the power of political that could perform aggregation and articulation of people political, but has trapped in the attempts to take over power (office seeker oriented without political ideas and ethics). The practice of “broker” and “gangsterism” is more dominant that a modern organizational development and political education, either among the cadres or the constitution community. Briefly, until now, the applied multi-parties system does not promise anything, on the contrary, it increased distrust of the community in political system and encourages the practices of corruption, crony and broker.

Another serious problem is the culture of elitism within party which finally denying the principle of equality and the possibility of vertical mobility in politic. Therefore, the prerequisite of democracy culture is not built within the community, because the political process only among the elite of political parties. The institutionalization of participation mechanism in political system, as conditioned by Easton, is limited in the hand of some elites who then manipulated the people’s aspiration into their own design of political agenda (therefore, it failed to develop symbolic capability as expressed by Almond). Such political analysis decorated the democratization process for the last ten years, meaning that the aspiration and real political rights of the people have been stolen by those who dominated political system.[10]

Eight, the weakening civil society power and organizational interest as well as uniting factors and elements. Therefore, the power of civil society – as the political power– is losing their significance in the attempt to strengthen this political system.

This weakening is also indicated by the process of atomization or particularization on both formal and non-formal political institutions (civil society). This tendency does not lead to political process – through formal and non-formal politics – into a process of institutionalization of politics or political ideas (the substances of politics). It works the other way, the political institutions split into smaller particles organizations, while the ideas become very casuistic and small group-based. The relationship of particle or atomic organizations or dialectic political ideas has symbolic nature not the systematic and integrated into a political system frame or the interest of national politics.

There is another tendency after the political liberalization project following the post-reformation 98. However, generally – quoted Almond and Easton – of this liberalization project did not produce a belief that our political system will be effective, solid to achieve the standards of democratic and social-justice state-society. However, with such performance, the political system in would not be able to solve the multi-dimensional problems it would make the problem worse than ever. This system also failed creating imperative social-economic condition to apply social-justice and democracy-based state. It is such a sad reality because since the very beginning, the founders of this nation have placed the basic principles of social-democracy ideas for this state.


In one of his writings, Habermas emphasized the importance to draw historic-substantive line between the past, present and the future to maximally avoid paradox in constitution and democracy in order to achieve a state or nation that based on political and economic justice. Unfortunately, in the former colonized counties, this dream is hard to achieve. They are trapped in the broken line between the period of colonialism, dictatorship and transition to democracy.

To Habermas, the democratic constitution does not only reflect the content but also through a tradition of building a clear project from the start. So, the on going legislation process or the dynamic understanding of the constitution should interpret and adapt rights from the current situations, but still drawing a connecting line with the perspective of the predecessors. Therefore, the democratic constitution requires future-oriented character or openness in the long run as ‘a self-correcting learning process’. The New Deal during the era of Roosevelt could be a good example on how a dynamic interpretation and changes are made.

Therefore, in this learning process we need common perspective as well as a rational understanding to assess constitutional text or in order to learn from the past mistakes. Therefore, Habermas also offered idea about the creation of a rational discourse in assessing the past (to understand the perspective of the predecessor) as well as to critically correct it to have future constructive vision to answer future challenges.[11]

The prerequisite on the importance of the connecting line between period and precondition of emacipatory communication (to create a rational discourse) as meant by Habermas is quite difficult in former colonized countries such as Indonesia. The results are usually continuous changes in system but never produce a solid and credible one as well as did not represent the perspective of the past built by the predecessor nor  constructive perspective that answer the current and future challenges.

The changing of an era to a new one (old political regime to the new one) always does make basic changes in political structure and culture. The change of “political outfit” does not change “political body”, or “political soul”. It aggravates the disease in the “political body and soul”. Each of our historical periods, bring us closer to the edge of a cliff.

I tend to say, this negative condition is the challenge and opportunity of social democracy. It means there is an opportunity to explain to the public about an alternative system among the dead-end of the present political system. It is not easy, since the historical trace of social-democracy ideas for the founders of this nation has been rubbed-down by liberalism, pragmatism ideas such as the idea of political market, although it is not substantive, but preferred.

Therefore, the prerequisite of practical ideological platform, well-organized and modern organizations followed by trustworthy leadership and measurable framework are absolute pre-condition if social-democracy ideas wanted to be alternatives.

Again, one of the perquisites of Habermas for emancipatory community, therefore the challenges of social democracy should also be placed in political and social movements. Because the emancipatory condition always assume democratization in politics and civil society.

The last but not the least is the effort to fight over the field of intellectual, although today pushed the ideas of social democracy aside, but historically it has strong root in Indonesia. Apart from that, the opportunity is opened wider with various failure of global capitalism to distribute welfare, and even to maintain security, and political security stability.

Medan, 25 September 2008


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[1] Noam Chomsky called the 3 characteristics of failed state are namely: firstly, the incapability of the state to protect its citizens from violence and destruction. Secondly, a tendency to place state above the domestic and international laws and thirdly, present democratic forms are experiencing deficit.

[2] In order to expand the understanding on these standards in their relation to “development”, the readers are advised to read “Development as Freedom”, Amartya Sen, Anchor Books, New York, 1999.

[3] Even, historically, the struggle of the establishment of Indonesia state was very much influenced by the “left”, for example through the economic-political thoughts of Hatta, Sjahrir, Tan Malaka, Sukarno with his Marhaenism and others.

[4] When it is converted into the ideas of JJ Rosseau, John Locke and Thomas Hobbes on social contract, therefore individual liberty becomes the basis for consensus creation (in the language of these 3 philosophers as social contract). Subsequently, John Rawls conditioned the principle of “fairness” (after obtaining individual freedom) for the consensus creation or social contract. On the contrary, the Marxist beliefs in state penetration to decide a fair consensus or social contract. However, both of them still place consensus or social contract as the basis purpose of a political system. In other word, usually called, as the reflection of collective will or public will.

[5] See the Indonesianist approach like Herbert Feith in analyzing the work of political system on Indonesia through historical approach or Gertz who tends to observe the aspect of cultural politic in Indonesia that influences the concept and the work of a political concept

[6] In his Gettysburg Adreess, Abraham Lincoln (1864) defined democracy as government of the people, by the people and for the people.

[7] See John Rawls in Theory of Social Justice, Oxford University Press, New York, 1999

[8] In the congress of SPD in Bad Godersburg in 1959, Bernstein refused Marxism and offered the principle of competition where possible, planning where necessary.

[9] See the case study on dynamic of political conflicts in expanded areas such as Poso and others as the study result of KITLV published in book of Local Politics in Indonesia, (Yayasan Obor Indonesia and KITLV Belanda, 2008). See also Anthony D Smith, The Ethnic Revival (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981)

[10] The tendency is enforced by capitalization of mass media world dominated by the capital group and elites who dominated the political discourse in the media. Therefore, the political discourse through mass media is getting far beyond the idea of creation of “fair” consensus or social contract as said by Rawls and even does not meet the conditions of equality and individual freedom said by Rousseau. It is also far from the idea of Habermas on emancipatory communication as the prerequisite of the creation of democratic discourse.

[11] Jurgen Habermas, Constitutional Democracy, A Paradoxical Union of Contradictory Principles ?, Political Theory, Vol. 29, 2001 see also Habermas, The Inclusion of the Other, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1998


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