Priyambudi Sulistiyanto: The Democratic Contestation with Other Identities

How the future of democracy, particularly Pilkada 2010 (Direct Elections for Local Leaders) process, in Indonesia? How the role of Islamic political parties in local elections and its constraint of democracy in Indonesia, which has been running for nearly a decade? The interviewer from CRCS in the person of Hatib Abdul Kadir met Priyambudi Sulistiyanto, a lecturer at Flinders Asia Center, Flinders University, Australia at a book review, where he was the speaker, for Deepening Democracy in Indonesia? Direct Elections for Local Leaders (Pilkada) (2009) which he is the main editor with Maribeth Erb.


CRCSIn the two books that you edited, Regionalism in the Post Suharto (2005) and the Deepening of Democracy (2009), it is could hardly tell the contestation between democracy and Islamic law which is actually often touted. As we all know, the problems often faced by the post-colonial Muslim state are dispute between Islamic law and democracy, what do you think?


Priyambudi: A contestation between democracy and Islam, I cannot say much, because in this book I have found no specific problems about that. Because the areas that impose Sharia law came after the wave of the first elections in 2004. Since I have limited time and do not live in Indonesia, it’s hard to guard the development process of democracy and Shariah. But Sharia law is an interesting topic because it is very dynamic, but I do not have enough data.


CRCSIn the latest book, you are also very pessimistic in viewing the future of democracy in Indonesia, what do you think?


Priyambudi: It is because during the elections in 2004, a great deal of money politics occurred, electoral fraud and the like. But as academic duties, we should always be pessimistic. A pessimistic thinking encourages others to do further study. Electoral democracy is a complex problem in Southeast Asia because if we had given a vote, it occurred only in the beginning. Afterward, the community must continue to oversee procedural democracy. So, after those elected person won, people did not complete the further task in guiding the government either through community radio or mass mobilization, not based on like or dislike but for the sake of regional development.


CRCSWhat’s the difference between the first phase of elections in 2004/2005, and the second election year 2010/2011 of this year?


Priyambudi: I think the first election was still new, there were things that were unexpected, for example, the coalition parties in regional level was different to the other regions and did not always represent the coalition at the national level. Political parties also did not have leadership pattern because everybody was still learning. Interestingly, many candidates this time were also supported by small parties that passed the electoral threshold can win, as in the case of Banyuwangi. What is important was also the resolution of disputes involving the constitutional court as the case of East Java gubernatorial election. So, many lessons can be learned from the first election. The second election was a continuation of the first election, but now, both candidates and the people had had the experience, though it did not necessarily create a democracy in Indonesia and better quality. What I am worrying now is the usage issues that is connected with religious or ethnic, as in some places in Kalimantan or Sulawesi. But generally speaking, the first general election was a success. In large countries that involved more than 400 elective regions, we can say that the first local election was a good achievement. Hopefully it can be improved in the second wave of election this time.


CRCSHow did the idea of individualization in a democratic country, especially in election practices, where every individual has different options with others, negotiate with the idea of collective existence of the community, such as clan, kinship, family, community and other modes?


Priyambudi: We need further research on that question, so I encourage friends in Yogya to conduct a research and then we collect those results, then we can discuss again. The phenomenon of democracy around us is interesting. For example, the rise of an independent candidate, we must know them, whether they are true community leaders, adventurers, or just thugs. We need further research, or else we will lose again, because we have a very short term memory to remember everything. The level of the gap between individuality in a democratic notion and collective society must be filled in by strengthening active citizens.


CRCSWhat are the roles of the orthodox leaders such as Kyai, and the Sultan in the current democratic state?


Priyambudi: The reason why I mentioned in my article in this latest book “the people Palace” because it was during the war of independence when royal palace people and the old noble living in regions were destroyed by the social revolution, such as areas in North Sumatra, Northern Java, Borneo and Java. Local leaders were lost because of the process of those social revolution processes. Even more interesting, they tried to exist through the current procedural democracy. But it is hard to revive the old sentiment, because now people are more intelligent. Even those coming from noble families, but if not credible, he or she will not be elected. If rely solely on nostalgia, voters would appoint him leader. I encourage my friends in Yogyakarta, Solo, Cirebon and North Maluku to conduct this study, about the possibility of the old noble and king to use the old symbols, whether it is effective or not?


CRCSWhat comes now among entrepreneurs is that they try to become local leaders through the electoral process, is this a good news for our democracy or not?


Priyambudi: Democracy gives space where everybody can participate, regardless of their background; either they retired men or former military, thugs, or businessmen, there are no restrictions. What is interestingly is that if merchants use their money to mobilize the community, political parties and vote, it is not democratic. Some countries in Southeast Asia have a phenomenon like that. In the Philippines, for instance, the rich people and landowners control large estates in regions; this is what John Sidel calls “local boss.� But this is their history which can be traced during the Spanish colonization. Local strong men and landowners arise and were guarded until the American Liberation; they even became local politicians. So, the history of the local bosses in the Philippines was already entrenched for hundreds of years, which is strongly rooted in the society. We can see family names such as Aquino that has a strong identification with the rich in the region. In Indonesia, such process of local bossism, as in the Philippines, does not exist. The question is could this election produce strong men? We need further study. But clearly, there are two models of businessmen in Indonesia; the first model is bosses who have achieved success as entrepreneurs since the Suharto era, like Bakri and Kalla. Then the second is the local successful businessmen, although sometimes they get help from local governments. These new entrepreneurs are usually developed in the 1990s, when they created capitalization process at the local level, such as retail, property and communications. So, we do not need to worry if many merchants enter politics.


CRCSHow about the face of democracy in Indonesia by the emergence of the quasi movement organizations, such as the emergence of Islamic paramilitary, Islamic gangster that moved to support any political party?


Priyambudi: Using gangster or thug, in my opinion is the most frightening. This Premanisasi is stronger and manipulated by candidates who use their force and style. Our job as academics is to remind through many studies, but it is not strong enough, so we should also build the strong communities in order not to be used by those thugs. I prefer to use through cultural ways, where citizens are active (active citizenship) can speak, without seeing the difference of religion and race. Meeting at the sites of culture, can be through puppets, kethoprak, campursari for example. This is a part of strengthening democracy through the cultural context which is useless and has not maximized yet.


CRCSThen on the issue of religion, how do you see the local elections at this time to the development of religious parties and religious issues?


Priyambudi: Once again, this takes further research, such as areas that apply Sharia law in Tasikmalaya, Tangerang, Bulukumba, whether it is a reflection of society or not? Is this indeed what the public want or just to make the people suffer more because the minorities feel insecure. We live in this country which has the equal position in front of government as conveyed in Article 28. Because, during campaign, leaders did not reveal about shariah issues, but just when a powerful leader was being inaugurated, they regulate the Islamic shariah. Fortunately, this sharia law in the level of region has also been reviewed, because our constitutional system is the highest national legislation, if the local Islamic law is against, the supreme law should be reviewed and may not be valid.


CRCSIs there any implications for the future of Islamic political parties in the future?


Priyambudi: I think the strength of Islamic political parties would be reduced. The pattern since 1955 and then the fusion of religious parties in 1974, then the drop of their number of voters during the general election in 2004, then it came down again in election in 2009. I think voters tend to vote on the Nationalist political parties that are not too extreme to the right. Election data shows that many parties in the middle position like PDI P, Golkar, PAN or coalition among them with diverse parties are winning. I think statistics also shows that selling of religious issues now is unsold. Nowadays, people tend to choose a figure, even if he is supported by Islamic leaders, if he is a good figure then I think he will be selected.


CRCSWhat do you see the good side of our democracy which has run for nearly 10 years?


Priyambudi: The good news is people have a choice and voice, although it is still in the form of procedural democracy, but it’s a big leap. It would be nicer if after the vote, voters remain to guard leaders in democratic expression. The concept of active citizenship is needed to be built, because this concept involves all people, while the concept of civil society is very elitist. Talking about politics is not only in the formal framework of formal institutions like in the legislative or political parties, but politics should be an expression of everyday life. People can talk politics in shops, in the market. It also needs to talk about politics wisely. Citizens must be involved there, particularly in guarding the selected candidates.


CRCSOk, last question, what kind of polarization that would indicate the future elections in 2010-2011?


Priyambudi: More to anyone who has money, and who can organize the masses. It is no longer a problem of religious and ethnic polarization. People now are smart, but my fear is also a problem of money politics and thuggery, because to mobilize people, we must have enough money. Now people do not want to be invited to gather without money, because it was the excesses of money politics during the emergence of democracy in 1999. Second, a candidate now tries to look for community leaders as a tool to get more votes and get money to seek support.


CRCS: Okay thank you



This post is also available in: Indonesian


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