The equivocality and malleability of Pancasila

Popular discourse surrounding Pancasila, the national ideology of the Indonesian state, often treats the five silas or principles as self-evident and even univocal in meaning. But a deep historical look into how these aspirations have been interpreted and politically implemented since the founding era, by political leaders and public intellectuals, suggest otherwise. Discussing this issue, Azis Anwar delivered presentation based on his CRCS report titled Polemik Tafsir Pancasila at the CRCS-ICRS Wednesday Forum on September 26, 2018.

The CRCS report on Pancasila was underlied by the many Pancasila-related events in 2017, making this year the most important one in the history of Pancasila after Reformasi. Those events include: (1) the commemoration of the birthday of Pancasila on June 1 celebrated as a national day for the first time; (2) the “Pancasila Week” events and campaigns held by the government; (3) the establishment of the Presidential Working Unit on the Reinforcement of Pancasila Ideology; and, most importantly, (4) the dissolution of Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia on the grounds, among others, that this Islamist organization’s ideological campaigns contravene Pancasila. Besides, some big events came also from below, such as UGM’s declaration as a university of Pancasila and Nahdlatul Ulama people/nahdliyin’s founding of the Front Penggerak Pancasila.

From these events, one of the questions worth pondering is: How can we be sure that certain ideologies contradict Pancasila? Can we objectify our interpretation of Pancasila and, if so, how?

Challenging that popular discourse, Azis Anwar’s main point in his presentation was to show the equivocality and malleability of Pancasila; that it is prone to political instrumentalization; that its actual understandings and interpretations have varied, competed, and some of them even negate each other. To support this thesis, he discussed Pancasila in its relation to four issues: (1) Islam; (2) Marxism and communism; (3) democracy; (4) the changing discourse of the post-Reformasi era.

Unlike in today’s discourse where most literatures and public talks on Pancasila in Indonesian language written by Indonesians are filled with glorification of Pancasila (that somehow it is already the best governing political system for Indonesia and therefore irreplaceable, a “harga mati” or “non-negotiable” as many Indonesians say), the status of Pancasila was still fluid and negotiable in the Constituent Assembly in the 1950s. Muslim figures from Masyumi and NU (a political party at that time), both united in the same camp, criticized Pancasila—that it contains incoherent thoughts or empty words—while arguing that Islam is not only coming from a divine inspiration but also more comprehensive to be state foundation than the man-made Pancasila. Even some figures from the camp advocating for Pancasila to remain the state foundation (consisting of PNI, PKI, and some other parties) acknowledged that Pancasila was not sufficient to be a proper ideology; it was more of a political compromise or a platform for major parties to converge. Unfortunately, after many meetings in four years, parties failed to reach the 2/3 everytime voting was held, triggering Sukarno to dissolve the Constituent Assembly. The debates in this Assembly, however, show the varying and even conflicting understandings and the negotiability of Pancasila among the early generation.

Spokesperson of Partai Nasional Indonesia/PNI, Roeslan Abdulgani once said in a Constituent Assembly meeting that Pancasila is “a synthesis of modernist Islam, Marxism, and communal democracy found in Indonesian villages”. His recognition that there is a Marxist ingredient in Pancasila is at odds with what the New Order claimed. Through some of its laws, notably the TAP MPR on Communism and the 1985 law on mass organizations and on political parties, the Soeharto regime declared atheism and communism/Marxism-Leninism incompatible with Pancasila, a provision still retained in the 2013 Law on Mass Organizations as well as in the 2017 Regulation in Lieu of Law (Perpuu) on Mass Organizations—the latter was used to disband Hizbut Tahrir. Sukarno, the “digger” (penggali) of Pancasila, himself was heavily influenced by Marxism, proven from his famous essay in 1926 on the necessary unity between nationalists, Islamists, and Marxists to bring about Indonesian independence and many of his other writings that contain a lot of references to Marxist figures. In fact, Sukarno was initiator of Nasakom (nasionalis, agamis, komunis) during his late time in power and coining the term marhaen, a local version of the Marxist ‘protelariat’.

Through its law on mass organizations and on political parties, the Soeharto regime enforced Pancasila as the only sole foundation for any organization and party, with any that decided to refuse shall suffer disbandment. Facing dilemma, most Islamic organizations finally accepted though with some reluctance. A few however insisted on Islam as their foundation, making them disbanded and some were engaged in violent conflicts with the military resulting in hundreds of victims. During the Soeharto regime, Pancasila permeated almost everything: from Pancasila democracy, Pancasila economy, Pancasila society, even Pancasila man. The Soeharto regime built its legitimacy on its claim that communism contradicts Pancasila and Soeharto once delivered a speech at UGM saying that Sukarno’s Nasakom was a corruption of Pancasila.

A question then arises: which one is more Pancasialist here—Sukarno or Soeharto?

The dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, however, marked the beginning of the Guided Democracy (Demokrasi Terpimpin), which in practice was an authoritarian regime. So much power was concentrated on Sukarno who restructured the parliament by giving only a fifth space of the seats to political parties while the rest of space was reserved for functionaries, civil servants, and other non-ideological professionals with the approval from Sukarno himself. His hand-picked parliament appointed Sukarno president for life. Sukarno’s imagination of Indonesian democracy was, as Abdulgani said, a “communal democracy” (definitely not liberal democracy) found in villages in which decisions are made by the “wise” elders—and Sukarno positioned himself as the eldest of the elders, implying that in case parliament failed to make an agreement (“musyarawah mufakat”), decision shall be reserved to the president. During the Guided Democracy era, Masyumi and Partai Sosialis Indonesia were disbanded and freedom of the press was restricted. Sukarno was the one who began the Pancasila indoctrination project to state employees and students. He hated multi-party system he deemed as noisy and unable to reach meaningful decision. If Sukarno were alive today, the likelihood is quite strong that he would reject the current system of Indonesian democracy.

Another question that arises here is: which democracy is more Pancasialist here—the one during the Guided Democracy, the Pancasila Demoracy during the New Order, or that of the post-Reformasi?

After Reformasi, due to the still strong memory of how Pancasila is instrumentalized by the New Order regime, Pancasila disappeared in public discourse for a while. It gained rehabilitation, however, in the midst of the last decade, notably after the increasing aspiration of Islamists for local Islamic bylaws (perda syariah), formalization of sharia in national laws, and the rapid resurgence of Islamist organizations. Pro-pluralism groups began highly concerned with Pancasila, considering its foundational role for Indonesian diversity has been threatened. The Islamists, on the other hand, also started appropriating Pancasila. Their campaign of the interpretation that the first principle of Pancasila reflects religious values in the state foundation has gained a decent success in seizing popular discourse. The latter was exemplified in the debate around the bill on anti-pornography in 2006, the judicial review at the Constitutional Court on the 1965 law on defamation of religion in 2009, and the judicial review to expand the definition of zina in the Criminal Code in 2017. In all these debates, the Islamists argues that, based on the first principle of Pancasila, Indonesia as a religious state cannot legalize pornography and blasphemy and must revise its definition of zina in the  Criminal Code which was a colonial legacy and influenced by a ‘secular’ paradigm.

For Sukarno, the order of the principles does not matter—his original words for the first principle was Ketuhanan yang berkebudayaan. For Mohammad Hatta, the other father of Indonesian proclamation of independence, the order matters hierarchically and he emphasized that the first principle sheds light and gives moral legitimacy to the rest of the principles. On the other hand, some Islamist figures always remind the public that the origin of Pancasila was the Jakarta Charter. When Sukarno dissolved the Constituent Assembly, he said that the Jakarta Charter “gives soul to” (menjiwai) and is “in chain of unity” with the Constitution. For the Islamists: the integrality of Jakarta Charter in the Constitution means the first principle of Pancasila was inspired by Islamic values, or more precisely tauhid.

The latest raises another question: who has the authority to decide the truest interpretation of the first principle: Sukarno, Hatta, Soeharto, other presidents, or the Islamists?

Given this varying understandings and competing interpretations, in the end of his presentation, Azis Anwar made a remark that Pancasila, at the end of the day, is a text and therefore cannot escape the nature of text, which is subject to interpretations that are always dependent on the context and the influence of the contemporary dominant discourse, both when the text was written and (re)interpreted. He argues that the objectification of understandings of Pancasila is a refusal of acknowledgment of this hermeneutical dimension which occurs in any interpretation.

During the Q&A session, a participant asked on why there is the impression that only the first and the third principle are in the spotlight in current public discourse. Azis Anwar answered that that was not really the case under Sukarno. The Guided Democracy or Demokrasi Terpimpin was based on the fourth principle (“kerakyatan yang dipimpin…”). The authorial intent of the second principle (humanity) was internationalism, by which Sukarno means Indonesia’s obligatory engagement in protecting justice and eradicating imperialism at international level. The fifth principle, as explained many times by Sukarno, was heavily influenced by the thoughts of Marxist figures Sukarno admired. The current impression arguably stems from what the New Order did with its indoctrination courses through P4 (Pedoman Penghayatan dan Pengamalan Pancasila or the Guidelines for Comprehending and Implementing Pancasila) which was obliged for all civil servants and PMP (Pendidikan Moral Pancasila or the Pancasila Morality Education) which was a subject for high school students. In P4 and PMP, the explanation each sila is filled with moral guidelines, contrary to Sukarno’s that was more ideological.

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