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Civil Society in Indonesia

Jakarta governor candidates Adang Daradjatun and Dani Anwar sit next to Fadloli Muhir. (squid697/Flickr)

Jakarta governor candidates Adang Daradjatun and Dani Anwar sit next to Fadloli Muhir. (squid697/Flickr)

Hadi Soesastro

Good Afternoon, ladies and gentleman. I would like to thank Synergos and also Asia Society and also Ambassador Nick Platt for the introduction. I am very honored to have been invited to come and speak here on a subject that is very close to my heart and if you listen carefully to the introduction given, it is not the area of my research interest. In fact, I consider myself now as a participant in this whole development of civil society in Indonesia. So, basically, I would like to talk to you on this subject as a participant in this process. In doing so I would like to give you a background, a context for which civil society is now given such great importance in the country.

The context, of course, is the democratization process in Indonesia. A process which, when we began, following the fall of Suharto, we knew it is going to be a long process, a difficult process, but we were not aware. We were only made aware once we started the process, how difficult it is and lately also how risky this process is. It is still so fragile and of course the major risk is that we might see a reversal in the process. And civil society in Indonesia today defines its main function as trying to prevent this reversal. It is the number one priority for us. You know, we can’t even think of like five ten years ahead. We are participants in the democratization process, which is of course important. But for today and I think still a few years ahead, its main role is trying to prevent a reversal for that. And why is it so? Why is there a danger of a reversal? This certainly has to do with the circumstance with which we embark upon this democratization process. It happened almost overnight. You know there was no planning whatsoever. Nobody expected Suharto to release its power the way it all happened. It is history. But we were left with a situation in which the institutions that existed in the country before; it was Suharto, Suharto was the institution. It crumbled. There were no institution that could in fact take over the task of maintaining stability in the society and all these things. They were all not there, in terms of institutions. And I think from that time on many of us believed that after all there is some kind of resilience, aid to society despite the depression for many, many years. Perhaps there was still some social capital that was left, that helped us sort of overcome the difficulty, the chains. But once we set out to embark on the process, I think that then that we began to realize how weak the foundation is, how fragile this process is going to be because the institutions that effect Suharto began to develop in the late sixties, the early seventies was already destroyed, partly by himself, but it last fifteen years or so of his rule when he took everything to himself. So he became the institution. So the challenge for the Indonesian society now is in fact, to create, to recreate those institutions. To develop in fact, new institutions.

Democracy can only blossom when you have the institutions. The process, I think, is far from smooth partly as a result, because there is no blueprint, it all come as a sudden. And second, there is no leadership in guiding this process. Leadership is so important because this society was formed for thirty years under a particular system tending towards authoritarianism and once that is gone the pendulum tends to swing to the other extreme. And therefore you need an enlightened leader to bring to the center. We thought that Abdurrahman Wahid, Gus Dur, was the person that was best suited to do so. In the last years of Suharto, you may remember that he was one of the fighters for democracy. He established the democracy forum for the democracy and he spoke out. We know from his writings, from the many talks he had given that he had strong views about a pluralistic society, about the role of religion in society. And he has been considered to be an enlightened leader and when he became President we all had very high hopes that he could find that kind of leadership. Unfortunately the whole environment was not conducive, does not support, does not provide the kind of support. And I would like to give you a little bit of background on this.

According to the Indonesian constitution of 1945, which is the constitution that we have, which was drafted in a hurry and therefore, the founding fathers, the drafters of the constitution, considered it as something of a temporary nature. They thought that once Indonesia became independent, then after a while people should sit down and draft a new constitution. The attempt was made in 1950 and it failed. So, in 1950 Sukarno then issued a decree that said we will just go back to the 1945 constitution. And for many years it was considered to be a taboo even to talk about amending that constitution, let alone to talk about the drafting of a new constitution. But the basic flaw of the 1945 constitution of Indonesia is that it does not provide sufficient room for democracy to develop because it gives the President so much power and the executive, the government is given a very dominant position, dominant role. So amending or changing the constitution should be important part in the old democratization process, but then the problem is that it is not easy to draft a new constitution, particularly not within six months, under the circumstances that we were in. So the constitution was amended but not fundamentally. So we still have a presidential system. All the powers are vested in the executive branch with the president, no room for checks and balances.

The political reality however is so different, with the opening up of the political system after Suharto left and no political loss introduced allowing for new political parties to be established. So prior to the 1999 general elections from three political parties, almost overnight we had one hundred and forty-five political parties. Of course they had to meet certain criteria to be able to take part in the general elections and of the hundred and forty some odd numbers only forty-eight made it. So we had forty-eight participants in the elections. And it was almost certain that no single party could have a majority. In the previous elections you always have one dominant political party, Golkar, having sixty, seventy, or maybe, I’m not sure, maybe eighty percent of all the votes. This changed overnight with so many political parties competing. The largest political party, the largest votes was about thirty-four, thirty five percent, which was Megawati's political party. Again, while her party got the largest numbers of votes, it was not automatic that she would become president. This is also part of the constitution. It is not direct election of the president but the general elections. Of course, it is an election of members of the parliament, the house of representatives. In addition to the House of Representatives, now an additional two hundred people who then form the People’s Consultative Assembly, which is the highest body in the country, which will then elect the president. Somebody said it is based on the idea of the Supreme Soviet of the past to bring in different representatives of the large Soviet Union into this assembly. We had something similar to this. So it was left to the People’s Consultative Assembly, of which about thirty percent of the members are not elected they have been appointed and in the past it was appointed by Suharto.

So what you have, according to the constitution, we still have a presidential system. The President will then create his cabinet, form his cabinet. But because of political realities, up to Abdurrahman Wahid,which then became president, was elected president, only because of a compromise. The two other contenders who had larger votes, they were later on excluded and Gus Dur came in because he was going to prevent a civil war between those two contenders; Habibie on the one hand and Megawati. So Gus Dur came in; somebody whose political party owned eleven percent of the votes. So when he had to form the cabinet, of course he had to bring in all the others. So, in terms of the nature, the cabinet becomes something of a parliamentary one. There is according the constitution it is a presidential system but in reality it became a parliamentary system and the problems that we are facing today, with the parliament and the People’s Consultative Assembly trying to oust the president on the basis of a no-confidence vote is in fact not in accordance to the constitution. It is in the Parliamentary system that you can do so.

So in order to do this the Parliament is going through an impeachment process, which is also not in accordance with the constitution. And the basis for the impeachment is this so-called Bulog and Brunei. It is a financial scandal in which apparently the President was involved. But since it is very difficult to prove these things. And in fact the Bruneigate is something different from the Bulog It was a gift from the South of Brunei where the President failed to announce or open it and so on. But it is based on a very shaky ground that Parliament has announced this. As a result it has basically seen as a political move on the part of certain groups to get rid of Abdurrahman Wahid. The different groups also have different agendas. But one shouldn’t forget, and I think that it is very important to note that Gus Dur was nominated president by the so-called central axis parties consisting of Muslim parties. And, of course, they expected something of Abdurrahman Wahid after he became president. They were afterwards very disappointed because Abdurrahman Wahid did not want to play according to their tune and also there was not sufficient, I think, Gus Dur did not, it is not exactly like that, but in the process, a number of personalities from the central axis, which were previously in the cabinet, were replaced by Gus Dur.

So this was seen as an attempt by Gus Dur to limit the influence of their group but to also limit the access of that group to financial resources. Because what happens under this new thing, we can call it the era of politics in Indonesia, it was the era of development, not it is the era of politics, in which the interest of most, if not all of, the political parties, the politicians, is how to get access to state funds in order to pay for their activities and to win in the next general election. And the sources of funding, is only the government, so you have to be in the government to get access to those resources. So basically it is a struggle for resources, for robbing the government, basically. This is the main problem. But those are the more systemic factors that result in this situation. But Gus Dur, personally, also was not helpful in this because of his very unpredictable behavior, his very loose tongue in making comments about all kinds of things about anybody. He is so indiscrete about things. And so he does not only frustrate his political enemies but even alienated many of his friends. So he has become a single fighter today and his major allies, is Megawati, or was Megawati until a few weeks ago.