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 by Jennie S. Bev, Santa Clara

In Indonesia, political parties have started campaigning for next year’s presidential election. Both direct and indirect, tangible and intangible, money-based and non-money based efforts have been made to ensure that as many citizens as possible vote for their party. 

A presidential election has been hailed as the so-called “democracy fiesta”. The ultimate party of civic involvement.

Truth is, oftentimes, an election is no more than a showoff of power and paternalism. It is common knowledge in Indonesia that parties give as little as US$10 to poor people for one vote. Talking about prostituting a vote.

Of course no one would admit that they are doing it, but unnamed researchers have acknowledged such occurrences. 

Compared with “money politics” in other countries, such as the US, special interests “buy” presidential candidates with campaign contributions, while the latter in return would “try” to live up to their donators’ expectations and also “buy” people’s votes with, often unfulfilled, sugar-coated promises. 

Are citizens represented by their representatives and the president? Looking at Indonesia’s current potential presidential candidates, we can only see glimpses of such qualities. 



Sure, in other countries, many individuals who run for offices either do not deserve or do not have the distinguished qualities either. 

However, we must see ourselves as Indonesians within the global context, in which we are not at the center. 

Indonesia Democracy Index 2012 is ranked 53 with a 6.76 overall score. This figure does not mean very much if we do not reflect within ourselves appropriately. 

The classic definition of “democracy” itself is a political system consisting of these elements: rule of law, free and fair elections, protection of human rights (including minority, gender and sexual orientation rights) and active participation of citizens in politics and civic life. 

In 2004, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution that laid out seven essential elements of “democracy”: separation and balance of power; independence of the judiciary; pluralistic system of political parties and organization; respect for the rule of law; accountability and transparency; free independent and pluralistic media; and respect for human and political rights, including the right to vote and to stand in elections. 

Now let us see how things are working in Indonesia (before and during the reformasi era).

Ongoing killings have been occurring in Papua for so many years. What for? Greed for mining products without any guilt for not giving back to the people. Is this democratic? I doubt it. 

Having a “fair and square” election, is it really so? With US$10 per vote (maybe it has been increased due to inflation, who knows), a presidential candidate can win a vote, but is that democratic? 

I doubt it. Skeptical readers can verify such incidents with NGOs that conduct surveys on “bought votes”.

Now, let us check the so-called “platform” aka “promises” of a presidential candidate. Have they implemented a mechanism for people to complain and take them responsible for their promises? 

I doubt it. Is there a way to measure their accomplishments post-election? I doubt it. Talk is cheap, indeed.

And to add insult to injury, according to Andre Vltchek in Indonesia: Archipelago of Fear, many women vote based on looks of the candidates depicted on their photos. Amazing. A bit of airbrushing. 

Many things have pointed to the crippling democracy of Indonesia, which — ironically — has just started to grow during 15 years of reformasi era. 

The democratic structure is blossoming, yet the quality is grotesquely subpar and the fundamental principles are slithering away and decaying.

Cited from Vltchek’s book, Anthropologist Andrew Beatty said: “People largely accept that their rulers are liars and cheats, while recognizing that some are worse than others.” 

Dependence due to lack of land ownership has affected many village people’s political independence for they would need to “follow” the land owners’ preferences, often corrupted by monetary rewards given by political parties.

Among readers who are in a state of denial that Indonesia’s strain of democracy is even better than in most western countries and “Indonesia is a young country thus we are not yet up to par”, can at least revisit the official Indonesia Democracy Index 2012 by Economist Intelligence Unit.

Indonesia is ranked far below Costa Rica (22), Botswana (30), South Africa (31), India (38), Jamaica (39), Timor Leste (43), Trinidad and Tobago (48) and Mexico (51). 

Sure, nothing stays the same and the past is not a guarantee for the future. I would love to see the 2014 Indonesia presidential election adhering to the most ethical and the best practices of a democratic election.[]

The Jakarta Post, July 19, 2013

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