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Boxing culture taints coalition building

Publication Date : 04-05-2014


The legislative election has culminated in two astounding results.

First, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) looks set to fail to meet its target of securing 27 per cent of the vote, after various quick counts revealed it won only around 19 per cent.

Second, the Islamic parties fared much better than expected with a combined count of 31.9 per cent of the vote.

The search for coalitions to secure particular candidates in the race for the presidency has lost its way following the rampant boxing culture of mainstream politicians. Such a culture is first and foremost marked by lukewarm political consolidation.

The parties’ commitment to boosting their share of the popular vote is not compatible with their power-hungry politicians. National or religion-based parties are tied to this half-hearted commitment.

While the PDI-P fell into an internal schism following the over confidence of its politicians and its scapegoating mentality, the United Development Party (PPP) dissolved into chaos as top party officials argued over whether the party would support Gerindra Party presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto or other aspirants.

The PPP’s infighting saw its chairman Suryadharma Ali fire several executives. In a counter move, the party’s top brass suspended Suryadharma for violating party rules by opting for Prabowo.

Despite a reconciliatory meeting, there is no guarantee the rift is over.

Such problems are rampant in the parties as they are full of pure politicians, not statesmen.

With the politicians steering the parties, conflicts in communication, disputes over who makes political decisions and the desire for power are inevitable.

The politicians may have overlooked the wise words of founding vice president Mohammad Hatta, who coined the phrase: “The politics of salt, not the politics of lipstick.”

Parties with more politicians and less statesmen will never appeal to a wider audience since voters are more attracted to and take credence in parties stressing diversity and inclusion.

The power of diversity is unleashed when those politicians respect and value differences such as a readiness to accept outsiders, focus on people’s needs over ruling elites and ensure the right conditions are in place for the public to access parties’ decision making processes.

The Indonesian political arena has changed drastically over the past several years. The people have also changed; their access to information has expanded, they are now more exposed to different opinions and ideas, so parties should apply an open door culture.

The boxing culture in the political arena has worsened as nationalist or religion-based parties struggle to patch up disparities.

Nationalist parties like the PDI-P are yet to engage in an intense communication with the majority of Islamic parties. Islamic parties are struggling to find, unite and nominate their own presidential candidate.

Things get more difficult if some Islamic parties leave a coalition of Islamic parties behind. With the National Mandate Party (PAN) and Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) moving closer to Gerindra, and the National Awakening Party (PKB) about to seal a coalition agreement with the PDI-P, it may be no longer relevant to separate Islamic parties from nationalist parties.

A major stumbling block facing Islamic parties is the fact that there is no single Muslim figure with enough electability and popularity to compete with presidential candidates from the nationalist parties.

This country will not benefit from the constant, yawning gap between nationalist and Islamic parties.

The best thing would be a shared vision of religious nationalism. Smarter voters realize that religious symbols should not be subject to political abuse.

Instead of spending energy on finding their own presidential candidate, the Islamic parties would be better off focusing on proposing vice presidential hopefuls in response to widely circulated presidential candidates.

Jusuf Kalla could be regarded as a middle-of-the-road statesman and politician whose acceptability goes beyond nationalist and Islamic political camps.

The Islamic parties’ emphasis on a shared platform — religious nationalism or nationalist religiosity — and vice presidential candidates, due to the absence of leadership figures, is the key to unlocking the political cul-de-sac concerning national and Islamic parties.

Hatta’s main legacy, “the politics of salt, not the politics of lipstick”, seems to be the blissful end of a raging boxing culture amid tensions between the nationalist and Islamic parties.

(The writer is a lecturer at the Faculty of Culture at Andalas University, Padang)


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