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INDONESIA POLLS: Between apathy and excitement

Publication Date : 01-04-2014

 

Voters are discontented and politicians must buck up if they want the current political system to continue.

Malaysian political observers are always complaining about the public’s lack of interest in and/or knowledge of the ins-and-outs of our now increasingly dynamic political scene.

By way of comparison, Malaysian voters know a whole lot more than their Indonesian counterparts. Of course, much of this is due to the Presidential system with its separation of powers.

But still the Republic’s voters generally don’t know who the candidates are in the upcoming April 9 polls.

For starters, party icons such as Gerindra’s Prabowo, Golkar’s Aburi­zal Bakrie and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle’s (PDIP) Megawati Soekarnoputri aren’t even candidates.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that the public doesn’t really understand what the legislators are supposed to do once they’re elected.

These two fundamental problems are the key reasons why campaigning has been so lacklustre.

For many, Indonesia’s transition to democracy has not brought the much-heralded positive changes.

If anything, life is tougher, more competitive and worrying as bread-and-butter issues – the price of onions, the issuance of identity cards and school enrolment – become sources of constant irritation and even anxiety.

Still, the degree of understanding is abysmal.

For instance, Shodiq, a farmer from Nganjuk said: “All I know about DPR (House of Representatives) members is they have to attend a lot of meetings.”

Similarly, Robert, who works in a Surabaya-based finance company noted: “Apart from meetings, they conduct comparative studies over here and abroad, using our money.”

Occasionally there’s someone like Hasbullah, a teacher in Probolinggo, who knows what the legislators are supposed to do: “The role of DPR members is to draft laws. Such laws must be consistent with people’s interest.”

For all the money that’s spent promoting the various political parties it strikes me that a large proportion should be spent on explaining the Republic’s constitution because the national assembly, the DPR, matters a great deal and as powerful as Indonesia’s presidency is, the legislature plays a critical role in determining the executive’s effectiveness and Indonesia’s future.

The DPR’s responsibilities include formulating the legislation with the president and debating any government regulations seeking to replace the current laws.

At the same time, the legislators are also crucial in discussing any bills proposed by Indonesia’s Regional Representative Council (DPD) in matters concerning regional autonomy, relationship between the central and regional governments and other regional issues.

More importantly, people have failed to realise that their role goes beyond these formal responsibilities.

If the last couple of years have taught us anything, it’s that a fractious legislature with a weak executive can make life miserable for everyone.

So while enthusiasm for legislative elections may seem scant – they matter.

I’m not implying that the people are at fault for failing to understand the role of DPR.

It’s true people get the leaders they deserve.

But the idea that Indonesia’s elite has been getting a free ride for far too long is gaining ground.

Indonesia’s voters are discontented and politicians must buck up if they want the current political system to continue.

DPR members must do more. The bickering and skulduggery should be reduced if not stopped, especially if it gets in the way of making and scrutinising laws.

The last House has precious little to show in way of real achievement and the next DPR must do better.

This is all the more important as the majority of DPR candidates this year are those seeking another term in office.

To be fair, the expectations of Indonesians towards politics need to be better managed.

Rieke Diah Pitaloka and Eva Kusuma Sundari are two examples of legislators who have been working efficiently within the system – something which is recognised by the Indonesian public at large.

Legislators are after all supposed to legislate, not dole out patronage.

But this also means that would-be DPR members should campaign responsibly and not promise voters the sun and/or the moon.

You must only promise what you can deliver.

In short, Indonesia’s democracy, particularly its legislative process, is in dire need of a reset.

 

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