President Soeharto was right about the format of politics for Indonesia when he suggested the nation only had three political parties 30 years ago.
The nostalgia about having only a small number of political parties is in the air these days, especially after the revised law No. 2 Year 2008 on Political Parties was passed by the House of Representatives (DPR) last Friday. The very essence of the revision is on tightening the process and conditions for setting up political parties in Indonesia.
The revised law, yet to be numbered pending dissemination through the State Gazette, stipulates that a political party can only be established by at least 30 people representing all the provinces in Indonesia. Also, a new political party must be registered by at least 50 people as initiators.
Under Law No. 2 Year 2008, there was no condition that a new political party can be established set up only by at least 30 people from all the provinces, effectively enabling two or three people living in a subdistrict or village (“kelurahan”) to establish a political party.
It was President Soeharto who initiated Indonesia to have a compact format of politics where only three major political parties took to the national political arena back in 1977: the functional group Golkar, the Muslim-based United Development Party (PPP) and the Christian-nationalist Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI).
This compact format of politics is what can be seen in major and efficient democracies, including in the United States, most European countries and Australia. In the second general election in 1971, in the tumultuous days following the political and security upheavals following the 1965 national course of tragic events, 10 political parties fielded their candidates for the House of Representatives.
This ten-party set-up was an outstanding departure from the 172-party format in the first general election in 1955. The three-party, all representing format, had been maintained, however undemocratic the days might have been, for 25 years spanning in elections in 1982, 1987, 1992 and 1997. This period was known to be the heyday of Soeharto’s New Order governments.
Following the downfall of the strongman in 1998, the three-party format came to an end loosened he political bridle. The 1999 General elections had seen a richly formatted political scene where 48 parties took part, as a euphoria for a democratic life came to a crescendo resulted in producing an all-for-democracy DPR.
Experience of the chaotically experimented political show-down then led the nation to a more rational situation in the 2004 general elections when the number of political parties were reduced to half in 1999, with 24 parties participating.
However, the rationality did not last long when a new law (Law No. 2 Year 2008) opened wide a big format once again resulting in, again, 38 political national parties and six local parties in Aceh province.
According to Siti Zuhro, senior political researcher of the Indonesian Science Institute (LIPI), the current political format failed to live up to expectations that the existence of political parties would give birth to good governance and the institutionalization of democratic values.
“The consensus on bracing the presidential system has frequently been hindered by this multi-party system. It has not strengthened or given impetus to the improvement of performances of the central and regional governments,” said Zuhro, citing the boisterous course of national political events had increasingly become a norm.
In an interview with ANTARA this weekend, she said political parties had failed in improving qualities in that they had been unable to play the role as a uniting force to keep the nation united.
Based on a series of researches she had done, she said that the dismaying reflection of that situation could be seen in the many disputes on results of election in the provinces.
Zuhro emphasized that it was high time that Indonesia rationalized on the number of political parties, a way for the nation to have more quality political parties that are capable of churning out dependable cadres who will become qualified leaders in the legislative and executive fronts.
“This country needs political parties that have strong roots nationally, not just loose roots,” said Zuhro, adding that the requirement for new political parties to have 5.0 percent parliamentary threshold, a 50 percent increase from the previous law, will stand as a catalyst whether a new party really has a strong public base.
The quality and capacity of the parties, she pointed out, would be needed to support the working of the presidential system where the check and balance mechanism is the paramount recipe.
Following the passage of the revised law, the government has seemed to be the most upbeat side. “The government and the House of Representatives in agreed to changes in the 2008 Law on Political Parties,” said Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi after a plenary session.
Key changes in the law include the formation of a body within political parties to settle internal disputes and requiring each political party to submit a financial report to the government on the use of the state budget.
The big players seemed to have been the prime mover for this new commitment on political formats in one could see that the bill had been passed with the unanimous agreement of lawmakers at the DPR. Minister Fauzi made it even clear when he told the media that the changes were necessary to keep abreast of the people’s political demands and developments of Indonesia’s democracy.
The new format for political representation has also be welcomed by former major parties in the Soeharto era, notably by the PPP that disintegrated into many smaller parties following the end of the three-party format in 1998. The multi-party system had seen this party splintered into those many yet weak political parties.
The PPP that stood recalcitrant on many occasions during the years of the Soeharto’s three-party format has said to re-embrace its former political units that metamorphosed into small parties in the reform era.
“We’ll try to re-embrace those had withdrawn from us,” said Lukman Hakim Syaifuddin, chairman of the PPP central leadership council.
Speaking to media in a ceremony commemorating the first year of the demise of President Abdurrahman Wahid in East Java on Sunday, Syaifuddin added that the terrain ahead would be more difficult for those small parties, including former units of the PPP. Thus, it would be better for them to go home and re-join the big house.