How to Beat the Political Cartel

The Jakarta Post
22 June 2010

How to Beat the Political Cartel


By : Wimar Witoelar 

Is there a political cartel in Indonesia> It is an intriguing question that used to reside in the realm of political scientists and underground activists. It rose to the surface when Sri Mulyani mentioned the worm in context with her struggle to keep good governance out of the intervention of vested interests. Later she substituted the term 'marriage of convenience' but the sense remained the same as cartel, that of a few parties who together control the pulse of the nation's politics.

Later the political philosopher Rocky Gerung (this is an unauthorized label) told me that the cartel indeed is very much present around us. That is why decisions seem to take shape without warning. Or often we see the reverse case of a decision seemingly demanded by acclamation from the public side, but the authorities sidestep the issue and leave the issue open-ended. 

We know from proven cases elsewhere that there are cartels among political parties, in the parliament, between business and government, and between military in the government. Here in Indonesia we have a powerful cartel between individuals covering areas of government, legislature, political parties, driven by individual business interests. As our democracy progresses we have fallen into the trap of allowing money to reign supreme in politics. Party formation, selection of cadres, parliament memberships, cabinet appointments all are determined by the cartel. Now becoming more powerful by the day, court cases, police arrests, attorney general prosecution are facilitated by cartel operatives given the moniker 'markus' for 'makelar kasus' (case brokers). Many of the operatives have operated before the days of the cartel, then they are either recruited or isolated. 

It is easy to dismiss these ideas as conspiracy theory, but in the words of the wise, better to be safe than sorry. It is safer to assume the cartel exists in one form or another, then to whistle in the dark and wish the ghosts away. It is also a sounder analytical framework to assume there is a force greater than official and constitutional powers. We are often befuddled and bewildered by policies that go against the logic of the common good, while we know many public officials are good people. The puzzle need not stay longer if people no longer place too much hope in the people we have elected and the people who have been appointed under the electoral mandate. They say that in the semi-feudal society we live in ultimately the people insure their hopes in the president. When a president gets more than 60% of the popular vote that insurance is expected to be stronger. But it seems the president gets his reinsurance from a less benevolent power. 

The people have representatives in the parliament, but in the same conversation Mr. Gerung observes that the DPR has turned into massive pile of inanimate bodies, moving only when money is waved around at them. With the debate going on about a pork barrel funding scheme, it is apparent that some parliamentarians feel they are more competent than the government in taking care of the people's needs. The dangers of legislative-executive conflict of interest are obvious but the cartel is unheedful of them because of he single-mindedness of their objective.  

In the end it becomes difficult to separate the legislative from the executive, the legislative from the judicial. A cartel operative can be judge, jury and executioner.  

The responsibility for healthy political life rests with political parties and the electoral mechanism to integrate them with the public needs. Indonesia has achieved a lot in the ares of political party rationalization and the functioning of an open electoral system, but somewhere along the way the soul was lost somewhere between politicians' callousness and ordinary people's suspicion of politics. As ordinary people get more disgruntled with politics, they turn to their professions and business, little knowing that the very lifestyle they enjoy would vaporize when politics takes over life completely. As the young political observer Benny Handoko said, “You may ignore politics, but politics will never ignore you.”

So here lies the main clue to the fight against the cartel. The struggle can be won not by radical action, but by consistent awareness to the plight of their voices, some unexpressed and some dominated by the media which is partially controlled by the cartel. The task still lies with the political parties. But competition among the parties ahas caused them to be unenthusiastic about forming a political curriculum. No party proactively campaigns for citizens needs. Instead they compete for a place in the ruling coalition, or stay as opposition without a cause.

The political structure is correct. Rules and regulations generally abound, but no one has the zeal to apply them except the powerless. Now the powerless can become powerful if they speak in concerted fashion. As an entry point for political novices, the call is for more knowledge and active dialogue among people uncompromised by the politrical cartel. Issues can be identified which lead to better citizenship. It is titillating but a waste of time to dwell on porn, especially when most of the discussion is on private aspects as the case. We do not want the public to continue discussing private issues in public and allow public issues to be negotiated in private between leaders of the cartel. 

Again paraphrasing Rocky Gerung, integrity is the source of positive change. There is a huge accumulation of energy in the ordinary people currently, among others in groups like 'Kita Percaya Inegritas SMI,' ready to be channeled to productive purposes. It is not a matter of preparing Sri Mulyani for President. It is a matter of empowering the ordinary people as the rightful owners of the political system.

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  1. From bali culture on 24 June 2010 12:23:59 WIB
    wah sapa tuh?
  2. From Chandra on 25 June 2010 23:23:02 WIB
    Thanks to WW for the inspiring article. As Gerung correctly pointed out, it all started the wrong way when in 1998 we choose reformation instead of revolutionary path. But yes, let us not look at the past. Empowering ordinary people is one way. The fight for conscience must be won. But we should addressed to the root of all evil and that is our lame duck leader who is plagued by indecisiveness, compromise, negligence , image painting and few other counter productive state of mind.
  3. From Dotty on 20 June 2011 02:30:17 WIB
    Hahaahha. IÂím not too bright today. Great post!
  4. From Daisy on 31 July 2011 08:14:30 WIB
    Woot, I will cretailny put this to good use!

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