On Indonesian Democracy

Just recently, or to be exact on the 20th of May, another group of people (Islamic student association in Indonesia) filled the street of Jakarta for a protest against the government. Be it about the police force, Indonesian football association, or corruption in general, the Indonesian public, university students in particular, love doing a protest. It becomes, for them, a seemingly concrete act of democracy, in the hopes of getting support and reaching the government.

While on the one hand these actions may be justified, I think (at least in Indonesia) this has increasingly become less of a case.

During the Soeharto era, such action is almost impossible to be done. Any person or group who has the guts to do something even remotely close to that is literally betting their lives. It is only when Soeharto’s regime was put to an end by a massive student protest that this kind of act has become a trend (athough to be quite honest, i don’t think that’s why he resigned).


Nowadays, people are protesting about almost everything. From burning a tyre in the middle of the road through to hunger strike, people seem to think that by having a large number of people doing the exact same thing, they can inspire changes.

For those of you who are supporting the protests movement, sadly I have to disagree with all of you.

A typical protest in Indonesia concerns about the wellbeing of labour, on government transparency, corruption, or human rights violation.

Typically the protests will take place in front of the presidential palace or in the HI roundabout where most people can see. While their intention is to bring the many issues into surface, what they managed to often create is hatred from the greater society, particularly because of their disruption of public commute.

While I can sometimes agree with the merit of a protest action, most of the time, any protest using posters and whatever that they usually do are (for me) pointless.

In particular for Indonesia, democratic system does not mean that we (the citizen) all have the same power to say our opinion at all times. Indonesian democratic system, will instead, shift power towards the people for some period of time before taking it away again for some years. This period of time is called the election.

Outside the election period, any decisions related to the country’s citizens are decided by the elected party representative or government body. Hence, doing those protests would might as well be useless, especially when those who are elected has already possessed their own personal or party agenda.

Except for countries with actual democracies like Australia of course. But even there, you don’t go rally in the main street if you want to effectively tell your government that they’re doing shit job. You can just call your actual elected party representative from your city and you can bitch the shit on them on the phone. But of course there’ll always be hippies doing protests on the street, which is fun by the way, its nice to see a parade other than zombie walk for once and a while.

Anyway, So how do we make change in our country then?

Well first, by knowing which bodies matter. Most of the time, when our country has fallen in to a problem, like the KPK Vs Polri case, we always turn our heads to the president. Which is not necessarily the right option really. Granted, that he has some constitutional power and jurisdiction over most of the issues that are happening in Indonesia, but we should remember that the parliament holds more power towards the decisions that affects the country, especially regulation and appointment of important position.

The problem arises when we do not really care about the party representatives that we elect. Most of the time, majority party will announce their presidential candidate and starts campaigning with them some significant months before the election.

This distorts people’s judgement towards the party and made people choose a particular party (instead of representative candidate) in the hope of getting the promised presidential candidate. The case happened with PDI-P, where they already have strong candidate like president Joko Widodo.

The majority of the people choose PDI-P in spite of their potential danger to the country because of their strong faith in Jokowi. A danger that later proved to be real when their party leader started acting out as if she is the queen of the bloody country.

This sort of action also leads to people like Rieke Dyah Pitaloka, Anang Hermansyah, and Dede Yusuf, who have no political background or any relevant education whatsoever, securing a place in the parliament or government board. This fact saddened me more when an election for a mayor or governor is filled with campaigns appealing on their party leader, former party leader, or whoever it is that are completely unrelated to the candidate’s ability to lead that selected area.

These includes the use of Jokowi’s photos in a campaign for a mayor position, even though Jokowi might not have any contact whatsoever with the actual candidate. This means that most people do not judge their leader candidates by their ability and programs, but by the brand of the party.

So is that it? Are we forever stuck in a position where we do not have any say towards the government? Is screaming pointlessly and appealing to the government’s hearts and morale is our only hope?

Well not quite. We can start by knowing our legislative candidates, assessing their capability and programs and being aware of their potential agenda and party influence. This would not, of course, eliminate corruption and party intervention in the government, but at least this could minimise it.

Choosing the right legislative candidate might also take the power away from majority party like PDI-P or Golkar, which means that they have to form a coalition government. This would lead to the candidate to actually, you know, govern, by negotiating and discussing terms with other candidates. As for the presidential candidate, well we should worry about that after we get the right people to represent us in the parliament.

Because when we choose a candidate by his or her party it will instead create a decision to battle each other rather than to actually govern as a unit.

“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt


One thought on “On Indonesian Democracy

  1. hey rama, i agree with your post but to be fair, its not just hippies that protest here in melb at least, haha. the big protests lately are often about uni fees deregulation, marriage equality, and Indigenous rights – all really relevant issues for the society. 🙂

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