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When Ideology Gets Abandoned, So Do the Votes

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THEJAKARTAGLOBE.COM – In the earlier years of Indonesia’s independence, when the nation was finally freed from the Dutch and held its first democratic electoral process, the search for the best ideology to be used in leading the country became an important element in determining the direction of the nation.

Decades later, however, past the years of strong nationalism and the New Order regime, a large part of the Indonesian public has grown increasingly indifferent to the nation’s politics, with most people choosing to ignore the importance of having a clear ideology.

The situation has been attributed by analysts to the public’s deep-seated distrust and disappointment following numerous cases of corruption that have emerged in recent years involving high-ranking officials and legislators from different political parties.

Pragmatic Indonesians

Adi, a street food vendor, told the Jakarta Globe that he was not concerned about the platforms of the 12 parties contesting the April 9 legislative election, saying ideology was not an important element in determining who he would vote for.

“The party doesn’t matter. I favor a candidate based on their performance as an individual. The most important thing is that legislative candidates will accommodate the people’s interest,” he said.

Rudi, a bank employee, echoed a similar sentiment. “The party’s ideology doesn’t matter. What matters is that the candidate has a good sense of leadership,” he said.

Ingga, an office worker, said she would make up her mind after looking at the ballot, because she didn’t know which candidates were running in her constituency.

“Forget about ideology — I barely even know about the legislative candidates in my area in East Jakarta,” she said.

“I’ll make my choice when I get in the ballot box.”

Other voters, however, still see party ideology as an important factor in determining their vote.

Dhea Amanda Rustam said her view of candidates depended on their party’s vision and mission statements.

“It is important to consider the programs that are being campaigned on by the party. However, I’d rather not be blinded by a party with false hopes. I will vote for a candidate who does not promise much but when he gets elected, he will implement the programs as promised,” she said.

Helniva Octoliza, who works in a telecommunications company, concurred.

“I see ideology as a crucial factor. The party has to represent what I am hoping for. However, I haven’t decided which candidate to vote for. I’m still looking into which one is morally capable of leading this nation,” she said.

Her quest for the ideal candidate to vote for has not been easy, she added. “To know how good each candidate is it’s important for me to know them well enough, and this is simply impossible. So I just observe what they get up to in the news,” she said.

Arbi Sanit, a political analyst at the University of Indonesia, said most Indonesians had the tendency to be pragmatic and show little concern for politics or ideology. “They don’t think about that; their only concern is what are they going to eat today,” he said.

Arbi also said people no longer felt a sense of political belonging because they felt they had little power in controlling the outside forces influencing government policy.

“They only follow what is served in front of their eyes. For years, Indonesians have been obedient citizens who follow and adapt to wherever the current takes them,” he said.

Hanta Yuda, the executive director of the Pol-Tracking Institute, a pollster, attributed Indonesians’ lack of interest in politics to the poor performance of the various parties.

“The people hold a great impact in determining the victory of each party. That is why people have to stop being ignorant. They have to want to know the idea that is being offered by each party,” he said.

“Indonesian voters should be given a political education to engage them and draw their attention to politics. Meanwhile, parties should correct themselves to restore their own ideology to strengthen their identity and their programs.”

Ideological irrelevancy

Hidayat Nur Wahid, the former president of the Prosperous Justice Party, or PKS, Indonesia’s biggest Islamic party, told the Globe that the main and most important ideology everyone must follow is the national ideology of Pancasila.

“Principally, our nation’s ideology is Pancasila, which respects diversity in Indonesia. As long as the ideology is not prohibited by the law, it’s legal,” he said.

In addition, ideology is part of what strengthens the mission and vision statements of political parties. For example, with a religious ideology, it will have to be implemented under the law. We are not in an era where religions and nations contradict anymore.”

Despite analysts’ concerns about the lack of political awareness among voters and their apathy toward party ideology, Hidayat still sees Indonesians as having become wiser and more critical in measuring political parties’ values.

“I believe that Indonesian people are critical. There won’t be such radical categorization limited to the political stream or secularism. They will vote for legislative candidates from certain parties according to the party’s electability,” he said.

“It’ll be relevant when the ideology that is carried by one party is in accordance with Pancasila and is not against the law. It’ll be irrelevant when the ideology tends to polarize other values.”

Hidayat added that Indonesians should expand their point of view.

“We are all now gathered under the Pancasila, and I think that it is best to strengthen that sense of unity to achieve our goal to become a better nation,” he said.

Guidance needed

Arbi said it was important for each party to have their own ideology as it would determine the issues they would raise and fight for and become the blueprint for the programs they would carry out in tackling such issues.

“Without an ideology, a party will get too focused on personal interests, or worse, they will turn into a pragmatic one,” he said. “It is possible for a party to be without an ideology if they have a wise and respected leader, but that’s rare. In many cases, even the leader of a party will have his or her own ideology to help lead the party.”

He added that parties in Indonesia did have their own ideologies, but only few stood by their values consistently.

“Even the [Democratic Party] is more pragmatic since winning the presidential election five years ago,” Arbi said, adding that since the democratic reforms began in 1998, Indonesia had yet to see a leading party with the courage to stick to its values.

Coalitions, he said, were a contributing factor to such a situation, as collaborating with a number of other parties compromised their individual ideologies.

Arbi said coalitions made it easy for parties to stray from their own original ideology.

In addition, those parties aren’t really strong in implementing their own ideology. Each of their ideologies are different and this causes inconsistency and they only prioritize their own interests. That’s what’s happening today,” he said.

He cited the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) as a party that was quite different from the others.

“The PDI-P is the one party that has held on to its nationalist ideology. It’s been consistent in upholding Sukarno’s principles in fighting against influences from outside Indonesia, like capitalism [ sic ] and others,” he said.

However, Arbi said the PDI-P may face challenges adapting and implementing its ideology to the situation in Indonesia.

“We need investment, technology, knowledge … with old nationalist principles to adhere to it will be difficult for the party. But that will happen only if they don’t adapt,” he said.

“The only way to adapt is to take advantage of such a situation. They have to interpret the old nationalism with the current need of Indonesians and uphold a new form of nationalism. If not, the party will soon be forgotten.”

According to Hanta, a sound ideology is the main tool for a party’s functions and is an important element that unites all party members to come together and move toward achieving its goals; whereas externally, an ideology also functions as the party’s identity.

“The problem is, Indonesian parties often forget their ideology without realizing how important it is. In the political ring, you need something to hold on to, to support your vision and mission,” Hanta said.

“We have to change the course of the political battle in this country. It should be a war of ideologies, not a transactional contest.”

Hanta said most political parties still ascribed to vague ideologies.

“In fact, those parties left their ideologies behind and are being opportunistic in the electoral process to win people’s interest,” he said.

Selling personalities, not ideologies

In recent weeks, parties have also sought to capitalize on their presidential candidates in order to boost their electability, instead of promoting their values and programs to their constituents.

Political analyst Yunarto Wijaya of the think tank Charta Politika previously cited the PDI-P as one of the most egregious practitioners, by linking all of its campaign activities to Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo, its presidential candidate, and its longtime chief, Megawati Soekarnoputri.

Similarly the Democratic Party has over the years become strongly attached to the figure of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, in the same way the People’s Conscience Party (Hanura) is widely seen as being “owned” by its founder and presidential candidate, Wiranto, Yunarto said.

Hanta said this cult worship represented a “remarkable political setback” in Indonesia, and emphasized that the importance of ideology in today’s political scene needed to be restored, taking the country back to the way things were back in 1955.

“The institutions’ ideas have to be strengthened even more. But what’s happening now is that political parties are controlled by only one or two popular figures,” he said.

“What we’re seeing now is the figures’ identities and not the parties’ identities.”

People have become strongly drawn to the figures promoted by each party without realizing the importance of understanding the values that they uphold, he said. “Therefore, Indonesians need a complete political education to fully understand politics and political parties have to bring back the importance of ideology.”

Hidayat, however, claimed that it was natural to have people investing more focus in political figures.

“With the condition of political parties being questioned, society is now looking for a figure they can follow,” he said, adding that the situation meant Indonesians were constantly looking for a bright figure to lead them.

“In this case, figures who have earned the people’s attention should be decent role models and bring good for the public,” he said.

Political figures, Hidayat said, should not abuse the people’s trust.

Source: Jakarta Globe, March,24 2014


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