Sect. 1 and 2 were broadcast Oct. 19, 1999, 
on Indonesia-Act <> 
(the remaining sections will follow soon)

A Democratic 2-or-3-Party System for Indonesia

by Waruno Mahdi

Indonesia is in these weeks undergoing the most exciting phase of its aspired transition to democratic rule. This is not so much because the newly elected MPR has convened at last, and will now elect a new president. It is the weakening of caretaker-president B.J. Habibie's position that has fundamentally changed the Indonesian political scene.

The opening of the virgin session of the first democratically elected MPR since the 1950s took place under a lucky star. It came to be as a result of an extremely rare conjuncture of happy and tragic circumstances in which the caretaker president played a perhaps involuntary, but nevertheless characteristic determining role.

As long as the choice for next president had been between Megawati Soekarnoputri and B.J. Habibie, it was a choice between reformation and "status quo". Once B.J. Habibie steps back, and thus allows for a contest between Megawati Soekarnoputri and some other reformation candidate, e.g. Abdurrahman Wahid, it becomes a routine choice between two legitimate democratic candidates.

In a democracy one may and even ought to have one's personal political preferences, and the victory of the other contender in a polls may be felt as a personal letdown, but essentially it remains within that which one has to learn to accept as democrat. If Megawati Soekarnoputri wins the election, which would probably make the greater part of the country happy, it will be only for one or two terms, and some time she will have to take a seat in the democratic opposition just the same. The same holds for any other democratic contender. But whether the coming presidential election will be one between reform and status quo, or between two democratic alternatives will depend upon how serius a contender the Golkar nominee, B.J. Habibie remains.

The present session of the MPR is however also a good time to consider various projections of a future political party landscape of an Indonesia that will hopefully be the world's third most populous democracy.

Before going into the concrete situation in Indonesia, it will perhaps be useful to enter into some more general issues. Most of what will be said here is probably well known to many, so I must apologize to them for boring them with it. But the consistent policy of maintenance of ignorance under the Soeharto regime unfortunately makes a lot of this news for many of those who really count here.

With that said, I'll now try to consider some aspects of democracy and two- or multi-party systems of goverment.


1. Two Varieties of Free Democracy: Exclusive and Inclusive

This is not a reference to the fundamental difference berween democracy in industrial societies and democracy in egalitarian communities or communities in early stages of social stratification. It is also not an attempt to compare free democracy with guided democracy, let alone with so-called peoples democracies. What I would like to consider here is two distinct, chronologically successive manifestations of free democracy in industrial societies having a free market, i.e. capitalist economy.

Making far-reaching generalizations on the basis of observations on one country is rather risky. However, I find that a review of the history of the party system in Britain casts some light on certain seemingly universal tendencies, that are perhaps helpful in looking forward to possible future developments in Indonesia.

Britain provides us with one of the longest continuous stretches of system of government which may not always have been democratic, but was nevertheless parliamentarian. It exhibits a two-party tradition lasting many centuries, consisting in the apposition of Tories and Whigs. It spanned the transition of feudal to absolute monarchy, the rise of the urban middle class, industrialization, and intermixing of landed and industrial/financial estates, before it was replaced by Tory/Labour in the beginning of this century. This replacement was apparently a consequence of the transition from "early" to "advanced" capitalism, when labour acquired sufficient political influence to heave an own political party to the rank of major contestant for the parliamentary majority.

Through all the nuances which the consecutive economic and social conditions imbued upon the relationship between the former two parties, there seems to be a continuous thread: the Tories tended to represent established/traditional interests, the Whigs tended to represent emerging ones being sometimes in competition with the establishment, but essentially the two parties represented competing wings within the social "upper class".

In the period of "early" capitalist industrialization, the Tories were the conservatives tending to represent established financial interests that were tied with landed nobility, while the Whigs were the liberals and seemed to generally represent more mobile and "aggressive" newer financial interests.

The replacement of the Whigs by Labour as main contestant opposing the Tories seems to have been the consequence of a certain transition within the economic structure, perhaps one from industrial expansion to industrial saturation, or perhaps also a domestic accomodation to changing global conditions. It would be too complicated to try to describe here, how this led to incorporation of labour interests into the system of government. I'm only interested in the nature of the change in the two-party system itself.

In the earlier period or phase, the two parties, Tories and Whigs, both represented the upper/middle class. Democracy manifested itself as a purely ruling-class, white-collar affair to which the working classes had no access. This "exclusive" form of democracy offered no institutional venues for political discourse across the class barrier, which therefore could but only take the form of an antagonistic class struggle, and inspire militant working-class ideologies.

The new "inclusive" two-party system of the subsequent period strove to span the entire spectrum of social interests. The inclusion of labour in shared responsibility for the state had an immediate consequence which became apparent at the outbreak of World War I: socialists all over Europe abandoned steadfast principles of "proletarian internationalism", and rallied to the respective national flags (less than a decade earlier, in the 1905 Russian- Japanese War, socialist leaders of the two nations met in Paris to demonstratively shake hands). Whether this was so good for the workers-became-soldiers that would line the fields of Flanders and the trenches of northern France with their bodies is of course open to debate, but it was obviously to the satisfaction of business interests that were heading for the belligerent showdown.

Similarly, these socialists found themselves between the two world wars in the same boat with colonialist business interests of their respective countries with regard to the colonies. This situation persisted till well after World War II, as e.g. demonstrated by socialists in France during the Algerian War.

A circumstance of perhaps more vital consequence was noted by an observant critic of the time who let deeds follow words, the Russian bolshevik leader Lenin, who set up his theory of the "victory of communism in the weakest link of the chain of capitalist countries". It was in a country like Russia in 1917, where industrial development had not yet reached the phase which led to the transition one had witnessed in Western European countries, that conditions for a successful revolutionary escalation of "proletarian" class struggle existed. Lenin, of course, saw the reasons in a different light, but his success in 1917 suggests that he had correctly appraised the resulting situation.

As time of the transition from an exclusive to an inclusive mode of democracy in leading industrial countries lies very far back now, one is no longer aware of the existence of a distinction between the two modes. It may however be quite significant for an adequate appraisal of transitions taking place in threshold countries of the Western Pacific.

(Note 1:  for reason of space, I'll leave out the question of the development of the 2-party system in the US which would introduce many complications without contributing to clarification of questions at issue here. A series of circumstances led to elimination of labour from the political arena at the critical transitionary period and afterwards. On the other hand, the government system in the US did not proceed from any form of monarchy, as it did in Europe or Japan, and this seems to have influenced the nature of the tory/whig relation, letting whig Democrats be more conservative than tory Republicans before the transition, to become more liberal than the latter and receptive to political streams normally at home in Labour after the transitional phase in the development of capitalist economy.)
(Note 2:  One shouldn't assume, of course, that transition to inclusive democracy makes the labouring population an equal partner of business in all respects, but that lies in the nature of economy, not in that of the government system, and will not interest me here. It should of course also not be assumed, that the conservative/labour distinction in politics remains congruent with business/working-class on the social or economic plain after the transitional phase, as had been before it.)


2. "Asian Values" and the End of the Cold War

The "economic wonder" in the Western Pacific took place in countries with authoritarian regimes in the last decade of the Cold War. Toleration and even encouragement or actual establishment of such regimes in countries with industrially underdeveloped economies had been an integral part of the strategy of the Western Alliance in that global conflict (with exception of China, authoritarian regimes outside the orbit of the Western Alliance had no part in that "economic wonder"). It was considered a necessary evil to succeed in the confrontation with communism.

One objective reason for this was perhaps, that economic conditions of neo-colonialism ensuing after the release of former colonies to independence were not conducive to sufficiently dynamic economic growth and industrialization to render democratic government stabile in these countries (also not after overcoming initial fragmentational tendencies typical in newly independent nations that require time to develop state-consolidating inter-party solidarity). As a result of the price shear between cheap raw materials and expensive industrial products, not to mention interest and dividends on loaned and invested capital, the destitute Third World "financed" unprecedent prosperity in industrial countries.

On the one hand, stunted industrial development led to persistence of pre-industrial communal concepts about economy, ideologically akin to socialist collectivism. On the other, economic frustration understandably caused labour and even substantial layers of the middle class to be attracted by suggestive alternative solutions offered by socialist and communist ideologies.

The formation of the OPEC oil-producer cartel changed the situation dramatically. The market was inundated in a surplus of petro-dollars, and transactions between Third World countries, particularly between oil producers and countries with disciplined labour surplus and disciplining ideological doctrines rooted in historical mercantile tradition (Buddhism, Daoism, Islam), contributed to sharp economic growth, particularly in the Western Pacific, where we, firstly, find both at the same time, and through which, secondly, runs the sailing route from the Near Eastern principal producers to the major industrial consumer without own source, Japan. To this should be added the accumulative preliminary economic effect of US trans-Pacific expenditure connected with the Korean and subsequent Vietnam War of the preceding period and of maintaining their military presence here in general.

The authoritarian regimes unexpectedly found themselves in the happy situation of providing what seemed adequate political conditions for culturally reorientating a population of communal agricultural tradition to industrial discipline. But in Europe, America, and Japan too, severe limitations on civil rights had once been applied for this purpose. Nevertheless, as we could see above, this had not necessarily required a non-democratic authoritarian regime. The exclusive variety of democracy in some of these countries, distinguished above from the inclusive mode, proved equally effective, if not even more so.

Meanwhile, the Cold War came to an end, and the authoritarian regimes lost their original primary excuse for existence: that of serving as bulwarks to obstruct an anticipated communist domino cascade. Their economic success now served as a new excuse: some alleged "Asian values" their regimes purported to represent were ostensibly providing the necessary moral discipline that was sustaining the exceptional economic achievement.

I think one may state with firm conviction now, that they are grosly mistaken. Two points demand particular attention here:

Point 1. There are two aspects to these "Asian values": the one pertains to economical ethics, placing diligence, thrift, perseverence, and discipline as foremost virtues, reflecting concepts deriving from mercantile roots in Buddhist, Daoist, and Muslim tradition. This has indeed been conducive to economic success. It is however not at all a specifically Asian feature, being also shared by the Protestant puritanism that accompanied an earlier similar economic phenomenon in Europe. In this respect, therefore, one might perhaps speak of puritanical values, but not of specifically Asian ones.

The other aspect of the "Asian values" reflects traditions of despotic rule that had also accumulated in those and other Asian traditions: through imperial absolutism from Ashoka's Empire onwards in Buddhism; or arising in Islam during the golden age of the Caliphates of Baghdad and of Cordoba, or later Mogul and Ottoman Empires; or in Confucianist teachings reflecting traditions going back to the rule of Shi Huangdi. These may perhaps be characterized as "Asian" (if one can somehow distinguish them from items accrued in Christianity since the Frankish Sacrum Imperium Romanum, decried by humanists of the Enlightenment). But they have not necesarily had a positive role in the economic achievement (I'll return to this below). They mainly provided the ideological foundations of the authoritarian bulwark against communism, a function which became redundant with the end of the Cold War.

Point 2. Although the authoritarian character of their despotic regimes provided adequate conditions for disciplining the labouring population, the aims did not at all justify the means. The same results had been achieved in Britain and some other industrial countries under a democratic regime. It is only important here to distinguish between the presently prevailing inclusive democracy in countries with advanced capitalism, and the exclusive democracy of that preceding period of early-capitalist disciplining. Well, if that exclusive democracy had the same disciplining effect as the recent authoritarian regimes, does it then really make any difference?

Yes it does, though morally perhaps not as much as technically. Both regimes, 19th century exclusive democracy and 20th century "Asian values" authoritarian rule, were/are pretty tough on the working population and quite inhumane. Furthermore, whatever the former might have spared the own people it burdened with manifold severity upon the backs of the population of the colonies, and that without the effect of animating these to mercantile efficiency and industrial discipline. But there is a considerable technical difference which, however, only becomes evident when we more closely inspect the recent and still not quite overcomed monetary crisis.

The crisis actually rooted in two inherent evils of the "Asian values" regimes. The one is that immunity against public control led to excessive missuse, corruption, and unilateral concentration of wealth within a narrow circle of privileged. The inappropriately high accumulated debt that determined the depth and extent of the crisis was one direct consequence of this circumstance.

The other circumstance is that authoritarian rule and favoured treatment of "crony" interests impeded the kind of free competition and freedom of private initiative that serves as basis of rapid economic growth. In this regard, recourse to alleged "Asian values" actually worked counter-productive to the declared aims that adherence to those values were supposed to have served: fast economic growth.

Both circumstances, emergence of a privileged minority escaping democratic control, and partial restriction of enterpreneurial freedom, would obviously have been avoided either entirely or at least to a considerable degree under conditions of exclusive democracy. For, although this latter excluded a substantial part of the population -- the labouring classes -- from actual democratic representation, it allowed for effective mutual control by competing interest groups of the upper and middle class.

I am not sufficiently familiar with conditions in Singapore to judge what the domestic implications may be there, but in a wider Western Pacific scope, Lee Kuan-yew's continuedly repeated tenet of "Asian values" seems quite untenable in the light of the above.

Such "Asian" or "oriental values" were also mobilized by Soeharto to justify his brutal authoritarian regime. Inspite of a massive movement for democratic reform, the evil spirit of that regime still presents a concrete threat for the country, lurking behind every corner and corridor in the state apparatus. This manifests itself in elusive "Ninja" death squads and in provocators of sectarian unrest or other so-called "rogue" activities, as well as in the tenacious cover-up conspiracy that is thwarting all investigations into illegal economic practices of leading figures of the regime, and into atrocities committed by its military arm.

Furthermore, the efficiency with which the army leadership under General Wiranto managed to launch an almost hysterical anti-Western and anti-Australian campaign in the national media to cover up for its crimes in East Timor demonstrates, firstly, that it is factually still very much in control and wields unlimited manipulating capacity. Secondly, it reveals the army leadership's continued loyalty and adherence to Soeharto's ideological credo of "Asian/oriental values" authoritarianism.

Therefore, we must unfortunately face the reality, that all concessions towards democratic reform under the caretaker presidency of B.J. Habibie, such as a relaxation of censorship on the press, gradual release of most political prisoners, and above all the carrying out of free general elections, should probably be seen as a cosmetic operation aimed at salvaging the essentials of a political regime which continues to believe in the vitality of its sacrosanct "Asian/oriental values".

Pinochets and Soehartos are not "gentlemen" as they would want us to believe, but derive their perverted notion of noble cultivation from social relations that existed in a long bygone barbaric feudal age, when greatness was defined by the amount of suffering one could inflict upon others. They now acquired a degree of utilitary value as mercenary instruments of the Western Alliance in the Cold War. That war is definitively over, and nobody has any use for them and their "values" any more, least of all the people of the own countries they once terrorized. They also have more than enough innocent blood on their hands to relinquish all claims on compassion.

It does not matter, whether Habibie and/or Wiranto are shouldering the "status quo" platform out of congenital complicity, or whether their declared commitment to reform is candidly honest and they are merely being instrumentalized by the Soeharto clique. The net effect remains the same.

We must be happy to see "all the king's men" gathered together in the recent joint Habibie-Wiranto ticket. This apparently meant that the developments have so much weakened the "status quo" cause, that they are compelled to gather their forces instead of allowing the two to compete independently as before. We can now be even happier by Wiranto's last minute abandonment of the ticket, as Habibie is ever more obviously acquiring the figure of a singking ship.

The choice between Habibie with or without Wiranto on one side, and either Megawati Soekarnoputri or Abdurrahman Wahid on the other side, is a choice between preservation of "Asian values" authoritarianism in some either overt or euphemized form on one side, and democratic reform on the other side. A true democratic new start presently only exists in the election of either Megawati Soekarnoputri or Abdurrahman Wahid, or a combined ticket of these two candidates.

(to be continued)

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