Mobilising electoral support from villages heads a return to New Order era: Observer

Source – November 20, 2023
Gibran Rakabuming attends 2023 United Village National Meeting – November 19, 2023 (Kompas)

Ihsanuddin, Jakarta – The University of Indonesia Political Studies Centre (Puskapol UI) has warned that efforts to mobilise village officials for political support in elections is one of the leadership styles practiced by the New Order regime of former president Suharto.

Earlier, this issue came to the fore after thousands of village officials signalled their support for one of the vice presidential candidates in the 2024 elections who is also President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's eldest son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka.

Puskapol UI Director Hurriyah believes that efforts of this type could threaten democracy in the long-run.

"The biggest loss is of course the erosion of our democracy", Hurriyah said when contacted by on Monday November 20.

"We're already in 2024, [but] but no longer is the momentum of our democracy being consolidated, but is instead being setback, returning to the authoritarian era", he continued.

Hurriyah warned that the New Order style of government in the hands of Suharto was also "mono-loyalty" in character with the weapon being in the form of mobilising the state apparatus.

And not just the security forces, village officials were also one of the important elements that were mobilised.

Village officials, despite governing at the smallest unit, should not in fact be underestimated because of their closeness to the people at the grassroots.

With hands that reached down to the smallest level of government, the New Order regime could perpetuate its power with impunity.

"This had a serious impact on the centralisation of power and become very hegemonic. They could influence, reach into, almost all political and government institutions", said Hurriyah.

"Now, this is what we are worried about, don’t let our democracy, the position of which today, according to political scholars and various democratic index institutions, is backsliding, the decline is like that, yes, its experiencing an erosion that's actually becoming worse", he said.

Hurriyah believes that the effort to mobilise this support is now being carried out by President Widodo who is seen as wanting to safeguard his interests through Rakabuming as his successor.

Hurriyah also explained that the indications of support given by the thousands of village officials did not come about all of a sudden.

The phenomenon must be read through a series of meetings between organisations of village officials with Widodo, for example in the case of discussions on the aspirations of villages that could be used as populist policies by those in power, such as increasing village funds.

This phenomenon, according to Hurriyah, cannot be separated from Widodo's maneuvers of actively meeting with volunteer organisation towards the end of his term of office.

Earlier, a number of organisations of village officials that are part of the United Village gave a signal of support to presidential ticket 2, Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto and Gibran Rakabuming Raka.

The signal could be seen when they held an event titled 2023 National Village Gathering at the Indonesia Arena in Jakarta on Sunday November 19, which was attended by Rakabuming.

Rakabuming was elected to make a speech at the event, although the Mayor of Solo did not touch on the issue of mutual support in his quite brief speech.

"Earlier this was input on the aspirations from the leaders, the chairs of village organisations which for the moment we will accommodate first. Maybe next week we'll schedule a meeting with me and the Pak [organisation leaders], so that we can go through the details again and find a solution together", said Rakabuming on Sunday afternoon.

The aura of village official support for the Prabowo-Gibran ticket was very apparent because several wore uniform white shirts with the number 2 symbol on the chest referring to the electoral number of the Onward Indonesian Coalition candidates.

Several elite supporters of the coalition also appeared in person, such as Crescent Star Party (PBB) Chairperson Yusril Ihza Mahendra, Greater Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra, which Prabowo chairs) Secretary General Ahmad Muzani, national campaign team (TKN) Secretary Nusron Wahid and former Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) politician Budiman Sudjatmiko.

United Village national coordinator Muhammad Asri Anas claimed that the gathering by the village officials was not a form of campaigning.

But he did not rule out the possibility that the village heads, village officials and village deliberation council members would campaign for the presidential and vice presidential candidate tickets behind the scenes.

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Mobilisasi Aparat Desa Mirip Zaman Orba, Pengamat UI: Kita Balik ke Era Otoriter".]