Public fed up with stalled national leadership regeneration – Survey

Kompas – December 3, 2007
Student protesters hold banner rejecting election (Rima News)
Student protesters hold banner rejecting election (Rima News)

Bima Baskara and Sultani – With one-and-a-half years to go before the 2009 general elections, political party discussions about finding a national leadership candidate have already sprung up. In the midst of uncertainty over the various mechanisms that have been used to do this in the past, a planned survey to find a leader who is popular with the public has received a positive response.

The results of leadership regeneration efforts that have been undertaken by the political parties to date are still far from satisfactory.

The majority of respondents (62.4 percent) to a Kompas survey said that they are dissatisfied with the current leadership renewal within the political parties at present. The lack of any clear or standard rules in the renewal of party leaders have resulted in the parties not having anyone with the potential to be groomed as the nation’s leader. Leadership renewal has been reduced to becoming a successor for important posts than can become a stepping stone to get into the circles of power. As a consequence, the position of party general chairperson becomes the most sought after goal and is consistently monopolised by “formidable” figures within the party.

More than half of respondents (53.2 percent) are critical of the mechanisms for replacing the head of a party up until now. They believe that the parties do not provide opportunities to youth figures to hold the position of party general chairperson. Moreover more than half of respondents are also of the view that the political parties they voted for in the 2004 general elections have not carried out any proper kind of leadership renewal.

This model of succession is impacting upon the process of electing a leader for the country. The domination of old faces in the presidential candidate contest has resulted in the cycle of national leadership renewal proceeding slowly. After nine years of reformasi, few potential alternative leaders have surfaced as presidential candidates. In spite of the fact that many figures have already tested their names on the national political stage, the ones that remain popular in the eyes of the public are the names of already established figures.

Pattern of recruitment

The weakness of leadership renewal within the political parties has influenced the public’s view of the current process of presenting leadership candidates through the political parties. This survey indicates that more than half of respondents (52.9 percent) are dissatisfied with the presidential nomination process that is currently being used by the political parties.

The public’s dissatisfaction with this cannot be separated from the mechanisms for selecting presidential candidates, which have generally not changed much to this day.

Up until now, the majority of political parties still follow the mechanism of a congress, conference or national meetings, which were also used to net presidential candidates in the 2004 presidential elections. According to the public, these systems tend to be unsatisfactory because the figures that emerge as candidates are generally not in accordance with their hopes.

The recruitment system, which tends to be closed, is precisely what further projects the image that the aim is to achieve power rather then advance the choices of the people. Weak leadership renewal and the existing nomination mechanisms tend to become a means by which a small handful of politicians, particularly party leaders, to maintain their positions.

This phenomena is in accord with Richard Robison’s conclusions about the “old habits that have never been wiped out” in the Indonesian political system (Reorganizing Power in Indonesia: The Politics of Oligarchy in an Age of Markets, 2004). According to Robison, the political players post the 1999 general elections are acting in a way that is not far different from the oligarchic system during the New Order period when former President Suharto and a handful of people close to him dominated the leadership. Through coalitions with pro-reformist groups, the old political players have been able to survive and dominate the state political system and use it to maintain power.

Golkar convention

The public still however still believes that there is hope for improving the system of leadership renewal and recruitment through the political parties. The mechanism of a convention that was introduced by the Golkar Party to find a presidential candidate from among its functionaries is seen as a new milestone in the history of presidential elections in this country.

Moreover because of convention, Golkar is viewed as the most democratic party. Although it did not provide any concrete outcome for the people, 46 percent of respondents also said they were satisfied with the mechanism of a convention held by the Golkar Party in the lead up to the 2004 presidential elections. The level of satisfaction towards conventions is higher than the forms of internal selection used by the other parties.

Recent plans by Golkar to abolish conventions was of course quite a surprise for many, both within Golkar itself as well as circles outside the party. Because of this it is natural therefore that 42.8 percent of respondents oppose the abolition of conventions.

Nevertheless, the Golkar general chairperson’s idea of replacing conventions with a survey received a positive response from the public. Golkar’s idea (also the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle) to find a presidential candidate through a survey is supported by 67.2 percent of respondents. Moreover, it is the survey model as a mechanism for recruiting a presidential candidate that is seen as the most ideal by 49.9 percent of respondents. Conversely, nominations based on the authority of the party general chairperson are seen as undemocratic.

The public’s high level of interest in the mechanisms for selecting presidential candidates may reflect the fact that the public is fed up with the stalled process of national leadership regeneration.

The public hopes that the planned survey to net a presidential candidate that has been mooted is not just an attempt by the political parties to jack up their popularity. The courage on the part of party leaders to use the results of such a survey will be a test case of whether the commitment to democratic reform will be undertaken consistently. (Kompas Research and Development)

[Translated by James Balowski.]