Labour based political parties failing to attract voters

Kompas – May 2, 2011
Workers commemorate May Day at Bung Karno Sports Stadium (Kompas)
Workers commemorate May Day at Bung Karno Sports Stadium (Kompas)

Yohan Wahyu – If we look at the still sidelined state of workers and employees, the need to unite and organise oneself should be a big one. The historical facts in Indonesia however show the reverse, with political parties claiming to be based among workers not in fact “selling well” in the eyes of the voting public.

In all the elections held since the reformasi era (the reform era beginning in 1998), political parties that are specifically based on the interests of workers have never shown their fangs. Although they have won a number of seats at the regional level (Regional House of Representatives, DPRD), labour parties have had to acknowledge the low level of public appreciation with a vote share of 1 percent at the national level (at the regional level voters tend to know the candidates better).

The number of political parties accommodating workers’ interests over consecutive elections has tended to decline. In the 1999 general elections there were four labour based political parties, namely the Workers Solidarity Party (PSP), the National Labour Party (PBN), the All Indonesia Workers Solidarity Party (PSPSI) and the Indonesian Workers Party (PPI). In the 2004 elections there was only the Democrat Socialist Labour Party (PBSD), led by labour figure Muchtar Pakpahan. The party later became the Labour Party and was again able to contest the 2009 elections, but did not obtain a seat in the national parliament (House of Representatives, DPR). A similar fate was shared by the Indonesian Workers and Employers Party (PPPI), which failed to garner a meaningful number of votes in the elections.

The failure of labour parties in gaining votes at the national level proves that labour related issues are no able to be used as a draw card for the mass of voters to consolidate their political strength. The results of this survey found that the majority of respondents (73.6 percent) said that they were not interested by labour based political parties in the 2009 elections. Moreover a majority of respondents who are categorised as employees or workers also did not vote for labour parties.

This view cannot of course be separated from doubts about the effectiveness of the struggle by labour parties in the midst of the still confusing system and management of political parties in Indonesia. More than half of respondents believe that the presence of political parties that are specifically based on labour organisations will not be effecting in struggling for workers’ welfare, let alone for larger issues. This is further added to by the profile of voters who tend to be influenced by primordial sentiments such as social class, religion or ethnicity in determining their political choices.

This is a signal that the Indonesian public does not yet hold to a similarity of interests and struggle as a basis for determining their political choices. The success stories of labour parties in countries such as Australia, Britain, New Zealand and South Korea do not appear to be an easy thing to realise in this country.

Source: Partai Buruh: Tidak Yakin Efektif – Kompas. Senen, 2 Mei 2011

[Translated by James Balowski.]