By: Dr. Gun Gun Heryanto
A discourse on the delegitimization of political parties has emerged in the media, featuring Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, who plans to run for the Jakarta governorship in February 2017 as an independent candidate. Partisans are reinforcing this discourse as political tensions in Jakarta rise.
The logic that correlates the independent candidacy to party delegitimization, however, clearly indicates a disoriented way of thinking that is potentially misguided. This issue of delegitimization lacks solid basic arguments from the perspectives of Indonesian politics, legal or democratic dynamics at present.
“Deparpolisasi”, a newly minted term for the delegitimization of political parties, has been promoted by some politicians recently without proper logical argumentation.
The issue of party delegitimization should not only be a matter of diction to delegitimize someone, since each political narration connects directly to the political teaching of society.
The politicians should be aware of their social responsibility to plant and grow a civilized debate based on comprehensive thought, data and logical argumentation.
From the political perspective, running as an independent candidate is merely a choice of strategy and structure of chance. This is not new and has become common practice in local elections.
Data from the General Elections Commission (KPU) show that of the 829 candidate pairs contesting regional elections last year, 139 were independents. Though their winning ratio remains low, independent candidates can serve as an alternative to partisan candidates.
Throughout 2015, only 11 independent pairs won regional elections, four of them in the simultaneous regional elections last December.
From the legal perspective, independent candidates are legitimate. Article 1 Points 3 and 4 of Law No. 8/2015 on Regional Elections says regional head candidates are nominated by political parties, a coalition of political parties, or are individuals who register themselves with the KPU. It is crystal clear that independent candidates stand equal with those who are nominated by political parties or a coalition of parties.
From the democratic perspective, the presence of independent candidates should be regarded as a form of participation.
Huntington and Nelson in their legendary book No Easy Choice: Political Participation in Developing Countries (1976) say that the main focus of political participation is to influence the allocation of people’s authoritative values.
People’s participation can no longer be seen conventionally as merely casting votes into ballot boxes. Participation is also about criticism and voluntary political movement in electoral contestation.
The emergence of “Teman Ahok” volunteers in support of Ahok’s nomination as an independent candidate is one actual example of relational communication on the level of citizens who initiate a strategic move to gather support amid the transactional politics practiced by political parties.
The willingness of parties or coalitions of parties to support and nominate candidates is not a simple thing. Parties usually employ an elite perspective in their choice of candidates.
Borrowing Gary W. Cox’s analysis in his book Making Votes Count (2001), there are three major factors of strategic entry, namely: cost of entry, benefits of office and probability of receiving electoral support.
Cost of entry refers to capital holders and how much should be spent on the election. In this context, political parties are often trapped in a capitalistic logic of “political investment” or “political dowry”.
Benefits of office refers to any potential advantage the candidate gains by winning the contest and holding power. Though seeking power is a normal motivation, parties’ pragmatism can generate problems.
Lastly, probability of receiving electoral support relates to the figures chosen as candidate pair and whether they can sell well in the electoral market.
Quite often, political parties neglect aspirations emerging in the electoral market. In this case, independent candidacy serves as a substantial critic of the party’s role and function in democratic consolidation. In fact, if parties played their roles optimally in a way that is felt by the public, independent candidates would not sell in the market. Similarly, when parties abandon their functions, public trust will decrease significantly.
Party delegitimization is a systematic effort to neglect the existence of political parties or to disable their main functions in a democratic system. History found two examples of party delegitimization.
Firstly, it was when President Sukarno issued the 5 July 1959 Decree to dissolve the democratically elected people’s assembly. This decree was then followed by a political manifesto announced in a political speech on Aug. 17, 1959 which marked the beginning of the era of guided democracy.
The second party delegitimization occurred in the New Order era within excessive political corporatism under Soeharto’s rule. The military regime in 1973 belittled the role and functions of political parties through a consolidation that forced parties to merge into two to contend Golkar Party, the regime’s political machine.
In the course of time, Golkar emerged as a powerful party that dominated general elections thanks to the floating mass mechanism that barred opposition parties’ access to the grassroots. Practically speaking, opposition parties only served as complementary objects in the periphery of power.
At present, our democratic process is getting more and more open, with political parties growing and competing freely. The multiparty reality that we are currently experiencing should be interpreted as a result of increased openness.
Regardless of this openness, public dissatisfaction with political parties has increased tremendously. Public criticism of political parties, however, should not be interpreted excessively. Political party leaders and politicians should analyze the phenomenon carefully, as our system still acknowledges political parties as an important pillar of democracy.
With public distrust of political parties on the rise, the overreaction of politicians toward independent candidates could, on the other hand, exacerbate the deficit of confidence in their own parties.
The writer is executive director of The Political Literacy Institute and lecturer of political communication at Jakarta State University. – See more at: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2016/03/18/logical-disorientation-party-delegitimization.html#sthash.wD2SCEcc.dpuf