Apr 17, 2024 Last Updated 3:10 AM, Apr 15, 2024

Reformasi or deformasi?

Reformasi or deformasi?
Published: Nov 27, 2011

Indonesia’s House of Regional Representatives is one of its worst performing political organisations

Jeremy Mulholland

The DPD is at the bottom of the heap
Jeremy Mulholland

Under Suharto’s New Order, political power and wealth was centralised in Java. When Suharto was forced to step down in May 1998 reformist demands included greater elite responsiveness to the needs and aspirations of the regions, where more than half of Indonesia’s population lives. A half-hearted consensus emerged among the Jakarta-centric ruling elite: that the demands of regions must be accommodated through so-called ‘big bang’ decentralisation and autonomy.

Legislative change eventually led to contested elections at provincial and district/city levels and the devolvement of some control over the provision of public services to local bureaucracies. The end of Suharto’s rule also opened the way for constitutional change. Phoenix-like out of the ashes of the original 1945 Constitution, four constitutional amendments were passed between 1999 and 2002 that weakened the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) and redistributed power between the presidency and a stronger National Parliament called the People's House of Representatives (DPR). This process also removed regional delegates of the MPR in order to create a new parliamentary chamber called the House of Regional Representatives (DPD). The establishment of the DPD was psychologically extremely important, as it gave Indonesians from the regions confidence that they are represented in the political mix in Senayan.

In the 2004 elections, four candidates were elected from each province to the DPD, with the expectation that they’d make a difference for their local constituencies by bringing regional issues to the national political stage. But in many respects the DPD is little more than an example of the hazards of democratic triumphalism. Initially high expectations about its political role and its capacity to promote the interests of regional communities have not only been undermined by party bosses and their influence over law making. But rules that have subsequently been passed have kept 132 members of the DPD politically impotent in the context of an institutional environment ridden with money politics that has allowed the DPD to be treated as a political vehicle for narrow interests.

Struggling for influence

The DPD was conceived in response to intense pressure from reform-minded elite groups, such as Coalition for a New Constitution (KKB), backed by NGOs and new media organisations as Metro TV. These groups argued that regional representatives had not functioned effectively in the New Order period but could not be eliminated, and something needed to replace them. Many of the members of the MPR’s Ad-Hoc Committee 1 (PAH 1) were caught in the uncharted waters of reformasi. Desperately craving democratic credentials, they were open to the reformist demands. But PDI-P, the military and Golkar were still uneasy about the historical role of bicameralism, which had been a central feature of a federal state as laid out in the short-lived 1949 Constitution. One of the many compromises made in the process of political negotiations was the creation of a ‘soft’ bicameral political system, a power arrangement of an omnipotent national Parliament and impotent regional senate.

DPR members perceived the new chamber as a major political threat, and moved to further weaken the DPD’s mandate by introducing a formal rule under which political decision-making was based on voting per member, rather than per chamber, when the DPD formally convened in 2004. The MPR consists of 692 members; 560 from the DPR and 132 from the DPD. To produce constitutional change through the MPR a quorum of two-thirds is required. But because the DPD only makes up one-fifth of the chamber, it is structurally impossible for DPD members to pass a motion without support from the DPR. What’s more, the DPD possesses no power to pass legislation: although it is involved in an advisory capacity, it is precluded from deliberations that don’t deal with regional considerations as well as sessions when the parliament votes on bills. The DPD can submit proposals on specific Bills to the DPR, but in reality the DPR unilaterally decides whether or not to accept or reject the DPD’s proposals.

With their attempts to gain more power blocked by the DPR, regional representatives sought support from different political parties. But party bosses were not in the mood to negotiate or compromise with the DPD. Those in the DPR believed that one of the greatest threats from the DPD is influence on the National Budget. The DPR has enjoyed immense power over the budget, and benefited from a generous budget allocation. If the DPD were to gain influence over the budget process, the DPR would lose some of that power. In the words of DPR Deputy Chair, Pranomo Anung Wibowo, ‘any power sharing arrangement with the DPD would reduce our power over legislation and budget, so it is out of the question’.

This is not to say that DPD leaders and members do not also benefit (at least personally) from the current arrangements. They receive similar budgetary allocations, salaries and facilities as members of the DPR, but don’t have nearly as much responsibility. As renowned Indonesian political scientist Arbi Sanit has observed, ‘being a DPD leader or member is a really good job’. DPD leaders, in particular, are given special treatment – humorously described as ‘candy’ – including ministerial residences in Kuningan, access to the exclusive orbit of the president and his ministers, nice cars with prestigious number plates and police escorts (which are only actually allowed for the President, the Vice President, ambassadors and state guests).

Scandals and projects

Since reformasi began, numerous scandals have occurred involving the DPR, members of executive (including the President) and departments within the bureaucracy. But, perhaps because of its impotence, the DPD itself has not been directly accused of corruption, though some informal ‘deals’ have clearly taken place. The DPD’s budgetary allocation has been used up on travel junkets and lavish hotel meetings as well as regionally-based projects for regional leaders, local businesses, national borders, rice production and fisheries. Meanwhile, its two biggest projects – the annual ‘Regional Investment Forum’ and a construction project of regional offices worth approximately A$108.5 million – have generated significant funds for the DPD leadership and members of SBY’s ruling clique.

At the same time, the quality of elite recruitment for the politically impotent DPD has decreased. Ex-ministers, ex-governors, relatives of ministers and governors, as well as regional businessmen, have flooded into the DPD by way of the direct electoral process and money politics. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that successive leaders of the DPD have been more focused on furthering their political careers and self-enrichment than on the quality of the organisation.

During its first period (2004-2009), the DPD was chaired by former Coordinating Minster of Economic, Financial and Industrial Affairs, Ginandjar Kartasasmita, a seasoned and wily power holder from the Suharto era with strong links to powerful figures like Aburizal Bakrie and Fadel Muhammad. Ginandjar resurrected his political career after fleeing overseas from then-President Gus Dur’s attempts to incarcerate him for his past sins, including corrupt deals involving Balongan and Freeport. Ginandjar remodelled himself as a representative of the regions as part of the rebranding of his ‘political label’, and as a safeguard against any future legal attacks. Using money politics, he won the DPD election for West Java. He then distributed cash-filled envelopes to newly elected members in order to gain the DPD chairmanship. But Ginandjar’s efforts to use the DPD to protect his own narrow interests reached new heights between 2006 and 2008. During that period, he campaigned heavily to mobilise support for proposals to change elements of the constitution that related to the DPD.

The president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) gave an ‘amber light’ (maybe yes, maybe no) for change in 2008 because he agreed with Ginandjar’s rationale that the DPD should be able to work with the president to counter the excessive power of the DPR. But the DPR rejected the DPD’s proposal for a strong bicameral system. Elite members within the DPR and also the army felt that a recommencement of constitutional amendment process was a bit like opening Pandora’s Box which could, they claimed, give Islamic fundamentalists an opportunity to leave an indelible mark on the Constitution. The failure of the draft was also an indication of Ginandjar’s inability to control rival political bosses like Taufik Kiemas (PDI-P) and Hilmi Aminuddin (PKS) who were never going to share their power with someone who had mastered the arts of political Machiavellianism.

Ginandjar turned his mind to other things, most notably a (failed) push for the vice presidency in 2009. He nevertheless won the largest number of votes in 2009 DPD election, but opted out of the race for the DPD chairmanship because of concerns that continued exposure to the political limelight could compromise his political and business interests. Wanting to remain close to the apex of political power, Ginandjar lobbied SBY and secured a position on the council of presidential advisors for the period 2009-2014.

With Ginandjar out of the way, Irman Gusman rose out of political obscurity to gain the DPD chairmanship. Irman was really not a new player in elite politics. Originating from West Sumatra, in the 1990s Irman was a DPR regional delegate who found himself operating on the fringes of the Suharto family power networks. A friend of a friend of Suharto’s son Bambang Trihatmodjo, who controlled the Bimantara Group, Irman’s appointment as commissioner of Bimantara’s Bhakti Investama – officially owned by Bambang’s right hand man Hary Tanoesoedibjo – indicated that he was one of the people trusted by the Suharto family to protect parts of their massive corporate empires after Suharto lost power.

Irman applied the same approach of money politics as his predecessor to win the DPD chairmanship. Cash filled envelopes were handed to members to secure the position and to defeat NGO leader La Ode Ida and the Sultan of Yogyakarta’s wife Hemas. Irman was not content to rely solely on Suharto’s children and Golkar-affiliated networks; he diversified his political risk by becoming closely tied to SBY. Irman‘s job description is largely ceremonial, making public appearances and giving non-controversial speeches. But with the support of the DPD’s secretary general Siti Nurbaya Bakar (earlier involved in a Department of Interior corruption scandal), Irman is using the position to muster support from party bosses (the most powerful being SBY and Aburizal Bakrie) and business magnates (e.g. Peter Gontha and James Riady) for a run for the position of Vice President, or better still try to gain support in order to realise the idea of independent candidate for President in 2014.

A new strategy

Out of frustration, Indonesia’s father of regional autonomy and decentralisation, Riyaas Risyad, concluded, ‘We don’t need the DPD as it is now. You either strengthen the role of the DPD or just forget it.’ Sensing the futility of their efforts for strengthening the DPD through constitutional amendments, the DPD leadership changed tack from 2009. The previously-rejected draft proposal for constitutional amendments was under revision, and support mobilised among regents, governors and mayors as well as DPRD members. Although there are no constitutional grounds for establishing links between the DPD and these regional leaders, those links do not contravene constitutional rules either. The DPD has increasingly focused on fighting for narrow regional interests at the national level in terms of national budget, projects and oversight. Overall, the DPD has shown very little creative thinking in its promotion of regional interests at the national level to deal with problems such as deforestation and excessive mining extraction, which occur at the expense of the welfare of local communities. And as a national political body, the DPD has not produced any significant public policy outcomes for the Indonesian society, especially in comparison to the Constitutional Court, the Corruption Eradication Agency, even the Judicial Commission.

In the meantime, the DPD’s quest for political power will more than likely remain elusive and heavily contingent upon two main factors relating to Indonesia’s elite politics. First, the DPR’s omnipotence underpins and reinforces the DPD’s political stagnation. In fact, if the DPD becomes too successful in mobilising support from the regions, the DPR could use its budgetary function to curtail the amount of funds provided to the DPD in its annual budgetary allocation, as has been the case with the Corruption Eradication Agency. Second, it is unlikely DPD will get any more support from SBY, who is busy dealing with the former Partai Demokrat treasurer Muhammad Nazaruddin’s public revelations – aired day and night by Bakrie’s TV-One and sensationalised by Karni Ilyas’ show, the Jakarta Lawyer’s Club – about money politics. SBY is also worried that if he supports the strengthening of the DPD, it may be viewed as a covert attempt to change Constitutional provisions pertaining to the President’s length of tenure, thereby enabling him to compete for the 2014 presidential election.

Perhaps, though, growing apathy amongst DPR members towards the potential threat of the DPD may throw up renewed possibilities for additional amendments to the Constitution and also laws regulating political parties and elections. Ultimately, only time will tell whether or not the DPR or the president reaches out for DPD support.

Jeremy Mulholland (jeremypm@hotmail.com) is a PhD Candidate from the University of Melbourne who is completing his doctoral research on intra-elite rivalry in Indonesia.


Inside Indonesia 106: Oct-Dec 2011

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