Addendum: Political Parties Should Stop Drinking Too Much and Start Sobering Up

There were two independent candidates in 2012 DKI Jakarta gubernatorial election and nobody gave a damn hoot about it. The reason was pretty clear: the indies didnt stand a chance. Back then, the eligibility of independent candidates to run for regional office was seen as a healthy indicator of democratic growth. Anybody could attempt a candidacy provided enough support from the citizens to back him up. The Establishment didnt seem too bothered with the indies because they knew that their gigantic political machines would roll over with ease.

There were few points raised on the independents, particularly on how they would govern without backing from political parties at the regional parliament, but there’s no objection towards the eligibilty of the independents. There was no concern about this so-called deparpolisasi. The established political parties had dominated the landscape since the beginning of the republic and nobody saw the chance of a couple of mavericks to disrupt the norm.

The results of 2012 election in Jakarta exhibited the prowess of The Establishment clearly. Of all 6 pair of candidates, the independents finished 4th and 6th when Jokowi-Ahok won the mandate of Jakarta inhabitants. There’s a silverline for the indies though: Faisal Basri - Biem Benyamin (a disclosure: I supported them in 2012) finished above the Golkar candidates, Alex Nurdin - Nono Sampono. Yes, there was a concern on how Golkar’s political machination was not on its best at the time, but for a candidate that relied largely on volunteers and public donation like Faisal Basri, finishing above Beringin was still impressive.

The fact that political party candidate could be outvoted in Jakarta 5 years ago should be seen as a precedent that given right funding and organising, the independents might have potentials to do something bigger in the future. After all, outside Jakarta, the indies have been winning a few regional elections, most notably in 2006 when Irwandi Yusuf surprisingly took the governor seat. 

Yet, it’s not until Ahok declared that he’s running independently for 2017 gubernatorial election that The Establishment started to feel something’s burning on their beards. The reason behind their annoyance is pretty clear: The indies now stand a genuine chance. With Ahok’s popularity and electability, it’s understandable that political parties feel threatened. The situation is worsened on their side by the fact that the parties dont have legit candidates to challenge Ahok for DKI 1.

The grave concern for the political parties could be bigger than just winning the gubernatorial election - losing election is a nature of any political party as much as winning one, but the possibility of their existential flaw being exposed big time: the public dont feel their aspirations are represented by the political parties and start trying to bypass them.

We’re told that political parties have been an absolute necessity in democracy and what if that longstanding fundamental is started being questioned by the electorate when an independent wins a gubernatorial election without a backing from any party?

It’s a legitimate concern for The Establishment, but instead of attempting to undermine the eligibility of independent candidates, the political parties should start taking a look at themselves. It’s actually the best time for reflection.

Let’s accept the fact that people dont believe the political parties. At best, they’re highly skeptical. At worst, they think anything come out of political parties is bullshit. Unless you’re a registered member of a party, I cant see why anybody would automatically believe that their aspirations are fought for by the parties. Political parties have failed to paint themselves as the true representation of the people. The liberation of information access has given public opportunity to observe how the parties behave and they dont like what they saw. The voting turnout in the last legislative election was poorer than the presidential one because it’s much easier for the public to identify with individual figure than with political party.

The rise of Ahok as a perennial independent candidate should be a slap on the cheek for political parties to sort themselves out. There’s no guarantee that Ahok would win the election, but from the reaction, we could judge that the fear from The Establishment is real. The fact that they’re afraid of being beaten by an indie shows how big the mess they are in at the moment.

Major political parties are juggernauts. They have the masses, the funding, the structural organisation. They’re an institution with astounding complexity to the tiniest component that could pull things up unimaginably. There’s a reason why it’s called political machine because practically it is. Independents wouldnt be able to go anywhere close to the political parties had the parties not been in catastrophic disarray that turned the electorates away.

Having said that, while independent candidates with winning probability like Ahok is a fresh development and much-needed wake-up call, I also firmly believe that real democracy needs real political parties that stand up for what the people need, not only to fulfill the mere hunger of power of their officers. I believe in organising and empowering - the trait of a political party.

However the days leading to 2017 will pan out, The Establishment need to stop taking voting people for granted and if strong indie candidates like Ahok are something that will sober them up from being power-drunk, so be it.

Addendum is my designated weekly commentary on current affairs. Will write on either English or Indonesian, depends on the mood.