Institutions hold key, not individuals

 On Minggu, 20 April 2014  

Institutions hold key, not individuals   

Mukul Raheja  ;   A researcher in public policy and business consulting
JAKARTA POST, 15 April 2014
The strength of democracy comes from strong, vibrant, incorruptible and well-functioning democratic institutions, not assumedly charismatic individuals.

The very fact that the electorate and a political party are putting high hopes and expectations in an individual politician or leader is evident of a huge vacuum in a democracy.

It is also clear from this blind faith in an individual that there is a bankruptcy of ideas and an absence of mature political debate in that democracy.

Niall Ferguson, a well-known historian, noted in his book Civilization: The West and the Rest that what has separated the Western world from the rest of the world in the past few centuries is the presence and evolution of strong institutions, especially democratic institutions.

There is a very valid reason that both historically, and in contemporary literature, institutions have been credited with such vitality.

The reason is very unambiguous and it is that individuals, no matter how charismatic and apparently incorruptible they are, cannot replace the role of institutions in a democracy.

Unfortunately, what has been happening in democracies in the past decade or so is exactly contrary to the aforementioned accepted notion.

The recent nomination of the incumbent governor of Jakarta, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, as presidential candidate by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), is again reflective of this fact.

In India, the largest democracy in the world, the same story is being repeated with the nomination of Narendra Modi, the incumbent chief minister of the state of Gujarat, as the prime ministerial candidate of the Bhartiya Janta Party, which is the chief opposition party.

This nomination of politicians who are projected as different from the run-of-the-mill politicians by the same old political parties is counterproductive for democracy in the long run.

The first and foremost problem with this practice is that it is like packaging old wine in a new bottle. These old and established political parties — themselves guilty of ill practices like corruption, non-performance and governance failures in the past during their rule — resort to building PR campaigns around an individual, projecting him or her as the real change.

This exercise reflects their inability to radically reform their own parties, their failure to come up with any solid future road map of what they intend to do if they come to power and their inability to fight elections on the plank of differences in policies and opinions.

Though there has been much debate and endless discussion about these individuals, Joko Widodo and Narendra Modi, the whole discourse misses the larger point.

The need of the hour, in order for the democracy to mature and for any real change to be seen in the long run, is to shift this debate to a much more relevant issue — why political parties refuse to change their ways and are unwilling to make a shift from the ill practices of vote-bank politics, money and muscle politics, as well as politics revolving around the manufactured charisma of individuals or the lack of it.

The new Indonesian democracy is now already into its second decade but the problems that it faces remain more or less the same.

The real change that the young and fledgling Indonesian democracy needs is for the electorate, especially youth, who make up a large proportion of the population, to be much more aspirational.

It is not constructive for the electorate to buy into the politics that the same old parties, which have failed them in the past, are feeding them. What would be most regrettable for Indonesia as an evolving democracy would be getting stuck and trapped in the debate about whether an individual’s credential are good enough or not, or if an individual would prove to be the lesser evil.

The voters, rather than being dictated by the debate, should drive and dictate the political debate themselves. The debate should be about the issues that matter to the nation and its people.

The voters need to put hard and tough questions to their political leaders instead of believing their promises and lofty claims.

The harsh questions that need to be asked should be about the concrete road maps of the political parties and their presidential candidates with which they will address burning issues and strengthen democratic institutions.

The complete list of questions will not be complete unless the political discourse in the country is centered on the problems and issues, rather than individuals.

How does the new government plan to address the problem of the majority of people in Indonesia working in the informal sector, and bring them into the formal sector?

What is the stand of political parties and their presidential candidates on making democratic institutions like the General Elections Commission (KPU) and the Constitutional Court independent, strong and autonomous?

What is their solution to implementing the right checks and balances to rid these institutions of corruption, but at the same time avoid political interference?

How will the new government address the key problems in the relationships between the national and provincial governments?

The duty falls upon the voters to be vigilant and well-informed and to direct the discourse toward the real issues. The electorate should make sure that elections are contested based on the debate of the issues mentioned in the candidates’ manifestos and not based on the debate centered on individuals.

It is high time for the electorate to realize that it is not the individuals but rather strong democratic institutions and well-intentioned, well-planned and well-executed policies that will drive the democracy forward in the long run.

The presence of clean individuals and able administrators is one of the very vital and necessary conditions of a democracy, but not a sufficient condition in itself.
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Institutions hold key, not individuals 4.5 5 Arjuna Cellular Minggu, 20 April 2014 Institutions hold key, not individuals    Mukul Raheja  ;    A researcher in public policy and business consulting JAKARTA POST, 1...

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