Overhaul House decision-making : The post-election challenge

 On Selasa, 08 April 2014  

Overhaul House decision-making :

The post-election challenge

Aditya Batara Gunawan  ;   A faculty member of the political science department, Bakrie University, Jakarta, and is currently pursuing a PhD at Ruprecht-Karls-Universit├Ąt Heidelberg, Germany, on legislative control of the military in Indonesia
JAKARTA POST, 08 April 2014
                                      
                                                                                         
                                                             
Ahead of election day on April 9, Indonesians are curious, while legislative candidates are nervously keeping their eyes on the fluctuating opinions of potential voters as provided by surveyors.

There’s some excitement in this “party of democracy”, but what will actually happen once the candidates win their seats in the legislative bodies? Will there be any substantial change when they become the next lawmakers?

Many analysts agree that representation is still a major challenge for Indonesia’s democratization. Earlier, many suggested the need for more “new blood” in the House of Representatives to achieve substantial change. In the 2004 election, more than 70 percent of the 550 legislators were new to the House and almost 50 percent of them were between the ages of 25 and 49. As a result of the 2009 election, only around 25 percent of the previous lawmakers were reelected, while the rest were new members. Unfortunately, this high figure of “new blood” did not guarantee a better House performance, as seen in many survey results.

From this staggering situation, we might want to pay more attention to the organizational setting within the House. Unlike other legislative bodies around the world, Indonesia’s House has its own prominent style of decision-making, known as musyawarah untuk mufakat (deliberation for consensus). The consensual style was born from the cultural traditions providing the locus of political dynamics. It is claimed as the very product of multiculturalism to accommodate a diversity of actors, a decision-making style later integrated well with the current multiparty presidential system in Indonesia. Indeed, one may argue that it has been successful in creating the stability of the regime over the last decade.

Unfortunately, such consensual decision-making contributes to a political illusion of democracy in Indonesia. In the House, the consensual style has been exclusively controlled by the centralized circle of party elites, which usually comprises the leaders of commissions and factions.

The House members outside this circle have no incentive to be substantially involved in policy debates because the decision-making is not representative. In short, it is not in their interests to upgrade or exercise their knowledge on specific policy issues when their voices can simply be overridden by party elites.

The lawmakers become more interested in gathering funds and projects for their constituencies or preparing themselves for the next elections than attending legislative meetings.

How did such consensual decision-making and the centralized structure of the House survive democratization?

The answer lies within the House’s Tata Tertib (code of conduct), which sets its institutional arrangements. Studies show this code of conduct has remained the same since 1966, the year of the New Order’s rise; the House thus uses the same internal rule as the New Order oligarch.

Although the current political system creates competitive elections, the oligarchic style of decision-making remains intact. In fact, the mechanism set by the House’s code of conduct distributes the benefits to new players by accommodating their elite interests.

In this situation, it is not surprising if political parties in the House are seen as equally corrupt. Whether in coalition or opposition, the term korupsi berjamaah (collective corruption) has become the public label for politicians’ behavior in the House.

Clearly the House suffers from a lack of qualified lawmakers. However, placing more new people with good track records and high educational profiles will not automatically improve the House’s performance. Once the new lawmakers with fresh ideas and strong commitment to reform enter the House, it is critical for them to transform the House’s code of conduct to be more representative.

Transformation should target all House members so they will be more responsible for their positions and gradually become more specialized in their qualifications.

Unfortunately, any efforts to transform the internal structure of the House will potentially be hampered by low numbers of reelected lawmakers in the previous two elections. Although the low number of reelected members initially suggested new hope for change within the legislature, it also indicates that House seats are not really a top priority for most lawmakers.

Many might use such positions as a stepping-stone for a future career at other state institutions, or those with business backgrounds might actually be looking for business opportunities within the state budget’s loopholes. From this point of view, the question of legislative candidates’ motivations is crucial.

In essence, the upcoming elections are about more than putting “new blood” into the House to better its performance. Changing the rules of the game within the House to be more representative toward its own members is the most challenging task beyond the election.
Indeks Prestasi
Overhaul House decision-making : The post-election challenge 4.5 5 Arjuna Cellular Selasa, 08 April 2014 Overhaul House decision-making : The post-election challenge Aditya Batara Gunawan  ;    A faculty member of the political scie...


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