Tuesday, October 11, 2016


Indonesian politics is veering to the right. Even though there is no clear classification for Indonesia’s political parties (nominally, only religious or nationalist), there are indications that show rightward sway in the country’s politics.

Since reformasi, there have been two conservative laws or bills that have aimed to control people’s “morals”, namely the Anti-Pornographic Law passed in 2008 and the bill on alcohol beverages currently under consideration. Recently, there has been an attempt in Constitutional Court to criminalize extramarital sex and LGBT relationships. Supporters of these moves argue they mean to “protect morals” because the regulated items are “against religious values.”

In the electoral cycle, there have been serious attempts to undermine certain candidates based on their religion or ethnicity, a move supported by national politicians such as Da’i Bachtiar, former chief of the National Police, and Amien Rais, former speaker of People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR). These indications show how much Indonesians have either adopted or gotten used to ultra-conservative narratives of religious, moral and ethnic purity.

At the grassroots level, Indonesians seem to be more and more permissive toward ultra-conservative activities and organizations. Permissiveness gives rise to organizations like Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, which openly declared its aim to establish an Islamic caliphate in place of Pancasila democracy. HTI and other similar organizations have begun preaching to Indonesian youths. One high profile case involved HTI preaching at Yogyakarta Indonesian Art Institute (ISI Yogyakarta), which resulted in several lecturers refusing to teach subjects that mandated them to draw the human anatomy. Worrying findings from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences found that 84.8 percent of students supported the implementation of sharia law nationwide, something expressly against Pancasila.

In and of itself, conservatism is not a problem. In democracy, people may live their lives based on their beliefs. However, it becomes problematic when there are attempts to impose these beliefs on a general populace that may or may not share them through legislations and other legal processes. These problems are exacerbated when the issues creep into personal space, such as sexual orientation and consensual sexual practices. In Indonesia, this is extra problematic as this practice undermines some local ethnic and religious traditions in addition to Pancasila.

So, how did Indonesia get to this point? Mostly because hitherto the right-wing movement in Indonesia has been unopposed. Ultra-conservatism is a latent movement, existing before independence as militant Daulah Islamiyah, which opposes a secular Indonesian Republic. During Soeharto’s regime, movements that openly challenged Pancasila’s ideological supremacy were suppressed. This included both leftists and Islamists. Soeharto effectively purged Indonesia of leftist sentiment when he came to power amid the 1965 communist cleansing. He was not much nicer toward political Islam, the right-wing power base at the time. He discriminated against devout Muslims from military promotions, forcefully fused Islamic political parties into one and even harassed Nahdlatul Ulama, a moderate Islamic organization. However, when his power began to waver in the late 1980s until the 1990s, Soeharto softened his stance and began an attempt to co-opt political Islam under his wing to garner support.

Since reformasi, conservatives have made use of their newfound right to free speech and have thus begun to flourish. Elements of the conservatives have veered ever more to the right into the far-right category. These ultra-conservative groups continuously hide behind constitutional freedom of speech every time their activities are scrutinized by authority. For example, in 2015 when the government shut down several radical websites, there was an outcry denouncing the government for infringing on free speech. Curiously, the same grouping of organizations strongly supports the ban on communism in Indonesia, itself a violation of free speech.

Meanwhile, the counter-balancing ideologies on the left of the political spectrum are still suppressed by the longtime ban of communism. Compound this with a general lack of political education and we have the recipe for jargon-based scapegoating. Using the latent fear of communism, far-right groups are quick to denounce opposing ideologies as communistic. Secularism is equalized with atheism. Liberal is the same as communist.

This development is not in line with what the founding fathers must have envisioned for their newborn state. Pancasila as an ideology actually accommodates a wide range on the political spectrum. It includes religious conservatism of all religions by the first principle and nationalism in the third principle, humanism of classical liberal in the second principle and even the socialist concept of a welfare state in the fifth principle. The fourth principle embraces participatory democracy. Based on this, the general demonization of the left in an attempt to defend Pancasila would also be a ban on two principles of Pancasila (the second and fifth principles), an anti-Pancasila action in itself. This conception is acknowledged by Sukarno, the formulator of Pancasila himself, who declared “Pancasila is leftist” in a cabinet meeting.

So what should the government do? To crack down on the right is to return to the days of human rights violations. The government –and our society--should address it with democratic ideals in mind: by increasing quality and openness in our political life.

Firstly, the government needs to provide better political education. Currently, they are focused on indoctrination of patriotism to the nation’s youth. The fact is, this one-sided political education has made many young Indonesians ill-informed politically. Many cannot differentiate secularism, atheism, liberalism, communism and capitalism. The use of these words as political jargons creates demonizing effects, making open intellectual discussions of the topics almost impossible. This phenomenon of jargonism was famously visible during the 2009 presidential election when then vice-presidential candidate Boediono was disparaged as “neoliberal” without any explanation about what the term truly meant nor on why it would be bad for the nation. In another instance, a member of the MPR equated liberalism with the foreign colonization of Indonesia.

The government could circumvent this phenomenon by offering better political studies, integrated with the existing citizenship subject for our school students. A politically active citizen should know about the political spectrum and its core tenets, and it should let them choose the political ideology that suits them best. A better education would make this use of jargon less effective as people would be able to research their own political opinions. Else, they will always be prey of populist politicians using political jargon in demonizing a certain group as a scapegoat.

Second, the government needs to loosen restrictions on the left to effectively counter the far-right influence in politics. The formal ban on communism, compounded by society sponsoring the demonization of the left, has made no politician dare to openly take a leftist stance. In such a movement, left-leaning political stances, be it classical liberal, progressive, or socialist, are quickly dismissed as communistic and anti-Pancasila. Calls for a more impartial governmental approach in religious policies, protection of the LGBTQ community and the promotion of sexual health education are often branded as foreign-influenced decadence.

These issues are important to discuss in a public forum but its discourse has been stifled. With government protection and support, voices opposing conservatism could gain more traction. Instead of the one-sided propaganda the people are receiving now, there would be fair discussions on political alternatives they could take. Ultimately, it is the government’s duty to protect all political opinions as stipulated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Indonesia is a politically confused nation. We defend Pancasila as native ideals while staunchly opposing foreign incursion on our sovereignty, yet we remain receptive of the Pan-Islamic ideology, whose aim of a unified nation based on religion undermines Indonesian nationalism. We oppose left-wing politics, denouncing it as communism and the enemy of Pancasila, not realizing that Pancasila itself is on the left of the political spectrum. We are unwilling to ban radical conservatives on the grounds of freedom of speech, yet at the same time we suppress the radical left with moderates left as collateral damage. We are still afraid of an obsolete Cold War era nemesis of communism while refusing to acknowledge the new rising threat against Pancasila being actively preached to our youths. Indonesia needs to change -- to wake up. Much like the mighty Garuda needs both its wings to fly, Indonesia needs both of its political wings to balance its flight toward prosperity.

 Gede Benny Setia Wirawan is a medical student in Denpasar. Apart from health sciences, he is also interested in politics and human rights issues


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