Taming the Leviathan


Indonesia’s Presidential Election 2014 is probably a landmark moment in the country’s democracy. Never before in the last decade saw a big surge of public political participation. Thousands of volunteers’ organisations from villages to the national stage sprouted like mushrooms in rainy seasons. A combination between the hope of a new beginning and the fear of past dictatorship propelled the apolitical citizens to take side in supporting the winning pair Joko Widodo – Jusuf Kalla (Jokowi-JK).

New Governments are usually expected to bring breakthrough in governance and public life. During the Presidential Race, campaign promises attracted Indonesian voters in terms of change in people’s welfare: health, education and income. Those appeals articulated the new hope and the votes of 9 July 2014. But questions remain: What the winners of the race will actually deliver? What changes will arrive before 2019? How civic engagements of CSOs can push more social, political and cultural changes through the new government?

The Electoral Balance of Power

Before we can answer the questions, we have to do a quick scan of the political balance in Jakarta.The President and Vice President are supported by a minority coalition. The four parties (PDI-P, NASDEM, PKB and HANURA) represents only 37% of parliamentary seats elected in April 2014. However, the pair managed to garner 53% of popular votes. This means that while the new Chief of State won the public support, he will face a relatively hostile Parliament.

This is seen during post-election politics: the outgoing parliament managed to pass two controversial bills (Law on The Peoples Assembly, House of Representatives, House of the Provinces’ Representatives, and Local House of Representatives – or UU MD3, and Bill on The Elections of Provincial and District/Municipal Governments – or UU PILKADA). The two bills are clearly beneficial to the Coalition Opposition (Coalition Red-White, KMP) who controls the national and local parliaments. Through UU MD3, the opposition managed to secure the leadership of the Parliament. UU PILKADA eliminates direct local government elections and gives the mandate to local parliaments to elect local leadership. UU PILKADA, however, is not successful as it was vetoed by the outgoing President Yudhoyono.

The continuing debates and protests on UU PILKADA also highlight the power structure that will facilitate or hinder the success of the new government. First of all, Indonesia is not a federal state but a unitary state. Thus, the new government’s successes rely on how its policies and programmes are implemented by the provinces (level 1) and districts and cities (level 2) in the highest coherent and integrated manner. One of the main challenges is that the local governments are not controlled by the same ruling coalition, and the binary relationship of government-opposition is not translated in the same manner at the provinces and districts/cities. A governor in a Sulawesi province might be coming from the party that is part of the opposition coalition, but his/her election was supported by parties coming from both ruling and opposition coalitions in Jakarta. And starting in 2015, the race to control the provinces, districts and cities will start. As stated by the National Election Commission, 214 regional head elections will be conducted in that year alone.

Taming the Leviathan (or the “Deep State”)

Besides the balance of power at the national and local level, there is also another important feature of contemporary Indonesia’s democracy. The transition to democracy, started in 1998, has also a focus on the bureaucracy reform. A professional, clean and impartial bureaucracy force has been in the vision The reform itself was implemented in many ways, such as the creation of Ombudsman Indonesia, the Anti-Corruption Commission, and more recently, the Law of National Civil Apparatuses.

Jokowi has a strong track record in driving the bureaucracy reform in Solo and Jakarta. On the other hand, the bureaucracy both at the center and in the regions also have a track record of, often in subtlety, sabotaging the government agenda that they consider not in their favor. It happened in the Habibie, more severe in the successive terms of Wahid (1999-2001), Megawati (2001-2004) and Yudhoyono (2004-2014). From this side of the political landscape, it is equally naive if we expect Jokowi-JK administration running the business as usual scenario in fulfilling their campaign promises.

At least there are four strategic complexities faced by Jokowi-JK to run the government:

The first complexity is related to the regulatory barriers successfully enacted by the key bureaucrats to limit bureaucratic reform. One example is the case of the Civil Law of the State Apparatus. Efforts to encourage the formation of a competent bureaucracy and a merit system based on competence and performance are diluted by the interests of key bureaucrats. They want to perpetuate a bureaucracy model based on seniority and other formal aspects.

This complexity has a serious impact in the performance of the new government after 20 October 2014. The President and the ministers, who are the State’s executive, would have difficulties to quell the resistance from senior bureaucrats in the ministries. As previously stated, the bureaucrats have track record of sabotage. And the only way to eliminate the resistance by replacing those senior officials is also made ​​more difficult. The replacements must have sufficient seniority. The government will also face difficulties to cut sectoral ego in the ministries, with their silos or small kingdoms, which has been making the government inefficient and wasteful due to inability to operate across ministries and to reduce overlaps.

The second complexity is born from the pattern of regional autonomy. As mentioned earlier, the programs of Jokowi-JK must be synchronized by the programs that are currently running in 511 districts and 34 provinces and cities. Two key Jokowi-JK flag campaign promises, Smart Indonesia Card and Healthy Indonesia Card (basically cash transfer programs related to health and education), require strong coordination between several ministries in the central government and relevant regional departments to implement the dissemination, planning, and execution of the two programs.

The reduction and conversion of fuel subsidies in the transport sector clearly needs a big role the provincial and district/city governments to make sure the shock of the fuel subsidy reduction can be isolated. In the current pattern of regional autonomy, it is inconceivable how the central government bureaucrats described above can ensure adoption. We can see an example, how the central government failed in pushing the Government of DKI Jakarta under Fauzi Bowo to run 17 policy steps to reduce the Capital’s acute traffic jam. Most of those steps are finally implemented even after Jokowi elected in 2012.

The third complexity is the problem of legacy programs from Yudhoyono administration which are detrimental or potentially detrimental to the people’s welfare. We can see examples such as the presidential aircraft and Mercedes Benz for the ministers. They are a small sample and insignificant in comparison with some other programs such as the Master Plan for Acceleration of Indonesian Economic Development (MP3EI). Already hundreds of projects have been started by the umbrella of MP3EI Public Private Partnership with multi-year financing scheme. Also, social and ecological impact that occurs in these projects will be a stumbling block on the course of the next administration.

MP3EI legacy projects will also reduce the fiscal space. Until now, the observations made by some non-governmental organizations, government participation is still much larger than the expected private capital in PPP. Most of the projects are actually financed by the public domestic and foreign debts.

The fourth and last complexity is not less strategic. This problem lies in the dominant narrative and discourse in the role of the state which has now been adopted by the bureaucracy, they are both reformers and conservatives.

Previously, the logic of bureaucracy are in ideological veil of mengayomi or “nurturing”. The bureaucracy considers itself as higher, more knowledgable, more competent than the people, thus it devotes itself to guide the people. The problem is, the people at that time did not have the right to know how the bureaucrats and their cronies enriched themselves from pengayoman or “the nurture”. Today, amid the public pressure and scrutiny, the bureaucracy has found a new veil, the “empowerment”. Previously, the State was responsible of everything. Now, the State is responsible for fewer things as needed, because the people need to be empowered. By this logic, the role of the State is minimized and service delivery roles are handed back to the people through market mechanism.

This means, the ideology of government Jokowi-JK with the agenda Nawa Cita (in short, a strong and present State) will face two opponents and competitors: the ideology that thinks the public goods should be managed by market mechanism (adopted by the reformists) and the ideology of a bureaucratic regime who is busy saving its own interests. These three perspectives of political interests will obviously make difficult policy formulation. It is very likely that the fight will not escalate into severe political crisis, but most likely this will make government policies incoherent, multi-interpretation and eventually ineffective.

One response to “Taming the Leviathan”

  1. Syafrizal Maludin Avatar

    awesome… please write some more

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