Another Political Party Fiasco
The internal conflict in the National Awakening Party (PKB) must be resolved democratically. There must be no government intervention.
THE battle within the National Awakening Party (PKB) shows that political parties in Indonesia still suffer from a chronic sickness: being ruined by internal conflicts and depending on the government for survival.
A number of PKB politicians have been maneuvering to remove Muhaimin Iskandar from the party chairmanship. They accuse him of arbitrarily firing regional party officials. They are also dissatisfied with Muhaimin’s habit of placing those close to him and his relatives in positions in the party and the government.
The problem has become more complicated because the two sides have both asked for help from the government. Muhaimin has asked for support from the Palace to help him retain his chairmanship, while his opponents have met with a number of senior officials in Joko Widodo’s cabinet. The efforts of the two sides to invite government intervention could endanger the future of the PKB.
In response to the approaches from the two sides, the government must refrain from intervening, yet alone taking sides. President Joko Widodo should not repeat the error he made when he allowed the Presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko to take over the Democrat Party. Although he claimed to be acting in a personal capacity, Moeldoko cannot be separated from his position as a person close to the President.
The President should push both sides in the PKB dispute to resolve their conflict democratically, using the mechanism laid down in the party regulations. Even if it has shortcomings, the party constitution represents a consensus that must be respected, including on finding a civilized resolution of a conflict.
No matter what the excuse, government intervention will only weaken the party and result in the victor being dependent on the government. If this is what the government wants, this means that it is intentionally digging a hole to bury a political party, which is one of the main pillars of democracy.
Democracy needs strong political parties to bring together differing public interests, and then channel them into the legislative process and the making of public policy. This way, interests and ideologies that are often at odds do not explode into open conflict that could be marked by violence.
Nevertheless, history shows us that not every political party makes a positive contribution to our democracy. Only parties that run themselves democratically strengthen democracy. Parties that are democratic usually have transparent memberships and decision-making processes. Parties like this also require leaders adept at accommodating and orchestrating the different interests of the members. A healthy party is one that is not managed like a private foundation or a family business, with a leader who decides everything.
Conversely, a secretive party with an authoritarian leader turns into a parasite on democracy. These ‘parasite’ parties are usually no more than political vehicles for their leaders. Party officials move closer to the voters during election campaigns, but after the election is over, these officials abandon their voters. They then busy themselves forming coalitions or cartels for their own benefit.
The more parties that turn into parasites, the greater the people’s cynicism and lack of trust in the political parties. At this point, democracy stands on the edge of the abyss.