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Will party cartels prevail under Prabowo’s administration?

Various political parties have begun maneuvering after the Constitutional Court upheld on April 22 the victory of Prabowo Subianto and his running mate Gibran Rakabuming Raka in the Feb. 14 presidential election.

The NasDem Party and the National Awakening Party (PKB), which supported the Anies Baswedan-Muhaimin Iskandar ticket in the presidential race, have moved to establish close ties with president-elect Prabowo in a flurry of talks.

The statements of NasDem chairman Surya Paloh and PKB leader Muhaimin, who have expressed their willingness to support the Prabowo government, further strengthen the prospect of the cartelization of political parties during the Prabowo administration, which would echo the political dynamics under outgoing President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who will finish a decade in office in October, and his immediate predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), who served as president from 2004 to 2014.

As Dan Slater ( 2004 ) and Kuskridho Ambardi ( 2008 ) point out, accountability is still one of the main democratic problems in Indonesia, represented by the prominence of “political cartels” in the party system.

Party cartels refer to political parties that initially compete fiercely but then compromise to share the executive power pie once the election is over, no matter the ideology. This practice has caused Indonesia’s political parties to increasingly disregard the interests of their constituents and rely more on incumbents to secure abundant political and economic resources with their collusive networks (Slater 2004).

The effective expansion of party cartels means that political competition is no longer fair and will only jeopardize the horizontal checks and balances of democracy given the lack of significant opposition.

We should be proud that Indonesia’s democracy has reached a level of consolidation. However, following Indonesia’s transition to democracy in 1998, the anticipated emergence of an effective opposition has never materialized. Rather, post-reform Indonesian presidents adopted a strategy of power-sharing, characterized by what Slater ( 2018 ) calls “oversized coalitions” among political parties, effectively coopting opposition forces.

In the last two decades, both under SBY and Jokowi, political parties were united into party cartels, even though they had previously competed in presidential elections. In SBY’s first term, for instance, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) was the only opposition force. It was not until SBY’s second term that the Gerindra Party, under Prabowo, joined the PDI-P in the opposition camp.

Political cartelization has become more prevalent under Jokowi, who has emerged as the boss of Indonesia’s party cartel, leaving the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) the only opposition party at the end of his term. Gerindra, the National Mandate Party (PAN) and the Democratic Party (Demokrat), which are supposed to be oppositional forces, have enjoyed the spoils of the executive office by occupying ministerial seats in Jokowi’s cabinet.

The most recent consequence of cartel politics might be the stalled House of Representatives’ inquiry into allegations of fraud in the 2024 general election.

Prior to this, the costs of political cartels were evident in the role of political parties in the House as rubber stamps for controversial, government-sponsored bills such as the revised Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) Law and the Job Creation Law.

Even before the transfer of presidential power to Prabowo in October, the trend of political cartelization has commenced. Inevitably, Prabowo is the heir apparent of Jokowi as the new boss of the country’s party cartel.

What happened in the political competition in Indonesia over the past two decades has thus exposed that it is not the voters, but the political elites, who decide what the future government will look like. Election results have almost no effect in determining the behavior of political parties in both the executive and legislative arenas.

However, should NasDem, the PKB and, possibly, the PKS join the coalition supporting Prabowo’s incoming government, we may still be optimistic about the PDI-P. The party will only decide whether to stay in or outside of the incoming government at its national working meeting scheduled to begin on May 26.

The hope for vertical supervision, meanwhile, is also dwindling. Since abundant political and economic resources with collusive networks revolve solely around political party elites, the ruling elite can also easily co-opt potential watchdog groups. One of the most obvious examples is the government’s plan to grant mining business licenses (IUP) to religious mass organizations.

If they materialize, the mining permits will only silence community organizations or make them vulnerable to co-optation, while they are expected to play a significant role in overseeing the government in realizing its campaign promises.

If the lack of horizontal and vertical checks and balances persists, the consolidation of power under Prabowo could be even more massive with unaccountable governance. The intensification of political cartelization and the cooptation of opposition forces marks a rapid victory for the oligarchs and a crushing defeat for civil society.

Leaving the government unchecked and unopposed means putting people’s civil, political and social rights in jeopardy. While the public cannot expect the House to reformulate electoral engineering to build a strong party system, we will need strong figures, perhaps including Anies and also-ran vice presidential candidate Mahfud MD, to lead civil society as opposition forces. Social movements critical of the government still stand to be strengthened for accountable governance.

In the global crisis of democracy, citizens must work harder to dismantle cartel politics that have hijacked democracy.


source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2024/05/07/will-party-cartels-prevail-under-prabowos-administration.html