Side Views

Malaysia election a lesson for Indonesian parties — Erwin Wirawan

MAY 5 — In the run-up to Malaysia’s general election on May 5, the Malaysian people have been offered two discerning choices. Either they let the Barisan Nasional (BN) continue to govern for the next five years or they provide the opportunity for the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) to take the helm. The voters know that if BN wins the election, Datuk Seri Najib Razak will remain prime minister but if the opposition prevails, then former Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim will secure the top job.

In their campaigns, each competing coalition has offered the voters different policies. Despite minor reforms, BN still believes in the long-held affirmative action that favours native Malays to achieve a balance vis-á-vis prosperity with the two other ethnic groups in the country, namely Malaysians of Chinese and Indian descent. In contrast, PR has said it would eliminate this programme for a merit-based system, disregarding ethnicity altogether.

The good thing in Malaysian politics is that the parties address the major issues of the day and they communicate it in a way that does not confuse voters. The same is true in other mature democracies, where voters know the policy promoted by a certain party/coalition and its consequences. The available choices are kept simple.

In the US, if Americans vote for the Republicans, then the policy is expected to be smaller government, less taxation, fewer social security programmes, no effort towards gun control, Rambo-style foreign policy and more wars. But if the Democrats win, then Americans can expect more lenient policies surrounding gay marriage, abortion rights, bailouts of bankrupt companies and more welfare-state policies. 

From their long experience, we also see different problems that must be tackled by parties deemed eligible to govern. In hard times, when the economy slumps and people lose their jobs, then social democrats, democrats or labour parties fit the bill. But when economy stagnates after massive growth and the best prescription says the government should stay out of the economic sphere, then conservative, liberal and republican parties are the best option. 

This brings us to Indonesian politics.

Compared to Malaysia, Indonesia’s political system experienced reform earlier. Compared to Malaysia, Indonesian democracy is moving at full speed. In many issues, such as freedom of the press, freedom of speech and equal rights for minorities, Indonesia is perhaps much “better” than Malaysia. 

Despite its progress, however, the quality of Indonesian democracy remains questionable. First, each Indonesian party embraces no core policy. All parties share common desired outcomes, like enhancing people’s welfare, and so it is hard to differentiate one party from all the others. 

There is no sacred conviction of an ideal government system among the major and middling parties, such as the Democratic Party, the Golkar Party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the Muslim-based United Development Party (PPP) and Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) or the Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) Party, should they win the election.

They are only different on paper — not in practice. To some extent, Indonesian elections are boring because voters do not know exactly what they are voting for when they choose a particular party. The parties are all the same.

Worse, the coalitions established among parties are based only on short-term interests and are, therefore, very fragile, as evident in the current ruling coalition. They easily coalesce in one election area while competing in other election areas. The ultimate goal of each Indonesian party is simply to win the election. In contrast, Malaysia’s opposition party can refer to the success of Penang state, where they have been governing, as an alternative way. 

Elections are a crucial factor in democracy. The way to solve a country’s problems should be through elections. Policy differentiations, however, are a must, so that people are given alternatives; the more straightforward alternatives, the better. 

While Malaysian parties have long-offered a clear idea of what they stand for, their Indonesian counterparts must first define themselves. — Jakarta Post

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.



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