Money Politics at a Time of Financial Crisis

Feb 2009

With less than two months to go before Indonesians go to the polls in April 2009 for the third time since the restoration of democracy in 1998, campaigning has been underway for months. No fewer than 38 political parties are taking part and newspapers are full of reports about campaigns across the country for seats in the Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat (DPR), the national parliament. Winning seats in the DPR is essential in order to have a say in determining who becomes the country’s next president. Indonesia is now governed by a combination of a presidential and a multi-party system. Nominations for president can only be made by parties represented in the DPR.

Once elected, it is for the president, as the head of the executive, to appoint the members of his or her government. Given the proliferation of parties since the fall of Suharto’s New Order dictatorship in 1998, the next parliament, like the last one, will be composed of numerous parties, none of which is likely to have an absolute majority. Hence the focus these days is on creating coalitions.

But another major focus is the corruption that has bedevilled the political system for years. While no one would argue that the corruption that has become a part of political life in Indonesia is the inevitable concomitant of democracy, it is worth considering whether the conditions under which political parties now operate are part of the problem.

According to the law on political parties enacted since reformasi (the era of reform that followed in the wake of Suharto’s downfall) began, political parties are required to have branches in at least 60 percent of the country’s provinces as well as in at least fifty percent of the districts, sub-districts and municipalities in those provinces. In a country the size of Indonesia, organising political parties and maintaining effective facilities to publicise and promote party programmes and their day-today activities is a hugely expensive undertaking. Despite these arduous requirements, 38 parties succeeded in passing this threshold, and hence will participate in the parliamentary elections.

But how many of them can mobilise the funds needed to fuel their electoral machinery? And what will be the consequences of the global financial crisis that struck a severe blow to the country’s economy as campaigning was getting into top gear?