My name is Elena and I am an 18-year old Chinese-Indonesian planning to study Business Economics at UCLA this fall. Born and raised in Jakarta, I have both experienced and learned about the many conflicts and political upheavals that Indonesia has faced over the years.
For historical context, Indonesia was trapped beneath the colonial rule of the Dutch for centuries, followed by the Japanese. We finally achieved independence in 1945, and the independence proclamation was ratified at the capital, Jakarta, the place I call home. This is part one of my series on Indonesian politics.
The Indonesian government now functions as a democratic republic with a multi-party system representing different political ideals. Most political parties, the most popular three being the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), Party of Functional Groups (Golkar), and Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), tend to gravitate towards the country’s nationalist principles of “Pancasila”, which is made up of five rules embodying the unity of race, religion, leadership, humanity, and ultimately the unity of Indonesia itself. Other prominent political parties, on the other hand, are rooted in Islam, such as the National Awakening Party (PKB), and the United Development Party (PPP).
During election cycles, the leading parties appear to have very different political beliefs, as political representatives compete with one another for public support. In reality, the most prominent parties share very similar ideologies and policy programs, leading to what political analysts Dan Slater and Kuskridho Ambadri argued to be the “cartelization” of parties that dominate Indonesian politics. This “cartel” of the dominant political parties end up forming pragmatic coalitions once in office, allowing them to share the material benefits they receive. This phenomenon leads to institutional corruption and recurring clientelism. As the parties in power have the ability to control regulations and access to public resources, many political parties often utilize their positions in the cabinet as a gateway to receive large donations from the private sector and control public resources, constituting the bulk of their financial revenue. For example, the former head of the Party of Functional Groups (Golkar), also the speaker of the People’s Representative Council (DPR), was arrested for the corruption of Indonesian e-KTP (electronic identification cards) in 2018. The project was assigned the oversized budget of 7.3 million USD, with only a part of the budget actually being used to benefit the people. Unfortunately many other cases of corruption at this level still go undetected by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), as it is government-supported.
Because of how much money flows into politics, many public welfare programs are poorly funded and many regions remain in poverty. One can easily see the stark contrast in socioeconomic status caused by such a large disparity in income distributions within the population (especially in metropolitan Jakarta). Many high-end shopping malls are often located beside slums. Many wealthy corporations pay their employees the bare minimum wage, and as a result of the economic impact of the pandemic, many are unable to afford meals for their family. Despite efforts to revitalize these communities, the funds needed to do so are embezzled and instead used to fill the pockets of many of those in power. As a result, many lack adequate access to technology, and inadvertently, access to accurate and unbiased information.