A. Agus Sriyono
Since its independence in 1945, Indonesia has implemented three models of democracy. Liberal democracy was applied in 1950 to 1959, guided democracy was championed by President Sukarno in 1959 to 1965, and Pancasila democracy (democracy based on five basic principles) was formally labeled under President Suharto in 1966 to 1998.
Many Indonesians regarded liberal democracy as a failure because they saw it as incompatible with Indonesian culture. Liberal democracy was considered a Western tradition that stressed “one man, one vote,” while the Indonesian ideal emphasized consensus.
Most Indonesians believe that the individual exists in the context of his family. And the family is the building block of society. There are cultural differences between Western and Indonesian societies and these differences influence their understanding of democracy.
The central theme of liberal ideology is a commitment to the individual and a desire to construct a society in which people can satisfy their interests and achieve fulfillment. Liberals believe that human beings are individuals first and foremost and that they are endowed with reason. This implies that each individual should enjoy the maximum possible freedom.
Meanwhile, Indonesians believe human beings should pursue balance between individual and communal interests. In the past, all aspects of the individual’s life in Indonesia were regulated through structures and by coercive pressures, both formal and informal. In such a setting, organized opposition was not only out of place, but antisocial.
The guided democracy championed by Sukarno found its roots in the idealized version of simple village life. It was the “rediscovery of the treasure of the Indonesian people which had been buried by hundreds of years of foreign rule.” Unfortunately, its implementation was centralized in the hands of the president who monopolized ideological wisdom.
At the time, Sukarno acknowledged the authoritarian aspects of traditional Indonesian democracy. The key ingredient was “guidance.” To the “guide” fell the task of reconciling conflicting views into formulations that were palatable to each faction. Without strong leadership capable of synthesizing the final decision, the system failed.
The Pancasila democracy that prevailed during Suharto’s time in power was the antithesis to liberal democracy and guided democracy. Pancasila democracy is an ideal model for Indonesia since it is a mixture of Pancasila as an ideology or political belief and democracy as a system of government.
It is unfortunate that for more than three decades this model was used by the elites as a vehicle for accumulating power. The paradox is that Pancasila democracy was manipulated by an authoritarian government. By definition, authoritarianism is belief in or the practice of government “from above” in which authority is exercised over a population with or without its consent.
The existence of various models of democracy in Indonesia has given rise to an intellectual question on what kind of democracy is the best fit. From an academic perspective, political discourses have identified at least three types of democracy in the world: liberal democracy, social democracy, and totalitarian democracy.
According to the preamble of the 1945 Constitution, Indonesia is based on “democratic life led by the wisdom of thought in deliberation amongst representatives of the people.” It means that in any decision-making process, the representatives should prioritize musyawarah (deliberation) to attain mufakat (agreement).
Through musyawarah, the people reach mufakat without opposing views clashing with one another, or resolutions and counter-resolutions that might be forced upon them by a majority vote. It comes rather through a persistent effort to find common ground in solving a problem. Voting is legitimate when common ground cannot be achieved.
Besides deliberation leading to consensus, the preamble prescribed four other guiding principles by which democracy was to be applied: belief in one supreme God; just and civilized humanity; the unity of Indonesia; and social justice for all Indonesians. Therefore, the decision-making process for public policy in Indonesia should be in line with the holistic approach of Pancasila.
It is almost certain that Indonesian democracy differs from liberal democracy. In terms of cultural origins, liberal democracy is rooted in Western culture while Indonesian democracy has its own roots that emphasized the harmony between individual and communal interests. Gotong royong (mutual cooperation) is one of the underpinnings of Indonesian society that has to be preserved.
The other difference relates to the role of religion vis-a-vis the state. All liberal democratic states are secular in nature. Indonesia is neither a theocratic nor a secular state. It believes that God Almighty is a spiritual guide who drives everyday life.
As for social democracy, this system is relatively close to Pancasila democracy in terms of values. These two political ideologies are in the same camp in perceiving social justice and the role of the state in regulating economic and social life. When it comes to the issue of religion and the state, they have opposite views.
Pancasila democracy and totalitarian democracy cannot be compared. The essence of totalitarian democracy is absolute dictatorship, which runs contrary to Pancasila democracy. Indeed, Pancasila democracy is unique.
Most people are cynical of Pancasila democracy because in the past it was applied by an authoritarian regime. There was no genuine liberty and equality and the elites often showed little respect for human rights.
It is time to uphold a genuine Pancasila democracy for the betterment of the Indonesian people.
A. Agus Sriyono, Indonesia’s ambassador to New Zealand, Samoa and Tonga, is currently preparing a book titled “The Dynamics of Democratization in Developing Countries.” The opinions expressed here are his own.