This article was written by Wibawanto Nugroho, who is a PhD Candidate with the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, an Indonesian Fulbright scholar and the alumni fellow with the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.
Political disagreement is not a new phenomenon and found in any societies throughout the history of mankind. It is the managing of political disagreement that matters most and it is indeed the ultimate challenge of top national leadership of a nation-state to be able to manage the political disagreement occurring at the national level. Even the United States is currently facing an apparent national-level political disagreement following the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump. A well managed political disagreement is always healthy for a thriving enlightened society, but a poorly managed political disagreement is a national security fiasco since it could cause a democracy and nation to collapse. One said that democracy would not to be defeated by any other political ideologies, but it will only be defeated by itself. When a democracy fails to serve the national interests of a nation, it will defeat itself. Asia 2025, an already open-source assessment made in 1999 predicted the possibility of Indonesia’s internal struggle. Could it be prevented? Surely it could, and the answer is laid out in the hand of Indonesians themselves.
According to Abraham Diskin, Hanna Diskin and Reuven Hazan (2005) in their comprehensive study over 62 democratic countries titled “Why Democracies Collapse: The Reasons for Democratic Failure and Success”, there are at least four main determining variables that encompass economic, socio and political aspects that determine the fate of democracy of a nation: whether it is going to be survive or it is going to be collapse. The first determining variable is the institutional factor such as the state and government system, where the unitary state with pluralistic society and presidential system (like Indonesia) is more vulnerable toward a democratic instability as opposed to the federal state with the parliamentary governmental system. The second variable is the social factor such as the social cleavages, non-functioning economy, and the historical factor. In this case, a democracy with the deep social cleavages coupled with an unequal economic distribution will make a democracy to be more vulnerable to collapse. The third variable is the government instability where the more a democratic government has the reshuffle and re-election, the more likely a democracy of that nation to collapse. The fourth variable is the foreign intervention, meaning that the higher degree of foreign intervention will cause a democracy to be more likely to collapse. Based on their study, out of these four determining variables it is the social factor that most determines the fate of democracy: the deep social cleavages, the unequal economic distribution issue, and the historical aspect, all of which Indonesia is having and this complex social condition is not only occurring today but already existed throughout the history of Republic of Indonesia from 1945 until today.
Historically Indonesian society consists of three divisions of social cleavages: pro-Islamist based versus pro-national secular based; pro-the unitary state of Indonesia versus pro-federalism; and pro-socialist/people based economy versus pro-capitalism/elitists based economy. These social cleavages were then reflected in the multiparty system during the first 1955 Indonesian general election and still exist until today. These are the social cleavages that have been the characteristic of our nation, and a failure to fully comprehend such phenomenon will lead to a poor management of political disagreement, which in turn will be dangerous for the Indonesian democracy. As of 2014 before the current administration taking place -with all due respects with the great leadership of previous Indonesian presidents- there were still at least 100 million out of 245 million Indonesians living with the income of less than $2 USD/day. In addition to that, historically Indonesia that consists of pluralistic components eventually decided to establish a nation-state called Indonesia. Therefore, any efforts to enforce an uniformity by certain component in the society will become a serious threat to the natural, pluralistic character of Republic of Indonesia, while at the same time such efforts will only exacerbate the unequal economic distribution challenges that facing Indonesia since 1945 until today.
Looking forward, it is the current ultimate challenge of Indonesian top national leadership to be able to manage all political disagreements by diligently looking at the whole characteristics examined above. The political disagreement occurring in the peace time is normal, and such disagreement has both the root causes and apparent symptoms. According to Alex Schmid (1988), there are at least five levels of gradation in managing the political disagreement: the full state of peace; managing political disagreements through the political persuasion; the engagement in the political pressures; the use of political violence; and the civil war.
Therefore, it is the braveness of top national leadership for having to acknowledge the root causes while at the same time gradually fixing the symptoms of political disagreements. Such political disagreements must be managed within the political persuasion level where the government consistently implements the rule of law (such as the routine rule legitimated by the traditional customs, constitutional procedures, and the political compromise of take and give). On the other side of the same coin, the non-government actors should play their constitutional-based oppositional role in the elegant ways (such as through the formation of opposition press and parties, rallies, electoral contests, and litigation/use of courts for solving the political disputes). However, if the government fails to keep managing political disagreements within the boundary of political persuasion, the world history shows us that the government would begin to engage in the political pressure by using the oppression (such as the manipulation of competitive electoral process, censorship, surveillance, harassment, discrimination, infiltration of opposition, and misuse of emergency legislation). If these conditions happen usually the non-government actors will respond by engaging in the various extra parliamentary action (including non-violent actions such as social protest for political persuasion of rulers and masses; demonstrations to show strength of public supports; strikes, boycotts, non cooperation, civil disobedience, and other forms of pressure politics short of violence). This is already a not-conducive national security condition.
If the government fails again to manage the political disagreements at this stage, it automatically will degrade to the worst level which is a political violence. In this case, the government will likely to engage in the violent repression for the control of state power that includes state terrorism (torture, death squads, disappearances, and concentration camps); counter insurgency, assassination; massacres; and political justice (mass arrest, banning, and deportation). Consequently, the non-governmental actors would like to respond with another kind of political violence for challenging state power that correspondingly mirror what state actor does. It includes terrorism (de-individuated political murder); insurgency; assassination (individuated political murder); indiscriminate massacres; and material destruction (e.g. sabotage and arson). After the stage of political violence, the worst of the worst would happen which is the civil war and the breakout implosion of the country.
Having laid out a general pattern of Indonesian characteristics, of the challenge of keeping a stable democracy, and of addressing the root causes and apparent symptoms of Indonesian challenges, it is not exaggerating if all elements involved in the political disagreement including the governmental and non-governmental actors to refrain themselves, not to be involved in the self-destructive political behavior, and instead keeping their engagement within the border of political persuasion. Once managing the political disagreement shifts beyond the boundary of political persuasion, it would potentially become uncontrollable and not expected by all of us. Indonesia is a big, promising nation where there is no political disagreement that is not unsolvable, and all together we can keep this nation strong and great. God bless Indonesia.