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The Future of Democracy in Indonesia

Unless there are big surprises, the same old faces will very likely dominate the 2009 presidential election, because so far there is not even a little sign that new faces from a younger generation will emerge.

The regeneration of national leadership will still be sluggish in this era of democracy, where political parties still hold a strategic role in producing cadres of national leaders. The political parties seem to have not played their role well enough.
The regeneration of the leadership of political parties will be an indicator of the success of the cadre development of the parties. This will also show the smoothness of the regeneration of the leadership of the nation.

However, to be fair, we need to remember that during Soeharto’s 32-year-rule, he effectively eliminated potential young leaders, and only those who were loyal to him had the chance to work in state affairs.

Meanwhile, political parties, as democratic institutions, are still controlled by the old elites. The one exception is the PKS, which has been led since the beginning by its young cadres. All important positions, including the heads of parties as well as the heads and members of the boards of advisors, are filled by the old elite. The political parties are still the main source of the national leadership.

The regeneration of the leadership of the political parties shows the face of the regeneration of the national leadership. The candidates who will be supported by political parties in the 2009 elections will be politicians who control major political parties. Major political parties like the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) will still support their old faces like Megawati Soekarnoputri.

A survey conducted by Lembaga Survey Indonesia in October 2007 revealed there are seven figures who receive public support for the presidency: President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (58 years old), Megawati Soekarnoputi (62), co-founder of the National Mandate Party Amien Rais( 63), Gen. (ret.) Wiranto ( 60), Yogyakarta Governor Sultan Hamengku Buwono X (61), Vice President Jusuf Kalla (65) and former Jakarta governor Lt. Gen. (ret) Sutioyoso (63). Those seven figures are old players from the old generation of politicians. Even though the reform era has entered its ninth year, young new players have not emerged to lead the nation.

Most of the candidates for the 2009 elections will be in their sixties. This means there will be stagnation in the regeneration of leadership.

These developments are of great concern. This nation should be able to produce new cadres of leaders to anticipate the challenges in the future. Indonesia needs progressive, young new leaders who are capable of consolidating the nation and developing national solidarity in an effort to face globalization.

The central figures of the political parties are factors of resistance to the regeneration process of leadership of political parties, which in turn impacts the regeneration of national leadership. Major political parties like the PDIP, the National Awakening Party (PKB) and the Democratic Party (PD) still maintain this pattern. This is also shared by smaller political parties, which rely heavily on the figures or the oligarchy system.

In the PDIP, Megawati would remain the main actor. She will still influence the decision-making of the party. In other words, the PDIP is Megawati, and Megawati is the PDIP.

The developments in the PKB actually are similar to what has happened in the PDIP. The party is always identified with Gus Dur. It is likely the PKB without Gus Dur will lose the support of the people. The figure of SBY in the PD is also central. The party is dependent on the President. If SBY cuts his association with the party, the party will be left in a serious condition.

Gerontocracy is prevalent in Indonesia’s political parties. The reason for this is the ambitions of the old politicians to stay in power. Their unwillingness to give new opportunities to young leaders has posed an obstacle to the regeneration process.

Gerontocracy closes the opportunity for young leaders to emerge in national politics. This will lead to the sluggishness of the regeneration process.

To break free from gerontocracy, there should be age limit for candidates vying for important positions in the political parties. Without lessening our respect for the old politicians, this age limitation is necessary to refresh our politics.

In the reform era, there are many figures from political parties, bureaucrats, academics and professionals who could be alternatives for national leaders.

They will participate in the democratic process through participation in the general elections. They will occupy many important positions in this country.

Young leaders are expected to balance the strength of the old leaders by increasing political lobbies, monitoring financial matters, developing social solidarity and mastering democratic institutions. There should be synergy amongst those leaders from different backgrounds. The readiness of young leaders will determine the regeneration of leadership in Indonesia.

The writer, Hanta Yuda AR, is political analyst and researcher of the Indonesian Institute in Jakarta.