Indonesia should not be tempted to delay the presidential election

The statement by the Head of the BKPM of Indonesia (National Investment Board), Bahlil Lahadalia,  supported by several political elites (Muhaimin Iskandar, Chairman of the National Awakening Party and Zulkifli Hasan, the National Mandate Party) who raised the discourse of postponing the presidential election in the name of economic recovery is a very childish idea politically and economically. The economic recovery indeed is not a reasonable reason to postpone the presidential election. The institutionalization of democracy is actually a prerequisite for political certainty for economic growth in a democratic country. And the true process of democratic maturation should be in line with economic development.

In other words, the process of economic recovery does not depend on who is in power, but on the rules of the democratic game that have been well institutionalized. Economic development must depend on democracy as “the only game in the town,” not on the figure of Jokowi who is in power or anyone else. That is, more concerned with the figure than democratic institutions will be a political choice that is very dangerous for Indonesia’s democracy itself.

If the process of institutionalization of democracy is disrupted by postponing the presidential election or by changing the term of office of the president that can be three terms, then what will arise is political economic uncertainty in which the democracy Indonesia enjoying today could turn into an authoritarian system. Because once the democratic institutionalization process is disrupted, the opportunity to disrupt it again will be more open in the future.

I hope that the Indonesian public who are already democratically literate understand this well and blacklist the elites and their parties who propose postponing the presidential election or changing the term of office of the president to three terms. If today they dare to speak openly to disrupt the process of institutionalization of democracy, then when they are elected later, they will even have the opportunity to destroy the national democratic order that has been running well to this day for reasons of economic recovery or development.

Of course Indonesia has a lot to learn from nations that have consistently implemented democracy and survived to this day while maintaining their economic performance. In US, for example, since the president, George Washington (1789) until Franklin D Rosevelt was elected for the fourth time, (1933-1945), the explanation for the term of office of the president was not written in the American constitution. Changes in leadership term and electoral democracy are still going well because the institutions are also treated well

For example, George Washington consciously stopped running for president for a third time because he did not want to leave an unethical precedent in American politics on the one hand and did not want to institute practices that endanger democracy on the other. The practice was adhered to by all US presidents, until FDR surpassed it. Then when the conventional democratic norms began to be bent, finally these provisions were ratified in the US constitution and persist to this day.

Even in the most partisan debates, including in times of crisis (1929, 1970s, 1980s, 2000 and 2008), there was no talk of changing the presidential term or postponing presidential elections. What exists has even further clarified the limitations and controls on the presidential power. In 1945, after FDR was elected for the fourth time, the US congress finally fought for the limitation of the presidential term into the constitution, which was set in writing into two terms.

The US Congress struggles to keep the pulse of democracy from the frenzy of executive power. In fact, in the last few decades, this power has been further clarified by its representativeness with the enactment of midterm election. Two years after the president took office, an election for members of the House of Representatives is held to test the level of public “approval” of the ruling party, whether it is increasing or decreasing. The results can be used as a performance evaluation for the elected authorities.

Here, in Indonesia, some political elites, figures, and politicians as well as state officials actually tempt the executive power to bend the logic of democracy in legal ways. Approaching 20 years of constitutional amendments related to the presidential term of office, and only four times direct voting by the people, some elites have started to speak discordantly. The option of postponing the presidential election and extending the term of office of the president is made public, claimed as aspirations that entered their pants pockets as politicians.

This kind of discourse must be taken seriously and carefully, both by the Indonesian public, and especially by the majority of parliament members. The parliament is actually acting in the name of democracy, fighting with all its might and efforts so that opportunities for abuse of power do not occur in the executive body, instead of opening up the opportunities. It is very clear constitutionally that extending the term of office of the president or postponing the presidential election makes the president who is in power today outside the mandate of the voters and outside the Standard Operating Procedure of Democracy. Therefore it must be rejected.

History has proven, at first, political elites who were frustrated with the dynamics of democracy and economic relations, slowly opened the door to elites who had the opportunity to become dictators or candidates for dictatorial lickers, tempted by their firmness and iron fist. Sukarno was lined up as president for life, so that in 1959 a presidential decree appeared as the beginning of crushing the power of the old parliament that was elected by the people (Guided Democracy).

In Italy, King Vittoro Emanuel III invited Musolini to the stage of power, after the infamous black shirt incident and the fruit was the abominable fascism of El Duce. The decision was even supported by elites such as Giovani Giolitti and Antonio Salandra. The same pattern was also carried out by Paul von Hindenburg II who considered that the solution to the economic stagnation and impasse of German democracy was the Hitler. The result was the second world war and the Hollocoust.

Likewise with the decision of a founder of Venezuelan democracy, Rafael Caldera, who considers Hugo Chaves as a solution for Venezuela. The fruit was not much different, the destruction of the democratic order in the country. At first, they assumed they could defeat the populist leaders plus the demagogues who were expected to be happy to work under the banner of democracy.

But history proves otherwise, the opportunity to loosen the restrictions on power is the initial source of the destruction of democracy, as happened with Musolini, Hitler, Chaves, Fujimori, Sadam, and many others, which actually started from a frustrated attitude towards democracy. What they need to realize is that the Indonesia public would think that the elites who are discordant today are elites who have enjoyed too much power and economic advantages throughout the existing democratic government (Jokowi). It’s about democracy, stupid! Not economy.

Ronny P. Sasmita
Ronny P. Sasmita
Political Economic Observer and Senior Fellow at Economic Action Indonesia Institution/EconAct