The Indonesian’s Awareness of Politics: The Factors Influencing the Level and Form of Citizens Political Participation   Leave a comment

For 32 years we had been under the repressive New Order administration. During that time, the political participation was limited, because the expansion of political participation was considered as a threat for the New Order status quo. With the emerging of the reformation era, the new step of the Indonesia’s democracy and politics has been started. Many people think that democracy is freedom to do anything, they have a right to express their opinions/views and to get their rights or whatever they want. They always want the government to do the “right” thing as they wish. They want the clean and transparent government. They oppose every governmental policy that they consider as not beneficial for them. There are many demonstrations leading to violence and disadvantages for many, such as burning the public facilities, blocking the roads, etc. What has happened in our society? Is it the democracy that we want? What causes people act that way? Is it a sign of the emerging political awareness in our society or just a temporary euphoria after they had been “repressed” for 32 years?

There are several factors influencing the level and form of citizen’s political awareness. The first is the political education. The political education achieved by the citizen clearly influences their mindset, action and attitude toward politics. At least, the understanding of political system and governmental system could provide the citizens with the insight of how to behave toward politics. Indonesian citizens always demand their rights; they always want the government to take care of and to fulfill their needs, but rarely do they do their obligations, such as paying tax, obeying the regulations etc, and think about the national interest. So far, people consider democracy as a freedom and people have rights to decide the state course. It is not fully wrong. The core principle of democracy is the people participation on the governmental system; people’s voice must be heard. The people’s aspiration must be taken into account, but there is a mechanism to voice their aspiration. In the political system, the way to bring forward the aspiration is not always by demonstrations or violence. People could take their aspiration to the political process (decision making process) by means of political party. The functions of political party in the political system are collecting, accommodating the political aspirations from citizens (input of political system), and communicating the policies (output of political system). People having a high education of politic and political awareness will use the existing mechanism to bring forward their aspiration instead of by demonstrations or violence. Many Indonesians lack these understanding; they lack political education, so their attitudes, levels and forms of political participation are still low. It explains why they act that way in the reformation era.

Second, culture also influences the level and form of political awareness. As mentioned above, political participation by citizens is the essence of democracy. The only way to participate is through elections; therefore the election is the characteristic of a democratic country. Many Indonesians still look the Western Democracy (Liberal Democracy) as a reference for their actions. In fact every nation and country has a different culture and hence its own style democracy. According to Clark D. Neher and Ross Marlay in Democracy and Development in Southeast Asia, Asian countries has search for political system that can lead their nations to modernity while conserving the best feature of their ancient cultures, and the result is “Asian-Style Democracy.” Indonesia, the biggest country of Southeast Asia, also has its own features of culture. We have democracy of Pancasila based on the principle of consultation and discussion (musyawarah) and unanimous agreement (mufakat).  The Javanese principle of gotong royong (tradition of mutual aid) also plays role in the creation of Indonesian style democracy. Gotong royong expresses a spirit of unity and community opposing with the concept of individual freedom (Liberal Democracy). The concept of individual freedom is not universal in nature that could cross the national borders. Indonesian society is a rigidly stratified society held by vertical alignment between patrons and clients. There is great respect for the authority and hierarchy. We must conserve our noble traditional doctrines because they are one of our ancestor heritages. We are not fit for the Liberal Democracy like in the western countries, as Huntington said that let the democracy in Southeast Asia develop according to the Asian values and norms.

Third, the media’s role on the process of political learning is one of the important factors. Media, as a means of political communication, largely influences the public opinion on politics. By the advance of technology, the media could easily reach people and be available for them everywhere from big cities to hinterlands and sometimes the news from media reach public faster than the official announcement from government. So far, the media has only attempted to gain benefit from the publication. The media has inclined toward certain party and could be utilized by certain party to create the public opinion. Some political parties have used media as their means to socialize their vision and mission. The openness does not mean that everything must be revealed to public and media freely publish any news, because our society is not ready yet due to the low education. The media should be more neutral and wise on their publication. Not all governmental policies and actions should be revealed to public, because of their confidentiality.

Finally, the political elite attitude also determines the awareness and political participation of society. The political elite not holding the power is more prone to expand the political participation, even developing the new participation pattern. While the political elite who is in power usually is less likely to expand the political participation, because the change of participation pattern is considered as a threat for the status quo. It is a common in political world. However, the political elite must start thinking of the nation’s interest instead of their own interest. They must stop gaining the public support by issuing a controversial statement that could impair the development and the governmental tasks, and create a dispute among parties. They should put the accountable and true statement so that people are not confused with the situation or the existing problem. Many of them remain thinking that politic is about holding a power and winning the people vote because most of them started their political career by using their charisma or popularity, such as being son or daughter of famous figures, an actor etc., without any political educational background or knowledge.

Indonesia is rich of natural resources and human resources. Indonesia will be a great country, if we work together building this nation. To be a great nation, it needs a political stabilization. The political awareness and participation of society influence the political stabilization. Factors influencing the level and form of political participation are political education, culture, media and political elite. We must improve our political education and redefine the media’s role; also, the political elite must be aware of their role and influence on the society.  Importantly, we should remember that we have our own democracy; Democracy of Pancasila that we must be proud of it. Importantly, right and obligation must be equal.


Posted March 22, 2011 by serlilee in Politics

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