Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Indonesia Seven Years after Soeharto: Party System Institutionalization in a New Democracy

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Indonesia Seven Years after Soeharto: Party System Institutionalization in a New Democracy

Article excerpt

It is often said, following Samuel Huntington, that it is not the first elections after the fall of an authoritarian regime that matter; instead, the path to democracy is seen to be assured only after second elections have been completed. (1) Indonesia's second post-Soeharto elections, both parliamentary and presidential, were held from April to September 2004. Furthermore, 2005-2006 is witnessing the country's first-ever direct elections for regional heads, governors, mayors, and regents. Can the country be seen finally to be firmly on the path to democracy? Is democracy now "the only game in town"?

This article examines what the performance of Indonesia's political parties seven years on from former authoritarian president Soeharto's resignation can tell us about politics in the country. The parties are an important part of the political society envisioned by Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan as forming one of the integral "arenas" of democratic consolidation (1996). By using the party system institutionalization framework first developed by Scott Mainwaring and Timothy Scully in Building Democratic Institutions: Party Systems in Latin America (1995), the article analyses the degree to which the Indonesian party system can be seen to be institutionalized, thus contributing to, as Mainwaring and Scully found in Latin America (or not, in the case of less institutionalized systems), democratization, and stable governance. (2)

The article finds that, across Mainwaring and Scully's criteria of party system institutionalization, Indonesia's parties and party system show a mixed score card, strengths and weaknesses mixing to deprive the parties of legitimacy. On balance, the 2004 elections and 2005 regional elections represent a step towards further deinstitutionalization due to the primacy of personalities in the direct elections of the president and the regional heads. Democracy may indeed now be the only game in town, but its operation is likely to be rocky. There is a silver lining, however; accountability has been somewhat improved due to the electorate's realization of its power to reward and punish parties and political leaders.

Party System Institutionalization and Democracy

In much of the literature on transitions from authoritarian rule, the role of political parties is seen to be key. To Linz and Stepan, the development of political parties is part of the development of "political society", by which they mean "that arena in which the polity specifically arranges itself to contest the legitimate right to exercise control over public power and the state apparatus". (3) As scholars recognize, often it is not the political parties which bring down the old regime (this is typically brought about on the backs of union members, human rights campaigners, and students, among others), but it is to the political parties that one must look to observe the kernel of democratic consolidation apparent in the transition from authoritarian rule. Consolidation requires political parties to build a new system of competition for political office (O'Donnell and Schmitter 1986, pp. 57-58). O'Donnell and Schmitter see the founding election as "provoking parties" into action for the "party is the modern institution for structuring and aggregating individual preferences" (ibid., p. 58). Observers of areas as diverse as Russia, Portugal, and Chile have seen the role of parties as key to understanding the progress (or lack thereof) of the transition.

This discussion builds primarily from Mainwaring and Scully's 1995 volume on Latin America, Building Democratic Institutions: Party Systems in Latin America. Mainwaring, working alone, has gone on to develop further the ideas first presented in the 1995 study with his 1998 article, "Party Systems in the Third Wave", and his 1999 book, Rethinking Party Systems in the Third Wave of Democratization: The Case of Brazil. …

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