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Toward fair competition, an end to political dynasty

Berly Martawardaya, Jakarta | Opinion | Mon, March 25 2013

In the movie Spider-man, there is a stage in Peter Parker’s life where he earns money as a professional wrestler. Using his superpowers, he wins fights against many different types of opponents. Later, Parker realizes that it is not fair for someone with superhuman powers to fight head-to-head against an average person.

There has been a recent renewal of public interest in political dynasties. The 26-year-old regent of Bangkalan, Makmun Ibnu Fuad, is continuing his father’s reign. The mayor of Cimahi was elected to continue her husband’s term of office.

Banten is a prominent example of a family having a strong presence in politics. Governor Ratu Atut Chosiyah’s sister, Ratu Tatu Chasanah, is the deputy regent of Serang, her stepbrother,Tb Haerul Jaman, is the mayor of Serang and her sister in-law, Airin Rachmi Diany, is the regent of South Tangerang. Numerous Banten councilors are also Atut’s blood relatives.

General director of Regional Autonomy Djohermansyah said that there were 57 local chief executives elected to continue the offices of blood relatives. Concerns about political dynasties has prompted the government to a submit revision of Law 32/2004 on local elections, which would prohibit direct blood relative of local chief executives running in an immediate local election to succeed the incumbent.

Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi said the prohibition includes vertical relationships such as a father and child as well as horizontal blood relationships such as brother and sister.

Opponents of the policy say that the prohibition would go against human rights and equality before the law. They vow to challenge the bill at the Constitutional Court (MK), if it is passed into law.

The fight against the excessive accumulation of power and the promotion of fair competition within a clear legal framework was the essence of the 1998 reformation. Among the reformation’s legacy is decentralization, which reduces the central government’s political power, presidential term limitations and the formation of the Commission for the Supervision of Business Competition (KPPU), which the curbs the excessive accumulation of economic power.

However, there is no commission that ensures fair political competition. Drawing from Aristotle’s distributive justice, there is an idea about treating equals equally and unequal’s unequally (Nicomachean Ethics, Book V, Chapter VI).

During the New Order, there was a joke going around that the most important qualification for a president was having experience as a president. Since the only person with presidential experience was president Soeharto, he was re-elected without being challenged. The constitutional amendment after Soeharto’s downfall that limits presidential terms to a maximum of two is an acknowledgement that the right to run for office is not absolute.

The term limit ensures the rise of new voices and fresh approaches at least once a decade. It also applies Aristotle’s concept that a two-term president would not compete on equal terms with any other person, thus needs to be treated unequally by being prohibited from running for a third term.

The public and legal community has agreed on the validity of prohibiting the chief executive from a third term. The question is: Would prohibiting the candidacy of direct relatives be justifiable?

Having an incumbent’s direct relative as a candidate would also deter a highly qualified and competent person who is a nonrelative from running for the same office. Empirical data shows that regions with lower social mobility at top executive positions tend to display lower human development and governance quality.

In his study entitled “Populism, Dynasty and Consolidation of Parties”, Marcus Mietzener implies that Indonesia is still a society with a scent of feudalism at the democracy consolidation stage. Many shadows of Indonesia’s past looms close enough to pull it back from becoming a mature democracy that is able to provide welfare for its people.

There is also a strong argument toward extending prohibition to nieces and cousins as in the traditional kingdom; they got full family support to become successors in the case that a child or brother did not display adequate leadership and competence.

Indonesia also faces the problem of the politicization of civil service. Formally, the civil service is neutral in elections. But there have been many instances where the re-election of an incumbent executive benefitted from the support of civil servants.

When an incumbent’s relative runs for office, he or she would benefit from the incumbency by hook, respect and a speck of feudalism, or by crook, a blatant directive to support, without any additional scrutiny toward an incumbent.

If we look abroad, there are political dynasties in many countries. In the US, there is the Bush family from which the father and son both served as president, in the Philippines there is the Macapagal family from which the father and daughter both served as president and in Singapore there is the Lee family from which both the father and son served as prime minister. There is one similarity between all the above mentioned pairs, which is that they were all not elected consecutively. There was at least one nonrelated person who served as chief executive between the father and child’s term.

However, we should be careful in casting the net too wide. Prohibition should not be more than one term. If a majority of the people elects a blood relative after five years without the benefit of incumbency, then that is a display of real support that should be respected. Expanding prohibition between different levels and branches of the government would be too much too soon. We should take one step then observe the impact.

Indonesia still has to address the problems of poverty, equality and service provision. The Regional Autonomy Law puts responsibility on the back of regents and mayors. Therefore, it is imperative that the regional head is a capable person and is elected on their merits, not on ascribe status and family relationships. As the Prophet Muhammad said, a country that does not put its most capable people in governing positions is waiting for its own destruction.

Law No. 5/1999 on antimonopoly states that economic freedom and competition has its limits. It would be prudent to put some well-thought legal limit on political competition in the revision of Law 32/2004 on local government. As Peter Parker’s uncle would have said, “With great power, comes great responsibility” to regulate it.

The writer is lecture in planning and public policy at the University of Indonesia, senior economist at INDEF and deputy chairman of the Nahdlatul Ulama Scholar Association (ISNU).

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