Saturday, November 15, 2008

Is Decentralization A Good Way?

Last week a friend of mine contacted me through yahoo messenger, he told me that he will run for the local parliament of Banyuangi region next year. Actually, he asked me to support and take part in his fund raising management. He explained that he has so far been doing little to boost his political effort while he is now still trying to accumulate and hoard the money. When asked about his political visions and programs, it seemed that he has unclear answer. He said, “Programs are less necessary than money. If I have money, I can do everything. People also never care about the program. You know, I am listed on the top rank among my party parliament candidates, so it guarantees me to be elected.” His social position, moreover, as a son of a religious leader gives him much chance to be elected. His family’s charisma and fame are good investment in getting voters. Therefore, money and the family status are the keys for him to get vote even though his family name is only known in his local area.

From it, I can figure out that the money has more power to get votes rather than the program, and it is exactly similar with what Daniel Arghiros (2001) addresses about the election in one rural area in Thailand. Money can buy votes, because the economic conditions of villagers forced them to receive the money, so it was understood when one Thai said that she wishes that everyday to be Election Day. It also indicates that money politics, in Indonesia for example, is still used by politicians although the political system has been changing from the centralized system of politics to decentralized one. If we analyze from different way, the case of money politics was actually exemplified by those who hold central administration in Jakarta. It means that decentralization also opens opportunities for local power to do same thing as central power do such as corruption.

From my friend’s background that he is from the religious leader’s family, it can be seen that decentralization also brings the opportunity to local leaders to be active in the politics. Aspinal and Fealy (2003) examine that decentralization already transmuted from the military to the civil power. After Suharto’s fall and the decentralization was applied, the number of governors or bupatis from military significantly decreased.

However, Hadiz (2004) also points out that the old elites still dominate in the local governments. So, the elites from the central administration in Jakarta come down to regional regions in order to take over the local government. For instance, in the East Java governor election, from five pairs of candidates, all are from old elites and they already existed in the central government such as Khofifah Indar Parawansa and Sukarwo.

Hutchcroft (2001) states that decentralization might be a good way of democracy, particularly in administration. Haryanto and Hadiz (2005) also discusses that decentralization integrates with the democracy even though it is unsuccessful since the elites in the local became new kings. Additionally, Dawn Brancati (2006) highlights that ethnic conflict and secessionism cannot be avoided by only decentralization. In fact, in Indonesian’s case, every local election such in provinces or districts leave the conflict among the followers of candidates. The masses of people are often used to influence the process of election.
Decentralization just spreads out the power from the central, in this case in Jakarta, to the local elites. As a result, decentralization does not answer the “main” agenda of democracy. The centralization in the past devolved the authoritarians to the local government. Thus, the local elites seems to have no political maturation yet.